by Jane Roser
“Brothers and Sisters! Our song is on the radio in the United States of America. Yes, I am famous. Chicks are gonna dig us!” Alan Doyle was having fun joking with the audience at his solo show last week at The Birchmere. He continues to win hearts everywhere with his wit, humor and as one of the most engaging entertainers in the world (yes, in the world; I went there).
Canadian band Great Big Sea began in Petty Harbour, Newfoundland over twenty years ago and took their moniker from a traditional tune about a tidal wave. They liked the song title so much that they named the album and their band after it, not realizing how odd it would sound for a radio DJ to introduce ‘Great Big Sea and their song “Great Big Sea” off their debut album, Great Big Sea.’
Rant And Roar is a compilation of songs from their earlier albums Up and Play that was released in 1998 to the US market only, since GBS wanted to expand their audience down South.
The opening tracks “Ordinary Day” and “When I’m Up” are fun pop staples at every live GBS show and, like quite a few of their songs, includes an audience participation portion where Doyle (vocals, guitar, bouzouki and mandolin) lets the audience sing the chorus: “when I’m up I can’t get down, can’t get down, can’t get level, when I’m up I can’t get down, get my feet back on the ground, when I’m up I can’t get down.”
GBS songs are passionate, whimsical, spirited and mostly inspired by their surroundings growing up in Petty Harbour. Themes of love, life, hardships and strife are mixed in with drinking songs and ballads; blending pop, traditional folk, Celtic music and sea shanties into one album (which is not something you often hear together).
“Mari-Mac” is performed by Sean McCann (vocals, bodhran, guitar and whistle) faster than I’ve ever heard this song sung and with a whole lot of growls and shouts; the electricity this tune produces could fire up even the most reserved, genteel person. “General Taylor” and “The Night Pat Murphy Died” are both traditional tunes; “General Taylor” is a ballad about a traitorous army officer which is sung a cappella and Pat Murphy a fast paced tale of a man who died, then all of his friends gather around for a party to bury him: “as Mrs. Murphy sat in the corner pouring out her grief/Kelly and his gang came tearing down the street/hey went into an empty room and a bottle of whiskey stole/they put the bottle with the corpse to keep the whiskey cold.”
No subject matter is taboo with these guys (which also includes Bob Hallett on vocals, button accordion, fiddle, tin whistle and mandola and Darrell Power on vocals and bass). “The Old Black Rum” was written by Hallett in a fit of despair, as Doyle tells it, but his pain gave the rest of the band pleasure because they got a great song out of it, plus who doesn’t love a wickedly sassy drinking tune, eh?
McCann left GBS almost two years ago (Power retired in 2003), so the band is currently on hiatus, but Doyle and McCann continue to pursue solo careers. As a long-time fan, I can only hope to see a rebirth of Great Big Sea in the near future because they are one of the most fascinating and fun performers I’ve ever seen live. Plus, chicks dig them.
Tickets are still available for Doyle’s solo show at World Cafe Live tonight in Philly. But hurry!