With his instantly-recognizable voice being a long-time part of the Canadian musical landscape, John McDermott has garnered a loyal fan base not only across the country but right here in Central Alberta as well.
He performs at the Memorial Centre on May 27th.
His newest CD, Raised on Songs & Stories, is a new kind of recording, borne of a collaboration between McDermott and musician/arranger Eric Robertson. The CD is unique in that it offers listeners a continuous flow of music with no breaks – and it’s something that McDermott has wanted to explore for some time.
“For the last 10 or so years Eric Robertson and I have toyed with the idea of recording an album with no breaks, no silence between the tracks – just one single, continuous flow of music from start to finish. That idea finally bloomed this year,” he said, adding that great care was also taken in selecting just the right tunes for this particular project.
“I wanted it to be as traditional as possible with pieces that people would recognize,” he said. “And I think it worked out great.
“All of the songs you will find here are ones that I have enjoyed my entire life, deeply rooted in my Scottish heritage—but with the occasional nod to my Irish ancestry—with Dublin in the Rare Ould Times and Yesterday’s People (written by Finbar Furey) truly heart-wrenching,” he said, adding that, “Eric’s skill as a musician and arranger shine through in many places, but particularly in two medleys The Way It Was and Aunt Margaret’s Mirror – as well as short musical interludes that link each song together. Truly beautiful.
“And I No More Shall Be Passing this Way is very special to me. It was written by Darcy Broderick (Irish Descendants) for my father shortly after his passing in 1995. I think it’s a beautiful tribute to ‘my old man’.”
His father was a real source of inspiration for McDermott, who has also described his father as being a better singer than him as well. “I absolutely inherited my dad’s voice. That’s where it comes from.”
His family was also excited about sharing their love for music with folks in the neighbourhood.
“There were those Friday and Saturday nights when I’d be meeting all these people I’d never met before – people on our street.”
And while there is a traditional feel to the CD, McDermott added that there are pieces that are relatively contemporary as well.
Looking back to his start, McDermott can recall the moment when he realized he had made the right decision to make singing his full-time career.
It was at the Rebecca Cohn Theatre in Halifax as he walked on stage to a full house and a thunderous East Coast welcome. It was the first concert with his own band, following a year as the opening act for Irish group The Chieftains. McDermott was thrilled the Halifax crowd was so enthusiastic.
Not that many years before, he had been working in the circulation department of one of Toronto’s daily newspapers.
As a creative outlet, he would sing a few Irish and Scottish folk tunes at staff gatherings – songs he had learned growing up in Willowdale, Ontario after his family moved there from Glasgow, Scotland.
But the turning point in terms of career was sparked when he recorded an album of Irish and Scottish ballads as a 50th wedding anniversary gift for his parents.
Those who heard the album encouraged him to have it produced commercially.
A couple of entertainment business heavyweights, Michael Cohl and Bill Ballard, had been impressed with his singing at a karaoke night during the Toronto Floating Film Festival a couple of years earlier. So he took the album to Ballard, who put him in touch with the president of EMI Music Canada.
McDermott took a leave of absence from his job to tour with The Chieftains.
“Michael called me and said to put a band together. I said put a band together? He said, ‘Well, you’re going on a tour’. So I got a leave of absence and three months later I’m opening for The Chieftains on their North American tour. It was crazy.”
Throughout 1994, he toured Australia and New Zealand where Danny Boy had topped the charts. He played his first U.S. concert at Boston’s Ritz Carlton Hotel in 1995.
“It was very surreal for a long time.”
Since the beginning of his musical journey, McDermott has recorded more than 25 albums. And although he emerged during a time of resurgence in Celtic music, and much of his tunes retain that kind of charming feel, he has been careful not to pigeonhole himself as a ‘Celtic artist’ per se. He also gathers inspiration during regular trips back to his beautiful homeland. He describes the communities and the richness of the culture with an unbridled affection. “You can really hear yourself breathing,” he explains of the serene stretches of Scottish countryside. “It helps you get some of those creative juices back.”
For McDermott, sharing his music is just as much of a joy as it always was.
“It’s still fun – it really is,” he says. “It’s still great to be in the lobby when people are coming in. It’s like we are a big family of some sort.
“That’s where you get some great tips – in the lobby, too,” he laughs. “People are bringing these old songs and music sheets and saying, ‘You should try this one’,” he explains. “You get a feeling of what people are expecting to hear and what they would like to hear.”
There are challenges – first off, you are away from home an awful lot. “So I really value my down time,” he said, adding he enjoys a quieter pace of life at his home a few hours north of Toronto. “It’s beautiful.”
For tickets, check out www.blackknightinn.ca.