August 23, 2012 9:00 AM   Subscribe

A girl upon the shore did ask a favour of the sea;
"Return my blue eyed sailor boy safely back to me.
Forgive me if I ask too much, I will not ask for more,
but I shall weep until he sleeps safe upon the shore."
For nearly 20 years, Newfoundland group Great Big Sea have been creating acoustic Celtic folk-rock covers and interpretations of traditional Newfoundland and Labrador sea shanties, folk, fishing and party songs, which draw from the island's rich 500-year-old multicultural (Irish, English, Scottish and French) heritage.

AllMusic: "If you think you've figured out Great Big Sea's formula, you're right: take sea shanties, fishing songs, and the odd original tune that sounds like a folk song and deliver them all with lusty energy on acoustic instruments. If the Pogues had come from Newfoundland and treated alcohol as a peripheral rather than a central concern, and if their singer were big and burly rather than dissolute and disgusting, you'd have something very much like Great Big Sea."

WXPN / NPR: Great Big Sea: Sea Shanties Meet Rock, In Studio on World Cafe 10/9/08, Show is 21 minutes, and features front man Alan Doyle discussing historical inspirations behind some of the band's songs.

"Our music is of Newfoundland. It would be impossible to do what we do if we were from anywhere else. Our songs come from the sea and the cliffs and the rocks and all the other natural beauties our country provides. Without her we simply couldn't exist." ~Founding member Séan "The Shantyman" McCann.

Great Big Sea has released 11 albums (track listings, audio samples and downloads are at their website) and 2 concert DVD's (excerpted videos below).

Reference Links
* Official Site, including Band Bio, Discography and Video Archive.
* MySpace
* Wikipedia

Official Videos
Can’t Stop Falling
Captain Kidd
Clearest Indication
Consequence Free (Also on Vimeo)
Goin’ Up
Good People
End of the World (REM Cover)
Everything Shines
Feel It Turn
Love Me Tonight
Mari Mac
Nothing But a Song
Ordinary Day
Run Runaway
Sea of No Cares
Shines Right Through Me (video available only in Canada, here's a lower quality alt link for everyone else )
Stumbling In
Walk on the Moon
Walk Right Through Me
When I’m Up
When I Am King

YouTube Album Playlists
* Rant & Roar / Official Album Page
* Something Beautiful / Official Album Page
* Up / Official Album Page

In Concert

-Bing Lounge-
* The Yankee Sailor
* Safe Upon the Shore
* Nothing But a Song
* Good People

-Courage and Patience and Grit- (These are tracks from a DVD. Only some of them are available online, hence the weird numbering system.)
1. Captain Kidd
3. Sweet Forget Me Not
5. Concerning Charlie Horse
6. I’m a Rover
8. The Mermaid (originally written by Shel Silverstein)
10 Scolding Wife
11. Old Polina
16. Danny Boy (lower quality)
17. Run Runaway
20. Helmet Head
22. Mari Mac
24. Excursion Around the Bay (alt)
26. Old Brown’s Daughter

-Other Live- (At least one of these tracks (Mari-Mac) is from "Great Big DVD")
* Concerning Charlie Horse
* Excursion Around the Bay
* Far From the Shores of England (lower quality)
* Forget Me Not
* Lukey (volume low)
* Mari-Mac
* Old Brown’s Daughter
* Scolding Wife
* The River Driver (At the 2006 Canadian Country Music Association Awards)

Audio Only
* Bad as I Am
* Barque in the Harbour
* Beat the Drum
* Berry Picking Time
* Billy Peddle
* Boston and St. Johns
* Buying Time
* Cod Liver Oil
* Company of Fools
* Dance Dance
* Dancing with Mrs. White
* Demasduit Dream
* Donkey Riding
* Dream to Live
* Drunken Sailor
* England
* Fast as I Can
* Ferryland Sealer
* French Perfume
* General Taylor
* Gone by the Board
* Greenspond
* Haven’t Seen You In A Long Time
* Hit the Ground and Run (demo)
* How did we get from saying I love you
* I’se the B’y
* Jakey’s Gin
* Jolly Roving Tar
* Let It Go
* Long Lost Love
* Love
* Lucky Me
* Margarita
* Metrobus
* My Apology
* Nothing out of nothing
* Oh Yeah
* Penelope
* Rant and Roar (“We’ll rant and we’ll roar like true Newfoundlanders....”)
* Recruiting Sergeant
* Rigadoon
* Road to Ruin
* Seagulls
* Someday Soon
* Somedays
* Something I Should Know
* Something to It
* Straight to Hell
* Summer
* The Chemical Worker’s Song
* The Jolly Butcher
* The Mermaid
* The Night Pat Murphy Died
* The Old Black Rum
* The Seven Joys of Mary
* Time Brings
* Trois Navires de Ble
* Wandering Ways
* What are you at

Solo Albums
* Séan McCann released a "stripped down" solo album with "delicately arranged lullabyes for his children" in 2010, Lullabyes for Bloodshot Eyes. An appearance at a record store in St. Johns in April of that year has been posted to YouTube: playlist. Also: Peace Among the Bones

* Alan Doyle released a solo album, Boy on Bridge this past May. The first track released was "I've Seen a Little": Audio, Music Video, Live Performance on CMT. Also: Mutiny on the Dawn. The CMT clip is from a special called "Live at Revival, Boy on Bridge." See it in full: Parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.

Previously on MetaFilter
Music of Newfoundland and Labrador
posted by zarq (47 comments total) 80 users marked this as a favorite
So, this is a big post. If you're looking to listen to just a few songs to get a feel for the band, I suggest starting with the Bing Lounge / Courage and Patience and Grit concert videos. I linked to some of them above the fold, too.
posted by zarq at 9:03 AM on August 23, 2012

I'm just gonna put one more video on the pile here.

(Okay, yeah, technically it's Great Big Sea and The Chieftains, but it's a better-sound and very lively version of "Lukey.")
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:05 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Truly amazing post, zarq.

And this goes down in history as one of the only times someone has made a music post about a group I know about. I saw them in concert at a summer festival in upstate NY when I was a kid! I'm partial to Mari Mac, myself.
posted by jph at 9:07 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

item: "I don't care how big it is, zarq, but just who the hell is going to pay my physical therapy bills after the inevitable 15 straight hours of Riverdancing I'm about to undertake?"

LOL. The usual disclaimer applies. :D
posted by zarq at 9:07 AM on August 23, 2012

I know I'm going to lose my citizenship, or cause NFLD to succeed, but I've never understood the attraction of GBS. Something about his voice, I think, and the instrumentation seemed rather ordinary (like that means something for a trad-rock group from Canada...) He always seems to be barking out the words.

Probably their main attraction is that I hear they are great live.

But, to me, they have none of the nuances (!) of shanties and, eventually, Celtic (whatever that means) kitchen-party rockers.
posted by clvrmnky at 9:14 AM on August 23, 2012


posted by rmd1023 at 9:14 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I love Great Big Sea! I went to a show of theirs in Boston with my sister when we were in college. It's the only show I've ever gone to where I knew the words to every sing and danced to every song, too .
posted by ocherdraco at 9:15 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

*every song, not sing
posted by ocherdraco at 9:17 AM on August 23, 2012

posted by maudlin at 9:20 AM on August 23, 2012

THANK you! This took some time to do, and I'd say time well spent!
posted by drhydro at 9:26 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

clvrmnky, I grew up on the west coast of the Rock, and generally I agree. Not a huge fan, give me any of a dozen local bands from any small town. Also, from my (minor) interactions with them off-stage, Doyle is kind of a tool. That being said, they're fun enough at a concert and the crowd always gets excited, so that's good. And I can sing Marimac as fast as the band, which has earned me free beers in the past :)

A friend managed the Beavertails kiosk in downtown Ottawa, he's definitely served them post-bar/post-concert drunk food a number of times.

I do love the Chemical Worker's Song - and most school parties I attended (In Ontario with a pipe band and in New Brunswick) ended up with the crowd singing the Old Black Rum and the Night Patty Murphy Died. Can't dislike them too much.
posted by Lemurrhea at 9:27 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like Great Big Sea well enough, and I'm always happy to have folk songs and shanties presented and preserved, but the best thing GBS ever did was introduce me to Oysterband.
posted by WidgetAlley at 9:27 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Good but not near as good as Gordon Bok. A sadly unappreciated genius.
posted by pynchonesque at 9:27 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I love GBS. Going to see Sean solo, and the full band, in September. This will be time #10 or something ridiculous. But damn do they know how to put on a show.

"General Taylor" always gives me goosebumps, and shows of Sean's amazing voice really well.
posted by aclevername at 9:34 AM on August 23, 2012

I discovered this band about a month before I moved from Michigan (driving distance from many places they visit on tour ALL THE TIME) to southwest Virginia, where they will never, ever come. I hope I can catch them sometime when I'm visiting my family for the holidays because I would love to see them live!
posted by Tesseractive at 9:35 AM on August 23, 2012

Vertical movements!
posted by bonehead at 9:37 AM on August 23, 2012

I love Great Big Sea. Lets not forget McGinty either. I wish I had better links but workin.
Thanks Zarq Awesome!
posted by mrgroweler at 9:54 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

I like Great Big Sea just fine, but "dissolute and disgusting" is a ridiculous way to describe Shane MacGowan. Well, maybe not so much "ridiculous", because yeah, it's accurate and all, but I don't know, "forest for the trees"? Maybe not that either, exactly, but something akin to that. I'm having a hard time coming up with a phrasing for what I'm trying to say... it's focusing on something of limited or even trivial importance*, compared to the fact that the man's a genius.

*: Not necessarily to him personally or to those that actually know him and care for him, of course, but in the context of a discussion about his music
posted by Flunkie at 9:57 AM on August 23, 2012 [3 favorites]

I love Great Big Sea. On bad days at work, I have a playlist of their loudest live tracks to crank up in the car. I sing myself hoarse before I get home, and my whole mood is improved. :7)
posted by wenestvedt at 9:59 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

So, when I first came across GBS, The Hard and The Easy was the current album. When we had a conflict between seeing them in NYC and a visit from my parents, we decided to combine the two.

My father was rapidly approaching his 70th birthday and missed the post-Buddy Holly era of Rock.

I couldn't tell if he and my mother actually liked the show or were just happy that we didn't treat them like "Old People". My Dad still refers to that show as "his first rock concert".
posted by Mad_Carew at 10:13 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

We've got a local Irish pub band out here in Toledo that is pretty good and occasionally they break out a Great Big Sea set. They then magically transform into Great Big Lake.
posted by charred husk at 10:19 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Great Big Sea is just one of those things we seem to take for granted in Canada, I guess.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:50 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

...and my day has a soundtrack. Thanks.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 10:51 AM on August 23, 2012

Great Big Sea : Newfoundland music :: Avril Lavigne : punk music.

Try some of the real stuff!
posted by oulipian at 10:57 AM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

Oh man, you left out the best part of GBS--the vocal harmonies! It's so rare to find bands with four great singers who can harmonize together. Seriously, have a listen to "The Chemical Worker's Song", and "General Taylor"--who else has sung like that since The Beach Boys? Even when they're not doing a capella, they work it into most all songs sooner or later. For instance, I think "Nothing But a Song" is a pretty cheap tune overall, but the bit about 2/3 through is stunning to hear live.
posted by gueneverey at 11:40 AM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oh my God, this is amazing. I listened to GBS all the time after I first moved to Wales, when I was desperately missing home, and sailing, and familiar things. They were, somehow, perfectly balanced between reminding me of home but not making me (too) homesick. I love them, even the crappy songs, I love them.

(Though I had a moment of pure terror that they were breaking up, upon reading your first paragraph!)
posted by kalimac at 11:47 AM on August 23, 2012

I never have given Great Big Sea much thought, but we have a lot of Kids CBC on the TV here lately, so I hear their theme song to Pirates: Adventures in Art at least once a day. It's catchy.

Kids CBC is, incidentally, how I discovered another Canadian band, Hey Rosetta.
posted by mariokrat at 12:07 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

Hey Rosetta! is from Newfoundland, too! They are fantastic.
posted by oulipian at 1:11 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

kalimac: " (Though I had a moment of pure terror that they were breaking up, upon reading your first paragraph!)"

Oops. Sorry!

Flunkie: "I like Great Big Sea just fine, but "dissolute and disgusting" is a ridiculous way to describe Shane MacGowan. Well, maybe not so much "ridiculous", because yeah, it's accurate and all, but I don't know, "forest for the trees"? Maybe not that either, exactly, but something akin to that. I'm having a hard time coming up with a phrasing for what I'm trying to say... it's focusing on something of limited or even trivial importance*, compared to the fact that the man's a genius."

For whatever it's worth, I own some of the Pogues music, but know absolutely nothing about the band itself or Shane MacGowan. The quote just struck me as funny so that's why I included it. But yeah, I agree that it's kinda mean-spirited.
posted by zarq at 1:28 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

omg someone assemble a Pogues FPP for zarq! on the double!
posted by Lou Stuells at 1:32 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

What a great post.

The quoted lyrics remind of a fantastic Sinead O'Connor song... I wonder if they're related?

Jackie left on a cold, dark night
telling me he'd be home
sailed the seas for a hundred years
leaving me all alone

and I've been dead for twenty years
I've been washing the sand with my ghostly tears
searching the shores for my Jackie-oh

I remember the day the young man came
said, your Jackie's gone, he got lost in the rain
and I ran to the beach
and laid me down

you're all wrong, I said
and they stared at the sand
that man knows the sea like the back of his hand
he'll be back some time
laughing at you

and I've been waiting all this time
for my man to come, take his hand in mine
and lead me away
to unsailed shores

posted by Sebmojo at 1:43 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

What a great post zarq. I used to regularly sing Process Man in Spanish bars, to the (I like to imagine) delight of the locals and I love BGS' live shows.

Oh, and before anyone runs off to do this:

Lou Stuells: omg someone assemble a Pogues FPP for zarq! on the double!

Take a look at this:

Pogue Mahone, ya Nipple Erectors
posted by Sing Fool Sing at 1:53 PM on August 23, 2012 [2 favorites]

posted by Sing Fool Sing at 1:54 PM on August 23, 2012

Sing Fool Sing: "Take a look at this:

Pogue Mahone, ya Nipple Erectors

Yay! Thanks! I know what I'm doing this evening (and all weekend!)
posted by zarq at 1:58 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

The technology does not currently exist on the site for me to favorite this post hard enough. I love rollicking music with the flavors of shanties and Ireland and trad music and folk, and GBS (especially their live albums) just pushes all the right buttons for me. Thank you, zarq!
posted by booksherpa at 3:46 PM on August 23, 2012

WidgetAlley - agreed. Been a HUGE Oysterband fan since, well, they were called the Oyster Band. They're a real deal.
posted by parki at 5:09 PM on August 23, 2012

OP, do the b'ys have ya on the payroll or wha?

Excellent post, totally haven't heard some of these in years.
posted by gohabsgo at 5:55 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

The Scene: large bar in Vancouver, fits over 1000 people. Great Big Sea is the act.

Me: Bartender at one of the busiest bars in the place.

Before the show: Busy busy busy! Woot@

During the show: seriously, in the two hours plus that GBS are playing, I sell maybe 20 drinks. This gives me plenty of time to watch the band play, watch how they interact with the guests, listen to their AMAZING harmonies, watch everybody have the. best. time. ever!

I'm not a big fan of GBS. I like them but couldn't tell you the name of any of their non-radio songs. But that night, I was a fan, riding high on the feeling in the room - hot, sweaty, smiling people everywhere you looked, having the time of their lives.

I'd do it again in a second.

Same place, I saw Radiohead, Bob Dylan, Live, just to name a few. Great Big Sea was better than all of them. And Dylan is surprisingly short, and not surprisingly, incoherent.
posted by ashbury at 6:57 PM on August 23, 2012 [1 favorite]

omg someone assemble a Pogues FPP for zarq! on the double!
I hope this isn't too much of a derail, but here is one of my favorite things ever: Liam Clancy (whom Dylan called the best ballad singer he had ever heard in his life) singing Shane's beautiful song "The Broad Majestic Shannon" (which Shane originally wrote to give to the Clancy Brothers), with Shane in the audience, and Liam changing a single word -- "babe" to "Shane" -- resulting in:
Take my hand, and dry your tears, Shane
Take my hand; forget your fears, Shane
There's no pain; there's no more sorrow
They're all gone, gone in the years, Shane
posted by Flunkie at 9:24 PM on August 23, 2012 [4 favorites]

Pony request- can you put all these links into an auto-play?

I mostly know these guys from YouTube, although I have one CD.
This is going to be my music a work for the day. Thanks.
posted by MtDewd at 6:37 AM on August 24, 2012

MtDewd: "Pony request- can you put all these links into an auto-play?"

Sure, I can do that for you. I've begun it here.

I will add to it as I have time throughout the day today, then post an update here when it's complete. Please note that there may be duplicates.
posted by zarq at 6:51 AM on August 24, 2012

Okay, here's a playlist for all the youtube videos linked in this post. I skipped one or two "alternate" links so there wouldn't be too much redundancy. There are 129 videos, and it is 7 hours and 29 minutes long. Enjoy!
posted by zarq at 8:50 AM on August 24, 2012 [5 favorites]

Wow. I was kidding. Thanks!

I spent a lot of time last year watching GBS on YouTube and thought I'd seen a lot, but there were some very good ones here I hadn't seen. There's such a range of songs and I still like almost all of them. Safe Upon The Shore and Summer are new to me.

I get emotional about the a cappella harmonies like Old Brown's Daughter. The same guy who wrote that also wrote Excursion Around the Bay and The Night that Paddy Murphy Died. That's a range, too.
posted by MtDewd at 1:25 PM on August 24, 2012

Also- by coincidence, I'm playing End of the World tomorrow, and the choice was inspired by the GBS version. (Although we're doing it at REM speed!)
posted by MtDewd at 1:35 PM on August 24, 2012

MtDewd: "Wow. I was kidding. Thanks!"

Ha! No worries. It's the sort of thing I would use myself and was super easy to put together. I'm actually considering doing a few playlists for some of my older posts, too. Just for the heck of it.

Excursion around the Bay was my first introduction to GBS, along with Mari Mac. Most of the recordings I see online are of Doyle singing, with the rest of the band singing backup. But there are a handful of videos of Darrel Power singing it, too. Doyle adds a nicer harmony, and more fun tone to the song, but I actually think he makes it less intelligible. On the other hand, Power is more understandable, and his voice and delivery gives it a bit of depth, but his harmony with the band isn't as good. At least that's my take on it. :)

Good luck with your gig tomorrow! :)
posted by zarq at 1:58 PM on August 24, 2012

I was lucky enough to catch Great Big Sea before they went big. Back in 1994, they played a gig at my high school gymnasium for spirit week. A couple of the boys had graduated from there a few years prior. Their first CD had just been released, and I'm sure they played a few songs from it, but what stands out is the mosh pit that broke out when they covered Enid by the Bare Naked Ladies. Probably because I got a Doc Marten upside the head in the midst of it. Even then, they put on a hell of a show. I've seen them live a bunch of times since, thankfully, no moshpits though.
posted by peppermind at 4:18 PM on August 24, 2012

Just saw this in the Best Post meta. So sorry I missed it, but glad I found it now.

We took my in-laws to see GBS at the Town Hall in NYC when they were touring on The Hard and The Easy. We didn't know much about them other than that all our trad-oriented friends loved them, and we expected it to be a big high church kind of show (trad instrumentation, no own compositions, etc.). Instead we got this venue full of Canadians acting like they were in a hockey stadium, which I say with love, and then the band cut loose in the second set after a first set of trad stuff.

Afterwards, my father-in-law said "thank you for taking me to my first rock concert".
posted by immlass at 2:06 PM on September 6, 2012

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