John McDermott and Friends at Koerner Hall (Toronto)

A Traditional Christmas.jpg

Submitted by Sandy Graham

When you arrive at a John McDermott show he does the unthinkable in soft seat theatre artist behaviour – he is at the door pre-show to greet his fans. As I walked in, there he was, in comfortable clothes, wrapping his arms around various people as they walked in with their tickets in hand. Warm start before he even starting singing all the classic Christmas songs with his big Irish/Scottish lungs. 

McDermott walks comfortably on stage, warmly saying hello to the audience, and giving a quick wave across the stage to his band. Right from the start, he has the audience in the palm of his hands, casually strolling the stage, leaning on a small stool, and telling great stories in between all the songs of the season.
From his rendition of Murray McLauchlan’s ‘Old Tin Star’, ‘Christmas in the Trenches’, (a memorial of the Christmas Truce of 1914) ‘I’ll Be Home For Christmas’ all done McDermott style; with very acoustic touches made possible by his brilliant guitarist and musical director, Jason Fowler. The licks and trills are so great that McDermott quips ‘Don’t encourage him folks’. The Canadian tenor effortlessly hit the highs and the lows in his delivery of ‘Ava Maria’ as well as ‘Oh Holy Night’. All the while telling you jokes about his trials and tribulations of finding and keeping a band together.

Dylan Gowan Photo Credit Jacqueline GowanDylan Gowan Photo Credit Jacqueline Gowan“The record company told me I needed a band so I went to a pub…found a young fiddler and asked him to join the band. That young lad was Ashley McIssac, who ending up dumping, no sorry, leaving me to work with The Chieftans. So I went back to the pub (not the same pub) and found a girl who was wonderful on the fiddle and then asked the fledgling artist, Natalie MacMaster to join my band. She did, until she had to move on as well. It has all been quite the journey.”

He tells of his Mum, and her tattered phone book, full of names of relatives ‘over the pond’ who she phoned on Sundays for a ‘catch up’. The love and memories he has of his family shines in his eyes when he talks of them.

Musical guests were there as well, the great Guido Basso, a legend in his own right. The Mistletones joined him on stage, the alumni choir of St. Michaels that John was part of at one point of his life. Perfect timing of delivery, McDermott started singing ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love With You’ with Elvis moves et al. A short verse for a giggle and then he was right back into his Christmas theme.

Next in line was a special guest appearance of (Larry) Gowan, a Glaswegian/Canadian superstar in his own right, and now lead singer of Styx. Joining Gowan on drums was his young son, Dylan. Gowan rocked the house with Jerry Lee Lewis like moves on the piano, belting out ‘Run Run Rudolph’ all the while wearing a suit jacket lit up with Christmas lights. The highlight though was when Gowan openly kissed his son on both cheeks on centre stage after their performance. "John McDermott's Christmas show is always a great time. This year having my son Dylan Gowan (on a night off from his metal-band Hallow's Die) join his dad (on a night off from Styx) onstage made it even better."Another warm family moment at Christmas.

Lawrence Gowan Photo Credit Richard BelandLawrence Gowan Photo Credit Richard BelandThere was a moving time near the end of the show that John McDermott asked the audience to sing with him in honour of the children who were killed last Friday in Connecticut and to say a prayer for everyone who needs it at this time of year.  ‘Silent Night’ sung by all of the audience filled the walls of Koerner Hall, a moment that was achingly poignant. It actually felt like a church service for those few moments with the voices ringing out in strength and hope.

The standing ovation brought the whole McDermott show back on stage for a swinging version of ‘White Christmas’. If you have difficulty finding the Christmas spirit, go every year and see a John McDermott Christmas show – it is all there waiting for you. Canada should be proud to call McDermott our own.