Inquiring Minds

Inquiring Minds: Great Big Sea's Bob Hallett On The Violent Ocean, Sea Chanteys, Celtic Traditions And Newfoundland's Punk Scene

Newfoundland, now officially known as the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador, was the first bit of North American soil encountered by European explorers. Ever since, the rest of the continent has left the rocky island in the far North Atlantic, and its hardy natives who mostly eke out a living from the ocean (fishing, whaling, oil, etc.), pretty much alone.

Since it was largely settled by people from the British Isles and Northern Europe, and the island is so isolated, traditional Celtic music took root hard and fast and, even as modernity encroached, has never gone away. Today it lives on in Newfoundland's most successful musical export, Great Big Sea, who combine Celtic tradition and sea chanteys with driving, spiritual rock - think a slightly more earnest version of the Waterboys and you're almost there.

Great Big Sea, which formed in the early '90s, may not be well-known this far south, but the band has sold more than a million albums in Canada and has been nominated for several Juno awards, that country's equivalent to a Grammy. Aiming to broaden their horizons (and ours), Great Big Sea plays House of Blues Sunday evening, and Rocks Off spoke with accordion player, fiddler and mandolinist Bob Hallett from far-off St. John's earlier this week.

RO: I think you may be the first person from Newfoundland I've ever actually talked to.

Bob Hallett: That would not surprise me. There aren't a lot of us. And those of us who exist, not many of us go into entertainment. Of if they are, not the sort you pay for.

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Chris Gray has been Music Editor for the Houston Press since 2008. He is the proud father of a Beatles-loving toddler named Oliver.
Contact: Chris Gray