Sean McCann to play Opera House next Friday

September 22, 2017   ·   0 Comments

By Constance Scrafield

When it became clear to Sean McCann that his life with his famous band, Great Big Sea, had to change, he did not perhaps realize what a tough road that would be. What he did realize was that he had to quit drinking, that his life touring and the rock culture’s intense involvement with drinking was at an end for him.

So, in 2013, he left the band to begin life again.

“I quit drinking at the beginning of a tour,” he said in a telephone interview, “There’s a lot of alcohol in the life style. I found myself sober among ten others who were drinking. I didn’t think it was a good idea to remain in that situation – truth is – we were mainly sick of each other. The bus wasn’t going to be a sober bus.”

The rock music business, or folk rock as the Great Big Sea were sometimes designated, is “strongly aligned with liquor products and beer,” said Mr McCann.

“I was less willing to sell that product. When you start to want to untangle yourself from all that, things change.”

Bringing an end to the life of such success as the band, Great Big Sea, enjoyed must have been no small decision. Formed in St John’s, Newfoundland, in 1993, by Sean McCann, with Alan Doyle, Bob Hallett, and Darrell Power, the group created their own style and sound within the traditional Newfoundland folk music. They recorded a total of seven albums, all of  which garnered gold or platinum (50,000 or 100,000 albums or singles sold). They played to huge crowds in cities around the USA, Europe and every major city in Canada. The band received several Juno Award nominations.

Since he has been out on his own, Mr. McCann has reduced his life to a happy solo effort, managing and booking his own gigs without the use of an agent or manager – just taking care of his own business….

He was very soon back on the stage and had already written several songs, some of which talked about his drinking problems.

After 2013, with help from his old friend, Halifax musician, Joel Plaskett, he  put out an album, Help Yourself, a statement, perhaps, of his plans for himself.

This was followed in 2014 with another album, You Know I Love You, inspired by the way in which his solo career and new albums were being received and the support he was receiving.

Of them, he commented, “These songs were fresh – I was finding my way through music.”

Immersed in several charities as well, especially Guitars for Vets, he gives concerts and is a public speaker with his Music is  Medicine.

Mr. McCann found Orangeville by happenstance two years ago. He was driving to Fergus and, eschewing the highways in favour of the local roads, found himself driving “along main street [Broadway] in Orangeville.”

He told us, “I went into Aardvark Music and met nice people there. Then, walked into the Town Hall by accident. I told them about what I had been doing and they showed me the theatre and gave me contact information.

“I like little theatres like Orangeville’s. When I saw it, that’s exactly the size of room I like. The bigger crowd [is more detached] but in a smaller crowd, I’ll be able to say what I want to say. These shows are my meetings. They’re going to get me – with a happy ending.

“I’m attracted to that kind of honesty,” he said simply. “It wasn’t easy and this is that kind of show. Music is a strong medicine and I get people to sing. When people start to sing, the smiles come out.

“For me, this is the truth. What pulled at me for words for Help Yourself is when you quit drinking, you  lose your friends. This is the systemic problem – this addiction – it is prevalent and not talking about it won’t work. That record really woke me up.

“Finally, after 25 years, I was saying something that mattered. I have a little book ‘”You know I Love You” (words from the album) that I sell at shows so people can sing with me.

“Sometimes, I have a guy,  Chris Murphy, who plays Celtic instruments; sometimes I come on my own. Chris will be joining me on stage in Orangeville,” he said.

He reflected, “People’s behaviour can’t stop. I’m trying to tell people to get off line. There’s so much going on all around them that they’re missing.”

We spoke about his ambitions: “We devolved into a band that had stopped writing music. I want to go and sing songs. I love what I do and I have found the right song.

“My immediate motivation,” he said, “is to sell out Orangeville so they’ll ask me to come again. It would be sad if people stopped gathering together, stopped singing together. It is certainly important to my well being and to everyone’s.”

He assured us, “My job is to make sure everybody has a great show – we’ll sing and we’ll love it. I don’t have a set song list because what I do is what I see in front of me – I ask the light guy to keep some of the lights up so I can see people in front of me.

“At the end of a concert, if they feel good, I feel good.”

Mr. McCann’s new album came out last week: “There’s a Place” and we had a chance to listen to the songs on it. It is an album of songs with stories and thought, the sort of songs that one wants to listen to often. They are very intimate, pulling the listener close to him. It is as though Sean McCann understands the heart of us all. 

Sean McCann is playing at the Opera House, next Friday, September 29 at 8:00pm. Tickets are the Box Office on Broadway. Telephone 519-942-3423.

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