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Times Colonist
September 27, 2001

McDermott's Rendition Perfect For Circumstances

By Adrian Chamberlain

The U.S. terrorist attacks weighed heavily on the minds of John McDermott and Eric Bogle one week after that fateful day.

On Tuesday, the pair gave a concert to a packed house at the Royal Theatre. McDermott is a Toronto tenor of note, while Bogle -- who's a guest on McDermott's cross-Canada tour -- is an Australian folksinger best known for his hit, And the Band Play Waltzing Matilda.

The pair teamed up for McDermott's heartfelt rendition of Bogle's song, One Small Star. It was originally written as a tribute following the senseless massacre of schoolchildren in Dublane, Scotland, in 1996. In Victoria, Bogle dedicated his ballad to the hundreds of thousands directly affected by the terrorist attacks in the U.S., making solemn note of "the huge ripple of grief that will spread out and out and out."

It was a moving rendition. The song's narrator stares at a universe peppered with stars, and is comforted to know that "some who burn the brightest died an eternity ago." McDermott sang it well, yet the most poignant part was watching Bogle who -- eyes closed and clearly stirred -- sang along with his song, standing in the background, away from the microphone.

That was the only reference to the events of a week ago during a concert that was mostly upbeat and occasionally hilarious. Yet it likely wasn't the only time the audience -- mostly an over-50 crowd -- shed a tear. McDermott specializes in nostalgic, slightly weepy songs both old and new. On the one hand, he assumes the guise of the traditional "Irish tenor," performing Celtic chestnuts such as Danny Boy. On the other, he's a sensitive pop balladeer for the new millennium, singing sensitive contemporary songs such as Love Remembers When, inspired by a woman whose beloved husband suffered from Alzheimer's disease.

It was the first night of the band's Canadian tour, and there was a glitch or two. For instance, McDermott forgot the words to the first song of his second set, explaining, "I just had a moment." He promised to reprise the tune later, but never did. Similarly, Bogle had a false start to his tune Safe in the Harbour, a tribute to his hero, the late Stan Rogers.

The pair easily were able to overcome such bloopers, however. Both are relaxed performers who take such mini-catastrophes in stride. These days McDermott tells more stories than he used to and jokes around a lot.

"You can sing along, I'm not sitting next to you," he told the crowd after a sprightly version of the traditional Scots ballad, Go Lassie Go. Elsewhere, McDermott -- who attracts his share of fervent fans -- instructed those with cameras to shoot away as he assumed dramatic poses while pretending to sing.

Bogle, meanwhile, was so at ease with the crowd, it seemed his storytelling was going to overtake his music-making. A lovable roly-poly guy with a white beard, Bogle gave delightful, rambling introductions to his songs, telling yarns about his Scottish mother who kept watch for him after his drunken rambles, and meeting a whisky-bearing Stan Rogers at the Vancouver Folk Festival in the early 1980s.

Unlike McDermott, who's something of a middle-aged heartthrob, the short, balding Bogle explained he'd been added to the tour to add a sexual frisson to the proceedings.

"They said, we want someone who can inject a bit of sexual tension. Are you ready for your injections?" he joked.

McDermott's new material -- some of it contained on his latest disc, A Day to Myself -- no doubt has its share of devotees. Often, these songs have a saccharine quality common to adult contemporary pop. The lyrics seem a trifle glib, and McDermott's band, while technically accomplished, seals everything with a slick veneer that occasionally verges on the soulless.

His most memorable tunes are the golden oldies. These are traditional songs such as Galway Bay, which may seem a tad precious with its references to turf fires and "barefoot gosoons at their play" but nonetheless has a strong Celtic soul. Even the oft-heard Danny Boy has the power to move. And McDermott knows how to play it for all its worth, delivering the final lines as a cluster of angelic falsetto notes.

Bogle is not the best vocalist in the world, although his singing has a rough-hewn authenticity. He's hard to beat as an entertainer, though. His exuberance is seemingly irrepressible, and he manages to imbue his material with an emotional power that transcends occasional sentimentality.