October 2, 2001
Singer Made the Songs
By Andy Cooper
This absorbing concert could easily have been called "An Evening with John McDermott -- and Friends," for the Scottish-born balladeer generously shared more than two hours on stage with two guest singers and even made time for his five-piece band to enjoy the limelight.
It made for a very entertaining and varied program.
That said, the crowd of more than 1,200 came to see and hear McDermott, and he underscored an old showbiz truth with his marvelous performance: It's the singer, not the song.
Great material helps, but McDermott could weave his spell singing a shopping list with that great, distinctive tenor voice of his. He has the knack of getting right into the soul of a song, and if his rendition of "Danny Boy" tugged at the heartstrings, the awesome tribute to fathers everywhere -- "My Old Man" -- surely broke them and made more than a few eyes misty with pleasure.
McDermott offered a nice variety, from slow ballads like "Never Doubt Love" to stirring Celtic evergreens like "Scotland The Brave," "The Skye Boat Song" and "Songs For The Mira."
A surprise was his fresh-as-new-paint rendition of "I'll Be Seeing You" -- in other hands, it sounds almost like a dirge -- which he crooned to a couple in the front row that he persuaded to dance. With its upbeat 1940's sound, it was a real crowd pleaser.
Speaking of sound, McDermott's band was top drawer. Brigham Phillips (keyboard), Bill Bridges (guitar), Ray Legere (fiddle), Vernon Dorge (saxophone) and Eamonn Dillon (pipes) switched effortlessly from one musical style to another and also offered their own little jam session that culminated in a toe-tapping Celtic finale.
And what can one say about McDermott's advertised guest, the irrepressible Eric Bogle?
"I've been brought in to add sexual tension," grinned the balding, pot-bellied fifty-something Bogle, a renowned Scottish-born singer/songwriter who now calls Australia home.
Bogle, who provoked much hilarity with his dry stories, is a concert headliner in his own right and he paid tribute to McDermott's generosity in sharing the stage with fellow artists he admires.
"There's certainly no economic reason for it," he quipped, like a true Scot.
Though a rough diamond on the outside, Bogle is a sensitive guitar poet and he moved the crowd with his admirable anti-war song "The Green Fields of France," composed after he toured the First World War cemeteries of northern France.
Even here there was humour, as Bogle gleefully recounted before singing it how the lyric was a favourite of British prime minister Tony Blair. When newspapers got hold of that story, they reported the song had been written "by a soldier named Eric Bogle, who was killed in the First World War."
"My wife says that explains a lot," Bogle deadpanned.
"Leaving Nancy," describing his painful farewell to his mother and family on the day he left Scotland for Australia in 1969, was another beautifully crafted ballad. In a lighter vein, Bogle really cracked up the audience with "Endangered Species," a ribald lament to the vanishing white Anglo-Saxon male, set to a bluesy beat.
McDermott's other -- unadvertised -- guest was the Saskatoon singer/songwriter Eileen Laverty.
McDermott heard a recording by Laverty and said he wanted to share her talent with audiences on his 19-date Canadian tour. She captivated the crowd with a short set that included "Tread Softly," a soulful song of love, full of honesty and integrity.
McDermott is one class act.