Séan McCann to sing shanties and share stories May 28 at Kingston’s Chalmers United

Sean McCann, founder of Great Big Sea turned solo artist, performed in Tamworth in 2019. Photo by Adam Prudhomme.

Adam Prudhomme

Séan McCann and his wife Andrea Aragon will bring their mix of music and memoir to Kingston’s Chalmers United Church on May 28.

McCann, formerly of the Celtic-folk group Great Big Sea, has been on a mission the last decade to share his story of recovery from alcohol, becoming a major advocate for mental health awareness in the process. During the lockdown he and Aragon penned a memoir One Good Reason, which delves into the secrets and pain that nearly tore their family apart. McCann also took that time to go back to his roots, recording his sixth solo album Shantyman, which includes a collection of 200-year-old sea shanties. Audiences will be treated to a sampling of both during the May 28 show, which gets underway at 7:30 p.m.

“Both were helpful to us to get us through the pandemic and both have positive messages about hope and resilience and we only got to promote these projects virtually, which was fine but we really wanted to do this face to face and set out to do what we always wanted to do, which was to these venues face to face,” McCann said of the book and album. “We also found over time that we shouldn’t take any day for granted. We have an opportunity in Kingston and we wanted to make sure that we covered the bases so we’re going to do both shows in Kingston. The first set will be myself and Andrea and our book, there’s 16 songs in our book and the first set will focus on those songs and those stories that go with them and that can only be shared with us together because we wrote the book together. We’ve done it a few times and it’s been really enjoyable and exciting and therapeutic all around. It’s a good show in itself. And then the second set, I believe music is medicine and that’s what sea shanties are all about, getting us through hard times and I’m going to belt out some old favourites and new ones and get everyone singing along.”

One Good Reason is unique in that it provides a perspective not typically discussed-the impact addiction has on family members.

“Part of the reason our book works so well is Séan’s addiction didn’t just happen to just Séan, it happened to our family,” said Aragon. “There are so many families of addicts out there that are like ‘you’ve given me a voice now too. You’ve allowed me to say some things or to recognize that me being hurt is ok.’ The addiction isn’t just about them, it’s about everybody in his or her circle. We’ve had a lot of people come up to us whether it’s after one of Séan’s singular shows or one of our shows thanking us or disclosing to us and that just goes to show that we’re not alone and lets them see that they’re not alone.”

McCann said he originally wrote the book on his own but realized it was incomplete without Aragon’s voice. One powerful moment for him was reading journals she shared with him that were written in real time during the height of his addiction. To do the show properly that meant Aragon had to be right there beside him.

“I never imagined I’d be up on stage,” Aragon said. “I always wanted to be a back up singer, I kind of dreamt it and although I will never be singing in public, a girl can dream.”

She’ll leave the singing to McCann, who will close out the show with songs of his Newfoundland roots.

“I do believe there’s strong medicine in music, those shanties when you get together in a place like Chalmers Church and you belt them out, I physically feel better,” said McCann. “My mental state improves. When we rounded into the second winter of the pandemic, I really needed those songs and they came back into my life at the right time. These are songs that are literally designed to help us do difficult things by working together in harmony so they’re perfect for now as we roll out of this and tip toe safely into the future. We’ve all been through a lot and we all deserve a break and this is our Kingston show. If you’re waiting for a second one, we don’t know if there will be a second one. If the pandemic has taught us anything it’s that we don’t know what’s going to happen next so we’re striking while the iron’s hot and we’re going to try to make the most of it.”

Shantyman was released earlier this year with a limited printing of physical copies, all of which were sold. The songs remain available for digital download at www.SeanMcCannSings.com.

“It’s all my ideas, it’s pretty much all me and the downside it’s all my fault when it doesn’t work,” McCann says of the difference between recording solo compared to his days in Great Big Sea. “But I’ve been happy with the way things have gone and I’ve enjoyed that freedom. I’m allowed to cover a lot more ground than I was in Great Big Sea subject wise and emotional wise. I’ve been on a very different path. I still write songs that sound like they could fit into the Great Big Sea catalogue but the only difference they’re not about drinking rum or getting your party on, they’re about being happy in spite of that and working through your problems but they’re still anthems, they’re still positive and they’re still upbeat and these are lesson I learned from the band.”

Joining McCann on stage for a few songs will be Amherstview’s own Chris Murphy.

For tickets, visit https://www.eventbrite.ca/e/sean-mccann-in-concert-tickets-276127403497.

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