The Kent 1874 in Chatham will become a venue where guests can make a real and genuine connection with singer/songwriter Sean McCann.
On Saturday, the former member of the Newfoundland band Great Big Sea will be in town as part of his Road to Recovery Tour, playing in smaller rooms to connect with his audiences, see their faces and share his story of redemption through his love of song.
An “autobiography set to music,” McCann spoke about his two solo albums, Help Your Self and You Know I Love You Songbook, in a phone interview from Ottawa.
A recovering alcoholic and survivor of childhood sexual abuse, McCann very candidly and openly talks about leaving Canada’s premier “party band” after 20 years in 2013, when he stopped drinking and cut ties with the music industry.
“I had to walk away from a high-paying job, but what was the alternative?” McCann said. “I used alcohol to anesthetize myself, to stop from feeling for 20 years. Touring with the band, every night was Friday night and there was always alcohol on the bus. I couldn’t stay; I wasn’t dealing with the problem.”
With a wife and two young children, McCann made the break, saying he lost a lot of friends, or drinking buddies, but found himself in the process and the music that spoke to him in his first self-funded solo album Help Your Self.
“I wanted to take away all the gimmicks; the lasers, smoke and lights. We used all the tricks in the book for our concerts; we were a party band and people loved it,” McCann said of touring with Great Big Sea. “I wanted to get to something more real, less superfluous, that relied on truth and less smoke and mirrors.”
The singer said he got away from the distractions that didn’t let him feel, and used music to heal and reconnect to what was important in his life.
“This was the sound of me surviving and being in the moment. With Hold Me Mother, it takes a secret and blows it apart, and that is the only way to destroy a secret,” McCann said. “The sound of this record is the sound of myself coming out the other side.”
Other songs, such as Red Wine and Whiskey, are painful yet hopeful songs that chronicle his struggle with alcohol, but show he is not a victim but a survivor and that everyone is worthy of love.
His second solo record, the You Know I Love You Songbook, is a collection of upbeat songs meant for sharing, and is accompanied by illustrations by Meaghan Smith for each song, and lyrics. Raw, real and enchanting, the music and lyrics are very different from the Celtic flavor of Great Big Sea, but they allow the listener to hear and understand what the real Sean McCann is all about – his pain, his optimism and his absolute surety that music heals us, connects us and brings us joy.
Simply done with his guitar, bodhran drums, fiddle and harmonies, his two solo offerings have resonated with people.
“This was my personal story that I put out and paid for myself and it resonated with people like I would never have believed,” McCann explained. “People wrote in by the thousands, telling me ‘that song was about me.’ I put it out there for selfish reasons, but I learned a big lesson – that I am not alone. When I first stopped drinking, I felt unbelievably alone. My guitar and my music was what I had.”
Putting his story out there, and his sincere and candid talk about his addiction, led to McCann being asked to speak at various events and becoming a Bell Let’s Talk ambassador. In demand for public speaking engagements, the singer said talking about mental health issues, about addiction and abuse are important.
“Secrets can kill you. I’ve learned a few things and I want to share them; it gives me a sense of purpose,” the solo artist said. “Bell Let’s Talk engaged me last year and that was like finding my tribe. I came out into the open and can tell people that I’m the guy from Great Big Sea, Canada’s party band, and if I can quit drinking, anyone can.”
Part is his recovery is his love of singing to a small audience, where he can see faces and encourage people to sing along with him. He takes requests to encourage people to sing their favourite songs and his song book with a CD and lyrics is available at the venue for $20.
“Singing together, it causes a physical reaction and releases endorphins. It’s an intimate thing; loose and free-flowing,” McCann said. “People can expect when they come that I will insist they sing, they will meet the real me and have fun. We’ll turn The Kent into our own little campfire.”
In distancing himself from the music industry and gimmicks, McCann said he knows technology has its place, but all our devices allow people to disengage and they become hypnotized by it.
“I’m not a Luddite; I use Twitter and Facebook, but we are humans – flesh, blood and bones – and we need to remember that. We need more than artificial light,” he noted. “At big hockey arenas, people are taking selfies and watching the Jumbotron, but in a small room with everyone in that room coming together; Facebook doesn’t do that.”
Tickets to McCann’s show at the Kent1874 on Sept. 24 are available on-line at http://www.thekent1874.com/tickets.html or at Tony’s One-Stop Music Shop in Chatham. Showtime is 8 p.m.