Known for both his Celtic-tinged traditional tunes and contemporary styles, singer John McDermott is marking 20 years of sharing his music with the masses.
He performs in Red Deer at the Memorial Centre on April 4.
Fans can expect a nice collection of hits and tunes from over the years, plus new material from a hymns CD due in April.
As he reflects on the last couple of decades, McDermott can hardly believe how fast time has gone by. “You just get caught up in it. And we’ve never really slowed down. We’ve always got some kind of recording project on the go, so we are always busy. It’s amazing.”
Looking back to his start, McDermott can recall the moment when he realized he had made the right decision to make singing his 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 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.
“Everybody sang. My mother could play a little piano. My father – whenever he would sing – would talk about the song, who wrote it and why they wrote it, and then he’d sing it.” McDermott follows a similar format in his own shows, pointing out that it adds a new dimension to the song.
“My father probably had the best voice I’ve ever heard, but he had 12 kids so he couldn’t really do it for a living.”
The only formal musical training he received was when he attended St. Michael’s Choir School in Toronto for two years. 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.
EMI released 2,000 copies on Nov. 10, 1992. The next day being Remembrance Day, broadcaster Peter Gzowski played three tracks from the CD. The stores couldn’t keep it on the shelves.
A few months later, CBC-TV profiled him in a short piece that was aired on the The National. Within a short time the CD had sold more than 50,000 copies.
“EMI Music thought maybe they’d sell 2,000 to 3,000 units and all of a sudden they’re at 50,000, 75,000 and 100,000.”
McDermott took a leave of absence from his job to tour with The Chieftains. “You go from working in the press room to the opening act of the number one Celtic band in the world.”
At the end of that tour, he sat down with Cohl and Ballard and looked at the numbers. They knew that if they put him on a national tour, he’d be on his way.
The rest, as they say, is history.
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.
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.
“There have was a lot of other contemporary musicians that I admired, and I like to draw from those influences.”
Meanwhile, veterans are also special to him. In 2010, McDermott was awarded a Minister of Veterans Affairs Commendation for his work on behalf of veterans. He is also an honourary member of the War Amps of Canada.
As part of his anniversary celebrations, McDermott is also excited about the 20th Anniversary Tour Contest. Folks can enter to win a five-day tour for two to the historic beaches of Normandy, the monument at Vimy Ridge and other historical sites. More information can be found at www.mcdermotthousecanada.org.
These days, McDermott is enjoying every facet of his journey.
“The longer we are at it, the more inspired we become and we get better at it,” he explains. “And what we have done is we’ve constantly challenged each other in the band to make sure we aren’t mailing it in.”
No doubt he’s been onto something – for quite some time.
“We’ve had families coming to the show 20 years ago with their kids, and now those kids are coming with their own kids. And bringing their parents. It’s really great. The show is very, very much about reminiscing and taking a soft roller coaster down memory lane.”
For ticket information, call 403-755-6626 or visit www.blackknightinn.ca.