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The Record
October 16, 2001

We Turn To John McDermott's Songs When Winds of Fear Howl at our Door

By Robert Reid

Canadian singer John McDermott brought his rich tenor voice to the Centre in the Square last night.
Since opening more than 20 years ago, the Centre in the Square has maintained relationships with a handful of artists who regularly perform.

These have included Anne Murray and Roger Whittaker, in addition to Gordon Lightfoot, who last appeared in August.

John McDermott is one of the more recent artists to establish this special relationship with the centre. Seldom does a year go by without the Toronto-based folk balladeer appearing.

It's not hard to put your finger on why McDermott is so popular, with seven albums to his credit, three of which went platinum.

His rich tenor voice -- which has garnered him five Juno nominations in two vocalist categories -- is as warm and comforting as a hot toddy on a cold winter's night.

His song selection and interpretations -- many of which are drawn from traditional Irish and Scottish repertoires -- waver along the path between sentimentality and sentiment.

Many are songs hummed to children at bedtime, shared among friends around kitchen tables or in parlours. Others are songs we whisper to loved ones or turn to in quiet moments when the winds of fear and uncertainty howl at our door.

In times of strife and discord, McDermott makes the world a little friendlier by casting the light of song to hold the darkness at bay.

Whether its because of his Scottish roots, there's something both old world and old fashioned about McDermott's approach to song, despite the fact much of his material is penned by contemporary songwriters.

McDermott ranged over his albums for last night's concert including Wild Mountain Tyme, Voyage, Galway Bay, When You and I Were Young Maggie, Love Remembers When, Never Doubt My Love, Scotland the Brave, Song for the Mira, When I Grow too Old to Dream and I'll Be Seeing You.

McDermott was joined by musical director Brigham Phillips on keyboards, Bill Bridges on guitar, Vernon Dorge on sax, flute and clarinet and Belfast native Eamonn Dillon on uillean pipes and whistles. They all strutted their stuff during a sequence of instrumental solos and duets in the first of two 60-minute sets.

McDermott has carved out a unique place in North American music as a contemporary folk balladeer, as compared to either a traditional folksinger or a singer-songwriter.

A large part of his success as an interpreter of song, rather than as a songwriter, has been his musical taste as reflected in the material he performs and records.

One of the writers he has regularly turned to is Eric Bogle, who has appeared with McDermott on his 19-date cross-Canada tour, which ended last night. His U.S. tour begins in a few weeks.

Instead of having Bogle open with a few songs, McDermott came on stage first for a half dozen songs before turning things over to his guest, who sang two early compositions, If Wishes Were Fishes and Leaving Nancy.

Born in Scotland, Bogle has lived in Australia since 1969. He is acknowledged as one of the world's most accomplished folksingers.

There's hardly a folksinger worthy of the tag who hasn't covered such Bogle standards as Leaving Nancy, One Small Star, Now I'm Easy, Nobody's Moggy Now, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda and No Man's Land (The Green Fields of France), the latter two anti-war folk masterpieces.

McDermott has recorded a number of Bogle songs including One Small Star, And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda and No Man's Land, in addition to Always Back to You, from his latest album A Day to Myself.

In the second set, Bogle performed a moving No Man's Land and Endangered Species before joining McDermott on the chorus of One Small Star.

McDermott ended with a tender Danny Boy, with a spine-tingling intro by Dillon on the Irish pipes.