Going Out

Great Big Sea founder, Séan McCann, opens up on NAC stage

“I see it as, partly, to let everyone know I’m here, I’m an Ottawa resident, this is my hometown and I’m proud of it.”

Séan McCann, founding member of Great Big Sea, plays his first “hometown” show, this Saturday at the NAC, since moving to Ottawa last year.

After leaving the internationally-renowned Newfoundland band that he helped start over 30 years ago, McCann went out on his own, released two solo records (Help Your Self, 2014, and You Know I Love You, 2016), and moved his wife and two children from St. John’s to Ottawa. The life overhaul was done in part to overcome an addiction to alcohol, and McCann says Ottawa has been a positive step along his new path.

“My wife’s from Minnesota, and we were heading that way for a while, but I really wanted to stay in Canada, and Ottawa has always been very warm and kind to me and GBS. It’s always been there for us, you know, people got behind us. It felt like I had a history here,” he says about choosing Ottawa for his family’s new home.

“It’s a great town for children, it’s reasonably safe, there’s a lot going on, so we’re always out and about, doing something.”

McCann says the city’s central location is also a plus. Now McCann can tour his solo act over a weekend, instead of having to go on a longer multi-date tour to make it worth the long-haul from St John’s. “It’s a doable thing, and I can find the smaller theatres and make a living. So it gives me access to a more centralized market.”

Of course, the sea still calls him. “I miss home occasionally, but I go back a couple times a year.”

Sober for several years, McCann now speaks at various event, his guitar never far away. Photo courtesy of Séan McCann.

Sober for several years now, McCann has spoken about addiction and mental health at various events in the capital and beyond, in an attempt to help others through the medium that helped him: music.

“I’m finding that my speaking involves playing guitar and singing songs —I never do a speech without my guitar with me. So the speaking stuff, the stuff that I’m saying to people, is now in my show, so they’re bleeding together in a weird way and I’m gonna’ let it happen, let it all out.”

And this is why McCann’s singular performance at the NAC Studio on his “Road to Recovery Tour” is so unique. His speaking gigs will melt with song and music, in front of his new neighbours.

“I don’t think I’m going to get to play the NAC very often – probably never again – so I just want it to be a very special night.”

The show—his first “hometown” performance—will be a combination of old favourites, new songs, story-telling, and some “special guests.” 

“I do a lot of requests but a song I love to finish with is ‘You Know I Love You.'”

The song envelops the listener in McCann’s folk-rock-shantyman sounds. Short and sweet, it’s a simple tune with sincerity, much like McCann’s new approach to performing.

“What I’ve learned to do over the last little while is to look people in the eye and try to gauge what they really want, and want they need. So it’s definitely an interactive experience and the audience has a role to play. My role is to engage them. I’m just determined to be present and in the moment about it.”

McCann wants to reintroduce himself to fans, and to his new hometown.

“It’s not about me making money, it’s about playing the National Arts Centre and being together with my new friends and my neighbours. It’s dress up night! I’m gonna’ wear pants that you need to iron!”

A light-heated, multi-talented story-teller, and proud Ottawa resident, McCann will surely delight—and maybe really help—his “neighbours” this Saturday at the NAC.