Happy sobriety fuels solo career

Like the lyrics of one of his new songs, he doesn’t know where but he knows he’s heading in the right direction.

On tour: Singer/songwriter Séan McCann appears at Shuswap Theatre Nov. 8.

On tour: Singer/songwriter Séan McCann appears at Shuswap Theatre Nov. 8.

Singer songwriter Séan McCann is on his way.

Like the lyrics of one of his new songs, he doesn’t know where but he knows he’s heading in the right direction.

A founding member of the wildly popular Great Big Sea who appeared at the 2001 Roots and Blues Festival, McCann is touring solo and will stop in Salmon Arm on Nov. 8.

He still lends his rich gravelly voice to many of the songs he wrote and performed with Great Big Sea but has a number of new, powerful songs written since leaving the group and the booze behind.

His efforts to deal with painful experiences that he used to bury in alcohol are in the lyrics of much of his new work.

“You can say things in a song that you might not be able to say; they let you deal with the problem, not just cover it over,” he says.

“It was a great place to hide being an alcoholic,” he said of the continual party atmosphere. “Great Big Sea had the same set list for 15 years. I was stuck there and I had to keep moving – that’s what an artist should do.”

He is proud of the work he did with Great Big Sea but says many differences of opinion on what the band should do and where it should go had surfaced several years earlier and the ending was ugly and painful.

McCann had tried many times to overcome his addiction but found the strength to get sober after his wife, Andrea, told him he would lose her and his children if he didn’t stop drinking.

“I’m really glad she had the courage to do that; she knew I was killing myself and I heard that,” he says. “You tell your kids how to live their lives, then you have to tell yourself, ‘maybe I can learn something from my kids.’”

The first nine months of sobriety were extremely difficult and lonely, but McCann says he had the comfort of his songs and his guitar. Since leaving the band, McCann released an album produced by Joel Plaskett, entitled Help Your Self, and over the summer unveiled another entitled the You Know I Love You Collection of Songs.

“They truly represent who I am. Once I sobered up I figured out this is me,” he says, noting the ‘game of fame’ and the money that came with it did not make him happy. “Money seldom brings out the best in people. I still  have something to say and I’m still making music, from a different motivation.”

At 48, McCann said he wants the second half of his life to be better.

“You have to acknowledge the shadows, you can’t keep pretending they’re not there,” he says. “I’m  looking for something more substantial; it’s a harder path but I am happier.”

The lyrics may deal with difficult issues but the songs are far from being dirges. They speak of change, of renewal, light and hope of better times ahead. Like the sea shanties he wrote for Great Big Sea, many of McCann’s songs have rich Celtic undertones and rousing reminders of the power of the ocean he was born beside.

McCann’s ancestors arrived in Newfoundland from County Armagh about 400 years ago and the Newfoundlander says his time as a teenager spent in Ireland felt strangely like home.

“I could understand where the traditional music came from and I learned a lot about folk music,” he says. “Before you know where you’re going, you need to know where you come from first.”

McCann says if he has any regrets about his days with Great Big Sea, it is that he was isolated from his audiences.

Sobriety made other connections important to the artist, who volunteered his time to work with teens with addiction and mental-health issues. He says his reward was much greater than his giving.

“When I bring my guitar and start playing, the faces change, including mine,” he says of the power of music to heal.

McCann says he gets inspiration for his songs as he travels, with many of them beginning in Newfoundland by the ocean and ending in the mountains.

McCann is thoroughly enjoying the smaller venues and increased connection to his audiences, whom he invites to sing along.

Listen to McCann’s music at http://www.seanmccannsings.com, where every song has its own artwork, created by good friend and talented artist/singer/songwriter Meaghan Smith.

Then go to Acorn Music to get your tickets for the Nov. 8 concert at Shuswap Theatre. Showtime is 7:30 p.m.


Salmon Arm Observer