Great Big St. Paddy's Day celebration

Justin Brake
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Music Bands pay tribute to families who lost loved ones in recent helicopter crash

You couldn't ask for more appropriate musical entertainment on St. Paddy's Day weekend.

Hometown music heroes Great Big Sea and their West Coast "cousins" Spirit of The West played to a near sold-out crowd at Mile One Centre Saturday night, an event that precluded a mass migration to George Street on one of the city's busiest weekends for bar traffic.

Before Alan Doyle, Sean McCann, Bob Hallett, Murray Foster and Kris MacFarlane began their set, Doyle spoke solemnly about the oil industry aircraft accident which claimed the lives of 17 people when the helicopter went into the ocean about 55 kilometers off the coast of St. John's last Thursday.

Great Big Sea's Alan Doyle. Submitted photo

You couldn't ask for more appropriate musical entertainment on St. Paddy's Day weekend.

Hometown music heroes Great Big Sea and their West Coast "cousins" Spirit of The West played to a near sold-out crowd at Mile One Centre Saturday night, an event that precluded a mass migration to George Street on one of the city's busiest weekends for bar traffic.

Before Alan Doyle, Sean McCann, Bob Hallett, Murray Foster and Kris MacFarlane began their set, Doyle spoke solemnly about the oil industry aircraft accident which claimed the lives of 17 people when the helicopter went into the ocean about 55 kilometers off the coast of St. John's last Thursday.

"We've had a give and take relationship with the (Atlantic) for over 500 years," Doyle said as his band mates stood silently across the stage. "It's taken a lot of our brothers and sisters."

The band dedicated "England." a traditional-like song from their latest album, "Fortune's Favour," which McCann wrote about the hardships of life at sea.

The dedication and remembrance was humble and classy, and the band members even dressed for the occasion, but when they returned moments later they appeared as ready as ever to put on a rock show.

Doyle, now sporting a beard, and McCann rotated in leading the band through the early songs, like the recent radio single "Love Me Tonight," "Captain Kidd" and "The Night Pat Murphy Died."

For the most part, Great Big Sea omitted from the set many of the "pop songs" of the band's 1999-2004 years, and offered a more rock and traditional union of tunes.

"Lukey" was welcomed by the boisterous crowd, most of which jumped to its feet to dance in the rows.

The red background of the "Fortune's Favour" stage set and green St. Paddy's Day attire on the floor combined in creating a sort of Christmas concert visual atmosphere. But the mixture of some of the band's recent tunes, like "Here and Now." "Dream to Live" and "Company of Fools," and old favourites, contributed to the St. Paddy's weekend atmosphere.

"This song we learned from Fergus O'Byrne," said McCann, introducing "General Taylor" from 1997's "Play." "Let's hope he's out there tonight."

The audience joined in on the singing of "Taylor," as well as others like "Run Runaway" and "Mari Mac," but the most intense moments of vitality were sporadic.

"Let's get some of the ol' up and down happenin,'" Doyle demanded at one point between songs. "It's Saturday night for god's sake!"

After an extended jam at the end of "Company of Fools," which managed to get everybody on their feet, Doyle kept the momentum going by leading the crowd through a medley of cover songs including The Clash's "I Fought The Law," Bryan Adams' "Summer of '69," The Proclaimers' "I'm Gonna Be," and an impressive, though hilarious, singalong to Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody."

"It's nice to be home," he said, grinning as the audience cheered its own effort to be part of the show.

"Ordinary Day" rounded out the set, but the band returned for an encore, during which they thanked the hometown crowd for their support over the years. Having celebrated its 16th birthday just last week, Doyle announced, "I think this is somewhere around the one-hundredth stop of the 'Fortune's Favour' tour. It's nice to bring the songs of Newfoundland around the world. Thanks so much for looking after us - it's been 16 years. Here's to 16 more."

They performed a toned-down rendition of "Sea of No Cares," a song Doyle told the audience was written in McCann's living room.

But before they sent everyone on down to George Street, the band brought out Spirit of the West to join in on "The Old Black Rum".

Spirit of the West, it should be noted, recently celebrated 25 years as a band. During Great Big Sea's set, Doyle and McCann told the story of how it was Spirit of the West who gave them their break by inviting them on tour in Ontario in the mid-90s.

"Then they kicked us off the tour," said Doyle.

"We drank all their beer," McCann joked.

"I don't know why, but something tells me they're getting us back as we speak," Doyle laughed.

Spirit's set was brief, but they packed in some quality performances, including "The Rights of Man", which they dedicated to the helicopter crash victims and their families, new tune "Another Happy New Year", and of course their trademark drinking song, "Home For A Rest."

Needless to say, it was a "prime" time Saturday evening, in that most were just getting started.

Organizations: Great Big Sea, Queen's

Geographic location: George Street, West Coast, St. John's England Newfoundland Ontario

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  • Brian
    July 02, 2010 - 13:25

    It was not Alan Doyle that spoke about the aircraft accident, it was Sean McCann.

  • Brian
    July 01, 2010 - 20:12

    It was not Alan Doyle that spoke about the aircraft accident, it was Sean McCann.