Great Big Sea
by Jenny Tarrant
Great Big Sea is heading over to your neighborhood and if you were expecting a huge body of water, don't fret. Great Big Sea, playing all over the United States, Canada and soon, Europe is the incredible traditional/Celtic band from Newfoundland. And they're one great kitchen party!
Named after the song "Great Big Sea Hove In Long Beach", which talks about a tidal surge that hit the beach of Bonavista area in 1920 (although many may construe the song to be a sad one, don't be mistaken), the band evolved from several hundred years of "kitchen parties", long ago the only source of heat in the house where traditional songs and stories were passed on from generation to generation. The song itself, like the band, is very upbeat, a reflection of the spirit of Newfoundlanders and their ability to overcome adversity.
Alan Doyle, vocals, guitar, bouzouki, mandola, mandolin (and truth be known, he's a pretty good goaltender as I recently witnessed at a celebrity hockey game in St. John's), confessed that the band had gone by another name for a few gigs before finally choosing Great Big Sea. Apparently it was a horrible name for whan I tried to pry it from Alan, he wouldn't give it up.
Looking well rested and tanned after vacationing in Jamaica, Alan was kind enough to chat with me for a few minutes in Portland, Oregon---the start of their most recent American tour supporting the release of Turn. I'll admit upfront, I've never done an interview before and being a long time fan of the band I found it a little hard, and as Alan said, I could probably answer most of the questions myself.
Right off the bat I had technical difficulties, that seems to be a wee bit of a trend with me these days, the batteries had died on the recorder so I missed all the wonderful descriptive words Alan used when asked to describe Newfoundland, I guess everyone will just have to come visit and see for themselves J
I could have asked how the band started but that's an easy one. Alan, who always manages to look like he's having more fun than anyone else, will tell you it was at a kitchen party in Petty Harbour.
Great Big Sea began when Sean on vocals, bodhran, guitars, shakers, percussion (also is a wicked defenseman), Bob on fiddle, button accordions, tin and low whistles, bouzouki, concertina, mandolin, vocals (although not nearly enough), and Darrel on bass guitar, guitars, bones and vocals were playing in a band called Rankin Street while Alan was doing parodies and spoofs across the street which Sean once described as "a very disturbing show".
For four university-educated young men, forming Great Big Sea was a very different path to take.
"It's because we loved it," Alan explains. "It's what we wanted to do more than anything else. It's the only job you get where people stand up and clap." At some point in almost every show Alan will shout out, "Get up, get up, get up".
At this I took the opportunity to apologize, tongue firmly planted in cheek, for never standing at any of their concerts. In their earlier days, Alan said that at a show in Winnipeg, he was shouting at a guy to get up without realizing that he was in a wheelchair. The guy took it well, shouting back, "I'd love to." I know the feeling for I too am in a wheelchair and just can't shake the guilt for not getting up when he says that. J
This band is the hardest working band I've ever had the joy of being a fan of. To be asked to do a feature for the Celtic Cafe is a pleasure.
They average over two hundred tour dates a year, not to mention time spent traveling. On sheer determination alone they gained my respect. I've recently gone on a few road trips with fellow fans in various parts of the country and got a taste of what it must be like, it's not easy.
You don't just go to a Great Big Sea concert. You participate. They strive to make it the biggest kitchen party in whatever town they're playing in that night and usually achieve enthusiastic results. The energy shared by the band and their audiences is an amazing experience. There's a real connection.
Great Big Sea has described themselves as user friendly. They interact with the audience a lot and are known to spin a yarn every now and again. Always entertaining, Great Big Sea is a real uplifting experience that appeals to all ages.
I asked if they planned on keeping this touring pace up to which Alan responded "We didn't. We didn't plan on it but we still are. Yes, I guess we will, it'll be a reality for at least the next few years anyway. You know, if we're making so much progress in America, Germany and Denmark then it'd be a shame to stop the success or the momentum. It's intoxicating to say in the least."
The band has had the opportunity to tour a few different countries, "Canada, Newfoundland, sorry, same country (to much laughter)," replied Alan. "America, England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Germany, Switzerland, Denmark. Nine".
He said they'd love to go to France, Italy, Spain and the rest of the Nordic counties. "I'd be happy with that," he said. He forgot to mention Poland which I know was an oversight because I've often heard them saying how much they loved playing the festival in Krakow and are proud of being voted Peoples Choice there in 1996.
Great Big Sea has been collecting a few awards along the way, most notably as Entertainer of the Year (five times consecutively) in the East Coast Music Awards. That's the one the fans get to vote for. Along with eight other trophies and three more nominations, that's not a bad haul in four years. Add to that five Juno nominations, Canada's music industry awards, and a pile of other regional awards, Great Big Sea is on to conquer the world.
What they have accomplished so far has not been easy but Newfoundlanders are well known for their hard work, strength and spirit and you can find all of that in abundance with Great Big Sea.
With four pretty successful Canadian CDs to their credit, their self-titled debut Great Big Sea (gold), Up (double platinum), Play (double platinum) and Turn (at least platinum, probably double by now), the band has evolved with each release. They've challenged themselves and their own song-writing ablilities. As they've pointed out, it's not easy writing a song that has to stand up to one that has come through the test of time, some of them being five hundred years old. They've managed to find a winning combination that keeps their fans coming back for more.
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