Rock Star

Mu­si­cian, writer and proud New­found­lan­der Alan Doyle on tour­ing Canada, host­ing kitchen par­ties and why he doesn’t give ca­reer ad­vice. COURT­NEY SHEA


Most Cana­di­ans know you from your many years play­ing mu­sic with Great Big Sea and your solo work. What made you want to write a book?

For Canada’s 150th, I wanted to tell this story about what it was like for a fella who grew up in a small New­found­land fish­ing town in the ’70s to ex­plore where he was from. My par­ents and I come from the same place, but I was born in a coun­try called Canada and they were born in a coun­try called New­found­land. As a kid, Canada was some­thing I had to go dis­cover.

Did you see be­ing a mu­si­cian as your ticket to get out there and ex­plore?

When I was 16 years old, the two things I wanted to do most were play in a band and see the world.

You of­ten kick off gigs by promis­ing the crowd a proper New­found­land kitchen party. What is that, ex­actly?

It’s a cel­e­bra­tion that started gen­er­a­tions ago, when the kitchen would’ve been the big­gest and warm­est place in the house. Peo­ple ate there, stud­ied there, par­tied there. Kitchen par­ties were al­ways musical, es­pe­cially in my house, be­cause my par­ents were both mu­si­cians. It was al­ways very in­clu­sive. In New­found­land, the best ac­cor­dion player is the one who fills the dance floor. The best singer is the one who gets ev­ery­body to sing along.

Where are Canada’s row­di­est fans?

Any­where in Saskatchewan. I think it’s be­cause they have a sur­vival­ist men­tal­ity like New­found­lan­ders. They’re con­tent to work like dogs, but they play harder than any­one else.

In the book you de­scribe how Great Big Sea was booked to play a Canada Day con­cert in 1997. You learned they planned to in­tro­duce you by telling a New­fie joke. That didn’t go over well.

No. We felt slighted. As a band, we’d spent most of our ca­reer putting that era be­hind us. Then we show up for a na­tional cel­e­bra­tion in Ot­tawa, and that’s how they want to por­tray us?

Has the stereo­typ­ing of New­found­lan­ders im­proved since then?

Yes. Our province oc­cu­pies a rad­i­cally dif­fer­ent space in the coun­try than it did 20 years ago. We’ve gone from be­ing this un­known thing in the ocean to a beloved des­ti­na­tion. Most peo­ple see New­found­land as a jewel in the crown of Canada. St. John’s has be­come a culi­nary hot spot.

Do young peo­ple back east still feel the New­found­land/Canada di­vide?

I was part of the last co­hort whose par­ents lived in the coun­try of New­found­land. That di­vi­sion is a gen­er­a­tion or so fur­ther away, but the phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion of liv­ing on an is­land doesn’t go away. There’s still a fas­ci­na­tion with the main­land— it’s the thing you ei­ther as­pire to or try to avoid.

Any words of wis­dom for up-and­com­ing Cana­dian pop stars?

I’m re­luc­tant to give ad­vice. I was asked once, “If you could talk to the 16-year-old boy on the bridge in Penny Har­bour, what would you tell him?” I replied, “I wouldn’t say a word. He has to fig­ure it out. That’s part of the fun.”

A New­found­lan­der in Canada is avail­able Oct. 17.

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