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Great Big Sea

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.

Great Big Sea

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

The most important thing about the Great Big Sea show tonight

Internets, my usual full concert report will be coming about tonight’s Great Big Sea show in Edmonds real soon–but before I post that, I have to post this, because THIS was the high point of the evening and I’m still trying to ramp down from the outburst of ZOMG in my system.

As you all know, I’m a novelist. I’ve completed five novels, in fact. Verbosity is my primary superpower. I have a LOT of words in me. So you’ll know that if other people’s pictures are worth a thousand words, this one, coming from me, is worth an entire trilogy. This happened after the GBS show in Edmonds tonight, when I and several other fangirls were hanging out by the band’s tour bus!

Anna and Alan Doyle

Anna and Alan Doyle

Thirteen years. THIRTEEN YEARS I’ve been in this fandom and I’ve finally scored not only the opportunity, but also the gumption to ask Alan Doyle to his face if I could have a picture with him. He promptly said “sure!”, invited me to get in close, and put his arm around my shoulders. I handed my phone off to my friend Helen, who then needed me to unlock it for her ’cause duh right access code. THEN she had trouble finding my camera app, so she made cracks at me about how “should I draw this out a little longer?”–’cause Alan was standing there with his arm around me the whole time. I chirped, “I’M GOOD!”

There was laughter, and the picture was finally taken. One other girl in the group also snapped a pic which she promised to send me, so this wasn’t even the only one!

(ALSO! There was bonus Murray! Most of the group wanted pics with Alan, so after I got my turn I turned to Murray and asked him about his fundraising efforts for his Cocksure Lads movie–his mockumentary about a fictional 60’s British rock band. Great fun. I was in on round one of that fundraising and I’ll be chiming in on the second one too. Because Murray is awesome.

Also, mad props to Foster when I told him I was annathepiper on Twitter and that we’d chatted some about Tolkien. He remembered that. YAY!)

So yeah. This was a TRIUMPH. Making a note here: HUGE SUCCESS.

Also note: I neither confirm nor deny any rumors of high-pitched squealing and a victory dance as soon as we were out of range of the bus.

Great Big Sea

Ordinary Day, en français!

Last night on the way home from work, thanks to current medical developments, I turned like I always do in such times to my comfort music. And if you’ve hung around me for more than five minutes, you know exactly what that is: Great Big Sea. And in particular, “Ordinary Day”.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: this song is pretty much the anthem of my life. And this past week in particular, I’ve been feeling the second verse real strongly, since I keep feeling like my system REALLY wants to push me around in a medical sense. I’ll take the liberty of hoping that trying to maintain a positive outlook has helped me make it not get away with that shit; certainly there’s a strong case to be made for that being an excellent coping technique with stress. (I’m serious on that! Dara pointed me at this TED talk over here on that very topic!)

And it’s certainly helped that my belovedest of B’ys have been here through the last 13 years to give me such musical comfort as they do. Especially when they’re the ones who made me pick up a guitar and learn how to play it in the first place.

Now though I’ve got mes gars du Québec, who are pretty much doing the same thing, only this time with a whole extra bonus language to stuff into my head.

Y’all know where this is going, right? Yep. I just translated “Ordinary Day” into French.

Which has apparently been done before, according to my Facebook and Twitter friend (not to mention fellow raving Great Big Sea fangirl) Krista, who gave me a scan of a GBS newsletter from way back in October of 1997, three years before I discovered the band. Krista showed me that after I posted my take on the first verse and chorus last night, and I was rather pleased to discover that a) I could understand just about everything that translation was saying, and b) I still stood by the translation choices I made in my own attempt.

I’ve finished that attempt up as of this post. Those of you who have any French at all will probably figure out fast that this is not an exact translation of Alan’s lyrics. I did direct translations when I could, but when I had to choose between “exact translation” and “close approximation that actually scanned better to the melody”, I went with the latter option. Particularly in the third verse, where I ran into trouble with the concepts of “double-edged knife” and “your ship will come in”–in those cases in particular, I jumped over to concepts that more or less got the same idea across but which let me use simpler phrasing that’d scan better to the melody.

‘Cause, of course, the overall point here is that I eventually want to be able to sing this. 😉

Anyway, here it is, my take on “Ordinary Day” in French!

J’ai un sourire sur ma face, et quatre murs autour de moi
J’ai le soleil dans le ciel, toute l’eau m’entoure, oh oh oh
Ouias, je gagne, et parfois je perds
J’ai été battue, mais jamais meurtri
Ça va pas si mal

Refrain:
Et je dit, yé hé hé, c’est juste un jour ordinaire, et c’est tout ton état d’esprit
À la fin de la journée, tu dois juste à dire, ça va bien!

Janie chante sur le coin, qu’est-ce qui l’empêche de mourir?
Laisse-les dire ce qu’ils veulent, elle va essayer encore, oh oh oh
Elle pourrait trébucher s’ils la pousser
Elle pourrait tomber mais jamais céder
Ça va pas si mal

Dans cette belle vie, il y a des douleurs
C’est un couteau dans le cœur, mais il y a demain toujours, oh oh oh
C’est ton choix si tu passe ou casse
Fais confiance le matin va venir
Ça va pas si mal

Great Big Sea

Great Big Sea at the PNE in Vancouver, 8/21/2013

48-hour turnaround time: fastest trip I’ve done to Vancouver in some time! Possibly EVER! Because yeah, my belovedest Dara and I zoomed up to Vancouver by train on Wednesday morning, and home again on Thursday night. We crashed at the home of friends Geri and Rob, and the purpose before us was, of course, GREAT BIG SEA!

We got up to Vancouver around noonish on Wednesday as per usual for the train, and promptly took the Skytrain over to Geri and Rob’s so we could crash for a while before heading off to the show. The B’ys played this time at the PNE, the Pacific National Exhibition, a venue that reminded me a lot of the Seattle Center during Folklife–only with a lot more of an amusement park/fairground feel to it. There were many more rides and a lot more fair food, but less music.

Shoutouts must be given to the other fans we met up with, in particular Kate, Helen, Robin, Angela, Angela’s mom Venus, and Angela’s grandmother as well (whose name I didn’t catch, sorry about that). Several of us all took time to go see the Superdogs show before GBS went on stage, and that was fun. Lots of acrobatic stunts with very cleverly trained dogs, and it gave us at least something else to spend our fair admission on. Which was $16 at the gate–and which also made it by far the cheapest ticket I’ve had to a GBS show in quite some time.

We nommed fair food for dinner, and as we were in fact in Canada, I naturally had to have poutine. Because nom. I have no idea who invented poutine, but my hat is off to whatever enterprising soul first decided that fries + gravy + squeakycheese = nom. And before we got into the show space, I amused myself buying a ten-dollar light-up toy that spun little colored bulbs on threads, thinking it’d be fun to have that during the show.

The show was outdoors, in a nice large ampitheater space, and we ducked in fairly early so that Geri and Rob could claim their seats in the reserved area and Dara and I could get as far forward in the GA area as possible. That let us also of course see superfan Lynda (I do always spot her at the concerts), and greetings were exchanged! This was the first time as well that I’d been at a GBS show large enough and in an appropriate space for using jumbotrons. There were two of them, one to either side of the stage, and all throughout the show they kept alternating between showing the band members and showing people in the audience.

Naturally, Dara and I had our Cascadia flag! We had great fun waving that around, and Geri was startled to note that my pink shorts, taken together with the blue, green, and white of the Cascadia flag, actually made for very Newfoundland-friendly colors. I noted wryly that I had not in fact done that on purpose. But yeah, the Cascadia flag? Very Newfoundland-friendly colors. And Dara and I in fact were mistaken for Newfoundlanders by the girls behind us!

Round about 8:30, the show got underway! It was a single set show, and very tight and fast–not entirely without banter, but less rambly than some shows I’ve been to. I didn’t get any pictures since we were outdoors in the dark, and I’m not good at getting shots under those conditions. Dara did however get several nice shots, which you can find at her flickr page over here.

Alan in particular was rocking his bearded look, as he often does when he’s about to do another stint on Republic of Doyle or is just coming off of one:

Great Big Sea, Vancouver PNE Fair 2013 August 21

Also, the light show was REALLY awesome!

Great Big Sea, Vancouver PNE Fair 2013 August 21

And now, the Set List!

  • Ordinary Day
  • Donkey Riding
  • When I’m Up
  • Heart of Hearts
  • The Night Pat Murphy Died
  • Goin’ Up
  • England
  • Beat the Drum
  • When I am King
  • Safe Upon the Shore
  • Scolding Wife
  • I’m a Rover
  • Let My Love Open the Door
  • Sea of No Cares
  • Helmethead
  • Consequence Free
  • Mari-Mac
  • Run Run Away
  • Encore #1: Live This Life / Old Black Rum
  • Encore #2: Wave Over Wave

“Paddy Murphy” was the first big bit of amusing banter. Séan did the intro with “Alan got a little bit drunk / and Bob got a little wet! As long as a bottle was passed around, Murray Foster was feeling…” Then he trailed off meaningfully, getting the audience to roar “GAY!” This took a couple tries, in fact–and Séan got a huge cheer by adding, “We’re not in Russia, it’s OKAY!”

And I am chagrined to note that I TOTALLY missed that Bob sauntered over and laid one on Murray at that point because I was frantically typing notes into my phone. DARA, however, caught it and suitably lost it laughing! “Paddy Murphy” also, according to Kate, had our first indicator that the B’ys were dropping hints about where they’d be after the show–since they referenced the Railway!

ETA: I am informed that it was actually Séan who went over to smooch Murray. Either way: HA!

It was after “Beat the Drum” that Alan went into a lament about jet lag, remarking, “I myself woke up at 5:15!” Dara, at that point, yelled “SO DID WE!” And trust me when I say that Dara is in a position to understand that usually, when a musician sees an hour that stupidly early, it’s from the other direction.

Alan added that he went for a run in Stanley Park, where he ran into Séan–and Séan said that he loved Stanley Park, and that everybody is beautiful there. Even Alan. LOL. He then went off into an improv on “New Moon”, and Alan informed the audience that they did in fact have the day off tomorrow, with the unforgiving checkout time of noon. Another big indicator that “yes, we will in fact be on the loose after the show”.

I must also specifically call out “Safe Upon the Shore” for DEAR GOD DEATH BY HARMONY. We didn’t get “General Taylor” or “River Driver” this time, but whenever they unleash “Safe Upon the Shore”, I’m OKAY WITH THAT. This time around they nailed it beautifully and I kept having to brace for the impact of the choruses. They were shiver-inducingly glorious. That said, Dara and I still kept giggling and going “BRAAAAAAAAAAINS” at one another given that this whole song is about a corpse.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “Scolding Wife” is huge fun, and Dara and I had fun with our arms around one another singing this. I in particular let out with “Ahh, she’d sell me to the devil for a glass or two of VODKA!”

“I’m a Rover” was the point in the concert where Alan let out his funniest bits during the whole show–by looking up at the biggest and most notable ride within view of the stage, one of those ones that’s a great big whirling arm with two cars on either end. Alan took a look at that thing and told the audience it’d just then occurred to him that JAYSUS THERE ARE ACTUAL HUMAN BEINGS IN THAT! And that it was kind of freaking him out!

This song also got a wry little mention of Bob in the last verse as well: “we both shook hands and embraced his fiddle!” Muaha. It’s okay to love your fiddle. You might not however want to LOVE your fiddle. >:D

Leading into “Sea of No Cares” (the slow version, which is how they’ve been doing the song at the last several shows I’ve attended), Alan made cracks about their first show in Vancouver being back in 1956. Which always makes me giggle, since it totally reminds me of Elvis making jokes about HIS first shows being in 1912. And after SoNC, Alan joked further about the west coast always surprising the band since “people go in the ocean recreationally here!” At which point Séan joked that that isn’t ALL they do recreationally here.

After that they pretty much charged through the rest of the set non-stop. And I was stunned, STUNNED I TELL YOU, that we didn’t actually get “Excursion Around the Bay”! But I did love hearing “Wave Over Wave” again, and in particular pointing out to Dara how Murray’s been breaking out a bouzouki for this song. And I liked pointing out to her as well that both Alan and Bob had their own bouzoukis for “Live This Life”. Because all things are made better with bouzoukis, including Great Big Sea encores.

After the show Dara and I sadly had to bow out of the attempt to head to the Railway, since Geri and Rob were our ride and they weren’t up for it. But we did fetch tasty Siegels bagels on the way back to Burnaby, and we drank cider, and that was a lovely close to the evening! I’m told that the B’ys did in fact show up at the Railway, and so next time I hit a GBS show in Vancouver, there will have to be a bit more judicious planning for possible post-show shenanigans. (Because I need me a pic of me and Alan and Jean-Claude the mammoth. I DO! >:D)

Further edits will happen to this post if anybody points me at publicly linkable pictures or videos!

Great Big Sea, Music

I am a folk music resource!

Well, for a small number of bands, anyway! Because apparently this is the week for people to hit my site trying to find out about the instruments played by my favorite groups.

Yesterday somebody came by with the search term ‘what mouth instruments do le vent du nord play?’ Answer: just one! Réjean Brunet plays the mouth harp. You can hear it all over a lot of their songs and you can see it in various live videos. Like this one! The mouth harp shows up in the second song in this vid, “Au bord de la fontaine”, which kicks in around the 6:57 mark. Though I heartily endorse watching the first song, “Lanlaire”, too!

And today’s search term is ‘what flutes do great big sea use’. Answer: none! Séan McCann and Bob Hallett play whistles–Séan plays a small tin whistle but only on “Run Run Away”, and Bob breaks out the big low whistle for things like “Boston and St. John’s”. Behold the whistle in action!

To those of you who came by looking, in case you see this post, I hope this is helpful!

Great Big Sea

Translation of Le Bon Vin

One of the fun things about Google Analytics is that I can see what people who hit my site might have been searching for. And I’ve seen a couple of people come in now looking for a translation of Great Big Sea’s “Le Bon Vin”, which appears on the new XX album. Presumably they’re keying off of this previous post of mine, wherein I took a shot at transcribing the lyrics as I understood them. My French-speaking friend and fellow Great Big Sea fan Marie-Andrée then gave me her transcription of the lyrics, which told me that yeah, actually, I got most of them correct.

Here now is my take on a translation of the lyrics that Marie-Andrée provided. So if you’re an Anglophone Great Big Sea fan, hope this helps! (Or, for that matter, if you’re a Francophone GBS fan and you have trouble parsing Alan’s accent. Since he does have a heavy Newfoundland accent and that influences his French. And if you look in the liner notes for the album, at least on the boxed set edition, it says that the band had a Francophone from New Brunswick giving them French coaching. So Alan’s take on French may well sound very strange to French-speaking Canadians outside of Newfoundland or New Brunswick!)

A few quick notes going in:

“Bon bon bon” is I believe just getting used here for rhythm and cadence as opposed to being part of the actual lyrics. “Bon” is of course “good”.

“Bis” means “repeat”. I see this a lot in Quebec trad music, as a way to notate when a line is done call and response style. Here, I’ve used it to signify the lines that are first sung by Alan and then sung back by the rest of the band.

“Le Bon Vin” is in fact a Quebecois trad song, from what I was seeing Googling around. I did find longer editions of the lyrics, here and here. (That second link has chords, too!) However, Great Big Sea’s take is much simplified. They’re only sorta kinda doing the usual Quebec song structure of having a repeated first line and a second line, which then rolls over into the next verse to become that verse’s first line. (And I think they’re probably losing a lot of the actual narrative and context of the song, too, simplified as it is. But!)

Not entirely sure of the translation of the last line, but from what I’m getting it’s generally the friend of the viewpoint character snarking on this girl’s mob of lovers, so one could presume the recounting of her lovers makes up the “la canaille”?)

Anyway, here you go!

Chorus:
Le bon vin m’endort, l’amour me réveille (Good wine puts me to sleep, love wakes me up)
Le bon vin m’endort, l’amour me réveille encore! (Good wine puts me to sleep, love wakes me up again)

En passant par Paris, caressant la bouteille (bis) (Passing by Paris, caressing the bottle)
Un de mes amis me dit à l’oreille, bon, bon, bon (One of my friends told me in the ear)

Un de mes amis me dit à l’oreille (bis) (One of my friends told me in the ear)
Prends bien garde à toi, allons poursuivre la belle, bon, bon, bon (Take good care of yourself, (let’s) go pursue the beauty!)

Poursuit qui la veut, moi, je me moque d’elle (bis) (… pursue (the one?) that wants it, I don’t care about her)
J’ai couché trois ans, la nuit avec elle bon, bon, bon (I spent the night three years with her)

Elle a eu trois garçons, tous trois capitaines (bis) (She had three boys, all three captains)
Un à Bordeaux, et l’autre à La Rochelle bon, bon, bon (One in Bordeaux, and another in La Rochelle)

Un à Bordeaux, et l’autre à La Rochelle (bis) (One in Bordeaux, and another in La Rochelle)
L’autre à Versailles, à faire la canaille bon, bon, bon (Another in Versailles, to make the riffraff?)