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The Calgary Sun - October 8, 1999

Celtic Wonder
The sweet sounds of John McDermott

By Dave Veitch

CALGARY -- John McDermott goes down smooth and satisfying, like a pint of fine Guinness.

Give this one-time Toronto Sun employee nothing more than a microphone and chances are, he'll not only regale you with colourful stories, but soothe and caress you with a rich, expressive brogue that's meant to be used on songs from the British Isles.

Toss in his casual, conversational on-stage demeanor and you have, for all intents and purposes, a Celtic version of Dean Martin.

Not even appearing with the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra before a near-capacity crowd last night at the Jack Singer Concert Hall could faze the unflappable McDermott.

Sure, he's used to performing with smaller ensembles and he's probably more at home crooning in some pub, but this class act was also in his element backed by the finest classical musicians in the city.

After eliciting laughs by striking ridiculous poses for the cameramen assembled -- "It's better to give them something good instead of the rubbish they print," he said -- McDermott launched into his opening number, Love is a Voyage.

The song is exactly what you would expect from McDermott: A vividly drawn story that addresses nothing less than the cycle of life, conveyed with a fine blend of realism and romanticism.

The song ends, you're swooning -- and McDermott drops another of his perfectly timed quips.

"Oh, the 8:15 tickets have arrived," he playfully noted, fixing his gaze upon some sheepish late-comers. And so it went throughout the evening.

The arrangements, it should be noted, were always stately and never schmaltzy.

The orchestra added to the drama of wartime songs with drum rolls, captured a sense of place with colliery-band-style trumpeting, and sometimes just cushioned McDermott's velvety voice with light touches of piano and harp.

Scotland the Great had a grandeur and epic sweep you'd expect from some classic movie opus, while McDermott's forays into pop standards swung gently, in the style of Frank Sinatra's work with Nelson Riddle.

McDermott would often pay tribute to his material by explaining the songs origins.

Last night, though, he went one step further.

Ever the gentleman, McDermott relinquished the stage and invited out a special guest, Scottish songwriter Eric Bogle, who played his own composition, Green Fields of France, a staple of McDermott's repertoire.

Bogle then invited McDermott back to sing another of his compositions, One Small Star.

"John sings it like an angel, which he's not," Bogle said.

He may be right, but McDermott's voice is undoubtedly Heaven-sent.