I come from a small peninsula in Canada called Nova Scotia, which means New Scotland in the Latin. It’s a mix of many different cultures including the founding people of Nova Scotia, the Mi’kmaq, as well as the Acadian’s, the British, the African Nova Scotian’s and the Irish & Scottish to name just a few.
Our culture is steeped in art, writing, storytelling and my favorite, music.
Music is such a part of who I am and musicians have inspired me on so many levels to reach high, overcome the odds and to find the joy within.
Whenever you are feeling heartbroken, excited, lonely or pumped up, you can count on music to be there for you supporting your emotions every step of the way.
In a previous podcast I told the story of two young girls, Lilly and Courtney, who are advocates for persons with disabilities as well as huge music lovers. They had one major dream in life and that was to meet Celtic Rock singer and songwriter Alan Doyle from the band Great Big Sea.
(Photo of Donald MacLellan, Violin, Transatlantic Zodia Ensemble, 2010)
If you have never heard of Alan Doyle be prepared to fall in love. Not only is he an amazing musician but he is also an author and an actor and starred alongside Oscar Award Winning Actor, Russell Crowe, as one of his Merry Men in Robin Hood (2010). Most of all he is an amazing story teller and a downright awesome person!
I wanted to reach out to Alan to ask him about his own love of music and how he used that passion as a young boy, living in Petty Harbour Newfoundland, to transcend into the incredible performer he is today.
Me: I just want to thank you for helping two of my biggest supporters, Lily and Courtney, make their dream come true. That was pretty awesome! Those two girls are huge music fans, how did it feel to find out that their biggest dream in the entire world was to meet you?
Alan: It’s fantastic, and I am only happy to do it because I was that kid myself. I was the kid that stayed up late to watch my uncles come home from playing concerts and unload their van across from my grandmother’s house. I would eavesdrop on them talking about what the best part of the night was. I was the one that would hitch hike to the ghouls and stand up on the car and watch the band in the club do sound check.
Even in university, I was the guy that sat up on top of the student centre at Memorial University and watch the guy wheel in the P.A system for the concert that night. I knew every bit of gear. I feel like I know those people and I haven’t lost the feeling of being a fan.
Me: It’s really exciting when you can help people achieve their goals and dreams. When they can see that they can actually overcome their minds, it’s like watching magic happen in their lives.
I was reading an interview where you were talking about The Boy on the Bridge. Can you tell my readers a little bit about how you brought magic into your life being from Petty Harbour, Newfoundland? What did that bridge represent for you?
Alan: One of the coolest things about growing up in Petty Harbour, and I didn’t know this at the time, was that I never had to bring magic into my life. I had to avoid it for God sake..haha!
It was all fantasy and myth! Larger than life people and amazing stuff happening every day! You kind of got to live a little bit in an ancient time and you kind of got to live like an adult when you were ten. We used to get up in the morning and go down to the wharf and cut out cod tongues with the fishermen. All these salty old dudes going around looking like super heroes to me. It was just an amazing young life.
I never spent a lot of time looking for something to do, not until I got well into my teenage years when I wanted to see things outside my little town. As a kid it was already a Narnia. It was already a playground. So I feel really lucky that I had that.
I think I would like to say something to follow-up on what you were talking about in helping people achieve their goals or help make someone’s wish or dream come true. The coolest thing is, if you are in a lucky enough position, like me, to help someone have a dream come true, is that you instantly see that they go on to the next one. As soon as they get it they go on to something else, and that is just great! I love being a part of it in a small way, a part of some kind of cycle that makes people’s worlds a little bigger.
Me: I was on Netflix recently looking for something to watch and I saw Robin Hood as one of the options. I hadn’t had the opportunity to check it out until then and, as I was watching, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “That Merry Man looks really familiar!” I pulled out my phone to Google the cast and was so excited to see that it was you I was watching in this star studded movie. I had a really proud Maritime moment. I am curious to hear about your experience going from playing music and touring as a musician to staring in an action movie alongside Russell Crowe. That must have been quite and intense transition.
Alan: It’s as crazy as you think! Of course it all started with meeting Russell. I met Russell over ten years ago now in Toronto when he was acting in a movie called, Cinderella Man.
Previous to that he had done a movie in Canada called, Mystery Alaska, a hockey movie with Kevin Durand (a great big fella from Thunder Bay) and Scott Grimes, (a little red haired fella from the Boston area). They all played in a hockey movie. Kevin, being a good Canadian boy, had been a fan of Great Big Sea so he introduced Scott, Russell and whole bunch of other people to the band. Fast forward a little bit and here I am giving out a trophy at the NHL awards in Toronto, and so was Russell. We met backstage and he knew about me as much as I knew about him.
He asked if I would be interested in writing some songs. I said, “Sure, that’d be awesome!” So we started writing some songs and the next thing I know I am in Australia producing a record for his band and I go on tour playing music with him. We wrote some music for a couple of movies, and then some music for a Great Big Sea record, and then some music for my record. One day he calls me out of the blue and asked if I would like to come read for a movie.
I said “Yeah, but what’s the part?” Russell told me they were looking for an Irish musician guy who can play the Lute. Well, I can play the Lute so I went to L.A and sat around a table and read for the part and got it. We all went to Australia for a month before filming and trained. We did fight training and horse training and archery. It was great fun!
Me: Did you find it physically challenging to take on that role?
Alan: Yes, I ended up getting in the best shape I have ever been in my life…haha
The physical stuff was challenging but nowhere near as challenging as the stamina required to shoot a movie that long for that intense of a period. We were four months shooting that movie and it was a long time working on one thing. It was really fun but I felt myself getting tired in a way I never felt tired before.
The other thing was, I was doing my first ever professional acting gig on one of the biggest movies ever made and my first scene in it, in my very first acting gig..haha..is directed by Ridley Scott and staring Russell Crowe and Cate Blanchett..haha.
Me: Hahaha..no pressure, right?
Alan: Haha, no pressure at all!
I don’t know, I always just try to bring the truth. For example, in that situation, I made no secret around the fact that I was a rookie on the set. I didn’t try to lie to anyone and say that I went to Julliard or something. I went there every day with my eyes and ears open. I brought all the talent that I have and tried to not to worry too much about the talent I didn’t have. I came to learn very quickly that people in the movie making business are aware that it takes a whole bunch of different talent to make a really good movie, especially one like that. You need people who are brilliant actors and dialogue coaches. You need people who are stunt people, you need musicians, costume designers and horse trainers. There was a vast variety of talent. That was one of the best parts about it, meeting so many incredibly talented people who had nothing in common, no skills set in common, but were working on the same artistic project. That was incredible.
Me: I started listening to Great Big Sea when I was in University.
Alan: Did you go to X?
Me: I didn’t go to X (St. Francis Xavier University), I am a NSCAD University graduate (Nova Scotia College of Art & Design), but I am from Antigonish so X is a big part of my life.
Alan: Craziest town in the world!
Me: It’s one of them I’m sure..haha
Alan: I’m not making that up, I’m serious! You can go back and I have said it in hundreds of interviews, Antigonish, Nova Scotia is the craziest party town in the world. Nowhere has come even close in my experience.
Me: It’s funny, because I remember when I was in University, I think Antigonish had made it to the top ten list on the David Letterman show as one of the top ten parties of the year for BURMAC (a local hockey game).
Alan: I am telling you right now man…haha..I have seen stuff go down in that town that I have never seen anywhere else. We would always finish the gig and go sit on that little bridge across from the pizza place, what is it called? The Wheel?
Me: Yep, the Wheel Pizza, best pizza in Canada!
Alan: We used to sit there and watch the show, it was fantastic!
Me: Yep, I think there is a good screenplay going to come out of that town some day!
I was thinking about how the music industry has really changed a lot since then. There has been a huge shift in how music is distributed when the digital age came about. I have spoken to quite a few musicians about this, but you have really stayed strong and steady and I was wondering if you were to give some advice to the young up-and-coming artists out there, how did you stay focused and ride the huge shift that happened in the music industry?
Alan: I just stayed focused on the thing I loved the most and that was playing concerts. I got into the music biz because I wanted to give people a great night out. Part of that, if you want to be in the music business, is you learn to make records and you learn to write songs. You learn to produce records, you learn to tour and you learn all the stuff you need to learn, but really all I wanted to do was give people a great night out! (Haha)
As luck would have it that was the one constant that remained during the whole thing. In the 50s people lined up to go see Buddy Holly. In the 60s they lined up to see the Beatles, or whoever. In the 70s they lined up, in the 80s they lined up, in the 90s they lined up, and people are still lining up to go see a band stand in front of them and do their thing.
Everything else in the music business has change, but that has never changed. It hasn’t changed in probably three centuries.
Me: Is there anything that you saw that stood out as a key to your success when you were faced with any kind of adversity in the music industry?
Alan: Stunning good looks (Haha)..and modesty..haha!
Me: Haha…now there’s a combination!
Alan: I honestly think the reason I am still here is because the people who have come out to spend a night with me have enjoyed it. They came to the theatre, to the rink, to the festival and they walked away having a good night. I think, honest to God, that is the reason why people still come. No matter what age you are, no matter where you come from, everyone wants a good night out!
Me: Well, you always look like you are having an incredibly good time! Every time I see any footage of you, even when you are talking politics, you always just seem to be having a good time no matter what you are doing!
Alan: I honestly think, whenever I am called upon to do things, outside of playing concerts, whether it’s act in a movie, write a book, talk about writing a book, talk about politics, talk about the State of Newfoundland in the country, or whatever it is I am asked to talk about, I find it a little ridiculous!
I am just kind of thrilled to be asked..haha. I mean I feel like I could offer a little something but I feel a little chuffed that of all the people they could have asked they chose to ask me..haha! I guess I still haven’t lost that innocence of being the centre of attention. I find it incredibly rewarding when people have in interest in what I have to sing or say.
I oddly feel a since or responsibility around the whole thing. Even when someone buys a concert ticket I feel that because it is like a contract. They spent money, they got a babysitter, and they took off work or got off school and they chose to come see me. That is not a thing I take lightly. My time is precious I assume everyone else’s is too. So I am grateful and I try to give them a great time out!
Me: I met a few different youth in the audience at your show. It’s great to see such a young audience being exposed to your style of music.
Alan: Somehow if we are not careful we can become disconnected to youth and I think you have to actively try not to. I suppose that is what you are doing, and what I am doing all the time, it keeps us young. At least that is what I find. I used to always be the youngest guy on the bus in Great Big Sea and I have become very quickly to being one of the oldest guys on the bus. (Haha)I am always thrilled when there are younger people around. Actually I love when there are older people and younger people together. I like the notion that the generations are not that far apart.