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 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 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.

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