He became an internet sensation last month and now Teddy “Mac” McDermott, The Songaminute Man, is about to become even more famous. Here, his proud son Simon chats to Unforgettable about his dad’s poignant but remarkable dementia journey
Simon McDermott always knew his dad had a great singing voice. So did quite a few other people in Blackburn, Lancashire where Teddy regularly entertained pub and club goers with superb delivery of Frank Sinatra classics (and many, many more). But the possibility of one day landing a record deal and becoming a star in his own right was something Teddy could only dream of – until now.
For thanks to the love of his family and an extraordinary twist of fate, Teddy Mac, who was diagnosed with dementia three years ago, has just recorded his first single You Make Me Feel So Young/Quando Quando Quando after being signed up by Decca Records.
Walking into the famous Abbey Road Studios in London was an incredible moment not only for Teddy, now 80, but for his son Simon and wife Linda, now his full time carer. ‘The whole day was absolutely unreal,’ Simon told Unforgettable. ‘It really was Dad’s dream come true, and so special for Mum and me to be able to see it happen.’
Was singing with a full orchestral accompaniment at one of the most prestigious studios in the world also slightly daunting? ‘Dad was a bit confused at first,’ says Simon. ‘I don’t think he could quite work out what was going on, but he got totally into the swing of it eventually and clearly loved it.
‘When we got home that evening he asked where we’d been because he couldn’t remember anything about it, which was sad. But I know the memory is in there somewhere, he still talks about the ‘orchestra in London’ and he knows something exciting has happened.’
Teddy has had quite a lot of excitement recently. In fact, life hasn’t really got back to normal since last month when Simon posted a video on Facebook of the pair of them singing in the car. Not only did the clip go viral, it’s also raised a staggering £125,000 for The Alzheimer’s Society (and still counting) through a JustGiving page.
So did Simon worry that the fame may all be too much for his dad? After all, despite his amazing voice and vast music memory which earned him the title ‘The Songaminute Man’, dementia has taken its toll on Teddy.
‘I’m very protective of Dad,’ Simon says. ‘When we were offered the record deal Mum and I talked about whether it was the right thing to do. But in the end we knew this was Dad’s big dream. If we said no I honestly don’t think we could have lived with ourselves. So we just have to go with it, if it works out great. If it doesn’t, well at least we tried.’
Teddy’s diagnosis of dementia in 2013 was a long time coming. ‘It took about 18 months to get him diagnosed, so it didn’t come as a shock,’ says Simon. ‘Dad is still in denial about it most of the time though sometimes he does realise he’s confused and then gets very upset. The majority of the time he’s okay, but he does have moments when he’s like a bear with a sore head.’
Simon and Linda quickly realised that the best way to help Teddy through those difficult moments was through music. ‘Music has always been his life,’ says Simon. ‘He still sings all day and performs regularly at the local pub – he gets very frustrated if he doesn’t. Dad also has thousands of records that he still plays all the time. Even if it takes him ages to find the right track he has to do it himself, you can’t help him.’
So when Teddy started forgetting the words to his favourite songs, Simon, unsurprisingly, feared the worst. ‘I was listening to him singing upstairs one day and then he suddenly stopped. He started again but kept getting the words wrong and I thought “oh no…”’
Shortly after that Simon took him out for a drive, played Quando Quando Quando, and then the magic began. ‘It was so amazing, such a happy day, that I recorded it for myself, it felt like a gift from Dad to me. Then I shared it with friends and… well I didn’t expect Dad to become a viral internet sensation.’
As well as making Simon and Teddy famous, the videos have also given the world a powerful message about dementia, though Simon is painfully aware they don’t represent the complete story. ‘They show Dad really happy, they show him doing something he’s really good at, but they don’t show the darker side of dementia, how awful it can be. I know we have dark days ahead of us too.’
Simon and Linda are doing what they can to prepare for the darker days. Simon has moved back home from London to Blackburn to help his mum cope. ‘We need to get the house set up so Mum and Dad can both manage, there’s lots for me to do. Our priority is to keep Dad at home but to make sure Mum has some support, too. During really bad times we have wondered about a care home but that would be so sad. Although sometimes I think he would actually love it – he’d have a whole audience to entertain!’
Whatever the future holds, Simon is in no doubt that music will continue to play a massive part in his dad’s life. ‘Right now he keeps saying he wants me to get on a stage and sing with him,’ he laughs. ‘But Dad’s the entertainer in the family, not me.’
So he won’t be tempted to sing a duet? ‘Well this whole crazy experience has certainly forced me to be more courageous than I ever have before,’ Simon admits. ‘So I suppose if he wants me to sing with him I will probably have to…But for now, I just hope someone buys his record.’
They will, Simon. They will.
You can buy You Make Me Feel So Young/Quando Quando Quando by The Songaminute Man here. Royalties go to the Alzheimer’s Society and the McDermott family.