Séan McCann doesn’t mind showing his vulnerability on stage. He does it to heal and to show others they can survive.
McCann’s life has changed a lot since his years with Great Big Sea, but they’re changes for the better.
“I’ve been in recovery eight years now and I’ve made peace with my past,” he said from his home near Ottawa. “By dealing with secrets and being open I’ve learned I’m not alone.”
When he was 14, a young, charismatic priest arrived at the church he attended. The priest introduced him to cigarettes and alcohol and then began sexually abusing him.
“The abuse put me on a very dark path for a long time,” he said. “I was using drugs and alcohol to help myself forget. For 35 years I carried the secret, while I was in front of thousands. I didn’t show who I was when I was with Great Big Sea; I wore a mask.
“Secrets can kill you, but you can defeat secrets by speaking.”
He told his mother through a song he wrote called Hold Me Mother.
“You can say things in a song you can’t other ways,” he said. “Music helped me a lot.”
McCann began performing when he was in university, studying toward a degree in philosophy.
“A lot of us had student loans and worked in bars. The bars had bands playing, and they were making more money and having more fun than we were, so I learned to play guitar.”
He bought his first guitar in 1989 and called it Old Brown. It’s been there through his success with Great Big Sea, his struggles with addiction, and as he built a healthy life.
“You pick your weapons,” he said. “Mine is a guitar.”
The support of his wife, Andrea, also played a big part in his recovery.
His 2014 album Help Your Self expressed many of his thoughts and feelings and helped him understand that sharing could help others. In 2015, You Know I Love You was released and his latest album, There’s a Place, came out in 2017.
“I want people to be lifted by my music,” he said. “I want them to reach into their hearts and feel better.
“We spend a lot of time in denial and you can’t solve a problem unless you accept it exists. I advocate facing the truth and being honest. It’s difficult, but it’s the only way forward.
“I was full of anger and shame and used to hate myself.”
McCann said his concerts and speaking events are like recovery meetings.
He and his wife share their home with their sons, Keegan and Finnegan, cats Ashes and Storm, and dogs Karma and Bodhi.
“When things get stressful it’s great to have an animal to focus on,” he said. “You can always show love to an animal and that can break the spell. When we were without a dog we found ourselves borrowing a neighbour’s dog so we could love it for a few hours.
“They’re such a positive influence on our lives. I don’t think I’d ever be without animals again.”
When he was with Great Big Sea they used to ask for a puppy to be brought in to visit when they were on tour.
McCann, with help from his wife, is currently writing a book about his life. It will be called Help Your Self and he expects it to be available late this year or early in 2020.
“I hope it will encourage people,” he said. “If the guy from Great Big Sea can quit, anyone can. Life on the other side is worth it.
“I’m not afraid of the dark anymore.”
McCann will be performing at the Marigold Cultural Centre April 25 at 7:30 p.m.
Tickets for Face to Face with Séan McCann of Great Big Sea are $30 and are available through Ticketpro.
More information on McCann’s music can be found online at https://www.seanmccannsings.com.