Alan Doyle goes Back to the Harbour – but makes a stop in Lindsay

By Roderick Benns

It’s easy to get Alan Doyle of Great Big Sea fame reminiscing. Just casually mention that you happened to catch him in the 90s at the University of Guelph’s bar when you were a young 20-something.

You can hear the storyteller in him come alive then, thinking back to that single year of their lives when they “toured as a college bar band” before a deeper fame took root.

“Wasn’t that place called the Brass Taps?” he asks, this Newfoundlander in Canada showing off a remarkable facility for names and places.

“What a way to get across this country,” he says. “By ‘96 or 7 we were playing campus theatre halls and special events instead of just bars.”

From there it was much larger venues still and now — well, he’s just happy to be playing live again at all. That’s what will bring him to Lindsay’s Academy Theatre on Nov. 23, a celebratory re-opening for Kawartha Lakes’ marquee entertainment space as the pandemic continues its long, slow retreat.

Doyle’s latest offering is called Back to the Harbour, an EP that he “recorded…with some of my best friends and musical inspirations around an old upright piano,” as he describes on his website.

Alan Doyle at New Scotland Yard studio in Dartmouth with bandmates Cory Tetford and Kendel Carson.

“These are songs I love to sing at closing time. You know? When you think the night wants one more brush stroke to make it a perfect painting.”

You realize at that moment that Doyle the storyteller is inseparable from Doyle the musician, surely the mark of any great musical artist.

“This record is just an honest take of standing around an old piano — just a collection of songs we love to sing.”

Tracks include Back Home on the Island, Back to the Harbour and Leave Her Johnny.

When the pandemic hit, it affected Doyle in the way it affected a lot of creative people.

“I ended up seeing what I could do instead of what I couldn’t do.”

There were music projects like this, as well as a book called All Together Now (which he calls “a bunch of stories stitched together” from a virtual Newfoundland pub.)

Doyle’s first book was Where I Belong, about growing up in the tiny fishing village of Petty Harbour. Then came A Newfoundlander in Canada, where he regales you with memories like how this conversation started — of small bars across Canada sparked by big dreams, of late nights and early mornings on the road.

Now that he’s on the road again, you point out to Doyle how younger people — Gen Z – have somehow discovered the value and entertainment of sea shanties on the social media platform Tik Tok. This generates laughter and you listen to him talk about the 90s craze for Celtic music and how Great Big Sea rode that wave to national – if not international – fame.

“I feel both lucky and old when these things come around again,” says Doyle. “We sung sea shanties long before they were cool and I’m delighted when anyone turns their attention,” to this kind of music.

Your conversation turns to social policy and giving back (because politicians shouldn’t be the only ones who get asked.)

Doyle talks about the charity he co-founded, Dollar a Day Foundation, where people simply give a dollar a day to support mental health and addictions.

“There’s so many gaps in the need for mental health and addictions support. That’s where I put my attention. There are people out there who desperately need help and this is what I’ve picked – it’s a simple path,” he says.

Doyle says he hasn’t been anywhere in the country that’s doing it perfectly, or that doesn’t need more help for mental health and addictions.

“That’s where my mind and my time goes.” In a complicated world, Doyle says he feels Dollar a Day is “effective right away — and I’m proud of that,” for its emphasis on frontline agencies who are helping in communities.

You wrap up the conversation with a question about this country’s capacity to surprise. Does it still happen? Or has this Newfoundlander seen and heard it all when he tours across the second biggest country in the world?

“I am constantly surprised,” says Doyle. “I’m constantly surprised people share certain views that I’d find a little extreme.” He cites gun control as an example.

“For instance, I’m hard pressed to believe that we’re better off as an armed society than an unarmed one.”

You end the conversation, knowing full well that Nov. 23 in Lindsay promises to be no Ordinary Day, as one of Canada’s most loved troubadours opens at the Academy Theatre. 

For tickets call 705-324-9111 or click here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.