October 27, 2001
John McDermott at the Royal Theatre
By Naomi de Bruyn
so we were late arriving. No excuses, it was my fault entirely. We had to
wait at the door and listen through it, like little children listening in on
adult conversation that they shouldn't hear -- like discussing Christmas
shopping lists! And then the usher showed us to our seats, which naturally
had someone else sitting in them. So we squeezed by them to the next seats
and tried to be as inconspicuous as possible. Like this is easy in a
A rare treat was in store for the audience, joining John on this particular tour is his old friend and song writing genius, Eric Bogle. Eric is the talent behind the modern folk song, "And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda," which he composed in 1972. This tour is dedicated to all the "men, women, and families who selflessly sacrificed a part of their lives in service for freedom and Democracy." Eric has penned a number of songs "which articulate the sacrifices of veterans and their families," and thus was a perfect choice to accompany John.
These two performed an original piece by Eric, entitled "If Wishes Were Fishes." Eric handled the lead vocals and John did backing vocals. It was an eerie experience, at times their voices were so close in pitch as to sound like one single voice. The audience sat spellbound, enjoying the performance, and I must say I was rather mesmerized myself.
Eric performed the first song he wrote in Australia after emigrating there from England. It is entitled "Leaving Nancy" and was written for his mother. Luckily Eric's mother, Nancy, was
able to hear it once before she died. It is a beautiful ballad, and once again John provided the backing vocals in perfect harmony.
Accompanying John on this tour are some pretty impressive musicians, in their own rights. Ray Legere (fiddle), Vernon Dorge (saxophone), Bill Bridges (guitar), and Brigham Phillips (keyboards). Bill has been with John since day one, and the two have a great chemistry between them. Each of these musicians has his own CD out, as well, if you are interested in hunting them down.
After the introductions, John stepped back and let them do a medley which consisted of everything from ragtime to fiddle music. An exquisite piece which showcased the band's singular and combined talents to the their full extent. It was an exceptional performance, and one which was loudly applauded by the audience.
John performed "Scotland the Brave," or actually his version of the original lyrics. It was beautiful. John has a very powerful voice, and appears as comfortable on-stage as a captain at the helm of his ship. His was a strong steady hand, guiding the evening. This impeccable Irish tenor, as he was billed, is an incredibly relaxed Performer. He put me in mind of Rita McNeil, as the two of them seem to share that comfortable relaxed attitude on-stage.
During the intermission the band was actually doing a signing, making a number of people extremely happy. The CD sales must have gone through the roof once people realized that they could have them autographed right then and there! There were a number of hearts aflutter, too, as a few lovelorn lasses were languishing over the boys in the band. Sprightly Celtic tunes filled the theatre during the intermission, and were a balm when compared with the chattering of the crowd.
When John took the stage for the second and final set, he delighted the audience by posing for pictures right then and there. He posed as if singing his heart out and let the shutter bugs snap Away. This was so that he would not be disturbed by flashing lights during the remainder of his performance. It had the audience chuckling and well appeased, and ensured the set would be free from picture taking.
John then "had a moment" during the song he was singing. He forgot the words. Just a brief memory blank, which I'm sure we're all guilty of suffering at one time or another in our lives. Thankfully the audience was understanding and John quite apologetic as the boys in the band tried not to laugh.
The next piece was entitled "Marion Bridge" (I believe) and was filled with beauty. The flautist was incredible, the light shimmy of cascading notes causing the audience to drift away on the music. The mandolin skillfully joined in and we all enjoyed this soft, comfortable Number. John's voice is a gift, beautiful and unearthly in its abilities, a wonder to listen to, and you are left wanting more!
Next up was a tune written by Ted Dykstra to his wife, it is entitled "Never Doubt Love." The trumpet added a sultry, passionate touch to this heart-melting love song. And John, appearing quite casual, yet elegant, in black dress pants and black crew neck sweater topped with a black suit jacket, performed this piece in the manner of a master.
Eric returned to the stage, and there was a great exchange between the two. Their friendship very apparent as they bantered about on-stage for the amusement of the crowd. Then Eric performed a song he had written for someone who perished in an air incident.
"Safe in the Harbour" had to be restarted as Eric lost his place. This is a deeply moving piece, and Eric performed with the grace of an olden-time balladeer. He is an exception performer, weaving magic with his songs and sharing his life with the audience through the music.
Up next was a hilarious song of Eric's entitled "Endangered Species," which is about what Eric believes the most endangered species to be. It's a jazzy composition and contains a lot of laughs! As far as Eric is concerned, this species which is the most endangered of all is the "white Anglo-Saxon male!" The entire audience was laughing, and John had to wipe his eyes a time or three he was laughing so hard. Eric capped it off by dedicating the piece to John.
John then took center stage again and sang "One Small Star." It was originally written for the children killed in Dunblane Scotland, but it was dedicated this night to all of those affected by the terrorist bombing of the World Trade Center in New York. John's vocals rang out to reach the very stars themselves, and this sad tragic song hit home with everyone in the theatre.
A soft and sorrowful version of "The Old Man" was followed by a stunning version of "Oh Danny Boy." This one actually brought tears to my eyes. John's voice really is magic, and he conveys so much with it. He is a performer of incredible talent and poise, and should well be ranked with the top in the world. Comedy and tales abounded in this enchanting show, as well as little tidbits of history which only added to the enjoyment.
After a riotous encore call, John and the band returned to the stage for one more Tune. "The Parting Glass" was not only a fitting end to a fulfilling evening, but a lovely parting gesture from a man this town really adores. Once the last notes vanished from the air, so did John vanish from the stage. The clapping went on for a brief time, as most of the audience realized that no amount of calling and clapping would bring them back to the stage, and then the audience made its way out into the dark chill of a fall night in Victoria.