Kevin McGrath – Pop Hack
Back in March, just as lockdown was starting to take shape, I published a revised and updated version of Pop Hack, a book that collected together some of my best music writing for Wales Arts Review, Buzz magazine and, of course, this very website. The plans that I had carefully devised, to have the book on sale at record stores, arts centres, coffee shops, libraries and local gigs, simply went out of the window. Frustrating enough at the best of times, but doubly so when my aim was to raise as much money as possible for Velindre Cancer Centre.
I had just started writing about music for Plugged In magazine when I was diagnosed with neuroendocrine cancer. After surgery to remove a tumour from my spine on Christmas Eve 2012, I spent three months confined to bed in the University of Wales spinal unit, which gave me a lot of time to think ahead. It was during those long days and nights that the idea of writing seriously about music began to take root.
For the past seven or so years I have become something of a familiar sight at Clwb Ifor Bach, The Moon Club and much-missed venues like The Buffalo Bar and Gwdihw, propped up on my hospital crutches, notebook in hand, jotting down my thoughts on Boy Azooga, Climbing Trees, Silent Forum, Dan Bettridge and many, many more. Many of those excellent local artists appear in Pop Hack, together with reviews and/or interviews with international acts including Courtney Marie Andrews, Dexy’s Midnight Runners, Willy Vlautin, Girl Ray, Van Morrison, Peter Hook and Downtown Boys. By and large I have been able to get the job done, thanks to my wife Karen, who does all the driving, and, most importantly, queuing at the bar while I desperately try to decipher my notes.
I have been fortunate that the book has received strong support form the likes of the Welsh Music Podcast, websites such as God is in the TV and From the Margins, GTFM Radio and former Record Mirror journalist, and freelance broadcaster, Stephanie McNicholas. There has been encouragement from further afield too, notably from Bloodbuzzed in Portugal, The Beautiful Music label in Canada and, most recently, from Professor Art Jipson of the University of Dayton, Ohio, who has included Pop Hack on the recommended reading list for the course he teaches on popular music.
There is a long list of things that we are all missing terribly in this pandemic and I’m not pretending for one moment that live music is right at the top of that list. However, there is no disputing the joy of going to a gig with a few good mates. Until those days return, Pop Hack, even though I say so myself, would make a half-decent consolation prize, with every penny of the money I make going to a good cause. It’s a book for people who love to talk about music as well as listen to it and that IS something we can still do. The book can be purchased at Amazon (bit.ly/PopHack) or at a discounted rate at ARTtic, Treforest, Pontypridd. If there are other businesses happy to stock the book, you can message me @kevonhissoapbox. Many thanks to Francis and New Sound Wales for providing the opportunity for one last Pop Hack sales pitch!