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Why is McCann angry at his former bandmates?

Sean McCann, formerly of Great Big Sea, earned considerable media coverage when he released his new “Help Your Self” solo album in January.

Some of this attention was at the expense of Bob Hallett and Alan Doyle, his former bandmates.

McCann made it clear that he was unhappy and even angry about his situation in Great Big Sea.

“My problem was anger and anger doesn’t solve anything,” McCann said, in an interview with Ted Blades of CBC Radio On The Go. “Certainly stuff in Great Big Sea made me angry. I don’t regret any of it but I think if I had stayed there I would have made me, as well as Bob and Alan, unhappy.”

Later in the interview, he said: “Our relationship together was not working very well. Being in a band, someone doesn’t always get their way … Instead of facing my problems and my anger issues, I hid them and kept them secret.”

You can hear that full interview here:

What could that be about, I wondered? I sent off a message to Bob Hallett asking for comment, but he wasn’t talking. Alan Doyle wasn’t either. Hallett seemed confused about some of McCann’s statements but refused to get drawn into a public bunfight over them. (Hallett confirmed that CBC and The Telegram had also asked for comment, but those requests were also declined.)

But here’s the thing: there is no apparent reason for McCann to be angry, based on what’s already on the public record.

McCann doesn’t appear to have been stifled creatively by Great Big Sea, because he wrote more than half of their original material. And this was consistent right to the end: of the four original songs on the band’s "XX" collection, Sean wrote one and co-wrote two others. That says a lot about his status within the band.

Were his musical tastes evolving and much of his original material not meshing with the GBS playbook? If so, that’s what solo albums are for and McCann has released three of those. Furthermore, Alan Doyle produced and engineered his “Son of a Sailor” album.

On stage, McCann was an integral part of the show and always delivered at least one electrifying lead vocal (think “Mari-Mac” or “Gallows Pole”). He certainly wasn’t relegated to the sidelines.

Financially, Great Big Sea has been extremely kind to all three band members. Just do the math: at $50 a ticket, a 7,000-seat venue like Mile One would gross $350,000, with a net of perhaps $250,000. The band has performed hundreds of arena and concert hall shows over the last 20 years. As a one-third partner, McCann owes his financial independence to Great Big Sea.

Puzzled and needing explanation, I sent a message to McCann asking for more detail about his “anger” with the band.

"On looking at recent album credits, you clearly contributed a lot of songwriting to the band and you were a big part of the live show, so I don't think you were stifled creatively,” I wrote. “What, then, was the source of your anger?”

McCann replied promptly with this: “I was ‘angry’ because after 20 years we could not agree on how to move forward. But anger never resolves anything and I have chosen to be happy instead. I sincerely believe Bob and Alan are happier as well. And that's as clear as I can be.”

Knowing a non-answer when I see it, I tried once more: “How about one more sentence that puts some flesh on the moving forward idea? I can see ‘creative differences’ being a factor, but I'm wondering what well the anger springs from.”

But after that, he fell silent. McCann is quick to make contentious statements that reflect poorly on his former bandmates, but not so quick to explain what they mean.

My read? A veteran of countless interviews, McCann knows that conflict goes a long way in grabbing media attention. I think he was indulging in a bit of theatre, probably to ramp up media coverage of his album.

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