Michael McDermott @ Whelan’s, Dublin - 13th December 2016

A singer/songwriter who has been lauded for his ability to tells stories that ring true from personal experience and imagination. Michael McDermott played to a small but enthusiastic audience. in the upstairs venue. This was the end of a European tour and Michael had contacted a sore throat towards the end of the jaunt. He didn’t however let this affect his performance. He sipped hot lemon throughout the show and apologised that his voice wasn’t up to its best. But that didn’t take away from the raw power of his songs and commitment. 

He opened with a trio of songs from his latest album Willow Springs; These Last Few Days, Getaway Car and Folksinger. The latter prefaced by a long and funny story about being that very creature who is “weirder than rock stars” and about the “in the round” scenario whereby three of four writers play a song in turn. A bit like a ‘who has the biggest willie contest’ he noted. He had been asked to play one in Nashville with a trio of writers including Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary fame. Being that his wife was a fan he asked Yarrow if he’d say hello to her on the phone. When the time came for this quick intimate moment, McDermott handed him the phone and instead of an expected “hello” all were treated to a full on, many-versed rendition of Puff The Magic Dragon. Weird Indeed - but thoroughly amusing none-the-less. He also noted that while the other three were introduced with their track record of million selling songs he was introduced as someone who “watches Judge Judy a lot.” So much for getting the big build up before you go on.

Throughout the show, McDermott told anecdotes about the songs and the people behind them. Shadow In The Window was a touching song written for his father about their difficult relationship, which ended with an emotional refrain of “Hey, I Love You” that was honest and universal. He also played a song for his mother, the only song he confessed that she felt that she could sing in church. Where The River Meets The Sea is from the album Hit Me Back and if, like me, you know McDermott from his Westies albums and Willow Springs you can find numerous other Michael McDermott releases on his website.

Many of McDermott’s songs are dark but many have a path to something more positive in their make-up. As he noted at one point you “need the darkness in order to see the light.” There were songs from the Westies album West Side Stories including Trains and Devil. Another song was written for a friend who was wounded in a robbery and discovered in treatment that she had terminal cancer. Carry Your Cross was a poignant and powerful testament to friendship.

McDermott went between guitar and piano for various songs and played the latter when he was joined onstage by Mundy who first met McDermott when he opened for him in Chicago. Mundy played two songs in the two-part set. Firstly, Linchpin and later July - wherein he got the audience to join him in the chorus. Something I’m not sure would have been possible with McDermott’s songs. However, there was an obvious comradeship between the two.

Throughout McDermott’s voice was ragged but determined. Partly due to fatigue and illness but also showing its own quality and highlighting that he is a strong singer as well as a talented writer. He finished his set with an impassioned A Wall I Must Climb but was called back to the stage for two encores, both audience requests, that included Summer Days; a song written for a high school friend who was going to be an actress (and he a rock star). The point being that life doesn’t always deal you the hand you want or expected. These are songs that make you think and react and these days that makes them as striking as those of some of his heroes. McDermott can stand tall in that company.

He told us that he had wanted to play the Dublin venue since seeing Bruce Cockburn playing in Whelan’s and was delighted to get to fulfil that wish and thanked the audience for being a part of that experience. The pleasure was evident from both sides of the stage and next time, hopefully, the word will have spread and more will get to experience the power of his music.

Review and photographs by Stephen Rapid