Nfld. & Labrador

'We got it in the can in the can': Alan Doyle spearheads bathroom recording to benefit John Mann

The track Home for a Rest was recorded in a bathroom at the site of a benefit show for Spirit of the West singer John Mann, who has early onset Alzheimer's.

Track recorded in restroom during benefit show for Spirit of the West frontman who has Alzheimer's

Singer-songwriter Alan Doyle says his own music was influenced by John Mann and Spirit of the West. (CBC)

A new version of a Spirit of the West hit was recorded in a restroom before a Vancouver gig to support ongoing care for the band's lead singer, who is living with early onset Alzheimer's.

"We got it in the can in the can," said singer-songwriter Alan Doyle of the recording, which came together with the help of other Canadian musicians at the Nov. 19 benefit show at the Commodore Ballroom.

"'I knew when that gig was coming up, that it was going to be a special day," Doyle told Weekend AM about the show in support of John Mann, who was diagnosed in 2014 at the age of 52.

In order to have something from the benefit that would last beyond the event itself, Doyle planned a recording of one of the band's best-known songs, Home For A Rest.

Doyle and members of his touring band laid down a bed track while in Halifax for a gig, and vocals — and a video — were recorded at the Commodore ballroom on the day of the show itself with dozens of the musicians who played on stage later that evening.

Doyle a longtime fan 

Doyle has a long history with Mann and Vancouver-based Spirit of the West as a solo musician and as a member of Great Big Sea. 

But his introduction to the band actually came from Much Music in the late 1980s. Doyle said he was excited to see music videos from a band playing the traditional instruments he was familiar with in an entirely new way.

John Mann of Spirit of the West has early-onset Alzheimer's. (Supplied by Jill Daum/Spirit of the West )

"The first band that we knew in Canada that was getting on television, and even getting on the radio, and playing acoustic instruments really aggressively and punky was Spirit of the West," Doyle said of the band, which he described as a huge influence on him as a young musician.

"The way they chose to play very, very, delicate, fragile acoustic Celtic instruments was incredible to me," Doyle said. "It was very influential, yeah, probably one of the most influential bands of my lifetime."

'A show of love and support

The musical tribute to one of the band's biggest hits was planned around the November show, which Doyle described as "a night of entertainment, as a show of love and support and fundraising for John and his ongoing care."

With the bed track already recorded, Doyle and audio engineer Peter Green set up shop in a second-floor men's washroom at the venue, bringing musicians in and out during pre-show rehearsals to record on a mic lent by famed music producer Bob Rock, who was in town working on another project.

We found a bunch of black drapes to put over the urinals.- Alan Doyle

The unusual lavatory location for vocal recording was selected because it was enclosed, quiet and as far as possible from the rehearsal space, Doyle said.

"We did drape it nicely. We found a bunch of black drapes to put over the urinals and the like," Doyle said. "We had Sarah McLachlan coming in there. I couldn't ask Sarah to go to just any old men's can to sing a song."

Along with Doyle and McLachlan, the Home For A Rest cover includes Jim Cuddy (Blue Rodeo), Ed Robertson (Barenaked Ladies), Barney and Dustin Bentall, Colin James, and Craig Northey (Odds).

Geoffrey Kelly and Tobin Frank from Spirit of the West also played, along with some of the band members' children.

A GoFundMe campaign raised $22,567 to help cover the expenses of John Mann and his family. (Lisa MacIntosh Photography/GoFundMe)

A GoFundMe page set up to support Mann and his family as his disease progresses and the amount of care he requires increases had surpassed its goal after raising $22,567 as of Friday. 

As for Mann himself, Doyle said he was at the show and appeared to enjoy the evening.

"He just kept saying to me that it was lovely, the whole day was lovely," Doyle said. "Anything that keeps him connected to his friends and his musical friends that love him is good."