For the B’ys of Great Big Sea: thanks for all the good times!

This article that showed up on the OKP Facebook group this morning has a quote from Alan Doyle in it that makes it pretty much official now: Great Big Sea is done.

I’m not surprised by this. I’ve seen this coming since Séan McCann stood down from the band, and really, I had suspicions of it being on the way even before the 2013 XX tour. But part of me wishes it would have come a bit sooner, and I note we still haven’t had any sort of official announcement via the band newsletter, the band website, or anything of that nature. So people coming to the greatbigsea.com website still won’t have any actual idea that the band’s pretty much done.

But it is what it is, and I feel it’s important now to take a few moments to celebrate what this band has meant to me in the last fourteen years. They’ve brought me huge amounts of joy. They’ve led me to making lifelong friends, to learning brand new instruments, to discovering the dynamic energy of Newfoundland traditional music in general, and most of all, to looking forward to the yearly outing to a concert where I could bounce and sing at the top of my lungs. And sometimes more than one concert in a year.

They led me to founding the Three Good Measures jamming group, and I’m proud to this day of all the fun we had making those MP3s.

They made a guitar player out of me! And they are, of course, responsible for why my best guitar is named General Taylor.

Me and the General
Me and the General

They led me and Dara and a bunch of our friends to have ridiculous amounts of fun participating in the fan song contest in 2010, when Safe Upon the Shore came out.

(Not to mention that we also had a bunch of fun making the blooper reel for these shenanigans, too!)

And of course, Alan Doyle does still hold the record for killing me MOST DED WITH SWOON in any given concert, thanks to our getting him to sing “Can’t Help Falling in Love”. Okay yeah sure, this was an Alan Solo show, but I include this because it’s all part and parcel of the joy these guys have brought to my life!

Which of course also leads me to add that I was also very, very grateful to finally get pics of myself with Alan AND with Séan.

And last but most DEFINITELY not least, these boys are very specifically responsible for why Christopher in Faerie Blood and Bone Walker is a Newfoundlander and a bouzouki player. They are why the very first scene of Bone Walker is, in fact, at a Great Big Sea show, even though I don’t call them out by name. And they are why the third book of the Free Court of Seattle will be set partially in St. John’s, and why Dara and I had such an awesome time in 2012 going there for the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival. Where, I might add, we saw them sing on their home soil, with the added special bonus of Darrell Power showing up to help them sing “Excursion Around the Bay”.

(And man, it was satisfying to see Alan’s doubletake on the stage when he came out and saw Dara and me there, faces he usually saw on the other side of the continent. ;D Particularly since this was only a few months after the Elvis incident!)

And in fact, they did “Excursion” TWICE.

It is part and parcel of life that all good things must eventually come to an end. But the music still lives on in my collection, and in my fingers. I will still come to both Alan’s and Séan’s shows when I can. And I know that whenever I pick up one of my guitars or flutes or whistles, when I start singing “Ordinary Day” on a walk to or from work just because I can, it’ll be because these guys kindled that within me.

Thanks b’ys. From the bottom of my heart. <3

Sean McCann at the Railway, Vancouver, BC 10/3/2014

This is a somewhat belated concert report since I’ve been busy dealing with Victory of the Hawk, but I didn’t want to go too long without writing this up–because although I am possessed of a mighty sadface that we have no Great Big Sea to look forward to for the foreseeable future, it was nonetheless extremely satisfying to see Sean McCann do his solo show at the Railway in Vancouver on my last trip up to BC.

As this was my first visit to the Railway I didn’t really know what to expect, but I did like the venue. And other GBS fangirls, my usual Vancouver crowd, had snagged a table towards the front, which turned out to be a good thing. Because the place was packed, standing room only in a way I hadn’t really experienced since before GBS started playing the Moore in Seattle. It was a relief to be able to retreat to a place to sit down, just because so many bodies in so small a space ramped up the temperature considerably. The size of the crowd even startled Sean, who remarked that it was something on the order of seven times the size of the crowd from his first Railway show.

This was, hands down, the perkiest I’d seen Sean at a show in years. The show was just him and his guitar and his bodhran, and he was lively, engaging, and in excellent voice. He was in delightful humor, making jokes about starting the show late, and he’s apparently now comfortable enough with himself that he was able to make self-deprecating jokes as well about his battles with alcohol–and in particular, how his wife had sternly vetoed the idea of his putting a glass of scotch on stage with him to build tension as to whether he would snap.

He did a mix of songs off his current record and Great Big Sea material. In the latter case, it was unsurprisingly stuff on which he’d sung lead (and I’m pretty sure it was stuff he’d written as well, though I’d have to look up the credits on various songs). He did several things I hadn’t heard at a GBS show in ages, which was a pleasure to hear. Notable GBS ditties he did were “Good People” and “Safe Upon the Shore” (from Safe Upon the Shore), “Graceful and Charming” (from The Hard and the Easy), “Love” (from Something Beautiful), “Feel It Turn” (from Turn), “The Night Pat Murphy Died”, and “Mari-Mac” (Rant and Roar if you’re me, Play and Up if you’re a GBS vet who pre-dates me in the fandom).

My favorite ditty off the solo album that he did: “Red Wine and Whiskey”, for getting the crowd to sing along with him.

Favorite GBS ditties: VERY pleased to hear him do “Safe Upon the Shore”, though it was decidedly strange to NOT hear the harmony brick on the chorus. Those of us in the audience did our level best to make up for that, though it was less “harmony brick” and more “everybody’s singing at the top of their lungs”.

Also rather startling to hear him actually do “Paddy Murphy”, because of the heavy drinking theme of the song. But this was an example of Sean being very willing to take requests from the audience, while at the same time reserving the right to veto things he wasn’t comfortable singing. (I notice nobody tried to get him to sing “General Taylor”, for example, though SOMEBODY kept yelling for him to sing “Old Black Rum”, to wit–no. Partly because bad idea in general, but also because he didn’t write that ‘un, and it would not be appropriate for him rights-wise to do that one solo unless he’s got Bob’s buyoff on that.) He faked us out with “Paddy Murphy”, too! Sang the first line, pretended to stop, and then went ahead and did the rest anyway to the audience’s delight.

In general he was very active with engaging the audience in the show, and by engaged I mean he kept pulling people up on stage to sing with him. My fellow fangirl Vancouver!Angela, a.k.a. sticckler, got to be in the first round of this when she and a couple others came up to sing backup on the title track from Sean’s current album, “Help Your Self”.

But he didn’t stop there. He got a great big honking herd of us to swarm the stage with him to do his closer–“Mari-Mac”. I could not resist the urge to jump in on that, though it caused a moment of MASSIVE EMBARRASSMENT as I tripped over my own damned feet on the way up there. “OH NO,” Sean shouted, “piper down!” But I scrambled back to my feet and assured him as well as everybody else that I was in fact OKAY, and then we all yelled “Mari-Mac”, and it was awesome.

Afterwards I was a little chagrined on behalf of the band that had to follow Sean’s set–because the place cleared out fast after he was done. A lot of the fans lingered in line because he did in fact do a meet-and-greet after, and naturally, I had to hang around for that. Which resulted in this pic!

Me and Sean McCann
Me and Sean McCann

I was able to tell Sean to his face that I talk a good talk about falling at the feet of my favorite musicians, but don’t usually mean it literally. And I also made a point of being rather more serious and telling him that I’d also been reading what he’s been saying to the media lately, not only about his fight with alcohol, but also that he’s an abuse survivor. I know what that’s like. And I wanted to wish him love and strength and just general fan support. He thanked me very kindly for that.

So yeah. Great show all around and it does make me feel somewhat better about GBS being on extended hiatus. The question came up again on the OKP as to whether the band will ever emerge from that hiatus, and in what form. Nobody’s saying yet, but it was very noteworthy that Bob Hallett did show up on that thread and say “Never say never.”

I do find myself hoping that eventually Sean will be comfortable enough to rejoin the GBS boys. But until then, if he’s willing to keep singing to us by himself, I’ll absolutely show up for his shows.

Thanks for a wonderful performance, Shantyman. We still love you. <3

A LOT of visitors coming by to read about Sean McCann

I’ve had a massive uptick lately in people hitting my three previous posts about Sean McCann leaving GBS, here and here and here. And what I’m sensing here is quite a few people who might perhaps be looking for answers as to why exactly Sean bailed on the band–and what Great Big Sea’s fate will be now that he’s out.

On the latter question, there has still been no formal announcement through official GBS channels. I’ve seen nothing posted on the site’s news page, and nothing’s come across the newsletter either. The most official thing I’ve seen on the matter is Alan Doyle’s most recent post to his personal blog, From the Road, which you can see on the Great Big Sea site here or on Alan’s site here. Alan basically says that the band is on hiatus again, and goes into some detail about what he, Bob, Murray, and Kris are up to. He does also mention Sean’s leaving, that Sean is about to release a new CD (today, in fact, as of this writing, up on his bandcamp page), and that he wishes him well.

Sean himself in the meantime has started talking to the media. So if you haven’t seen it already, an interview he did on the matter is over here. He’s saying pretty much what I expected, which is to say, creative differences. And he, like much of the fanbase, is going a bit “buh?” at the silence on greatbigsea.com about his departure.

‘Cause yeah, you’d think they’d have issued some sort of formal announcement by now. o.O

But, be that as it may, I’ll continue to relay any news I come across. If you’re on Facebook, you might consider dropping by the OKP group there since that’s become the more or less de facto replacement for the OKP forums that used to be on the Great Big Sea site. This is where I’m getting my most recent news. You can find that group here.

One more musing about Great Big Sea and Sean McCann

Overall my household found “The Time of the Doctor” to be a bit of a mess–but Dara, Paul, and I were all in agreement that Matt Smith’s regeneration speech was the shining gem of the episode.

This part:

The Doctor: It all just disappears, doesn’t it? Everything you are, gone in a moment, like breath on a mirror. Any moment now… He’s a-comin’.
Clara: Who’s coming?
The Doctor: The Doctor.
Clara: You. You are the Doctor.
The Doctor: Yep, and I always will be. But times change, and so must I.

And this part:

The Doctor: We all change. When you think about it, we’re all different people all through our lives, and that’s okay, that’s good, you gotta keep moving, so long as you remember all people that you used to be. I will not forget one line of this. Not one day. I swear. I will always remember when the Doctor was me.

All of which I mention because the recent regeneration has been on my mind, what with the ongoing emotional reactions of Great Big Sea fandom to the departure of Séan McCann from the band. Many fans have been heartbroken by this news. Some have sadly expressed how this will impact their ability to enjoy Great Big Sea concerts moving forward, and that they’re not sure they’ll want to try. A few have been actively, alarmingly resentful on the matter.

In Doctor Who fandom, many fans speak of “their” Doctor–often the actor who was playing the role when they first imprinted on the show, either as a child or as an adult, but sometimes not. For me, although Christopher Eccleston was the Doctor who made me start paying attention, David Tennant is “my” Doctor since he’s the one with whom I’ve developed the emotional connection.

Great Big Sea feels the same for me. The band’s already been through a few changes–the departure of Darrell Power back in 2003, the addition of Kris MacFarlane on the drums, the replacement of Darrell by Murray Foster. All of these have been changes that caused their share of brouhaha among the fandom, and all of them bring to mind Matt Smith’s speech up above.

Because like Time Lords, bands change. But when you’re a devotee of a band, it can be almost like being one of the Doctor’s Companions. Your Doctor is the one you travelled with in the TARDIS–even if you meet the Doctor again many years later and he’s gone through half a dozen regenerations since you saw him last, as we saw happen to Sarah Jane in “School Reunion”. Likewise, your version of a beloved band is going to be the one whose combination of vocal and performance chemistry is the one you fell in love with–the one that got you to eagerly seize every new album the day it’s released, and to snap up concert tickets the instant they go on presale.

My Great Big Sea was the original four–Alan, Séan, Bob, and Darrell. I’ve very much enjoyed the Great Big Sea made up of Alan, Séan, Bob, Kris, and Murray, mind you, much as I’ve happily enjoyed other Doctors besides David Tennant. This second version of Great Big Sea, for example, gave me The Hard and the Easy, which remains one of my all time favorite albums of the group’s.

But that said, I made the transition between these versions of the band much as I made the transition from Eccleston to Tennant. Losing Séan, though, is harder. It’s like losing Tennant as the Doctor–I’ve found things to like about Matt Smith, make no mistake, but he just never grabbed me on the same level that Tennant did for the most part.

Still, though, I haven’t stopped watching Doctor Who. Neither will I stop listening to Great Big Sea. It may be that when the group regenerates again (aheh), I’ll find new things to love about what they’ll provide to us fans. And as I periodically keep an eye on what Tennant’s doing now that he’s no longer the Doctor, I’ll be keeping an eye and an ear on what Séan does with his music.

But I’ll always remember when Great Big Sea had Séan McCann.

Shantyman, good night.

Further reflections on the imminent loss of Sean McCann from GBS

There’s a lot of high emotion going around Great Big Sea fandom this weekend, what with the imminent departure of Séan McCann from Great Big Sea. And a lot of reaction in particular sprang up in response to this, posted by Séan just yesterday. I gave this a listen, and while I’m trying very hard not to read too much into those lyrics, they are nonetheless highly loaded, even to a fairly objective ear.

I’m not going to get into speculating what’s in Séan’s head, not here. But the possibility has been raised to me that Great Big Sea will bring in a new guy to replace him. Since the band has not yet issued an official statement on the matter, I can’t know for sure whether that’s going to happen. And so what I want to talk about in this blog post is what Séan’s presence in the band has meant to me for the last thirteen years, and what it’d mean for me if Great Big Sea continues without him.

As you all know, Internets, I’m a raving Doyle fangirl and always have been, from the very first day I visited greatbigsea.com and thought “well goodness, that guy with the long brown hair is gorgeous“. But it’s Séan’s vocals that actually first caught my ear.

His singing “General Taylor” is the very first memory I have of Great Big Sea–when my housemate Mimi was playing Rant and Roar to bring people in to her yard sale, and I thought, “WOW these guys sound good”. And the samples of him singing “I’m a Rover” and “Ferryland Sealer” on Turn, up on the greatbigsea.com of the year 2000, are what made me commit to buying their music in the first place.

All three of these songs are excellent examples of what made me fall in love with this band: the rich harmony, the strong traditional music, and the overall energy of the vocals.

Losing Darrell from Great Big Sea in 2003 was a notable blow to that energy for me. Don’t get me wrong–I think Murray Foster is an amazing singer and a wonderful bass player, and I love what he can bring to a bass line in “River Driver” or “Safe Upon the Shore”. But to this day, raving Doyle fangirl that I am, “Excursion Around the Bay” still sounds wrong to me not sung by Darrell in concert. It’s Darrell’s song, for me, on an emotional level.

And there’s still a difference in the vocal chemistry in the group, post-Darrell.

Post-Séan, the difference in the vocal chemistry will be even greater. Even if they bring in a guy with a great voice, the very real possibility exists for me that I simply won’t click with his voice the same way I did with Séan’s. There are a lot of wonderful singers in the world–and I’m perfectly capable of aesthetic appreciation of a strong singer’s voice, no matter who they are. But that’s not the same thing as being in love with the voice.

A new guy may absolutely bring some Awesome to the table. C.f. Murray, as I said above. Also c.f. La Bottine Souriante, who have had considerable member turnover through the years; I’ve posted before about how much I love Éric Beaudry’s vocals, even though overall I like the Yves Lambert era of La Bottine better. And going in the opposite direction, Le Vent du Nord’s current membership configuration is the magic configuration for me, though I like the previous two iterations of Le Vent as well.

But I can’t know what a new guy in Great Big Sea would be like until I actually hear him. And even aside from what kind of a voice he has, there are more intangible questions of band chemistry as well. Séan has been so critical a presence on the stage for the GBS shows I’ve attended that not having him there will be a quantum shift in the stage chemistry.

And even if a new guy turns out to be awesome, that still doesn’t diminish my sadness at losing Séan from the group. The man is, after all, the voice that pulled me in to begin with.

Great Big Sea has brought me such happiness over the years that I want those boys to be happy as well. Their voices have gotten me through a great many rough times in my life–my dad passing away, all the medical crap I’ve gone through, more. I would much prefer for Séan to leave the group and be happy, rather than continue and be miserable.

But losing him from the group will still be for me, on an emotional level, something like losing a body part. And I’ve lost a body part, so I know what that feels like. You continue on through it, and even if you’re still reasonably happy and healthy, the transition is still hard, and you are still nonetheless fundamentally changed.

I really hope that if Great Big Sea does continue, that they do so in a way that lets them all continue to be reasonably healthy and happy. And if they do bring in a new guy, I will certainly give him a fair listen. But until that happens, bear with me, folks. As I’ve said, the transition is hard.

And I’m gonna miss you, Shantyman.

End of an era

Séan McCann, the beloved Shantyman of Great Big Sea, has set off a firestorm of reaction by announcing that this is his last tour with Great Big Sea. He posted this up to his Facebook wall:

Sean's Done
Sean’s Done

Dara and I have kind of felt this coming for a bit, actually. Between Séan falling hard off the radar a couple of years ago, just after dropping his second solo album… and Alan and Bob also being off doing their own solo projects… and there being a distinct lack of new material in the big GBS box set… the whole XX tour has had a feel of “last hurrah” about it. And this announcement now just pretty much clenches it.

I can’t imagine that GBS will last past this point. Séan is far too critical to the band’s overall sound, and Alan and Bob do have other things going on–though to be fair, I haven’t seen the band announce specifically yet what the group plans are. We’ll have to stand by and see whether they have the band as a whole stand down, or what.

Either way it’s the end of an era for me. I’ve put thirteen years of love and joy into the music of Great Big Sea, and have therefore been with them for a good chunk of their twenty-year run. Twenty years is a good strong epic run, and if they’re going to stand down, I do actually prefer them to do it while they’re still fairly energetic and happy. And I like the idea of Séan going home to raise his kids and mentor the next generation of Newfoundland musicians. And maybe have some epic jam sessions at Erin’s Pub in St. John’s, now that Bob owns the place.

I’m very grateful at this point that I got to see GBS three times this year, and especially that I finally got my pic with Alan. A wistful-making day for all of us in GBS fandom. Much love and many hugs to all my fellow fans. I’ll be raising a glass in the Shantyman’s honor as soon as I’m medically okay with having alcohol again. I recommend y’all do the same. And go express your best wishes to Séan if you’re on Facebook or Twitter. Let the man know he’s loved and he’ll be missed.

Great Big Sea at the Moore in Seattle, 3/12/2011 (Part 3 of 3)

In which our heroine is super-late posting the last bit of the concert writeup from the 12th, she admits! But I beg your indulgence, my fellow GBS fans, for lo, I have been stricken this last week or so with the plague. STRICKEN, I tell you. Handsome and talented as The Doyle is, not even he can make me string coherent thoughts together when I’m in a Sudafed-and-Nyquil-induced coma. And I’m assuming y’all want me to finish this report off with something a bit more substantial than “mmmm Alan is so pretty mmmm”, anyway!

Continue reading “Great Big Sea at the Moore in Seattle, 3/12/2011 (Part 3 of 3)”