For John McDermott, walking on stage to greet thousands of shouting and clapping fans is as comfortable as sitting down in a living room with a few friends. Perhaps that's because the Scottish-Canadian singer/songwriter began his career singing for friends and family. Fame didn't come until the early '90s, when McDermott, a former newspaper circulation representative, hit the charts with his now-legendary cover of "Danny Boy."
By the time his first album was released in 1993, McDermott was in his late thirties and found himself quickly becoming a household name.
"Danny Boy" was followed up with several other wildly successful releases for the Canadian tenor, as well as other career milestones.
He sang at Ted Kennedy's funeral in 2009 after befriending the late Senator a few years before, and has three platinum albums behind him, a doubleplatinum record and a triple-platinum record too. There's also his successful stint with the Three Irish Tenors.
McDermott is hitting the road to mark 20 years of performing with a tour called Looking Back. He stops in at Nanaimo Port Theatre on Oct. 20 as part of a national tour.
"It's a trip down memory lane," said McDermott from his home in Toronto.
"It's easier now to talk about certain periods of my life that were hard. Like the early 2000s, that time frame there is nasty, but a lot of good stuff came out of it musically."
"Like my mom, my sister and my brother all passed within three months. It was the time when I had to hang it up or commit completely."
But press on he did, and the period of great personal loss also yielded an increase in song writing, much of which is on full display on McDermott's most recently recorded material.
After his father died in 1995, McDermott brought his late father's hat and cane on stage with him for performances. He added his mother's scarf when she died a few years later. Now, they serve as reminders of his parents' impact on his life.
"A lot of our show is about family," McDermott said. "And I don't mind talking about my family now. There's some funny moments and there's some sobering moments, and I can talk about them now."
McDermott's catalogue is heavily traditional music, songs he says have passed the test of time and carry a special resonance with each person.
"'Along the Merry Road To Hell' is a tough song to sing, because my brother Michael was an alcoholic, and there's a lot of families out there that have been touched by that beast and can relate to what I'm saying," he said.
And although he has sold millions of records, McDermott says forging a personal connection to audiences is more important than ever. Audiences can mostly find him standing in the lobby before the show and during the intermission, he said.
"I think access is a wonderful thing," he said.
"Access to allow someone. .. that opportunity to get close, either just to shake their hand, or thank you or tell you a story. I think we owe it to ourselves to do that, and that's just a godsend."
McDermott has just released a new Christmas album, plus a record of previously-recorded songs titled A Day to Myself. Two more records are slated for release in the near future: A collection of fan favourites, and a recording from the first show he ever performed. The difference between now and then? "I talk more now," he said with a laugh. "Now my guitar player just looks over at me then looks at his watch, and says, 'Hey, they paid to hear you sing, not jab, okay?'" The show begins at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $47.50.
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