When one of your most popular songs is more than 300 years old and has been recorded by more than 100 different artists, it would seem like a tough act to follow. Not so for international recording star John McDermott.
One of the signature pieces the Irish Tenors member performs is Danny Boy, a song that has remained popular over three centuries.
The melody to Danny Boy, says McDermott, first appeared in the mid-1600s. Lyrics were written to the music in 1909, and the song was first recorded in 1912. Since then, it has been the No. 1 requested piece of sheet music for decades, and more than 100 recordings have been made by various artists, including McDermott. Despite its history and age, Danny Boy remains a popular song.
“Everyone can associate a memory to it,” he says. “It’s a song that became part of the fabric of people’s lives…it’s a memory piece and people attach that song to a particular time or memory in their life.”
McDermott will perform Danny Boy and other classics like Loch Lomond, Voyage and The Old Man as well as some of his new releases on Friday, Oct. 13 at the ADSS Theatre in Port Alberni.
“It will be a nice family evening,” he said.
That connection to story, to auditory memory, ties in beautifully with McDermott’s CD and performance, Raised on Songs and Stories. It also plays to McDermott’s strength in telling stories with his music.
“I think these songs resonate,” he says. “There’s a history to (this kind of music). It’s been a part of their lives all their lives, and their parents’ and their grandparents’ lives.
“The songs become generational.”
McDermott, one of 12 children, says he was raised on these types of classic songs. “Everybody sang,” he says. The family would gather Friday and Saturday nights in their Glasgow, Scotland home and there would be music. When they immigrated to Willowdale, Ontario, this tradition continued.
“It still goes on,” he says. “I’m doing a lot of travelling now but when [my siblings] have get-togethers—and they have get-togethers—it’s all music.”
McDermott got his start after the late radio host Peter Gzowski noticed McDermott’s first CD, an album of Irish and Scottish ballads the singer compiled for his parents’ 50th wedding anniversary, then had produced.
“Peter received a copy of the album the day it was released, on Nov. 10. On Nov. 11 he played three tracks from the album because he fell in love with it.” McDermott said.
Those three tracks were And The Band Played Waltzing Mathilda, Danny Boy and Christmas in the Trenches.
The stores couldn’t keep McDermott’s CD on the shelves and more copies were quickly produced. A few months later a CBC-TV documentary maker profiled McDermott in a short piece and CBC anchor Peter Mansbridge featured it in his newscast. The album quickly sold 50,000 copies.
McDermott later appeared on Gzowski’s show about a dozen times; he gives the affable radio show host credit for advancing his career.
“He never got enough credit” for introducing “an incredible” number of new music artists to Canadian listeners, McDermott said.
That was 24 years ago. Since then he has made a full-time living with his singing, touring around the world.
McDermott released a jazz CD Oct. 4 in Toronto, a collection of soft jazz standards. It’s a departure from his usual fare, he admits. “It’s a genre I haven’t looked at. It was an opportunity to work with some of the (best) jazz musicians in the country,” he said.
He has a double DVD project coming out, someone is writing a book about him that he hopes will come out by Christmas and he is planning for a new CD to be released next March. There has also been talk about an anniversary CD.
When McDermott is not onstage, he likes to spend his time outdoors. He has a kayak fitted with an outrigger “so I can take my dogs.” He golfs, and he likes to hike.
The last time he was in the Alberni Valley, which was several years ago, he decided to hike in Cathedral Grove. The trip was memorable—but not for a performance.
“The last time I was here I got my arm put back into place,” he said.
McDermott enjoys a hike and that visit was no different, until he tripped. He broke his wrist in three places and required a trip to the hospital.
“The closest hospital was in Alberni,” he said.
Tickets are $47.50 and available at the Rollin Art Centre, Eighth Avenue at Argyle Street (phone 250-724-3412).
Doors open at 6:30 p.m. and the show starts at 7:30 p.m. The ADSS Theatre is located at Alberni District Secondary School, 4000 Roger St., with entrance on the left side of the school.