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Music / Great Big Sea

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Great Big Sea was a band from Newfoundland, on the East Coast of Canada, probably the most well-known band to come from there — certainly the most well-known outside Newfoundland for being from Newfoundland.

Their music is often energetic pop-rock (mixed with slower folk ballads) infused with a Newfoundland sound, which can be mistaken for an Irish one at a distance. This results in a Celtic sound that has proved popular with listeners from around the country. About half of their repertoire is simply their interpretations of traditional Newfoundland sea shanties, drinking songs, folk songs, etc. Well, the sea shanties and folk songs are mostly about drinking too.

Their concerts were known for their infectious atmosphere and a healthy amount of audience participation.

Founding member Darrell Power left the band in 2003 to spend more time with his family; Kris McFarlane and Murray Foster (previously of Moxy Früvous) were brought on as supporting members.

The band dissolved after Séan McCann left to go solo at the end of their twentieth-anniversary "XX" tour. Séan and Alan Doyle have gone on to release solo albums; Bob Hallett was the Newfoundland musical consultant for Come from Away.

  • Alan Doyle (1993-2013; vocals, guitar, bouzouki, mandolin)
  • Bob Hallett (1993-2013; vocals, fiddle, accordion, concertina, bouzouki, whistles, bagpipes)
  • Séan McCann (1993-2013; vocals, bodhrán, guitar, tin whistle)
  • Darrell Power (1993-2003; vocals, bass, guitar, bones)
  • Murray Foster (2003-2013, supporting; bass, backing vocals)
  • Kris McFarlane (2003-2013, supporting; drums, accordion, guitar, backing vocals)


  • Great Big Sea, 1993
  • Up, 1995
  • Play, 1997
  • Turn, 1999
  • Road Rage (Live), 2000
  • Sea of No Cares, 2002
  • Something Beautiful, 2004
  • Great Big CD and DVD (Live), 2004
  • The Hard and the Easy, 2005
  • Courage Patience and Grit (Live), 2006
  • Fortune's Favor, 2008
  • Safe Upon the Shore, 2010
  • XX, 2013

Tropes involving Great Big Sea include:

  • All There in the Manual: "Donkey Riding" is not actually about the farm animal. As revealed in the liner notes of Play, a "donkey" is also a nickname for a type of large winch used on ships, and that's what the song actually refers to.
  • Audience Participation Song: Lots of 'em. For example, "Helmet Head" in concert typically started with the band teaching the crowd to come in on the "Fare thee well!" lines in the chorus.
  • The Casanova: The hockey player in "Helmet Head" goes through a lot of girlfriends, some of whom are married to other men.
  • Deal with the Devil: "Straight to Hell." Strangely enough, both sides get exactly what they want: A life of Rock and Roll in exchange for One Eternal Soul. "Straight to Hell" is easiest one of the cheeriest stories of eternal damnation there is. The chorus:
    Love me now while we're alive
    It's the best thing we can do
    We'll have no time up on Cloud Nine
    So Heaven on Earth will have to do
    I can sing like a bird
    And dance like a demon
    And I do it all so well
    Cause I made a deal with the Devil
    And when I die
    I'm going straight to hell.
  • The Drunken Sailor: Lots of the band's songs reference seafaring and drinking, and occasionally seafaring while drinking. Notable examples include "Jakey's Gin," "Donkey Riding," and of course, the Trope Namer itself.
  • Even the Guys Want Him: "John Barbour" includes the king saying of his sailor "If I was a woman as I am a man, my bedfellow he would be."
  • The "Fun" in "Funeral": "The Night Patty Murphy Died" starts out with a gang of hoodlums stowing a bottle of booze in Patty's casket as a makeshift beer-fridge, and ends with the "mourners" so smashed that they end up leaving the body at the tavern. Also possibly an example of And There Was Much Rejoicing, but since it's an Irish-type wake, it's actually hard to say.
  • Gothic Horror: The song "French Perfume" is a ghost story along those lines, with a smuggler's ghost's presence detected on a foggy winter's night by his boat's wake, his maniacal laugh, and the smell of the perfume he had been smuggling.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: The aforementioned "The Night Patty Murphy Died" has the line "as long as the bottle was passed around, every man was feeling gay." Sometimes they'll say something like "we're Canadian, so it's okay" to hang a lampshade.
  • Henpecked Husband: "Scolding Wife."
    And if the devil would take her
    I'd thank him for his pain
    I swear to God I'll hang myself if I get married again
  • Hilarious Outtakes: On the Great Big CD and DVD, Alan Doyle begins a song with the wrong verse, stops singing, asks the audience for "your amnesia to forget that ever happened," and has Sean ask if he plans to sing it right this time. On the DVD you can see Darrell cuff him on the head.
  • Historical Biography Song: "Captain Kidd" covers the life of the famous pirate from a first-person perspective. He talks about his crimes, his Redemption Rejection, and his death. It ends by telling the audience to "shun bad company" so they don't end up like him.
  • I Meant to Do That: After singing the wrong verse on Great Big CD and DVD, Alan claims he did it on purpose to prove they aren't lip-syncing.
  • In the Style of: Their cover of R.E.M.'s "It's The End of the World as We Know It (And I Feel Fine)," sped up about three times.
  • "I Want" Song: "Consequence Free" is all about wanting to live without consequences.
  • I Will Wait for You: Subverted in "Dream to Live." First, it's told from the guy's perspective, who tried to make his fortune in Boston. Second, he hopes desperately that she is still waiting for him... Until she lets him down in the letter. He ends up moving on and starting a family of his own, but is left wondering "what if."
  • Jackass Genie: "Safe Upon The Shore". Most people would consider 'alive' a necessary component of being safe.
  • Libation for the Dead: "The Night That Pat Murphy Died."
  • Long-Distance Relationship: "Boston and St. John's."
    It's true I must be going, but I swear I won't be long
    There isn't that much ocean between Boston and St. John's
    I'm a rover and I'm bound to sail away
    I'm a rover, can you love me anyway?
  • Lyrical Dissonance: "Haven't Seen You in a Long Time" is a very upbeat, cheery-sounding track... In which the singer laments about the unfortunate accidents of timing which have prevented him from being with the woman he loves, and asks her if she remembers him at all.
    • "Over the Hills" does this as well; it's an up-tempo positive sounding song about being drafted for a war in Afghanistan.
  • Mermaid Problem: "The Mermaid." The album cover for The Hard and the Easy even shows a fish with women's legs in reference to it.
    • It's in the song, too. He chooses the human-legged fish of a sister, since that's how he "gets his tail."
  • Motor Mouth: "It's the End of the World as We Know It," which is a minute and a half shorter than the original (Which was already notoriously fast paced) without skipping any of the words and even adding an extra chorus at the start.
    • "Mari-Mac," which gets faster and faster and faster as the song progresses: Even the instruments can hardly keep up with the hair-raising speed, let alone the singers.
    • The latter half of "Come and I Will Sing You" which proves to be a motor-mouthful.
  • Nightmarish Factory: "The Chemical Worker (Process Man)", a rendition of "The ICI Song" and its description of a mid-1960's chemical plant. The only instrumental backing is a menacing drumbeat, with an occasional cymbal sting reminiscent of hissing steam.
  • One-Woman Song: "Sally Anne," "Penelope," and "Margarita."
  • Screw the Rules, I'm Beautiful!: In "John Barbour" a princess has gotten pregnant. When the king finds out that the father, John Barbour, isn't nobility, he plans to have him killed. But when the king sees how incredibly handsome the father is ("If I were a woman as I am a man, my bedfellow you would be)," the king gives him the princess's hand in marriage, and offers to let him "take charge of all my lands."
  • Setting Update: "Over the Hills" is Over the Hills and Far Away IN AFGHANISTAN!, while Recruiting Sergeant is Twa Recruitin' Sergeants IN WORLD WAR I!
  • Shotgun Wedding: "Hit the Ground and Run" (co-written with Russell Crowe) tells the story of a poor boy who finds himself in this situation.
  • Shout-Out: One verse in "Ordinary Day" is a reference to then up-and-coming Canadian singer Jann Arden, and her trials and tribulations busking on street corners in British Columbia:
    Janie sings on the corner, what keeps her from dyin'?
    Let 'em say what they want, she won't stop tryin', oh you know
    She might stumble if they push her 'round
    She might fall, but she'll never lie down, it's not so bad
  • Something Something Leonard Bernstein: "It's The End of the World As We Know It" again - Trope Namer.
  • Studio Chatter: Several songs, which makes sense given their history of Audience Participation. For example, in "Jakey's Gin", one singer excitedly tells the other to start singing an entirely different drinking song.
  • Talk About the Weather: "How Did We Get From Saying I Love You" is about two people whose relationship has devolved into awkward pauses and discussions about the weather.
  • Unwanted Spouse: "Scolding Wife".
  • Vapor Wear: "Margarita"
    Spent three hours getting ready for the show
    Nothing on underneath and everybody knows
  • "The Villain Sucks" Song: "General Taylor" is a sort of sly Take That! sung by British sailors. General (later President) Zachary Taylor was responsible for a decisive victory against the British, so the song describes his funeral (a very lavish funeral, of course - but still a funeral) in great detail.
  • Working Class Anthem: "The Chemical Workers' Song" is sung by laborers in a chemical plant, and focuses primarily on the hellish conditions of their work, on the injuries and health problems that they receive as a result, and on the exploitative, manipulative bosses to whom they report.