John McDermott will bring to Campbell River April 19 a personal collection of traditional tunes that were part of his upbringing.

McDermott inspires with traditional tunes

Paul Brian

Black Press


International recording star and household name John McDermott is coming to Campbell River.

The triple-platinum selling Glasgow-born singer will bring his memorable Celtic melodies to the Tidemark Theatre on April 19 at 7:30 p.m.

“This music is how I was raised,” said McDermott, who is touring with his band, consisting of guitar player Jason Fowler and bassist and keyboardist Maury Lafoy. “My parents would sing all the time. People that came over to the house would sing all the time.”

McDermott’s Campbell River show will include songs from his latest albums Raised on Songs and Stories and Traditionally Yours, as well as a variety of fan favourites from his past recordings.

“Raised on Songs and Stories is a traditional Scottish recording. It has a couple of tunes that are a nod to my Irish roots but it’s very, very much in the Scottish influence,” McDermott said, explaining that it is one continuous track of songs and interludes to fully connect with the listener without interruptions.

McDermott was born in Glasgow in an Irish family who later emigrated to Willowdale, Ont. in 1965.

“There’s the old adage, you know — like to drink but just don’t like to pay for it,” McDermott joked.

Growing up with his father Peter singing and sharing stories, McDermott absorbed the musical magic.

“My show is pretty much the way my dad would sing in the house. He’d get up and hold court and he would tell us ‘Here’s a song by so-and-so. The melody was written this century, this year and the lyrics were written here by this guy who did this,’” McDermott explained. “People then get an idea and some people might like it, some don’t, some might say ‘holy mackerel, I didn’t know that’s why the song was written,” he added.

McDermott gave the example of the song By Yon Bonnie Banks that relates the cruelty of the Duke of Cumberland in the 1746 Battle of Culloden, mixed with a lover’s lament.

“Cumberland would take prisoners and he would take them in pairs and allow them to decide between each other who would be executed. His nickname was the Bloody Butcher, he was brutal,” McDermott said. “There was an old Celtic belief that when a soldier dies in a foreign land his spirit would return via the low road — the spirit world — and his companion on the high road. So the chorus is ‘You take the high road and I’ll take the low road/And I’ll be in Scotland before ye.’ He’s going back to Scotland, going back in his mind, in his heart, to Loch Lomond where he last saw his sweetheart. But he’ll be alone when he gets there, and he’s telling us that.”

Twenty-two years ago McDermott had a number of stars align and his music career launched into the stratosphere, after recording his debut album Danny Boy as a gift for his parents’ fiftieth wedding anniversary.

“EMI released it and they thought they’d sell a couple thousand copies. They ended up selling a little over a million [point] two,” explained McDermott.

Eventually persuaded to stop his day job and start touring, McDermott began opening for the popular Irish band the Chieftains, filling more and more space in their concert before opening with his own band in Halifax in 1993.

“My whole life has been one series of collisions after another. Really good collisions with people,” McDermott said, noting that there’s a book currently being written about his life called When Worlds Collide. “That was really how it unfolded, just being in the right place at the right time,” he added.

These lucky coincidences included hiring a then unknown fiddler, on the spur of the moment after hearing him in a bar.

“I’m listening to this guy play fiddle and I say ‘s—, he’s good.’ I said ‘Do you want to join my band? I’ve got to put a band together, we’re opening for the Chieftains. He said ‘Well what do you pay?’ I said ‘200 bucks a night,’ and he says ‘I’m in.’ And it was Ashley MacIsaac. He was 17 years old,” McDermott recalled.

When MacIsaac moved on to other gigs, McDermott hired a new fiddler, a then up-and-coming Cape Breton fiddler named Natalie MacMaster, now a renowned star.

“That’s the kind of luck that I’ve had. Really blessed,” McDermott said. “Really, really, lucky. Just right place, right time.”

In addition to music, McDermott is also dedicated to supporting those who defend Canada, which he does through his foundation, McDermott House Canada, which is dedicated to improving care in the final stages of terminal illness and providing a warm, welcoming place to stay for Canada’s veterans, military, first responders and their families.

Tickets to Traditionally Yours are $45.25 (plus applicable taxes and fees) and are available at the Tidemark Theatre Box Offfice. Call 250-287-7465.

To find out more about McDermott and get a preview of some of his music visit To find out more about McDermott House visit