It’s 20 Years And Counting For Great Big Sea

Photo by David Howells
Photo by David Howells

Being part of an internationally successful band for 20 years is plenty of cause for celebration. And nobody is going to party heartier than Newfoundland’s Great Big Sea.

In 1993 Great Big Sea began playing shows as a quartet, comprised of Alan Doyle, Sean McCann, Bob Hallett and Darrell Power. Since then, the band has remained on harmonious terms; in fact, the only change to the lineup was the amicable departure of Power after the release of their 2002 album Sea Of No Cares.

Since then, Doyle, Hallett and McCann have continued to wow audiences all over the world. Not only are they a sensation here in Canada, they have also built a devoted following beyond our borders. Earlier this week, they played to a sold-out audience in Boston and will take the stage before a packed house here in Moncton on Thursday.

To commemorate their first two decades as a band, Great Big Sea released XX last October. The retrospective release is a two-disc set that covered the group’s many pop hits as well as some of their best loved traditional and folk songs. In addition to offering a box set edition of XX, which included a DVD compiled by band member McCann, the group also managed to squeeze in an impressive six new songs on the standard and deluxe editions.

From his home in Newfoundland earlier this year, Great Big Sea vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Doyle said releasing XX was a nice way to celebrate the group’s first 20 years. Just don’t count on them travelling down memory lane for eternity.

“We definitely experienced a very brief, ‘we did it’ kind of moment,” Doyle said. “We have never been ones to spend a lot of time patting ourselves on the back, though. It is just something that we never really allowed ourselves to do. Stopping for a nostalgic pit stop isn’t a terrible thing obviously, but we have always tended to look forward, otherwise we would just grind to a stop.”

Asked if he and his bandmates ever dreamed they would still be making music 20 years after they first started playing together, Doyle said that was indeed their hope.

“If someone had told me 20 years ago that this band we were starting was still going to be going two decades or more down the line, I would have been grateful to have been told that,” he said.

“But without trying to sound boastful, that was the plan all along. We didn’t start a group with the intention of having it be something that filled in our spare time. We started this band because we thought it would be fun to do and something that we could give our all to, as well. For us, the journey has been the destination. The band has grown much beyond what any of us had expected.”

As with any good marriage, time apart also makes the band’s relationship stronger.

Just last year, Doyle released his debut solo record, Boy On Bridge. McCann has two solo records to his credit over the last five years. In 2010, multi-instrumentalist Hallett released Writing Out The Notes: Life In Great Big Sea, his first memoir about life in the band.

“Maintaining those outside interests is certainly what helps keep Great Big Sea interested,” Doyle said. “For Sean, he always had these dark, poetic, beautiful songs that were sometimes difficult to find a home for within Great Big Sea’s concerts and records. So his solo record became the vehicles for those songs.

“As for Bob, he has been writing long before there even was a Great Big Sea. I think that each of us is grateful to be surrounded by creative people in the band.”

Prior to starting the Canadian leg of their XX tour last month, Great Big Sea was spending some time touring through the United States. While Celtic music is a little more ingrained in the culture of Atlantic Canada than say Los Angeles, Doyle said the group has been fortunate to be well-received wherever they play, including in the United States.

“One of the things that Canadians are perhaps most surprised to learn is that people in the United States are not all that radically different from us, especially when it comes to entertainment,” he said. “People always seem surprised to know that Boston and Halifax have a little more in common than what people might expect the cities to have. We have 20 years of crisscrossing the world under our belts and almost without exception, we are lucky to find an audience and fill a room no matter where we play. You can’t help but feel grateful for that at the end of the day.”

Article published in the April 23, 2013 edition of the Times & Transcript