Some creators seek inspiration from travel, history, or romance. For musician, writer and entrepreneur Bob Hallett, the place where he grew up provided all the inspiration he never needed.

Although he is best known for his role in the musical group Great Big Sea, Hallett has long had a parallel career as a writer and businessman. Born and raised in St. John’s, the quirky Newfoundland port city on the edge of the Atlantic, Hallett’s school and university years were spent exploring a number of career options. After stints as an ice-cream salesman, Naval Reservist and public relations flack for the federal government, he decided to make journalism his ‘real’ career. Hallett had been the editor of Memorial University’s student newspaper and had freelanced for many publications. After graduating with a BA, he took a job with the Newfoundland Herald, an eccentric publication, half-TV Guide-half local entertainment journal, which at the time enjoyed a huge provincial circulation. After a few years he had worked his way up to the managing-editor’s job. Notable anecdotes from that period included a rambling interview with a very-stoned Steve Earle, an early morning chat with a furious David Suzuki, and taking author Timothy Findley for an eventful drive around the bay.

During these years Bob also played in a number of folk bands with long-time collaborator Sean McCann. As a child he had become fascinated with the half-forgotten magical world of traditional music, with its songs about heroes and rovers, and driving and complex dance music. He spent his teenage years sneaking into bars and festivals, watching and learning from elderly players, talking to the members of his own large extended family about music and traditions. In his university years Hallett established himself as a multi-instrumentalist, equally home on the mandolin, bouzouki, fiddle, tin whistle and button accordion, as well as possessing a powerful and rugged baritone voice. Over time, traditional Newfoundland music went from being a hobby to a passion, and soon Hallett found himself playing four sets a night at rowdy dock-side pubs. More than once he left work and went right to a gig, (or worse, left the gig and went right to work). Hallett and McCann developed an over-the-top approach to showmanship, and a take-no-prisoners view of the music business which was later to serve them well. When they met future band-mate Alan Doyle, Hallett decided to give up on his editorial career, and embrace music full time with a new group, Great Big Sea.

The band has gone on to record eleven gold and platinum albums, play literally thousands of concerts all over the continent and Europe, and write songs which have become sing-along standards in pubs around the world. One of Hallett’s most memorable creations is ‘The Old Black Rum’, a song so popular that Great Big Sea are unable to leave the stage without performing it. This song has the unique distinction of having been recorded numerous times by other Celtic bands, and is also one of the few Newfoundland songs that have made the leap into the French and German traditions. Bob and the band, in various combinations, have also been featured on numerous soundtracks, and have appeared on television literally hundreds of times. The band’s music can be found on the soundtrack of major Hollywood productions like ‘The Shipping News’, and ‘State of Play’, as well as TV shows like ‘Ugly Betty’ and infamously, as the theme music for ‘The Republic of Doyle’. As a solo artist, Bob’s singing and playing have cropped on many productions, including the movie ‘Young Triffie’ and the CBC TV show ‘Hatching, Matching and Dispatching’.

As TV producers the band created and starred in two television specials, ‘Great Big Sea Live’ and ‘Courage, Patience and Grit’, which were broadcast on networks like CBC, CMT & BRAVO in Canada, PBS in the USA and WDR in Germany. They have been the subject of many other television concert shows and documentaries as well, such as ‘Intimate and Interactive’ at MuchMoreMusic, ‘Live at Bravo’, Live at the Dakota Tavern’ and ‘Live at Sugar Beach’

Although Great Big Sea should be enough career for most people, Hallett has also produced a number of albums for other Newfoundland traditional musicians, and played on so many other records he has lost count. As a partner in the company Garrison Hill Entertainment, he has become a leading music business manager for Newfoundland’s only full time music management company.

In what spare time remained in the past few years, Hallett wrote two best-selling language arts textbooks aimed at teenage boys for Rubicon Press, a guide to the music business for the federal government, prepared a documentary for CBC Radio on the metaphysics of folksongs, and is a regular contributor of humorous pieces for the scholarly journal the Newfoundland Quarterly. In 2011 he published a collection of his most favourite writings about music and Newfoundland, titled ‘Writing Out the Notes’.

As a philanthropist and advocate, both on his own and with the band, he has taken an engaged role in both the musical and wider community. As a member of the East Coast Music Association board of directors, he has been a strong advocate for a strong music business in Atlantic Canada. He has also volunteered considerable time for arts organizations like the Riddle Fence and the St. John’s Folk Arts Council, helping to keep the flame of creativity in Newfoundland burning bright. Great Big Sea has spearheaded a dozen major fundraising campaigns over the past decade, and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for organizations across the country and at home.

He lives in downtown St. John’s with his wife, son, and two daughters, in an eccentric old house originally built by a sealing captain.


  • Intimate and Interactive Live – MuchMoreMusic (1999)

  • Great Big Sea Live – CBC (2002)

  • Juno Awards – CTV (2002)
    (Headline appearance)

  • Courage, patience and Grit – PBS USA (2006)

  • Great Big Sea Live at the Dakota (2007)

  • Juno Awards – CTV (2009)
    (Show closing)

  • Great Big Sea Live At Sugar Beach – CMT (2010)

  • Olympic Medal Ceremony Concert CTV (2010)

  • Canada Day on Parliament Hill CBC (2011)


  • School classroom visits, folk music master-classes, (1993-present)

  • Bob Gainey Family Foundation (2005, 2009)
    (Performed for benefits in Montreal and Peterborough w/ Great Big Sea)

  • Niagara Escarpment Foundation (2009)
    (Fundraising concert w/ Great Big Sea)

  • Daffodil Place (2009)
    (Benefit concerts performed in St. John’s, spearheaded donation drive w/ Great Big Sea)

  • Newfoundland and Labrador Folk Arts Council (2006, 2009, 2011)
    (Solo appearances at fundraising concerts)

  • National Math Performance Festival

  • Mark Priest House, Hamilton (2010,2011)
    (Headlined fundraising concert, made numerous media appearances w/ Great Big Sea)

  • Ronald McDonald House St. John’s (2010,2011)
    (Benefit Concert, fundraising campaign w/ Great Big Sea)

  • Smiling Land Foundation (2007,2011)
    (Benefit concerts, fundraising w/ Great Big Sea)

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