So Séan McCann the Shanty Man is done, leaving Great Big Sea at the end of the current tour. And with that, an era is over. Even were the band to carry on in name, that’s half the original lineup gone, and more importantly, a big chunk of the soul of the group.
I can’t say I’m surprised. The last couple of albums have felt more like collections of solo work than Great Big Sea; The Hard and the Easy was the last album to feel like the whole band. Then the hiatus year followed by a notable lack of new material made the GBS XX box set sound mostly like a curtain call. I told Anna at the time: this is a farewell tour, announced as such or not. Bands have lifespans, and Great Big Sea ran in original lineup for one decade, then mostly-original for another; one hell of a run by any standard.
I owe a lot to GBS, musically. They’re why I know what an Irish bouzouki is, much less why I play one. They’re why Anna formed Three Good Measures (later Twelve Good Measures), and dragged me into it as a moderately-resistant flautist, and how she got that mandolin she eventually gave me. People say your first band should be a cover band; we were, largely of Great Big Sea, and it’s in that band where I started hearing music in songs that hadn’t actually been written yet, and started to play it.
I remember the first four bars I wrote, live, just while playing, in practice, and Kathryn, one of our vocalists, spinning around pointing with both hands saying, “THAT! Do THAT!!” and it felt like suddenly I could see through time.
And maybe that would’ve happened eventually in some form somewhere else, with other people, for other reasons – it didn’t really start to unlock for another few years, even as it went – but in the world I have, this is the where, and the when, and the why it did.
It hasn’t all been good; so much of doing music – or, indeed, any art – is about learning to deal with being ignored and rejected. And with my history of abandonment issues, those are particularly difficult lessons. Worse, I’ve never found anyone else who writes the way I do; the elfmetal community of artists consists, let’s be honest, pretty much of just me. CFoE was always supposed to be a band, not a solo act; only now am I occasionally getting to realise any part of that.
But none of it would even have been started – certainly not then, and not for a while – without Great Big Sea showing up, and despite my substantial frustrations, I’m still glad it did. It may’ve been Alexander James Adams who told me, “hey, you really need to be doing this,” but it was Great Big Sea who had me carrying around that flute in my backpack to begin with.
Without them, no N>=3 Good Measures, no Supervillain Studio, no nwcMUSIC geekmusic festival, no Crime and the Forces of Evil, no touring, I wouldn’t know half the people I do today… and, honestly, who knows what else? The knock-on effects scatter both far and wide.
And thus, here we are, at the end of an era. Oh, sure, a sort-of GBS could play on as the Alan
Parsons Doyle Project, but that wouldn’t be the same, and besides, Bob has bands to manage and a bar to run. We close one era, while still hoping to see another start.
So thanks, Séan, Bob, Darrell, Alan, and latecomer Murray – guys, it’s been great. No; it’s been amazing. I hope, someday, I can return the favour – or, if not that, pass it on, casting a little magic myself. Maybe someone will catch it, and throw forward a bit of their own. The least I can do, I think, is try.