Do you remember that guy, back in high school, who was always the life of the party; the guy who always had booze to share; the guy who could drink anyone under the table; the fun one? Turns out there’s a fine line between being a party animal or an alcoholic. Sometimes that line is so subtle that no one notices. It is taken for granted that you are the social funny man.

Quite a few of us will remember Séan McCann, aka Shantyman, as the fun-loving founding member of one of Canada’s most popular party bands, Great Big Sea. For about 20 years, Séan embraced the role of lead partyer, and lead guitarist, guiding legions of adoring fans to party on through song and dance – smoke ‘em if you’ve got ‘em; drink up and laugh.

What’s not to love? The lifestyle finally got to him; or rather, it got to his wife, Andrea. After two decades of constant partying any night of the week, she finally laid down an ultimatum. Séan had to decide between the booze or her; the band or his family. Today, five sober years later, Séan credits his wife for saving his life.

But it turned out that going sober for Séan meant that he had to deal with some deep lurking demons that he had long anesthetized with alcohol. This jovial, albeit inebriated, entertainer held a dark secret that no one could have known. Séan had been sexually abused by a priest during his teenage years. That’s when he realized that the only way to fully come to terms with his pain was to speak out about it; get it out in the open and confront it head-on.

In Séan’s words, “I experienced the anger and the shame and how it feels to want to disappear. But somehow, I lived through it with the help of my guitar, Old Brown.” No longer hiding a secret, Séan began to work on solo material, and released an album, Help Your Self in 2014, produced by Joel Plaskett. That’s when the most amazing thing happened – the more he engaged fans or anyone who might listen, the more people reached out to him to share their own experiences. Humans are social animals. If they aren’t partying together, they’re connecting in other positive ways to seek that human bond that makes them stronger together. “Music is in all of us,” he said to me in a recent interview, “it is therapeutic, it has the power to heal”.

Humans are social animals. If they aren’t partying together, they’re connecting in other positive ways to seek that human bond that makes them stronger together.

Séan was offered a unique opportunity to give back. He was approached by Jim Lowther, co-founder of Vets Canada to be an ambassador for the Guitars for Vets program. Unsure of his new role, Séan explained that “Jim is a Veteran who suffers from PTSD and, like myself, his guitar saved him from a very dark place. I know from personal experience how a song can save your life so I understand the practical importance of getting guitars into the hands of damaged people. Music is strong medicine.”

Séan has since released a sophomore album, You Know I Love You, which by the way, is much more upbeat and joyful. Today, Séan is a sought after keynote speaker and loves to engage with his audience during live performances. He is a true ambassador for all people who have suffered personal injury.

In closing, Séan says, “my future is unwritten but I know it will be brighter now than it ever has been because I have faced my past and it is no longer my prison. I have overcome my fear and I am finally moving forward on the right path.”

Tour dates and more available at

Want to help out?

Whether you are a veteran, a guitar instructor, or wish to volunteer or donate a guitar for this program, there is room for you. Visit

3 thoughts on “Help Your Self

  1. Kudos to YOU Sean, for listening to your internal heart beat, and playing its tune.
    You are a shining light for those who are seeking hope.
    I was so very fortunate to attend your Ptbo MH concert, and have told so many about your journey.
    I have a 31 year old son who was diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was 20years old. Because of ONTARIO SHORES in Whitby, he is balanced, living on his own with his cat Noah. There were many years, I thought we were going to lose him. But the fight was won, and I have hope now for his future.
    ~Mary (aka Kitt Chapman)

  2. This is wonderful & I got the privilege of seeing Sean in Kingston in Sept (in the rain). It was fantastic & therapeutic for me, a life long sufferer of anxiety & depression. Is this program open to people with mental health issues too or explicitly for veterans. Love you Sean !

  3. Saw him last night at the mental health week talk in Oakville.. Fantastic Wish everyone could see him

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