McDermott Creates 'A Time To Remember' On Angel Records
By Larry LeBlanc
TORONTO - John McDermott, one of Canada's leading recording artists for a decade, is now ready for his international close-up.
It's likely to happen via an upcoming 90-minute U.S. TV special and a companion album. Both are titled John McDermott-A Time to Remember.
Taped in November 2001 at the Living Arts Center outside Toronto, the TV special premieres this month on PBS member stations in the U.S. The album is released Feb. 26 in the U.S. by Angel Records and in Canada and the U.K. by EMI.
The TV show is a product of McDermott Productions in association with WGBH-TV in Boston. Arrangements are handled by musical director/conductor Frank McNamara, who also produced the album.
These two projects cap a striking career for 46-year-old McDermott. He has a catalog of 10 albums, which have achieved overall sales of 1 million units in Canada. McDermott is also known to American audiences as an original member of the Irish Tenors, who achieved U.S. gold with their 1999 eponymous debut.
While McDermott toured the U.S. three times with the Irish Tenors and appeared as a guest on a follow-up album, he decided to make his own inroads into the U.S. market. "It was fun with the guys, but I had other ideas I wanted to pursue," McDermott says.
Capitol Records Jazz/Classics president Bruce Lundvall says, "John has done an extraordinary job of finding an adult market and appealing broadly to them. He has started to sell well in America, and this PBS special is the perfect showcase. Every facet of what he does is beautifully captured on the show."
Angel Records product manager Josh Gold
says the label's strategy is to promote the PBS special and album aggressively
and then introduce McDermott's back catalog in the U.S. this fall. While
McDermott had U.S. success with his 1996 TV-marketed Northport Marketing album,
The Danny Boy Collection-which has sold 400,000 units via mail order to date-his
previous U.S. releases on
Angel (Battlefields of Green, Christmas Memories, and Remembrance) fared poorly.
"John has had some ups and downs with Angel, because his repertoire isn't classical and they didn't have the vehicle [to promote him]," explains EMI Music Canada president Deane Cameron, who signed McDermott a decade ago. "PBS is that vehicle." Gold agrees: "We know this will be a very successful special and a very successful record."
With a bell-like tenor, McDermott performs traditional Scottish and Irish songs, as well as easy-listening pop standards. He is, perhaps, a throwback to the great Irish tenor John McCormack, a U.S. sensation in the early 1900s, as well as such later pop music crooners as Bing Crosby, Perry Como, and Roger Whittaker.
EMI Music Canada director of special products Eddie Colero notes, "People, especially older people, love John. At concerts, they sit there and cry."
Tim Baker, head buyer at the 32-store Sunrise Records chain in Toronto, says, "McDermott's albums sell. He's got a good voice and knows his audience. We're looking for big things with this album."
For his new projects, McDermott selected songs reflecting both his extensive catalog and his Scots-Irish heritage, including "Skye Boat Song," "Song for the Mira," and his signature tune, "Danny Boy." McDermott also salutes war veterans with performances of "Christmas in the Trenches" and "Battle Hymn of the Republic," as well as a medley featuring "Roses of Picardy," "Lilli Marlene," and "We'll Meet Again"-songs that were popularized during wartime.
The show-stopper of the TV program is
McDermott's performance of Phil Coulter's "The Old Man," dedicated to
his father, Peter McDermott, who passed away in 1995. With his sister Margaret
and several of his brothers sitting in the audience, McDermott becomes visibly
tearful during the performance. "As I got eye contact with Margaret,"
he says, "I thought to myself, 'Jesus, here
we go.' "
The ninth of 12 children born to a father from County Donegal in the Irish Republic and a mother from County Antrim in Northern Ireland, McDermott was born in Priesthill, Scotland. The family moved to Canada in 1965. After high school, McDermott worked as a shipper and a salesman at Specialty Chemical, followed by a stint in the circulation department of The Toronto Sun. He occasionally performed at weddings, family gatherings, and friends' parties.
At one of these parties, newspaper
magnate Conrad Black, CEO of Hollinger-which owns such titles as The Daily
Telegraph of London and the Chicago Sun-Times-heard McDermott and agreed to
finance an album. This was Danny Boy, put together as a 50th-anniversary
surprise for McDermott's parents. The album, released by EMI, was eventually
(200,000 units) in Canada.
In 1993, McDermott quit his day job. "I'm really enjoying what's happening," he says. "When I said to my old man that [EMI] wanted me to [work full-time], he said, 'Go! You can always get a job.' "