It’s slightly ironic that Scottish-born Canadian tenor John McDermott sings Robert Burn’s poem Gin a body, Meet a body (Comin thro’ the rye) on his new album, Raised on Songs and Stories.
Not a drinking song as one would think, it’s about a young lass crossing a ford (a shallow place with good footing where a river or stream may be crossed), dragging along her wet petticoat to meet her lover for a tryst.
McDermott’s last walk through the woods here in B.C. did not go as well.
Those who attended his November, 2013 concert in Vernon may have noticed the cast on his arm, the result of a broken wrist he incurred while on a hike to see the ancient Douglas firs at Cathedral Grove on Vancouver Island.
“It happened on the second day of the tour,” said McDermott on the phone from his home near Parry Sound on Georgian Bay. “I slipped off a log covered in moss and fell backward and put my arm down to brace myself when I heard, ‘snap, snap, snap.’ I looked down at my arm and my hand was hanging down to my wrist.”
McDermott hopes to arrive unscathed on his return visit to B.C. for his Traditionally Yours tour, which starts in Chilliwack this week and meanders on over to the island before arriving at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre next Thursday.
“I’m going back to Cathedral Grove, but this time I will stick to the pathways,” laughed McDermott.
The follow-up to McDermott’s last two albums, Traditionally Yours and The Contender, Raised on Songs and Stories is an album McDermott has wanted to record for years. The record features no breaks or silence between the tracks; just a continuous flow of music from start to finish.
“It’s like the (Harry Nilsson) Nilsson Schmilsson album. It’s one track with a ribbon in between the songs (which McDermott calls instrumental reflections) that ties them together. There’s nothing to break them up,” he said.
The album should be listened to in that same vein, in one fell swoop, he added.
The album also holds some special songs for McDermott.
I No More Will Be Passing This Way, written by Darcy Broderick of Newfoundland’s The Irish Descendants, is dedicated to McDermott’s father who died in 1995.
“The rest of the album is very traditional and features 90 per cent Scottish and 10 per cent Irish,” said McDermott
McDermott’s Irish ancestry comes out in songs such as The Rare Ould Times, originally recorded by the Dublin City Ramblers and later covered by The Irish Tenors, whom McDermott was a member of until the mid-2000s.
“There’s also Yesterday’s People (written by Finbar Furey), a nod to those left behind. It’s about the older generation that have been forgotten but still have tradition.”
The latter song is resonant of McDermott’s other “cause” as a war veteran patron.
His latest endeavour through his McDermott House Canada foundation has been the renovation of the veterans wing and palliative care facility at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital.
“When I’m not travelling or touring, I can still generate awareness,” he said. “We have raised $2.5 million of the $3.6 million needed, so the first stage is done. We have 500 vets and have 86 in palliative care, so we needed an upgrade. There is a real influx of veterans now, first from Kuwait (the Gulf War) and the peacekeeping veterans in Bosnia, Rwanda, etc. The PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is overwhelming.”
After this current tour, McDermott plans to travel to Ireland to record a special project.
“It will be what connects the songs on my next album. We want to go around the countryside to record older Irish voices to get the stories behind some of those traditional songs,” he said.
McDermott’s brings his longtime musical director and guitarist Jason Fowler and bassist Maury LaFoy to his performance at the Vernon Performing Arts Centre, April 21 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets are $51 (all seats) at the Ticket Seller, 250-549-7469, www.ticketseller.ca.