Academic journal article Scottish Cultural Review of Language and Literature

Explorer: Into the Sixties with Tom McGrath

Academic journal article Scottish Cultural Review of Language and Literature

Explorer: Into the Sixties with Tom McGrath

Article excerpt

This chapter takes the reader into the sixties world of Tom McGrath: jazz musician, poet, playwright, cultural polymath, explorer. Consisting largely of an interview between McGrath and the author, it offers a novel perspective on the sixties in Scotland. Many of the changes of the 1960s are reflected in McGrath's interview, and his testimony points to an exciting variety of ideas, influences, and initiatives crossfertilising with one another, to important literary and cultural connections being made, and - in many ways - to the birth of a new era.

Keywords: Tom McGrath, 1960s, Glasgow, Edinburgh, theatre, jazz, poetry, festivals.

In the introduction to the Tom McGrath edition of the famous Riverside Interviews series, Gavin Selerie referred to the biographical note on McGrath in Scottish Poetry 5, which said simply 'Explorer'. As Selerie pointed out, it 'would be hard to find a term which sums up more adequately McGrath's multiplicity of interests and his bold endeavour'. Yet, as the flyleaf to The Riverside Interviews 6: Tom McGrath observed in 1983: 'Tom McGrath's work as a playwright, poet, and jazz musician has been central to the avant-garde for twenty years... Despite this, his work and his ideas are not nearly as well known as they should be'.1 Thirty years later, the late Tom McGrath and his prolific body of work are still surprisingly overlooked, despite recent revivals of some of his early plays.2 This chapter is not simply an attempt to bring awareness of McGrath to a wider audience (although that is undoubtedly one objective), but also to reveal how powerfully the new ideas and movements of the 1960s influenced and shaped the young Tom McGrath; to show that the social and cultural changes associated with the term 'the sixties' were having a tangible impact on Scottish soil; and to provide a new perspective on the 'Scottish sixties'.

Bom in Rutherglen in 1940, McGrath became a jazz musician, before beginning to write and perform poetry in the late 1950s - including reading alongside poets like Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Erich Fried at the seminal Albert Hall Poetry Reading in 1965. After a stint at Peace News, McGrath became the foundereditor of the ground-breaking counter-culture magazine IT (International Times) in 1966 before returning to Scotland in 1968, becoming a student at the University of Glasgow from 1969, and getting involved in theatre at the same time. Not one to stand still, McGrath was involved in a number of ventures including editing the Scottish Arts Council magazine Nuspeak, being Musical Director for the famous Great Northern Welly Boot Show in 1972, and continuing to publish poetry. He became Director of the Third Eye Centre in Glasgow (1974-77), before gaining critical acclaim as a playwright for plays like Laurel and Hardy (1976), The Hardman (co-written with Jimmy Boyle and premiered in 1977), and Animal (1979). He was later to help found the Tron Theatre, which opened in Glasgow in 1981 (and arose out of the Glasgow Theatre Group he co-founded in 1978), and in the late 1980s became Associate Literary Director of the Scottish Arts Council. What was to be his last play, My Old Man, premiered in 2005; Tom McGrath died at the age of 68 in 2009.

This chapter largely consists of an interview between the author and Tom McGrath, undertaken as part of a broader project on the cultural history of the Edinburgh Festivals.3 Bookended by McGrath's formative teenage years in the 1950s and his return to Glasgow in the late 1960s, the interview presented here offers a novel perspective on sixties Scotland. McGrath begins by outlining the many influences on his mind as a young man, powerfully evoking the sense of an expanding world and consciousness from the mid-1950s onwards. Jazz, rock 'n' roll, theatre, radio, juke boxes, café culture, live music, television, literature, family and friends, the Edinburgh festivals, politics - all these and more are soaked up by the young Tom McGrath (and their mark identified clearly in his later work). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.