Alan Doyle is the embodiment of a seemingly genetic trait, an affable down-home humanity, that defines the good people of Newfoundland and Labrador.
Its source can be traced to his modest but colourful upbringing in the fishing village of Petty Harbour, where a resourceful family of six shared a two-bedroom home. Indoor plumbing was an oxymoron, clothing was hand-me-down, leftovers were unheard of and television consisted of the CBC. By the age of 10, Doyle was at work cutting out cod tongues. When there was no fuel for the furnace, friends, cards, drinks and song gathered in the kitchen for “an out of oil” party, heat radiating from the oven, minus its door.
But, Doyle's boyhood was rich in adventure, laughter and music. His mother baked bread daily and taught him piano. He joined his uncle Ronnie's band, the New Sandells as a teen of 16 and was half of a duo evocatively named Staggering Home.
Relocated to the provincial capital of St. John's, he earned a BA in English from Memorial University. In 1993, with three university friends, he stepped into his most renowned role as the singing, multi-instrument playing, song writing front man for Great Big Sea (GBS). “I had no idea, no one did, that my young life would prepare me so well for that job interview,” says Doyle in whom the requisite qualifications of hard work, low financial expectations and shared living quarters were ingrained. A national treasure, for over 20 years, GBS's East Coast Celtic rock has shaken the footings of the world stage, their nine albums and two DVDs all certified platinum or gold.
In 2012, Doyle released his first solo album, the Juno-nominated Boy on Bridge. The title is his casting credit as a child extra in the movie A Whale for the Killing based on Farley Mowat's book. Doyle, 49, has had starring roles in the major motion pictures Robin Hood (2010) and Winter's Tale(2014) with long-time friend Russell Crowe and on the Canadian hit television drama Republic of Doyle.
With GBS on hiatus since their 2013 twentieth anniversary tour, Doyle's solo career is on a rampage. In 2014 he became the best-selling author of Where I Belong, a candidly affectionate memoir of his youth. “It was always sort of meant to be a love letter to my family, my mom and dad and to Petty Harbour,” he says. “It's a real thank you to my childhood which was glorious to say the least.”
Tossing the rule book in the dust bin, that same year he entered the studio to record So Let's Go, a counter-intuitive union of folk instrumentation with lavish Top 40 pop production. “All of the best pop songs have something honest and true at the heart of them,” he says of the reels-that-rock concept. “So why not have that part be me and my story?”
There may be scads of lichen in Newfoundland but you'll find no moss growing on Doyle's feet. He's ever busy promoting his third CD, A Week at the Warehouse and second book, A Newfoundlander In Canada, both released in 2017.
Life is short and Alan Doyle is going to show us how to make the most of it.“It's a general review of my musical life,” he promises, “to make the greatest kitchen party in the history of Ontario.”