Alan Doyle wrote a lighthearted book in the middle of a pandemic to lift your spirits
Alan Doyle, the lead singer of Great Big Sea, is a proud Newfoundlander. He normally spends his time travelling the world, performing for fans and catching up with pals. But the COVID-19 pandemic changed all that. In All Together Now, Doyle tries to capture what it's like being in a Newfoundland pub: having a laugh and telling great, winding stories with your pals. All Together Now is a collection of heartwarming and uplifting stories, which recount some of his biggest successes, biggest failings and best memories.
Doyle spoke to Doug Dirks in Calgary on The Homestretch.
Why did you want to write a lighthearted book in the middle of a pandemic?
To lift my spirits and hopefully lift other people's down the road. I swear to God, that's exactly how it went down. I found myself stuck home, like everyone did in the winter. In the month of May, the guys from the publishing house asked if I could do something that we might be able to release this fall. I said I had this idea that I could probably put together: my contributions to a night at the pub, here in St. John's, where all my friends will be gathered around telling stories. And I said, "I can probably do that quickly." It may be a thing that's fun for me to do, because it'll have forced me to be productive and to do something. Then maybe that'll be fun for people when it comes out.
It's all just to give a general idea of some of the more amusing missteps of my life.
I tried to include a cross-section of stuff, from my very young life growing up in Petty Harbour, to my adult life, travelling around the world in bands — and also some current stuff from my home life as a dad. It's all just to give a general idea of some of the more amusing missteps of my life.
There's a chapter in the book called Anne Murray and the Grey Cup.
Great Big Sea had played part of the Grey Cup ceremony weekend in Toronto [in 2007]. I went to the game and then we made our way down, emboldened by our band passes. When the Saskatchewan Roughriders won the cup, I said to a couple of buds, "Let's go down on the field." And lo and behold, we ended up down there. Then the next day, we were doing a fundraiser for Gilda's House. The headliner was Anne Murray. To make a long story short, the whole thing came full circle. My friend, he said to me, "Alan, you just laid your hands on the Grey Cup and Anne Murray, within 24 hours. That has to be the most Canadian day in history."
It was a thrill for me, of course, because I'm a massive Anne Murray fan. All Doyles in Petty Harbour are massive Anne Murray fans, and have been since long before I was born. Let me put it this way: When I got to stand next to Anne Murray in that last chorus, it was one of the only times in my life that I literally verbalized, between lines. "Please, somebody take a picture."
What's your pandemic experience been like?
In the winter, when we got shut down, I found it very hard on the head. We spent the better part of a month of April just coming to the horrible conclusion that this wasn't a temporary thing. We were going to be in this for the long haul. That was awful. Then I spent the month of May writing this book. I found that OK, because it gave me some focus and something to do.
Then, when the summer arrived, I had the first summer off since 1981. I was 12 the last time I didn't work in the summer. I absolutely loved it. I loved travelling around Newfoundland with my family. We had no cases for almost a month here. It was very safe and it felt like a beautiful gift.
Now, you've already written a book during the pandemic. How's the songwriting going?
We're working on some stuff. I just did a fun thing with a bunch of friends called Songs from Home, which was a record myself and four other Newfoundland acts in isolation did over the spring and summer.
There's nothing in the world I miss more than touring right now.
I was just in Nova Scotia, when the bubble was still available to us. I worked at Joel Plaskett's studio, recording some folk songs that I'm going to release in the new year.
What do you miss more right now: being on stage or hoisting a pint or two in a pub, swapping stories with your buddies in a country like Poland, which you talk about in the book?
There's nothing in the world I miss more than touring right now. I do love it. And luckily for me, the two things you mentioned often go hand in hand.
This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.