September 25, 2001
Singer Knew What the Crowd Wanted
By Colin MacLean
EDMONTON -- There is a local billboard ad for
a brew from Nova Scotia. It tells us that "those who like it - really like
The same can certainly be said for John McDermott, who took over the Winspear last night. Judging from the gray hairs in the audience, McDermott shares few ticket buyers with The Backstreet Boys but he sure knew what his audience wanted and in the process turned the mighty Winspear into the living room of a wee hame with a clod of peat glowing in the grate.
The smooth 47-year-old tenor with the soaring voice and easy-going personality touched all the right buttons. He sang of lost youth, fading memory, the call of the mother country. The auld songs and the auld sod.
By the time he got to Scotland the Brave, I was set to pack up and go home to me dear sweet mother waiting by the cottage door. The only thing that stopped me was that neither my mother nor me has ever been to Scotland.
McDermott's repertoire has deepened and broadened since he first burst on the scene in the early '90s. Perhaps selling over two million records and his unceasing touring have pushed him away from Mother Machree and into something more contemporary.
Consequently the usual favourites My Ain Folk and Galway Bay found easy companionship with Love Remembers ( a song about Alzheimer's), When I Grow too Old to Dream, When You and I Were Young Maggie, and an upbeat I'll Be Seeing You.
Australian songwriter Eric Bogel was McDermott's guest. Like McDermott, Bogel is an expat Scot but rather than just interpret other people's songs, Bogel writes his own. And they are jim dandys. He's best known for And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda but apparently has written a whole catalogue of well-crafted, listen-able songs.
He is also a squat Scottish pixie, who if he ever runs dry in this career, could make a living as a stand-up comic. Bogel poked a bit of gentle fun at the laid-back headliner, calling him a "Perry Como on Prozac."
Anyone who knows which N'Sync singer is going out with Britney won't get that one, but last night's audience sure did. Bogel was a vital and entertaining force in a show notable for its emphasis on ballads.
One of the high points of the evening is when Bogel sang his big hit The Green Fields of France, a moving story generated by the message on the gravestone of a 19-year-old soldier who died in the First World War.
McDermott graciously stood in the back and provided some expressive vocal backing for the powerful song. But there was no doubt McDermott was what the folks came to hear. The voice is as clear and pleasant as ever.
McDermott's special ability, since he neither plays an instrument nor writes his own songs, is to interpret what he sings with truth.
The songs become small dramas as the singer delivers them with intelligence and passion. Especially his signature Danny Boy, which he has by now burnished to a heart-rending glow. The reading is intimate, powerful and memorable.
McDermott is backed by an excellent small group that played so well in their solo set that you wish they had more chance to spread their musical wings.
Toward the end of the evening there was many a moist eye in the audience.
A second concert has been added tonight.