Great Big Sea

I remember the day clearly. It was the 9th of Februrary, 2012 and I’d recently begun using, a music recommendation service that takes note of the songs & artists you listen to and attempts to find other bands you might enjoy based on your listening patterns.

One of the first recommendations offered to me was a band I’d never heard of called Great Big Sea. The blurb on their profile declared them to be a “Canadian folk-rock band from Newfoundland and Labrador, best known for performing energetic rock interpretations of traditional Newfoundland folk songs.” Straight away I was intrigued, given that I love the folk-rock genre and that they hailed from such a remote & faraway location you rarely hear about in the music world.

I quickly navigated to Youtube where I clicked through to one of their more recent releases, Nothing But A Song, an original tune from their 2010 album Safe Upon The Shore. It’s rare that a newly-discovered song resonates so well with me: I had a beaming smile on my face by the second bar and from the moment Alan Doyle’s captivating baritone made its passionate entrance, I can honestly say I was hooked.



I found the album on iTunes before the song had even finished. Over the next 49 minutes I embarked on one of the greatest journeys of musicianship and songwriting I’d been on – from the uplifting reflective opener of Long Life (Where Did You Go) to the hauntingly grievous title-track shanty that is Safe Upon The Shore; from the faith-restoring Good People to the comical cover of The Kinks’ Have A Cuppa Tea – and then there’s my personal favourite ballad, Yankee Sailor, the heartbreaking tale of a Canadian courtship torn apart by a wealthy & charismatic American seafarer, delivered with such an intensity and conviction that it brought shivers to my spine. These guys epitomised the type of music I loved.

And such began my musical love affair with Alan Doyle, Séan McCann and Bob Hallett, the mighty talented bunch of folk-rockers from the city of St John’s, Newfoundland who make up the core of Great Big Sea (that’s not to mention Darrell Power who retired in 2003, as well as Kris MacFarlane and Murray Foster who have been supporting members of the band since Darrell’s departure). Formed in 1993, the group today boast a discography of 9 studio albums (7 of which have made the top 10 in their home country), 3 live concert recordings, a plethora of singles and a lifetime’s worth of tour dates across Canada, the US and indeed the world.

Over the next six months or so I relished in getting my hands on the whole GBS back catalogue. I’d buy a new record of theirs on iTunes every couple of weeks and it never ceased to amaze me how each one held my attention and captured my imagination from start to finish. I was particularly impressed with how they were able to sustain such a positive, upbeat attitude while developing their musical style quite substantially over the years. They delivered a raw, traditional folk sound on their first few albums such as their self-titled Great Big Sea in 1993, Up in 1995, and 1997’s breakthrough record Play, before branching out to the more pop-inspired melodies of Sea Of No Cares and Something Beautiful in the early 2000’s.

They returned to their heritage in 2005, releasing an album entirely of traditional Newfoundland folk tunes called The Hard And The Easy. It’s been the greatest Great Big Sea discovery for me to date and it may just make the cut as my favourite album of all time. Each time I listen to it I feel richly immersed in Canadian maritime history made up of intertwining Irish, Scottish and French lineage; I’m transported to the ports, harbours and seaside communities along the Newfie coastline such as Tickle Cove, Harbour LeCou, Angle Pond & St John’s itself, and I’m carried away by stories of murderous captains, Arctic whalers, legendary horses and able young seamen both hard working & voyeuristic. Their two most recent albums Fortune’s Favour and the aforementioned Safe Upon The Shore yield a slightly more rock-influenced and heavily-produced characteristic which in my opinion, perfectly caps off nearly 20 years worth of recording.



Merely 2 months after first setting my ears upon Great Big Sea, I chanced to see in a local gig guide that they were about to embark on their first tour of Australia. I immediately booked a ticket and was lucky enough in April 2012 to catch their show at The Basement, an intimate venue in the heart of Sydney’s Circular Quay, where I was offered my first glimpse into exactly how energetic these guys really were in real life. Up until this point they were a barely-accessible folk band from the other side of the world, of whom I’d only ever heard a handful of recordings, but now here they were metres in front of me performing a killer set of in front of a devoted ex-pat Canadian audience. It was at that point I can say I officially became a devoted fan of Great Big Sea!

To give you an idea of exactly how much I’m into these guys, this is my graph of top 10 artists I’ve listened to since I began using in early 2012, and the number of times I’ve played tracks by each of them:


LastFM Artists
I’ve only listened to them 2,146 times!


Crazy huh?! As you can tell, their music has taken up a large portion of my life over the past few years. I even recorded my own little cover version of Safe Upon The Shore, and I namechecked them in a song I wrote a few months ago called I Wish I Lived In Canada.

Earlier this year I did actually go through with the decision to leave behind my job, home and life in Sydney, and embark upon a new adventure in Canada, where I have since settled in Toronto. There were a number of reasons why I chose Canada above other destinations, but one of them was for the opportunity to see Great Big Sea perform to a local crowd within their home country. And on the 28th of November 2013 I succeeded in ticking off the #1 entry to my Canadian bucket list, after catching Alan, Séan, Bob, Murray and Kris play a sold-out show as part of their XX tour at the General Motors Centre in Oshawa, around an hour east of Toronto.

It was an absolutely incredible performance that fulfilled my every wish, to the point where I couldn’t even sing along with the opening tunes Ordinary Day and The Chemical Worker’s Song because I was too overwhelmed 🙂

The one thing that strikes you about a Great Big Sea audience is that as soon as the band sets foot on stage, EVERYONE gets their arses up off their seat and claps/moves/dances/sings/screams their lungs out along with EVERY song. The vibe is indescribable, unlike any other show I’ve been to – and this is coming from a huge live music fan with very high expectations, having seen over 350 artists perform in my time.

I booked well in advance and as such, scored perfect seats in the centre of the auditorium, only 4 rows from the front of the stage. Highlights for me were Bob’s rousing a-capella rendition of Come And I Will Sing You, Alan’s kick-arse guitar solo in When I Am King, the chilling singalong harmonies of Séan’s classic, General Taylor, and the montage of fans projected onto the screen during the beautiful Good People. The two & a half hour show left not only me but the thousands-strong Oshawa crowd with a soul so uplifted that I doubt I’ll reach that level of musical contentment again for many years to come.


Great Big Sea - Oshawa 1
The boys during the first set of their Oshawa gig


Great Big Sea - Oshawa 2
The beautiful montage of fans projected onto the screen during Good People – Alan is up the back watching the show 🙂


Great Big Sea - Oshawa 3
Rock On


Great Big Sea - Oshawa 4
Waiting for the encore…


Great Big Sea - Oshawa 5
Murray, Kris and Alan during the encore


Only a couple of weeks ago, Séan announced that the XX tour will be his final with Great Big Sea. I’m extremely grateful I got to witness the GBS boys live in concert in Canada before Séan’s departure, and I wish him all the best with his upcoming endeavours.

I wanted to write this post not only to express my adoration for the band, but to hopefully inspire newcomers to check them out, and also as a way of saying a heartfelt thanks to each and every member of GBS over the years for giving us all the wonderful gift of music that truly changes lives for the better.

Whatever the future brings for Alan, Séan, Bob, Murray and Kris, one thing will remain for certain:

Great Big Sea fucking rock!



GBS Hoodie
Me after the show in my awesome new Great Big Sea hoodie 😀



Have you got a Great Big Sea story to tell? Where did you first hear of them and what do they mean to you? I’d love to hear from any likeminded fans – feel free to leave a comment below!



  1. Hi there Dan! Angela Korra’ti here, clicking over from the Facebook OKP group to read your post. GBS fandom knows me as “Anna the Piper”, which is the name I used to post under back in the day when still had the original OKP board.

    Just wanted to welcome you to GBS fandom. Long-time fan here; I’ve loved the B’ys since 2000, and I’m feeling pretty wistful about Séan’s imminent departure myself. But this band has given me a huge amount of happiness, and even at this point in the band’s life cycle, hell, like it says in “Goin’ Up”: “there’s always room for more.”

  2. I came across them in a roundabout way, Republic of Doyle caught my eye on TV a couple of years ago and I will admit the theme tune intrigued me . I bought Fortunes Favour as my first cd, and that was it hooked! My GBS bucket list resulted in a lengthy trip from the UK for the most incredible week in Washington and Naniamo, 4 concerts new Friends and big adventures. No doubt the experience of a lifetime. If you haven ‘t done so already check out Alan and Sean’s solo albums, Sean’s in particular have moved me to tears on more than one occasion. In January I will have new adventures travelling to. Toronto for Murray’s Cocksure Lads cd launch more new friends to meet I’m sure . No one knows what the future will hold for the band now but individually and together the music will flow.

  3. Hi Angela & Freda, thank you so much for the welcome & for getting in touch with your GBS stories 😀 It’s great to see so many people out there who share a love for the band.

    I’ve heard of Republic of Doyle but I haven’t seen it yet, I’ll have to get onto that. I think I might have stumbled across the theme tune clip on Youtube once actually. So far I’ve gotten ahold of Boy On Bridge and Son Of A Sailer, they’re both fantastic solo records and I know there are a few others out there which I’m sure I’ll get onto soon. Thanks for the heads up about the Cocksure Lads CD launch in Toronto as well.

    The future is indeed unknown but you’re both right: there’s always room for more, whether individually or as a whole!

  4. Dan, I’ve been posting about going to GBS shows for ages and I invite you to check out my posts when you have free time!

    I’ve got a bunch of show review posts over here:

    And most recently I was MOST pleased to achieve this:

    And I post a LOT about GBS in general, all over my blog. They’re HUGELY important to me as the band that got me into playing guitar and a bit of mandolin and bouzouki as well–they made me rediscover music as an adult, after having six years in band in school.

    Last year I had the huge pleasure of going to Newfoundland on vacation and seeing them perform on their home turf. That was AMAZING. 😀

  5. Cheers Angela, thanks for pointing me towards your blog, I’ve had a look through it! I’m pretty jealous you’ve gotten a pic with Alan 🙂 And WOW you got to see them in Newfoundland? I was originally thinking about coming over to Canada for a week or two earlier this year to see them in NL but I delayed the trip and decided in the end to get my money’s worth on the flights & move over for a year or two. I was hoping they’d announce another St John’s show in the near future but it looks like that may not happen now. Good to hear they got you into playing guitar/mandolin/bouzouki too, it’s fantastic for a band to have such an effect that you go out and learn an instrument!

    1. You are _very_ welcome!

      Yeah, the Newfoundland trip was amazing. I wanted to go there originally for two reasons–one, one of the book series I’m working on has a Newfoundlander as one of the lead characters, so I wanted to see St. John’s with my own eyes for the benefit of the character. And two, I wanted to hear Newfoundland music specifically _on Newfoundland soil_. So my wife and I decided we needed to hit the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival.

      Which turned out to be wonderful. We’d never been in a festival environment before where we could see a performer ask for four-part harmony from the crowd–and get it. And since Dara plays bouzouki (among other instruments), it was pretty amazing to actually be somewhere where _people know what a bouzouki is_.

      And after we started making plans to hit the festival, then Great Big Sea went and dropped a show into the very same weekend, unrelated to the festival. So we did both! AND AND AND we got to see them bring out Darrell Power for an encore. First time I’d seen him on stage with them in TEN YEARS. And they whipped through “Excursion Around the Bay”. God, it was beautiful.

      THEN! At the festival the next night Darrell’s current band was the closing act, and he says to the audience, “Last night I did something I hadn’t done in ten years: I remembered the words to ‘Excursion Around the Bay’.” And Dara went YOU GOTTA BE KIDDING ME just as they brought Alan, Bob, and Sean on stage, and they did “Excursion” _again_.

      The crowd went crazy. 😀 And Dara videoed both performances of “Excursion, too!

      But also I would very, VERY much endorse checking out the Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Festival. We had great fun there and quite a few folks were rather stunned and pleased that we’d come all the way from Seattle for their festival. Plus we had a great stay at the B&B we stayed at in downtown St. John’s, as well as just walking around the town checking out the place. Hiking up on Signal Hill was great fun in particular.

      We definitely want to go back. <3

      And yeah, GBS gave me a lot of music I'm very grateful for. I'm not trying to be a professional musician, just a hobbyist, but I'm a very enthusiastic hobbyist! And I had a jamming group for quite a while that played around with GBS covers, inspired by an effort on the original OKP message board for fans to record their versions of GBS stuff and share 'em. We've still got several MP3s left over from that.

      My aforementioned wife, who IS trying to be a professional (she's got music, yay), cites GBS as a big influence on her though it's not her only influence too. But they're definitely why she plays bouzouki. The bouzouki rocks. 😀

      P.S. I went and listened to your album on iTunes. I'll be picking that up. 🙂

      1. That’s amazing Anglea… what a great story about your NL adventures! To see GBS with Darrell and to then see Darrell with GBS must have been absolutely mindblowing. If any of the boys announce a solo show in NL I’ll try my best to get there – and if they don’t, I still want to go before I leave Canada just to see all the places they sing about. I looked up the dates for the folk festival next year and it’s in early August, so that’s quite possibly achievable 🙂 There were a few familiar names in last years lineup, it sure looks like a worthwhile festival.

        GBS songs are a lot of fun to play on guitar, I’ve done a couple of their covers myself. Mind you, I don’t think I actually included any guitar on the songs I recorded. Have you put any up onto Youtube? Feel free to send me the link if so – I’d love to check it out. I’ve never played a bouzouki before but from what I’ve heard they seem like very charismatic instruments. I see the tuning is G-D-A-D… how interesting… I assumed it would be G-D-A-E like a mandolin but I guess that’s what sets them apart. I’ll keep an eye out for one when I next do my rounds of the music shops.

        Thanks for the kind words about the songs on iTunes, I’m glad you enjoyed them!

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