GDW Musings: #tbt This Canadian Music Thing: a Retrospective

It was back around 2007 when, on a whim, L picked up a copy of “Courage & Patience & Grit” by Great Big Sea, a band of obscure Newfoundlanders unknown to us, but a cover “that looked interesting.”  Until breaking the polythene wrapper and removing the disc, inserting it into the CD player and hitting “Play,” we had no clue of the profound influence this album would provide for our newfound passion of the grassroots Canadian music scene.  After all, music from Canada was mainstream enough, right?  Bryan Adams, Nickelback, Celine Dion, and even the legendary Guess Who and Gordon Lightfoot to name a few.  But with the first listening experience of Great Big Sea, we had a sense that there was much more on offer outside of the mainstream Canadian music scene.  It is almost amusing to us now how little we knew back then, but when I consider looking back to where it all started for us, this is pretty much the source.

We quickly developed a liking for this music from Newfoundland, just as Great Big Sea were preparing to release their “Fortune’s Favour” album.  We found a copy of the disc at a local music store and shortly after had the opportunity to see the band perform in Baltimore, MD (October 2008) as part of their promotional tour. The show had great energy, but the setlist seemed short and we left craving more.  Imagine how pumped we were just twelve months later when the band announced that they would perform live in Harrisburg, PA.  This ‘cool’ bunch of guys from St. John’s were practically playing in our back yard here in Central Pennsylvania.  The show itself at the Whitaker Center was amazing.  With two sets, plus the obligatory encore, Great Big Sea mesmerized an entire audience with their catchy tunes, witty banter, and excellent musicianship.  Alan Doyle worked the crowd into a frenzy all evening; Sean McCann blew people away with his cover of Zep’s “Gallows Pole”; and Bob Hallett demonstrated his multi-instrumental skills throughout the show.  No more excuses required: there had to be more music like this out there waiting to be discovered.

The emergence of Canadian music stations on satellite radio, and our increasing road trips north of the border, provided the exposure we craved.  Sure, we were somewhat familiar with the likes of Blue Rodeo, The Barenaked Ladies, and The Tragically Hip, but we found much, much more – certainly enough material to uncover in future #tbt postings.

Alan Doyle, Harvest Picnic

Fast forward to August 2016, and we were once again fortunate enough to see former Great Big Sea vocalist Alan Doyle at the Harvest Picnic with his new band “The Beautiful Gypsies.”  From hearing the first line of their opening song, the growling vocals from Doyle transported me back to that concert some seven years earlier in Pennsylvania.  While Doyle worked the crowd (a clear natural personality trait), the Beautiful Gypsies gave it their all to keep up with Doyle’s seemingly non-stop energy.  The crowd were on their feet for those old Great Big Sea tunes, with great renditions of “Lukey,” “The Old Black Rum,” and (one of my personal favorites) “Up.”  Alan Doyle did not miss a beat during his 45 minute festival set-list (although it was probably closer to 60 minutes – as comically noted by Jim Cuddy, whose performance followed: “Doyle always plays longer than he should”).

Our love for the sounds of Newfoundland music was reawakened, so imagine our delight when we saw that Alan Doyle and The Beautiful Gypsies just happened to be playing in southern Ontario during a weekend that we already planned to be in town.  We welcome the chance to experience a full live set with Alan Doyle, who will most certainly be ready to bring a Newfoundland style kitchen party to the Living Arts Centre in Mississauga this Friday night.


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