Canadian Musician Alan Doyle Illuminates The Beauty Of Growing Up In Newfoundland
Lifestyle Discover the joy of Newfoundland living through the eyes of Great Big Sea’s lead singer. Picturesque beaches, welcoming communities, and culture unique to the Maritimes.
Lead singer of folk band Great Big Sea tells tales of his captivating homeland, Newfoundland and Labrador. It’s an island saturated with Canadian culture, where natives eagerly welcome “come from aways.”
Mediaplanet: What was it like growing up in Petty Harbour, Newfoundland?
Alan Doyle: Petty Harbour was, and remains, a postcard-perfect Newfoundland fishing village with a wharf up and down each side, lined with fishing boats of various shapes, sizes, and colours. My childhood there was pretty magical since there was always something fun and active to do and a gang of kids my age to do it with. I was born into the Doyle family, who were the go-to musical family for everything from a concert to a dance to a wedding to a funeral. I learned most of my early music lessons through osmosis.
MP: Your first job was working at the local wharf. What was a typical day like working in the cod industry during its peak?
AD: You’d get up by seven o’clock or so and make your way to the wharf with a bucket and a small, sharp knife. As soon as the boats started arriving with loads of fish, me and a gang of boys between 10 and 15 years old would swarm the place offering loading and cleaning services in exchange for the cod tongues of the fishermen’s catch. Keep the prep tables filled and the boats clean and you could cut the tongues all day long. At the end of the afternoon or early evening, when most of the boats would be gone, you’d count or weigh your tongues and sell them to a St. John’s restaurant, a tourist, or a local supermarket. Then it was off to the swimming hole to get cleaned up and play some softball. Into the darkness, you might be lucky enough to build a fire on the beach and get up to no good.
MP: How has the culture of Newfoundland shaped your creative drive in music, film, and writing?
AD: I think most rural towns have a musical family that often play and sing for most of the functions. I was lucky enough to be born into one of them. We had a guitar, piano, and accordion before we had a car. I’m serious. So, music for me came early and easy. Music and songs in particular are important in Newfoundland. We love to record our history, not just in libraries or history books, but in songs. So, there are lots of them around, and they are most often about stuff in your own backyard. When I started writing my own songs, I just instinctually wrote about my own experiences in my own town. I was not tempted, as many are, to write about cars and girls in California. When I moved to St. John’s to go to university, I met so many people from the tight-knit arts scene of folks who worked in theatre, film and literary arts, all of whom were eager to have me help on a project here or there.
MP: How would you describe Atlantic Canada?
AD: The provinces that make up Atlantic Canada are way more varied than people might think. For example, the landscape of PEI and Petty Harbour could be from different planets. The music from Cape Breton and Newfoundland could not be more different in the folk world. That said, the people of Atlantic Canada share a community-mindedness and place tremendous value on songs, instrumental music, and stories. They love to see visitors coming and they have a survivalist mentality that often makes them shine the brightest at the darkest times.
MP: From early years through Great Big Sea to your approaching third solo album, what has been your most memorable experience being on the Canadian stage?
AD: There have been so many amazing experiences. Most notably with GBS, we ushered in the first New Year of the millennium in St. John’s to almost 100,000 people, which could very well be the biggest gathering of people in the province’s history.
MP: Native Newfoundlanders refer to those not born on the island as “come from aways.” What message do you want to send to those across Canada about Newfoundland and why they should visit?
AD: A big reason to come to Newfoundland and Labrador is that it is a different place than anywhere else. It is not like anywhere else in Canada or the world for that matter. It has its own language, food, music, landscape, and architecture. And the biggest reason to come to Newfoundland is to have a time with its most amazing resource, Newfoundlanders!
MP: What’s around the corner for 2017?
AD: First up is a new single being released to radio and the public near the end of June. “Summer Summer Night” is a song about the greatest nights of my youth. The full album A Week at The Warehouse comes out mid-October. Around that same time, I release a new book titled A Newfoundlander in Canada about my first trip across the country in the GBS van. This summer finds me and the Beautiful Band jumping around festivals in Canada, US, England, and Germany. Lucky me.