Great Big Sea lifted Sean McCann up and Great Big Sea started to sink him.
“It was a party band. It was a great enabler for me,” McCann says. “It was a great place to hide.”
About three years ago, the co-founder of the popular East Coast band couldn’t hide from his drinking any longer.
“I was blacking out. I wasn’t sure which Sean McCann would show up and where I would wake up.”
He kept trying to quit, but kept failing. When he finally realized he had to stop to keep his family — a wife and two young boys — together, McCann stopped.
Last fall, he made another tough decision, to leave a band that went from friends playing for a bit of cash and beer 20 years ago to perennial Juno nominees.
“The band was a party bus. That bus kept going,” he says.
But he had to get off.
McCann quit the band, wrote an album about struggling to recover that came out in January, and on Friday in London will speak to a large audience about his experience.
It’s the first time he’s done something like this, but he’ll have his guitar, Old Brown, and new songs to help him get through.
“I believe you are never alone when you have a guitar.”
When McCann speaks at London’s Recovery Breakfast, he’ll be speaking to a city that doesn’t always recognize its biggest addiction.
The other drugs — oxy, crystal meth, heroin, cocaine — often get the headlines, but alcohol remains the No. 1 problem reported by people seeking help at Addiction Services of Thames Valley.
“It always was and always will be. But it is the one that people don’t even worry about,” says executive director Linda Sibley.
The goal of the annual breakfast is simple: “We want to get people talking about addiction and recovery so people in the community understand people can change. It’s a common misconception there is no way back.”
McCann had a long way to come back.
He started drinking at 14 in high school in a province where, he says, “drinking is pervasive. It is part of the culture. There is no real taboo against it here. “
Starting a band in St. John’s, N.L., only made the drinks flow more.
“Our reputation for being a party town is real. It is Canada’s New Orleans,” he says. “Alcohol is encouraged. People here are waiting for me to start again. It (his absintence) is not seen as a permanent solution.”
McCann says he hasn’t been in touch with his ex-band mates.
“I don’t think they really understand,” he says. “I’m sure they think I’m crazy.”
The band may have been “an enabler,” but McCann knows full well music helped him recover.
“We talked out the issues, me and Old Brown,” he says of the effort that led to the January release of his album, Help Your Self.
McCann will play music from that album at the recovery breakfast, hoping to help others shed light on their lives.
“That is what art is supposed to do,” he says.
He’s already moving on to new subjects as he noodles away each day on his guitar in the woods near his home.
Winter is coming in Newfoundland and Labrador and there’s not much to do, he jokes, “but drink or write songs.”
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IF YOU GO
WHAT: Addiction Recovery Breakfast
WHEN: Friday, 7:30 - 10 a.m.
WHERE: Hilton London, 300 King St.
SPEAKER: Sean McCann, a founder of Great Big Sea
SPONSORS: Mission Services of London, The Salvation Army, Addicition Services of Thames Valley and Turning Point Inc.
MORE INFORMATION: 519-673-3242