MICHAEL McDERMOTT – Orphans (Pauper Sky)

OrphansDespite having released solo albums Willow Springs and Out From Under alongside Six On The Out from The Westies in the past couple of years, it seems there were still abandoned songs in McDermott’s notebook looking for a home. So, like a good musical social worker, he’s brought them together and found them safe lodging with the twelve-track collection that may have come from different backgrounds but which share his musical and thematic bloodlines.

Drums crashing on, kicks things off in sterling fashion with the ringing guitar of the Pettyesque ‘Tell Tale Heart’, the title a reference to the Edgar Allen Poe short story but also dropping in references to Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Grey and IRA hunger striker Bobby Sands.

Things slow down for the huskily sung ‘The Last Thing I Ever Do’ (Shakespeare the literary name drop here), a piano-led mid-tempo ballad of resolution (“I will break these chains around me tonight/ If it’s the last thing I ever do”) that conjures the frequent Springsteen parallel (McDermott being one of the few not diminished by comparison), keeping the pace tamped down on the folksy fingerpicked love song ‘Ne’er Do Well’, Elizabeth Browning sharing lyric space with Michelangelo.

McDermott says pulling the album together was guided by the feeling of being orphaned over the past three years, with the loss of his parents and the constant touring keeping an ever present distance between him and home. It’s a sentiment that feeds into a couple of songs, the choppy drum rhythms and harmonica coloured ‘Meadowlark’ talking of “being burned out from the road” and the “unfamiliar beds” and the tenderly warm, confessionally sung, acoustic picked ‘Black Tree, Blue Sky’ with its lines about “cheap hotels with negotiated rates”, where “Left behind strangers’ clothes/Are the strangest souvenirs”, and the morning comedown after the high of performing the night before.

Reflection hangs over the achingly beautiful ‘Sometimes When It Rains In Memphis’, another intimate Springsteensque escape-themed piano ballad (“You said you wanted to get out/Go anywhere/Anywhere they didn’t know you”) one of several songs that, like the broken dreams littering ‘Los Angeles, a Lifetime Ago’, sound personal notes about, four years clean, his past struggles (“I had my foot on the pedal/Yet I couldn’t seem to drive away”) with drink and addiction.

If those are introspective ballads, ‘Givin’ Up The Ghost’ and ‘The Wrong Side O Town’ both play to his full-blooded driving drums, anthemic guitars stadium side, the former, with its oblique reference to Sean O’Casey, again about putting the ghosts of the past behind and tearing down the walls you couldn’t climb and the latter, a close musical cousin to ‘Dancing In The Dark’, another ride into the unknown and exciting danger waiting on “the wrong side of town”.

It’s back to tenderness and regret (“There’s something I feel that, nobody knows/How the loneliness echoes like a murder of crows”) on the slow waltz, organ-backed ‘Full Moon Goodbye’, a reflection on a relationship casualty “in the pale light of mercy.”

The need to make amends and make peace with the past are at the heart of the upbeat mid-tempo soul shuffle ‘Richmond’ where the narrator returns home to “start a new winning streak” and maybe “leave a little note beneath her wiper blade/That reads, ‘I hope all is forgiven, remember slow dancing to Nightswimming/ I’ll never forget you or Richmond’“.

It ends on a piercingly poignant note with a song surely born from those dark years, the almost hymnal piano ballad ‘What If Today Were My Last’ where he asks whether, if this was his final time on Earth, “Would I be happy with the way that I lived/ Would I be proud I stood up to the wicked/ Or be sad with what I didn’t give” and resolves to make “some changes” as the song and the album end on a dying fall.

There are artists out there who would kill to have songs as good as these just sitting on the shelf, but now they’re finally out there in the world for your adoption. As another orphan once put it, “please sir, I want some more.”

Mike Davies

Artist’s website: https://michael-mcdermott.com

‘Tell Tale Heart’ – official video:

MICHAEL McDERMOTT – Out From Under (Pauper Sky Records 2018)

Out From UnderI’ve been bewitched by the music of Michael McDermott for a few years now, I’m late to the party I know, as the Chicago based singer-songwriter has been a shining musical light over us for over 25 years now and is in fact celebrating his Eleventh Solo album with the release of Out From Under.

“I’ve always been drawn to people. Maybe not so much the people per se as the actions of people. People under fire, people that are at the end of their rope. People in the dark night of the soul. People that have gambled everything for a moment of glory. Those are the people and stories I’ve always been drawn to. Its not for the faint of heart, but I can only hope it strikes a chord in you, a chord that connects us all as citizens of this world, brothers and sisters in humanity. For we all are one, a simple but often forgotten fact”. Michael McDermott

If you have not come across McDermott before, you may know him as the male part of the husband and wide duo, the Westies with Heather Horton.

Comparisons have been drawn over the years to Springsteen and there is a touch of Jon Bon Jovi in the vocals but its the depth of the story songs that will get you. Author Stephen King, who is known to quote a rock lyric or two in his novels, wrote,

“Michael’s music, like Springsteen’s and Van Morrison’s helped me to find a part of myself that wasn’t lost, as I had feared, but only misplaced. That’s why we love the ones who are really good at it, I think: because they give us back ourselves, all dusted and shined up, and they do it with a smile…”.

The latest album, Out From Under is a fine example of all of the above. The creepy opening track, ‘Cal-Sag Road’ plays out like a modern day storyboard sequel to the killer in Riders on the Storm. ‘Gotta Go To Work’ delivers an old-timey laid back approach to life, where you left wondering if the character depicted in the song actually managed to get out of bed on that day, or a least make it together with his straw hat to the porch. Just have a read of this wordplay in the next track ‘Knocked Down’ and then imagine funky bass, fuzzy guitar/dobro lick and a track that really rocks!

I got this old guitar
An Irish hat
Spent 20 years baby
With a monkey on my back
That was hard time
Even harder still
If the left one don’t get you
Then the right one will
I’ve been hustled and muscled
Left for dead
Had my face to the wall
And a gun to my head
I’ve been cheated, defeated
Played for a fool
Everything I ever needed
Always came from you
I think its time we order, another round
I know a thing or two about being knocked down”.

We then get the upbeat, ‘Sad Songs’, which chugs along at a right old pace. What a great idea to write a song about being tired of singing all those sad songs.

This is then followed by a sad song called ‘This World Will Break Your Heart’. Its Chapin-esque in places and its sentiment reminded me a little of ‘Streets Of London’.

I’m conscious that this homage to a truly great album will become too unwieldy if I provide further track analysis, plus… I would also like to leave some surprises if you decide to buy/ download it.

I’ll finish off by saying that it is a remarkable collection and its the kind of album, that you will come back to time and time again and find something new in it. Case in point is the 10th track on the album ‘Sideways’ and the line; “I came across a beggar who asked me for social change”.

Darren Beech

Artist website: https://www.michael-mcdermott.com/

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us

Now you can see if your imagination has lived up to the expectation as we feature the ‘Knocked Down’ video below!

The 2018 Folking Awards

Welcome to the 2018 Folking Awards and thank you again to everyone who participated last year. The nominations, in eight categories, come from our ever-expanding team of writers and were wrangled into shape with considered argument and arm-wrestling by the Folkmeister and the Editor.

There are five nominees in each category, all of whom have impressed our writers during 2017.

As with the format last year, all are winners in our eyes, as are quite a few who didn’t make the short list. However, it’s not just down to what we think, so again, there will be a public vote to decide the overall winner of each category.

*The Public Vote for each category will close at 9.00pm on Sunday 1st April (GMT+1).

Soloist Of The Year

 Jon Boden
Ange Hardy
Daria Kulesh
Richard Thompson
Chris Wood

Public Vote

*And the winner is: Open envelope!


Best Duo

Kate & Raphael
O’Hooley & Tidow
Kathryn Roberts & Sean Lakeman
Laura Smyth & Ted Kemp
Winter Wilson

Public Vote

*And the winner is: Open envelope!


Best Band

Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys
Merry Hell
Peter Knight’s Gigspanner
Police Dog Hogan
The Unthanks

Public Vote

*And the winner is: Open envelope!


Best Live Act

CC Smugglers
Eliza Carthy & The Wayward Band
Fairport Convention
Merry Hell

Public Vote

*And the winner is: Open envelope!


Best Album

Bring Back Home – Ange Hardy
Pretty Peggy – Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys
Long Lost Home – Daria Kulesh
A Pocket Of Wind Resistance – Karine Polwart/Pippa Murphy
Strangers – The Young ‘Uns

Public Vote

*And the winner is: Open envelope!


Best Musician

Kevin Crawford
Seth Lakeman
Richard Thompson
Karen Tweed
Ryan Young

Public Vote

*And the winner is: Open envelope!


Rising Star

Sam Brothers
Siobhan Miller
Jack Rutter
Sound Of The Sirens
The Trials Of Cato

Public Vote

*And the winner is: Open envelope!!


Best International Artist

Rodney Crowell
Anna Coogan
Michael McDermott
Le Vent Du Nord
The Wailin’ Jennys

Public Vote

*And the winner is: Open envelope!


Folkies 2018

The 2017 Folking Awards

Welcome to the 2017 Folking Awards. Last year’s inaugural poll was such a success that we had to do it again. The nominations, in eight categories, come from our ever-expanding team of writers and were wrangled into shape with sweat, tears and not a little blood by the Folkmeister and the Editor.

There are five nominees in each category, all of whom have been featured in the pages of folking.com in 2016.

As with the format last year, all are winners in our eyes. However, its not just down to what we think, so again, there will be a public vote to decide the overall winner of each category.

Soloist Of The Year

Luke Jackson
Ralph McTell
Kelly Oliver
Steve Pledger
Alasdair Roberts

Best Duo

Cathryn Craig & Brian Willoughby
Ange Hardy & Lukas Drinkwater
O’Hooley & Tidow
Show Of Hands

Best Band

Afro Celt Sound System
Fairport Convention
Harp And A Monkey
Nancy Kerr and The Sweet Visitor Band
Merry Hell

Best Live Act

The James Brothers
Robb Johnson and the My Best Regards Band
Sam Kelly & The Lost Boys
Mad Dog Mcrea

Best Album

Tall Tales & Rumours – Luke Jackson
Ballads Of The Broken Few – Seth Lakeman/Wildwood Kin
Preternatural – Moulettes
Somewhere Between – Steve Pledger
Dodgy Bastards – Steeleye Span

Best Musician

Ciaran Algar
Phil Beer
Rachel Newton
Gill Sandell
Kathryn Tickell

Rising Star Act

The Brewer’s Daughter
Hattie Briggs
Said The Maiden
Emily Mae Winters

Best International Act

Applewood Road
The Bills
David Francey
Michael McDermott
Eve Selis

Public Vote

The public vote closed Midday Saturday 22 April 2017 and the winners have now been announced HERE

If you would like to consider ordering a copy of an album for any of our award winners (in CD or Vinyl), download an album or track or just listen to snippets of selected songs (track previews are usually on the download page) then type what you are looking for in the search bar above.

Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us

Michael McDermott announces rare UK tour

michael mcdermott

On his tenth solo album, Chicago based singer-songwriter Michael McDermott (The Westies) has delivered one of the most honest, daring and defiant recordings of his extraordinary 25 year career.

“This is an album of reckoning I suppose,” McDermott reflects. “There was a real cacophony of change going on in my life at the time… being a new father, losing my own father, leaving the city for the country, dealing with sobriety, grief, death, mortality, shame and forgiveness. It was a veritable emotional tsunami and yet somehow I had to navigate through it all. That journey is reflected in these songs. Willow Springs is the name of the place where I took refuge and had to confront a lot of things”.

Michael’s Biography

Michael McDermott’s story is the classic tale of survival, perseverance, love and redemption. The first half begins with youthful innocence, a dream-come-true recording contract, a classic debut album heralded by the media, and a downward spiral with seemingly no bottom. The second half begins with love and the woman that would become his wife, Heather Horton, their baby girl, and a collection of achingly honest songs born of new inspiration that are amongst the very best of his ten album career.

McDermott got off to a fast start when he released his first album 620 W. Surf (1991). The music media heralded him with comparisons to rock n’ roll’s godlike, “The new Springsteen…Truly singular lyrics…Like Dylan…One of his generation’s greatest talents,” they wrote. Pretty heady stuff for a 20-year old kid of Irish descent who’d barely travelled further from his Southside Chicago neighbourhood than Wrigley Field.

The music business pays attention when your introduction to the world is accompanied by the names Azoff and Koppelman.  As a young A&R man, Brian Koppelman heard the buzz that was coming out of the Chicago coffeehouse scene where McDermott was making the rounds. He swooped in and signed him to Giant Records, the label that Warner Music had just bankrolled for already legendary impresario Irving Azoff.

MTV, Rolling Stone, the New York Times, chart topping radio airplay, besieging label promotion. It was all there. A new artist could not dream for anything more. Even author Stephen King, well known for his affinity to quote rock lyrics in his mega-selling novels, wrote,

“Not since I first heard Bruce Springsteen singing ‘Rosalita’ had I heard someone who excited me so much as a listener, who turned my dials so high, who just made me feel so (expletive) happy to have ears.”

And then, as fast as it started, came the skidding halt. “By the time I was 24, I was over,” the singer-songwriter says. “Really, I was kind of over.” Maybe it was the hype, or the timing was wrong. Who knows? The music biz is full of stories of songwriting singers with next-coming honours that end with broken dreams.  Sometimes it just doesn’t work. McDermott acknowledges that he had something, perhaps a lot, to do with it. He was young, naïve, free spirited and believed the hype. With no idea how to reconcile his future path with his sudden dream-come-true life, and no one he trusted enough to guide him, he responded by going off the rails, living the rock n’ roll fantasy of drugs, alcohol, fast lane parties, strippers, mobsters, jail…you name it, he did it. He went out of control and scared the hell out of the people close to him.

Michael slipped so far down that Brian Koppelman, who went on to become a Hollywood screenwriter, admits that his first film, the 1998 poker cult-classic Rounders, carried a lot of his experiences with McDermott within its narrative. Matt Damon’s gambling protagonist actually shared the songwriter’s stage name (they call him “Mike” in the movie), while Edward Norton’s character, an out-of-luck ex-con with big debts to pay, carried the surname Murphy, McDermott’s actual birthright. Though they gave their hero his name, Koppelman and screenwriting partner David Levien both admitted that McDermott aligned more with the Murphy character, a notorious screw-up who just can’t seem to catch a break.

Between his own self-destruction and the recording industry shakeup that marked the mid-1990s, McDermott found himself without a contract and awash in debt and self-doubt.

“Throughout the years, I had continued to feel like I was on a mission, of sorts, singing spiritual songs”, he once said, “but never really feeling good about the other elements of my life.”

Understandably, he’s found positive inspiration in his wife and daughter and having at last become more comfortable in his own skin, scarred but smarter, McDermott is making more life-affirming choices. It’s reflected in his last two self released albums, Hit Me Back and Hey La Hey, which include some of the strongest and most profound songs that he has written.

In 2013, McDermott and Horton introduced a new band, The Westies, another slice of McDermott’s pie. More folk than rock, The Westies are a rootsy Americana band complete with steel guitar, mandolin, fiddle, and stand-up bass. The band recently released their second album Six On The Out, which is garnering acclaim here and in the US.

There’s another quote by Stephen King that suits Michael himself as well as the intended reference to his talents:

“Michael’s music, like Springsteen’s and Van Morrison’s, helped me to find a part of myself that wasn’t lost, as I had feared, but only misplaced. That’s why we love the ones who are really good at it, I think: because they give us back ourselves, all dusted and shined up, and they do it with a smile…Michael McDermott is one of the best songwriters in the world and possibly the greatest undiscovered rock ‘n’ roll talent of the last 20 years.”

Although fame has eluded Michael, he has the rest of the act nailed, and twenty years in to his career he isn’t lost or misplaced, he has found himself, has no fear, he’s still good at it, and is all dusted and shined up and ready for the twenty years to come.

Artist’s website: www.michael-mcdermott.com


‘Butterfly’ – live in the studio: