Alan Doyle Brings Us All Together: Part 2

January 2021

Musician Alan Doyle has just released his third book, All Together Now, a follow-up, of sorts, of his two autobiographical volumes chronicling his growing up in Petty Harbour and first years with Great Big Sea. Doyle was actually engaged on a different literary project when the pandemic intervened. To chat about this and other topics, NQ reached Doyle by phone. (Part 1 of this conversation was posted last week.)


I also love your fascination with the Roman soldier. (Spoiler alert – this is Doyle’s response to the frequently-asked “ideal dinner guests” question: he would invite the solider who, present at Christ’s crucifixion and witness to His suffering, offers a sponge dipped in vinegar in response to Christ’s plea for water. Though unnamed in the Bible, he is sometimes identified as Stephaton.


I literally can remember, I was maybe twelve, being on the altar at Petty Harbour, when Father Wallace after I don’t remember which of the three or four [Gospel] readings started talking about it in the homily. And I’m just are you serious? Can you walk me through that? Did you do that all the time? Was it a dare? As Father Wallace from the altar spouted fire and brimstone at this act of cruelty, I was thinking man that is some premeditated malice right there. You’ve crucified the guy and crucifixion is not enough? I want to talk to that guy. He’s fascinating to me.


In 2010 you played Merry Man and balladeer Allan A’Dayle to Russell Crowe’s Robin Hood in Ridley Scott’s feature film. In describing your days on the shoot, you really put us in your shoes there. The struggle with your line readings, for example.


Robin they are French. [These four words were Doyle’s first spoken line of dialogue and he agonized over them.] It would have been easier if I had three paragraphs to say. That whole story is really meant to describe the learning curve. It was so steep. I was a novice actor. I quite naturally committed all the egregious mistakes novice actors do. Thankfully I was with people who helped me through it. And towards the end hopefully I contributed in a positive way because of the musical skills I had that most people don’t have. I could write quite a bit more about that journey, this detour where I hung around with some of the most famous people in the world.


But is it a detour? Have you any more interest in working in film? You also had a recurring role (as Wolf Redmond) on Republic of Doyle (2010-2014).


I’m never tempted to leave music for film. To get to that level would be a total departure from my musical life. One of the many things you have to be, for example, to be a successful actor, is available. For a long time. I’d like you to do this movie, it’s a big role, it will take your fourteen days to do it. Good, when? Sometime between 2021 and 2023. Please don’t take anything else that you can’t cancel. I’m in the gig business. Certainly not in a pandemic but in normal times I know where I’m going to be next March 18 at 5 minutes to 8. If I take two years off, fourteen people go unemployed. And regardless, I never wanted to leave my life as a musician. Though I’ll happily be in a film or a play if it would work.


There’s such detailed texture to your stories here. Did you take a lot of contemporaneous notes?


In the earliest days of Great Big Sea I took a journal. A handwritten journal for two or three years; I still have it. When did bands start having websites? Like 2000? We realized we constantly needed content so I started writing a blog, a travel diary of sorts. It was called From the Road. Hundreds and hundreds of entries, from this is where we all ate to what’s up with all the bright lights in such-and-such a town. Any observation that I thought people would be interested in reading. Sometimes it was two paragraphs long, sometimes fourteen pages.


I also think people will be interested in how you study your own craft, what it’s like to front a band. Someone like me would assume, that’s Alan, he can do that, he has the talent to do that. But it’s thought out and blocked out, from playlists to connecting with the audience. 


That’s a personal fascination of mine. I’m glad you asked about it. It’s been a study and a passion of mine. Why it is that some people are good at it and some people are not? People say to Greg Malone [from watching The Wonderful Grand Band] oh, you’re cracked, but Greg would say we wrote and scripted every word that Mr Budgell said, and delivered it on time. And because I’m a musician and have been fronting a band since I was a teenager I’ve always studied it. I love learning how people do it and what is engaging and what isn’t. How to approach a theatre differently than a hockey rink or a beer garden. The oversimplification is it’s a combination of gratitude and bravado and you never know how much of each you will need. I had a long conversation with Jody Richardson, he’s the best front person I’ve ever seen anywhere in my life, and he says with Thomas Trio I thought that’s my job. Lil is playing a solo, Danny is busy playing a bass line and keeping the groove with Louie, and what’s my job? There’s lots to listen to, but right now there’s nothing to look at. So I should give people something to look at. It was very methodical, very thoughtful and intentional.


What are you doing now?


A couple of projects, doing singalongs raising money for mental health and addictions services across the country. And I’m working with [NAC artistic director] Jill Keiley, [writer] Ed Riche, [Charlottetown Festival musical director] Bob Foster, and [composer] Adam Fraser, as a developing team behind a new musical scheduled for summer 2021. It’s an adaptation of the story you and I would know as the film The Grand Seduction (2013).


All Together Now ($27.00) is published by Random House Canada.