Dr John McGrath

Senior Lecturer in Music, Head of Performance, BMus (Music) Admissions Officer, Deputy Director of the International Guitar Research Centre (IGRC)
BA Hons, BMus Hons (UCD); MPhil (Trinity); PhD (Liverpool); FHEA.
+44 (0)1483 685826
41 PA 01


Areas of specialism

Popular Music Studies, Performance, Word and Music Studies, Practice as Research, Cross-Disciplinarity, Aesthetics, AV Media, Samuel Beckett, Avantjazz, Experimental Music, Guitar, Repetition Theory, Folk / Avantfolk, Improvisation

University roles and responsibilities

  • Head of Performance
  • BMus (Music) Admissions Officer
  • Deputy Director of the International Guitar Reseearch Centre (IGRC)

    Previous roles

    Interim Programme Director for BMus (Music)
    Interim Senior PTY tutor


    In the media

    Review of my monograph in Irish Studies Review Vol..26
    Irish Studies Review (peer-reviewed journal)
    BBC Radio Surrey interview reegarding the BBC's decision to ban Michael Jackson's music in light of documentary controversy.
    Academic Commentator
    BBC Radio Surrey


    Research interests

    Research collaborations

    Indicators of esteem

    • “McGrath’s book is salutary in flagging the deliberately jarring tactics of the avant garde, and getting the reader to grasp what remains permanently uncanny about our pleasure in Beckett and Feldman’s exploration of both the playful humour and subtle queasiness to be found within their repetitive forms” – Drew Daniel, The Wire

    • “a valuable addition for the critical insights it provides through meticulous analyses.” Michael Palmese, Irish Studies Review

    • “Samuel Beckett's experiments at the intersection of music and literature are among the most unique and interesting of their kind. McGrath's study contributes new elements to our understanding of Beckett's work in this area, particularly in its potential to enrich the thinking of musicians and composers. Not "just" a book on Beckett, it makes Beckett the starting point for a number of fruitful meditations on repetition, representation, improvisation, and structural experimentation in the arts. The chapters on Morton Feldman and Scott Fields are especially welcome in this regard.” - Eric Prieto, University of California, Santa Barbara

    • "The thing about the guitar is that it has to be constantly re-imagined, de-constructed, then re-constructed if it is to continue to be a vital force in music’s future landscapes. '21st Century Guitar' is the new grimoire in this quest for the instrument’s ongoing reinventions". - Joe Satriani

    • "In sum, Samuel Beckett, Repetition and Modern Music benefits from having been written by someone who is as at home with music studies as he is with literature, as is evident from the wide-ranging references to historical and geographical musics with which the text is sprinkled. In all of this McGrath’s tone is just right and the discussion convincing. At no point is the impression given that literature or music have the upper hand over the other as the centre of discussion or in the author’s priorities...the text moves dynamically from one issue to another, shifting registers easily and profitably between the historical and the contemporary and trading cultural references, ‘high’ and ‘low’, so to speak, from James Bond and Batman to Joyce and Birtwistle, across several aesthetic media including film, pop, and commercial culture, in the playful course of which McGrath offers his clearly distilled and pertinent reflections. This is a study of great erudition that demonstrates admirable facility and awareness of a wide range of related fields, all of which are related to one another very much in the spirit of the topic. The text is supported by a generous number of figures and musical examples and is without doubt an important contribution to the field of Word and Music Studies." - Edward Campbell, Music & Letters

    • "His experimental approach, reminiscent of Jim O’Rourke, pushes at the boundaries of new guitar music and the UK avant folk scene."

      -The Wire


      "McGrath is like a jeweler, crafting small but perfectly formed pieces that tempt you to pick them up and hold them to the light, just to get a better glance."

      -Bill Meyer, Dusted Magazine


      "Bringing a touch of the 21st century to the guitar soli scene..."

      -Tyler Wilcox, Aquarium Drunkard


      "Bringing to mind the likes of Owen Pallett and Grizzly Bear, John McGrath is an artist capable of balancing classical and folk textures to great effect." 

      -The Skinny


      "Not only capable of channeling Britfolk greats as Bert Jansch, John Renbourn or Michael Chapman, he can also pick like John Fahey and his fellow American primitives."

      -For The Sake Of The Song


      “his clutch of haunted icy soundscapes sounds very much like wandering around half-remembered wintry dreams.”

      -Bido Lito!


      "a deft masterclass in cyclical finger-picking fused with subtle glitches, warped drones and rapping Autumnal taps."

      -Peter Guy, Liverpool Echo


      "One of the most innovative solo guitarists on the scene right now is John McGrath ... utilising seriously warped effects over John Fahey-esque musings."

      -Deep Hedonia


      "like Bert Jansch remixed by Four Tet, combining extraordinary technical mastery with warm drones and harmonic effects."

      The Cube

    • "This important collection combines rigorous scholarship with knowledge gained from practical experience involving a wide range of musical explorations, from microtonal music to the use of augmented reality – a welcome and significant contribution to the literature on the guitar".  - Kevin Dawe, author of The New Guitarscape (2010)

    • "a wonderful new book ... McGrath dives deep into the musicality of Beckett’s work and how it has shaped certain aspects of modern music, focusing mainly on the works of Feldman and the guitarist Scott Fields. McGrath’s book isn’t the first to deal with music and Beckett, but it is an important step forward in that area." - David Menestres, Burning Ambulance

    Teaching Innovations in performance guidance and provision during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic – led to the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) including the guidance in the official published guidance for the sector.

    External Examiner for BIMM, BMus Popular Music Performance degree across 5 campuses (2020-24).

    Editorial Board for Sonic Scope (MIT Press).

    Reviewer for Orpheus Series Book Proposals

    Reviewer for Music & Letters (Oxford University Press Journals)

    Reviewer for Bloomsbury Academic Book proposals


    Royal Musical Association (RMA)

    Society for Musicology in Ireland (SMI)

    International Association of Word and Music Studies (WMA)

    International Association for the Study of Popular Music (IASPM)

    Keynote Presentatons:

    'Avantfolk Guitar & Glitch Aesthetics: A Practice-based Perspective'

    International Guitar Research Centre Confernece, Surrey, Oct, 2022.

    Invited Talks:

    '21st Century Guitar'

    Kookmin University, Seoul, Korea, Apr, 2023.

    Conference Papers:

    21st Century Guitar Book Panel

    International Guitar Research Centre Confernece, Surrey, Oct, 2022.

    'The Return to Craft'

    IASPM UK & I, Liverpool, Sep, 2022.

    “On (vari)speed in David Lynch’s Work”

    SCMS Annual Conference, Denver, March 19, 2021.

    “Vari-speed in the Soundworlds of David Lynch”

    RMA Annual Conference, Goldsmiths, Sep 8th, 2020.

    “Laurie Anderson’s Transmedia Storytelling”

    IASPM UK & I online conference - London Calling, Session 3 “Popular Music Analysis” June 2nd, 2020. https://london-calling-iaspm2020.com/john-mcgrath-university-of-surrey-uk/

    “Transmedia Motifs and Revisionism in the Work of David Lynch”

    Revision Process Study Day, University of Surrey, March 2020

    Chaired Session: "Recording Practices in Context: Historical Perspectives"

    New Takes on Recorded Music - A Performance Studies Network Research Forum, University of Surrey, Sep 2019.

    "Ghost Guitars in the Machine" and Chaired Session

    IGRC Conference, Hong Long Academy for Performing Arts, July 2019.

    "Laurie Anderson's Transformative Repetition"

    Again and Again, Music and Repetition Conference, City University, March 2019.

    “Using Literature in Jazz Composition”

    Jazz Guitar Research Day, IGRC, University of Surrey, Oct 2018.

    “Conservative purism and the aesthetics of popular music in folk horror”

    RMA Annual Conference, Sep 2017, Liverpool.

    Co-Chaired Session: “Postgraduate Plenary”

    ISSME, June 2017, ICMP, London.

     “Not 1 – Group Improvisation and the loss of self”

    IASPM UK & Ireland, Sep8-10 2016, BIMM and University of Sussex.

    Chaired Session: “Video-game music”

    Music and Screen Media Conference, 25-26 June 2014, University of Liverpool.

    “Scott Fields’ Beckettian Jazz

    Postgraduate Colloquium, March 2012, University of Liverpool.

    Roundtable speaker: “Research Outputs and Impacts: The Value of Our Research”

    Royal Musical Association Research Students’ Conference, January 2012, Hull University.

    “Sounding Beckett: Musical Approaches to Text

    Royal Musical Association Research Students’ Conference, January 2012, Hull University.

    “Hearing Literature: Musical Translations of Samuel Beckett’s Writing”

    Society for Musicology in Ireland (SMI) Student Conference, January 2012, Dublin Institute of Technology.

    “Rhythm and Repetition: Semantic Fluidity in Beckett's Late Prose”

    Postgraduate Colloquium, March 2011, University of Liverpool.

    “Musico-literary Studies Today”

    Institute of Musical Research Study Day, February 2011, London.

    Music and Irish Modernist Narratives”

    Royal Musical Association Research Students’ Conference, January 2011, Manchester.

    “Silent Music in Irish Literary Modernism”

    International Association of Word and Music Studies Forum (WMAF), November, 2010.

    Samuel Beckett and the Condition of Music”

    Postgraduate Colloquium, March 2010, University of Liverpool.



    Postgraduate research supervision




    Samuel Beckett, Repetition and Modern Music (London & New York: Routledge: 2018). ISBN: 978-1472475374.

    The Return to Craft: Taylor Swift, Nostalgia & Covid-19 (Popular Music & Society, 2022). https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2022.2156761 (open-access)

    McGrath, J. (2022) The Return to Craft: Taylor Swift, Nostalgia & Covid-19 (Popular Music & Society, 2022). https://doi.org/10.1080/03007766.2022.2156761

    What I term “the return to craft” is a distillation of a pervasive phenomenon – the nostalgic, folk esthetic of contemporary Western society that has arisen partly in response to the Covid-19 pandemic but also to neoliberalism and climate change. It arises as a reaction to turmoil, offering the comfort of an imagined past, a tangible tactility, and a reconnection with the “old ways,” with nature, and the wild. In this paper, I explore the return to craft as a societal search for foundations via a case-study of its most commercially successful lockdown output, Taylor Swift’s folklore (2020).

    McGrath, J. (2023) “Haunted Folk: Spectres of the Analogue in Annhilation (2018)” in Haunted Soundtracks: AV Cultures of Memory, Landscape and Sound, Kevin Donnelly and Aimee Mollaghan eds. (Bloomsbury).
    McGrath, J. (2020) "On (vari)speed across David Lynch's Work" in Transmedia Directors: Sound, Image and the Digital Swirl, Carol Vernalis, Holly Rogers and Lisa Perrott eds. (Bloomsbury).
    McGrath, J. (2019) “How does a story get told from fractured bits?”: Laurie Anderson’s transformative repetition” in The Bloomsbury Handbook to Popular Music Video Analysis, Lori Burns and Stan Hawkins eds. (Bloomsbury).
    McGrath, J. (2019) Scott Walker: singer turned avant-garde composer spanned pop and classical music (The Conversation).
    McGrath, J. (2019) Original Composition: Wake and Whisper (Crooked Stem Recordings).
    McGrath, J. (2018) Liner notes: Scott Fields, "Barclay" (Ayler Records).
    McGrath, J. (2018) Performance: Solo guitar, Kings Place, London.
    McGrath, J. (2015) Book review: “Beckett and Musicality. Ed. by Sara Jane Bailes and Nicholas Till”
    Music and Letters 2015 96 (4): 681-683, doi: 10.1093/ml/gcv097.
    McGrath, J. (2012) “Musical Repetition in Samuel Beckett’s Ill Seen Ill Said”, in Time and Space in Words and Music, ed. Mario Dunkel, Emily Petermann and Burkhard Sauerwald (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang), pp.31-42.
    McGrath, J. (2012) Book review: “Mervyn Cooke (ed.), The Hollywood Film Music Reader and Tom Hoover, Keeping Score: Interviews with Today’s Top Film, Television, and Game Music Composers”, in Music, Sound, and the Moving Image 6:2, pp.245-251.
    McGrath, J. (2012) Conference review: “RMA Students’ Conference: Hull, 5-7 January 2012”, in RMA Newsletter XV: 1.
    Perks, R. & McGrath, J. eds. (2023) 21st Century Guitar: Evolutions & Augmentations (Bloomsbury)
    McGrath, J. (2021) "Laurie Anderson's Transmedia Storytelling" in Journal of Popular Music Studies (JPMS), Volume 33, Issue 4, December 2021.
    Rogers, H., McGrath, J., Vernalis, C. & Chapman, D. (2021) "Composer Ben Salisbury Discusses Scoring Science for Alex Garland" in Cybermedia: Explorations in Science, Sound and Vision (Bloomsbury).
    McGrath, J. (2023) “Interview with Nels Cline (Wilco)” in 21st Century Guitar: Evolutions and Augmentations, Perks & McGrath eds. (Bloomsbury).
    McGrath, J. (2023) “Interview with Bill Thompson” in 21st Century Guitar: Evolutions and Augmentations, Perks & McGrath eds. (Bloomsbury).
    Perks, R & McGrath, J. (2023) “Introduction” in 21st Century Guitar: Evolutions and Augmentations, Perks & McGrath eds. (Bloomsbury).
    McGrath, J. (2023) “Avant Folk and Glitch Aesthetics, A Practice-Based Perspective” in 21st Century Guitar: Evolutions and Augmentations, Perks & McGrath eds (Bloomsbury).