Adam McGrath

11 October, CHB Muni
By Mary Kippenberger

It’s confession time, a confession that leaves me in a poor light but there you are. Many, many years ago I was at a beloved festival in the very bowels of Taranaki, a place called Tahora.

Playing in the converted, memorabilia-packed garage, just up the rise, next to the old homestead was some man named Adam McGrath and some band called The Eastern. I wandered in and stood at the back and wandered out again minutes later. I made a judgment, one of my swift, throw-them-in-a-box-and-leave-them-there-for-20-years sort of judgements. I put him in the ‘yobbo’ box and with nary a thought I left him there, without remission or parole, until Friday just gone.

It was time to take my great big, judgemental self to the CHB Municipal Theatre and see what I expected to find.

I didn’t find it.

Adam McGrath I apologise.


Lessons are being learned.

This man is as far away from yobbo as any man could be. He is the very antithesis of yobbo.

So I can’t put him in that box. Yay.

He puts himself in the ‘folk singer’ box and I guess, if I squished really hard, I could get him in there too but it would be like wearing a size 10 lycra top when you should be choosing the size 18: You’re going to pop out somewhere.

Let’s go to the concert.

The tables are out, softly flickering candles lit, white fairy lights drop from the back of the stage. Welcomes are done and Adam hits the stage, fills the stage.

Adam McGrath has the kind of presence that could engulf a stadium. The side function room of the fabulous CHB Municipal Theatre is a mere morning cup of coffee to this extraordinary man.

He gathers us in. The night is stormy and bitter outside, sensible people sit warmed by their fires at home. Their loss. But for the hardy devotees nothing’s going to get between them and their hero.

Expectations from an inappropriate labeller like myself would fall into the ‘let’s talk about me’ category. Adam must have missed that memo. Instead he talks about his side kick, another Adam.

This Adam is young, my aging eyes would have put him at 12 years old, proper eyes would have allowed him 20 years. Adam knew his mum, he offered young Adam his first tour. He instructs us to raise the roof when we hear his electric, lead guitar prowess. We are happy to follow instruction. Young Adam deserves the acclaim, the whoops and the hollers and then the ride begins.

I write notes, pages of them, pointless really. I could’ve just written WOW and been done with it.

Adam McGrath is many things, he is comedic gold, his timing impeccable, his jokes self-effacing. He is a storyteller, a wordsmith. He takes word bunches, twists them, turns them, discards the obsolete and throws the rest at us. He is a poet. He is an observer of the human condition. A lover of kindness.

And his voice. Now that takes some beating. He writes songs about his observations, there are many people out there, wandering through their lives, completely unaware there is a song being sung and it has their name on it. I wish the woman on the bus – the one with the red hair- I wish she could hear her song, sung with such beauty, such power with just the right amount of edge. Adam McGrath your voice is something to behold and to savour. It is more than a fine wine or an aged whiskey. Your voice just is.

But here’s the thing. I now love Adam McGrath and there has to be something even beyond all of the above to tip me into the love stuff.

Adam McGrath: This is what I want to thank you for. I want to thank you for making a powerful difference, for standing up for truth. The truth about fairness and unfairness, the truth about the haves and the have-nots, the truth about prejudice and racism, the truth about making a stand. The importance of kindness.

I don’t know if this is deliberate intention or just a natural outcome but this is my observation.

Adam McGrath: You disarm people. You disarm them with your humour, with your self-distraction, the coming in and out of song to make a quick quip or aside. You disarm people with your stories, with your self-effacement, you disarm them with that voice that both rocks and cradles. And once disarmed you make your stand. A disarmed heart is more likely to hear something they haven’t heard before. A different truth than upbringing and circumstance has allowed. Change may happen that very night or a seed might fall on a ground no longer fallow. Either way it is a win.

So thank you. Lesson learned. All boxes packed and put away (well perhaps not all of them but I promise to spend a little more time weighing up the labels before assigning them!)


Support The Hook

We'll use supporter funds to thank our writers and become more financially sustainable.

One thought on “Adam McGrath

  1. Love this piece…honest as ever and well observed. Adam McGrath’s a bit special I realise ever since I saw him shush a rowdy Wellington post festival crowd by standing on a table and playing a solo acoustic set when everyone else had the volume right up. Takes a special soul to do that and get away with that. Magic moments.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *