Tom McGrath, playwright, poet, translator and musician, died in April 2009 and tonight’s event comprised a gathering of his friends and admirers to launch the Tom McGrath Trust.
Tom, as all his friends refer to him, had had a huge influence on the Scottish arts scene: a strong supporter of all things radical and new, in the 1960’s, along with R.D. Laing, he was said to represent the Scottish branch of counter-culture. His long and close association with the Traverse in Edinburgh (he was even, at one time, resident pianist in the Traverse bar) made it a fitting place to hold this tribute.
Ella Wildridge, who was Tom’s partner, greeted everyone on arrival and Faith Liddell (Director of Festivals Edinburgh) got the ball rolling, paying her own tribute to Tom and then explaining about the Tom McGrath Trust that will offer support to playwrights and translators working in Scotland.
The evening was hosted by actor and playwright Steve McNicoll, who also read a witty and moving tribute to Tom written by Gerry Mulgrew, himself an actor, director and creative whirlwind.
The superb and irrepressible Tom Leonard read from his Glasgow Poems that Tom had been brave enough to publish and which had kick-started a literary counter-culture.
Other performances came from award-winning playwright Douglas Maxwell and John Sampson, an actor and musician who played a range of peculiar instruments and played two recorders in his mouth at the same time while making faces that had the audience in stitches. All told anecdotes about Tom that set everyone laughing.
However, melancholy was allowed to mingle with the mirth: James Robertson read Tom’s poem ‘Blackbird’ followed by his own poem written about his last meeting with Tom the day before he died and musician John Harris played ‘Farewell’, written for Tom’s funeral, at his request, by award winning composer Eddie McGuire.
While this was very definitely a celebration of his work, it was also a celebration of his life and he had clearly touched many people. I began the evening knowing nothing about Tom McGrath the man and left with a real sense of, at the very least, what this man meant to the people who knew him best.
During the evening he was described, variously, as: bold; a dissident spirit; kind; intelligent; challenging; stimulating; a contrarian and an irrepressible explorer.
‘Generous’ was another often repeated adjective, as many who stood up tonight to perform mentioned that Tom had given them money to support their work. One such writer, David Greig, summed up, ‘writers really appreciate people who give them a break’. In one of Tom’s plays, Laurel and Hardy, there is a line that goes, ‘it’s kinda hard to live in the present when you’re dead’ - it would seem that the Tom McGrath Trust ensures that Tom’s influence will live on even though he is no longer here.