Alan Doyle calls it the most thankless job in the field of entertainment, singing national anthems at sports events.
“In my experience there is nothing more terrifying than singing the national anthem, especially the U.S one,” commented Doyle as he met in the lobby of Toronto’s swank Delta hotel, in town to promote his new solo record, “So Let’s Go”, his spring national tour plus a date at the ACC to launch the Toronto Maple Leafs game against Carolina Hurricanes, which they subsequently lost 4-1.
“It’s a lose/lose situation,” noted Doyle. “The only reason you do it is to get a bit of press and you get to go to the game for free and so I’m a sucker for that. But it’s the only gig in show business where if you do amazingly well, nobody cares! Yet if you screw it up, it’s the dog’s breakfast. People sit up all night, scanning for celebrity screw-ups and once you’re on You Tube – that’s it. It’s there forever!
The hockey-mad Montreal Canadiens’ fan also engaged in a frenetic two-day promotion schedule for “So Let’s Go” geared to launch both his record and tour dates running through January and February in Ontario with Western Canadian dates in March and Maritime dates set for May.
Doyle confirms this is a tour with his own band, not Great Big Sea, which has taken a hiatus following the release and support tour for their XX Greatest Hits, boxed set release in late 2013. “We had a planned hiatus following the 20th anniversary tour and then (original member) Sean McCann decided he wanted to leave, so creatively we had to figure out how we could do without him, and administratively, we had to go about removing him from our various companies. It’s like executing a divorce, not a fun thing to do. But we also wanted to create a path when if Sean wants to come back in the band, he can do.”[quote]In my experience there is nothing more terrifying than singing the national anthem, especially the U.S one[/quote]
Still the Great Big Sea disruption has given Doyle a chance to pursue his own endeavours and he’s pressed forward, not only recording his second solo record but also establishing himself as a best-selling author with “Were I Belong” (Random House), a riveting account of his childhood memories of growing up in Newfoundland’s Petty Harbour.
‘The break gave me a chance to do my solo record and make some changes after my first effort, his 2012 “Boy On Bridge”, a reference to his childhood cameo in the movie “A Whale For The Killling” which was shot on location in Petty Harbour.
“That first album was fun but it was more of a travelogue . I had all these friends (Jim Cuddy, Hawksley Workman and Ron Hynes) and I wanted to go and learn how they created music rather than bring myself into it,” Doyle explained. “Whereas the new record represents a complete picture of where I am now. My idea is that the best pop songs on radio seem to be folk driven so I thought what a cool idea to build big pop songs around some guy (me) playing the mandolin, that might be a fun thing to hear.”
Fuelled by high energy tracks like the title track, and first single “So Let’s Go”, an anthemic sing-along, “1,2,3,4”, the infectious mid-tempo second single; “The Night Loves Us” and the vibrant “Sins Of A Saturday Night”, the album’s 10 tracks brought together a team of experienced producers in Thomas Salter, Jerrod Bettis, Gordie Sampson and Joe Zook to lay down the tracks.
“To me, music has always been about facilitating, there had to be some kind of celebration going on,” explained Doyle’s motivation behind his new record. “As a kid, I was always playing at parties, funerals, weddings, concerts, anywhere there was some kind of gathering. And my instincts have always been to bring those elements into my music. I know some people who write their best music at the darkest of times. But that’s not me. I don’t want to pick up my guitar every time I’m pissed off,”
To generate the ambiance of his new record, Doyle secured some of the top people he could get his hands on. “I did a couple of songs myself, I did one with Gordie Sampson, who’s always a joy to work with, Jerrod Bettis has just come off working with Adele and Serena Ryder, Joe Zook gets credit on records by One Republic and Kate Perry and with Thomas Salter, I loved the work he has done with Walk Off The Earth and how he can build something around some one playing a ukulele. That’s the sound I was looking for.”
A guaranteed live show-stopper is the raucous 1,2,3,4 which Doyle admits he co-wrote with Bare Naked Ladies’ Ed Robertson. “That’s the kind of song I might have written when I was 18, a real pub song,” allowed Doyle. “ Ed was perfect for putting his own twist on the record. He came up with the rap section that really adds something to the production.”
Doyle is under no illusions about generating much radio airplay for the record, noting that previous Great Big Sea releases generated little national radio exposure. “There are bands that still chase that big radio single but that’s never been a driven focus of mine. GBS has never been that kind of band. We’ve had some radio success (“When I’m Up I Can’t Get Down” and “Consequence Free”) but we were never a band that tried to stay up with current trends. It used to be that music trends changed every year. Then it became monthly and now it seems every hour. At one point radio was the medium to break new music, then it was video, now it’s the internet – it could be different by suppertime!
“To my mind, you’ve got to ignore it because you can’t write for something that’s consistently changing. You just write your music and hope that it finds the right outlet,” he observed. “If someone wants to put one of my songs in their car commercial, I’d give it to them for free!”
Alan Doyle admits to currently being in a very happy place. Boasting a new record, in the midst of a national concert tour, in possession of a best-selling book plus recent television and movie credit’s that includes appearances on the CBC series; Republic Of Doyle and movie credits with his buddy Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood and also in “ Winter’s Tale”.
“I was lucky to be born into a family in which music was incidental. I barely remember learning how to play a guitar. I thought everyone could play a guitar,” reflected Doyle. “I was brought up in a little fishing village in Newfoundland where I got to live my father’s life. I didn’t live in the next generation like most kids growing up, I lived in his generation and I benefited from that experience.”
Experiences which are colourfully chronicled in Doyle’s autobiographic account of growing up in Petty Harbour. “It’s about growing up in a small village where you do things a certain way because that’s the way they always have been done – even if it doesn’t make any sense,” he explained. “The strange thing is that the opportunity to write the book came in a very organic way. It was Random House who approached me and it was their idea about the direction of the book.”
Same with Doyle’s acting opportunities. “Allan Hawco, a Newfoundland friend of mine, is also the executive producer, chief writer and lead actor in The Republic Of Doyle so he pitched me on the idea of being involved ,” related Doyle. “I had no idea what I was doing. They just told me to stand on my mark and say my lines. That was about the extent of my acting talents. And then Russell (Crowe) and I started writing songs and performing together and he got me the role of Alan A’Dayle in Robin Hood with Crowe who also in with me and the likes of Will Smith and Colin Farrell in “ Winter’s Tale”.
As for the Doyle’s tour, currently in progress across Canada, he says that performance -wise his instincts are still the same whether he is touring with his own band or with Great Big Sea. “When the curtain goes up, I want the audience to be a part of the greatest kitchen party ever! I cant’ help it, performing in concert is the most magical thing ever. If all I got to do, for the rest of my life is play concerts, I’d be a very happy musician.”
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