Alan Doyle is back to turning concert halls into giant Newfoundland kitchen parties

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Alan Doyle is staggered by the tenacity of the ticket buyers for his “Rough Side Out” tour, which comes to the GTA next weekend some two years after tickets originally went on sale. He reports that the overwhelming majority have hung on to their seats instead of seeking refunds, and says he couldn’t be more grateful.

“A tremendous show of support. The Summerside, P.E.I., show (the second date on the tour) sold out the day it went on sale, in November of 2019. It was to be held in April of 2020, but actually didn’t happen until two weeks ago on Nov. 10 — and every ticket that was sold remained sold,” Doyle said. “That’s an incredible show of support for me personally, but also for the music community.”

Alan Doyle (centre) says he and his band can't wait to deliver their upcoming GTA concerts, for which fans bought tickets two years ago.

Doyle says the same has held true for his GTA stops at the Mississauga Living Arts Centre next Friday, and two nights at the Danforth Music Hall Nov. 27 and 28. “Much like the other gigs, the Toronto fans have held onto these tickets for the better part of two years, and I’m super grateful for that show of support, and I can’t wait to light the place up on the Danforth!

“I thought I had a clear understanding for how important playing live music for live people was. I thought I knew how important that was to me. I clearly didn’t, because it left a hole in my heart and soul not to get to do it, in a way that I couldn’t have seen coming,” he says, of being off the road for 20 months.

During the forced downtime of the pandemic, Doyle kept busy producing and recording new material, releasing a compilation EP of original songs by himself and fellow Newfoundland artists Fortunate Ones, the Ennis Sisters, the Once and Rachel Cousins called “Songs From Home,” as well as a mix of new originals and traditional Newfoundland songs titled “Back to the Harbour,” recorded with bandmates Cory Tetford (guitar and vocals) and Kendel Carson (fiddle and vocals) at Joel Plaskett’s studio in Dartmouth, N.S.

“We’ll be doing a few of those tunes (at the upcoming shows), and some tunes from the Great Big Sea era, a few tunes from my other records and even some older stuff that I used to sing when I was a kid. It’s really just engineered kind of like my band is, to be able to play anything on a whim and to just respond to whatever the room wants, to give everyone the greatest night out of their lives!”

In other endeavours, Doyle is preparing to make his theatrical debut, starring in a new musical at the Charlottetown Festival next year. He has contributed some original music to the production as well. “Tell Tale Harbour” is a stage adaptation of the Canadian film “The Grand Seduction,” the story of a small Newfoundland fishing village attempting to lure a new doctor to town and hopefully, by extension, a new factory.

He is also sharing composing duties for a new CBC-TV show developed by his pal, Newfoundland comedian Mark Critch (“This Hour Has 22 Minutes”) based on Critch’s younger years, titled “Son of a Critch.”

“I’m generally keeping myself engaged and doing probably about five per cent more than I should all the time,” he laughs.

Alan Doyle (centre) amps up the energy, calling for a fiddle solo from bandmate Kendel Carson.

Doyle recognizes that the Newfoundland and Labrador components of these projects along with those that he injects into his records, his three books and his live performances make him an ambassador of sorts for his home province, and it’s a role he’s happy to play.

“Early in Great Big Sea’s career, we kind of realized that, for better or for worse, we were gonna be the first thing that many people knew about Newfoundland and Labrador. We didn’t ask for it. We didn’t mean for it to happen, it just did. And we found ourselves in, say, Albuquerque, New Mexico, telling people about Newfoundland and Labrador, because they had no idea why there was four guys in front of them with accordions instead of guitars!” he says, laughing at the memory.

“So that role of representative or ambassador, if you will, has been part of my whole adult life. Now, I’ve been lucky enough to share that responsibility with the other guys in Great Big Sea for a long time, and I feel like now I share it with Tom Power on CBC Radio, or with Rick Mercer, or Mark Critch or Allan Hawco. And I feel it’s the kind of thing that we all are aware of and respond to in different ways. Being a representative of our little hamlet out there I think it’s fair to say is important to all of us, and we are delighted to have an opportunity to brag about where we’re from, and delighted to invite people to come there and to host them when they’re there. So it’s something I take very seriously, but I try not to look like I’m taking it very seriously — it’s not my job, but it is my job.”

Song written by Ron Hynes

Doyle continues to work on expanding his audience as a solo performer, further building on his initial exposure to audiences in the U.S. and Europe from back in the Great Big Sea days. His U.S. tour schedule for the spring already includes sold-out nights in Seattle, Phoenix and Chicago. And next fall will see him playing a weeklong cruise through Europe on the Rhine River (with Matt Andersen opening), followed by a string of dates in Germany and the Netherlands.

“I started playing in the U.S. 20 years ago (with Great Big Sea). So we just consistently built an audience. Same as in Canada, in a way. I’ve never had the kind of career where we’ve had a huge hit song and suddenly we’re on ‘The Tonight Show’ or something, and it just blew up the next day. It’s always been slow and steady. It felt like the first time we played Saskatoon we had a hundred people and the second time we had a few more. And the same is true for Phoenix and the same is true for Chicago, and the same is true for New York and Boston.”

For Doyle, no matter where he’s playing, his goal is to turn concert halls into giant Newfoundland kitchen parties, and he says that remains the fundamental objective for next weekend.

Alan Doyle performs with opening act Cory Tetford Nov. 26 at the Mississauga Living Arts Centre, and with special guest Kelly Prescott Nov. 27 to 28 at the Danforth Music Hall.


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