Hope and Wire inspired by The Eastern

08:33, Sep 11 2012
Adam McGrath
Adam McGrath of The Eastern

Bit of a double blog from me today but bear with me, it all ties together. I know, I know, I’m like a bus - nothing for ages and then two at once.

I just got off the phone to Wellington-based filmmaker Gaylene Preston.

She has received nearly $5 million ($4,972,664) in funding from New Zealand On Air to make a six-part drama called Hope and Wire which will screen on TV3 at 8pm on a Thursday in around a year.

The observant amongst you will recognise the title.

Hope and Wire takes its name from the double album released by Lyttelton band The Eastern. The song of the same name is the title song for the series.

Preston describes The Eastern frontman, Adam McGrath, as ‘‘a vital guide’’ to making the series.


McGrath is one of five finalists in the Apra Silver Scroll awards, to be announced on Thursday.

‘‘The Eastern are in it; they opened our story,’’ Preston said. ‘‘We hope to showcase a bit of Christchurch music, old and new.

‘‘I’ve been in and out of Christchurch, sitting in bars with Adam hearing stories, crying and then laughing and dancing.’’

Preston then told a joke.

‘‘You know you’re in Christchurch when you open your wardrobe and The Eastern are playing in it.’’

Hope and Wire was the first album released by the former owner of Christchurch's Real Groovy Records, Paul Huggins, through his Wellington record label Rough Peel Records. It was recorded by Ben Edwards on borrowed gear in a red-zoned home in Dallington. The owners had lived there for 30 years and gave them the key and told them to go for it.

Writers Adam McGrath and Jess Shanks shared duties across the two records - Hope, which McGrath once told me is ‘‘your heart, your head’’ - and Wire, which symbolises ‘‘that practical, make it work any way you can, DIY Kiwi spirit’’.

‘‘This is an incredibly important project,’’ NZ On Air Chief Executive Jane Wrightson said of the TV series in a statement.  ‘‘It is set around the most significant event in New Zealand's recent history and we are pleased to commit this investment to telling a version of Christchurch's story.’’

I asked Wrightson if this would directly affect funding for any other TV programmes or film projects.

She replied: ‘‘Funding Hope and Wire doesn’t directly affect any particular programme (other than projects that may have hoped for funding, as always, just as with the general fund).’’

I guess that’s code for yup, it sure does.

For the series Preston and Wellington writer Dave Armstrong are creating fictional characters to tell the stories created from Christchurch’s quake-riddled world.

I understand one fictional character is a "crooked lawyer''.

‘‘We have tried to create colourful characters,’’ Preston said. ‘‘I’ve been gathering stories and anecdotes but the characters in our series are all made up, of course.

‘‘It’s a postcard to Auckland.

‘‘It’s a way of articulating what is happening without talking about the deaths, those stories are still too raw.

‘‘This series is about the other people in New Zealand affected by the quakes.’’

I believe Preston is referring to people not living in Christchurch.

One prominent New Zealand filmmaker, who declined to be named, said they found the funding decision ‘‘crazy’’.

‘‘From what I understand the writer hasn’t been to Christchurch at all and Gaylene’s been here a handful of times and they’ve been handed nearly $5 million dollars to tell Christchurch's story to Auckland.

‘‘I’m amazed we don’t get to tell our own stories.’’

However, Preston said she felt that anyone could tell Christchurch’s story. ‘‘I have my own relationship to Christchurch; you can’t own a huge story like that.’’

She said the series is a memorial to her friend and collaborator Graeme Tetley.  ‘‘He was supposed to have been the University of Canterbury writer in residence in 2011. He had just arrived in Lyttelton, I was talking to him about half an hour before the quake on February 22, I was in Wellington. It wasn’t long before he was back home and not long after he died of a heart attack. He’s one of many who don’t show up in the quake statistics.’’

Preston said the series would be shot at the Film Department of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Canterbury.

‘‘It will mostly be shot in Christchurch but we might do some studio work in Wellington, that’s not finalised yet.’’

Preston said she was pleased McGrath had been nominated for a Silver Scroll award and wished him well.


Generally I consider music awards in this country to be something of a joke, albeit not a very funny one.
They are largely Auckland-centric and the most ridiculously bad musicians win the most ridiculous awards.
In what I suspect to be a token gesture, I’m often asked to vote online in some of these awards (I picture the organisers chatting amongst themselves ‘we better include the South Island, what about that annoying woman from The Press?). But typically the people I vote for don’t win. The winners are announced and I’m left scratching my head thinking ‘who the hell out of the 112 of us voted for that talentless chump?’

The Apra Silver Scroll awards live slightly higher in my estimations, this is because they are peer-voted. Musicians (Apra members) vote for the song they admire most and I admire that.

On October 7, 2011 I wrote an open letter to Apra (see below) which was published in The Press.
I wrote it in response to a phone call from Adam McGrath of The Eastern who was mightily angry, at the time, that Apra (the Australasian Performing Right Association) had queried the number of the gigs the group had performed in earthquake-battered Christchurch and were auditing them.

As if they’d lied about performing gigs in liquefaction-riddled backyards and outside tattoo parlours and for rescue workers.

Isn’t life a wonderful, magical ride?

On Thursday, Adam McGrath is one of five finalists in the running for our nation’s songwriting award, the Apra Silver Scroll.

Anyone who knows Adam will know that such things mean nothing to him, awards and trophies are not why he makes music.

He didn’t even enter his song - State Houses By The River (written by Adam, performed by The Eastern) - compadre Lindon Puffin did.

I hope he wins, he deserves to.

The other finalists are Girl In Stilettos written by Anna Macdonald aka Annah Mac, Everything To Me written by Stephanie Brown - performed by Lips, Getaway Tonight written by Kody Nielson - performed by Opossom and Hibernate written and performed by Lydia Cole.

I won’t be there on the night of the awards (held in Auckland, natch), as my invitation seems to be lost in the post. I’m only sorry to be missing the cover versions done by other bands as is the tradition at the scrolls - I love the way already great songs are reinterpreted in new and exciting ways.

Somehow I get the feeling people who write open letters criticising the organisation aren’t high on the awards' invite list.

I was told by a friend involved that only ‘‘malleable journalists’’ had been invited and I am considered ‘‘non-compliant’’ which made me smile.

Mother of four, industry anarchist, at your service.

Adam McGrath’s mother, Dawn, won’t be there either.

She is wheelchair-bound and told me she would have loved to have seen her only son at the awards but had difficulty getting information from Apra about seating arrangements.

She said she was told by someone from Apra that ‘‘maybe she could sit on the balcony’’.

Now she has decided not to attend for health reasons.

I have a dream of organising a South Island based music awards.

I’d offer prizes (not sponsored by phone companies or awful cars) for:

- Best T-Shirt Design
- Best Merchandise Stand
- Best Song Ignored For NZ On Air funding
- Best Non-Musical Skill That Promotes Your Act
- Best Green Room at Venue
- Best Promoter Who Did It For the Love of It Not A 60% Cut of the Profits
- Best Song Made In Invercargill
- Best Song That Wasn’t Played On Mainstream Radio
- Best Mid-Winter Tour
- Best Cover Folding (CD, 12" and 7" categories)

 ‘‘An open letter to Apra (published October, 2011):

The Press
My Portacom
14 Logistics Drive

Dear Apra,

The Eastern are, in my opinion, the hardest working band in New Zealand.
They play more gigs each week than you’d have hot dinners.
They play for anyone, anywhere, any time because it’s part of who they are and what they represent.

Some folks might have a hard time getting their heads around the way The Eastern roll, or scratch their heads that one band could play so often.

Let me explain.

Their catchphrase has long been "straight from the gut, the fist and heart". They are living examples of this ethos.

After the February 22 earthquake when they played in makeshift backyards, knee-deep in liquefaction and despair, aiming to bring a smile to distraught people’s faces, they did so for the purest of reasons.

They did a tour of Christchurch - playing for anyone, anywhere, any time. They played for the elderly, the USAR rescue teams, the police and the average joe who needed The Eastern to show them that the city had not lost its voice. They played in tattoo parlours, to cheer on the student army, the farmy army and any other army who needed them.

They played bucket-rattler fundraising gigs in Dunedin and Taranaki, raising money for the city they love.

In short they’re f...ing good bastards.

The Eastern form part of the Harbour Union, who went to the trouble of recording an album on borrowed gear to raise funds for their city. You invited them to perform at the Apra Silver Scroll awards recently. I’m sure you remember it.

Their word and their integrity are one of the few gleaming lights left in this munted city.

And I’ll armwrestle anyone who says otherwise.

Yours sincerely,

Vicki Anderson
Music Editor, The Press’’

Email me at Vicki.Anderson@press.co.nz if you’re not a naff phone or car company and you want to sponsor my dream music awards.

What TV series would you make if NZ On Air gave you $5 million bucks?



The Press