Great Big Sea’s Alan Doyle goes solo

Boy On Bridge? More like man on a mission.

As a part of Canadian Celtic-rock favourites Great Big Sea, Alan Doyle has sold more than 1.2 million albums in Canada alone. And while they have played before thousands upon thousands of people over the course of their career, you could probably not find a more humble, appreciative group of musicians.

Over the course of the past 20 years, the members of Great Big Sea have broken away from the band to pursue individual endeavours. Sean McCann has released two solo records while Bob Hallett published a book entitled Writing Out The Notes: Life In Great Big Sea.

Now this isn’t to say that remaining Great Big Sea member Alan Doyle has simply stood idly by while his bandmates have found a voice outside of the band. Doyle has pursued acting opportunities in film and television, having appeared alongside his good pal Russell Crowe in Ridley Scott’s Robin Hood while also guest starring on CBC television’s Republic of Doyle.

And now, Doyle has turned his attention back to the world of music with the release of his debut solo record Boy On Bridge. Although it is a solo record in the respect that it does not bear the Great Big Sea name, the record is truly anything but a solo album.

With songwriting contributions from Gordie Sampson (a native of Cape Breton who penned Carrie Underwood’s massive hit Jesus Take The Wheel) and musical appearances by the likes of Blue Rodeo’s Jim Cuddy and blues-rock guitarist Colin James, you could say that Doyle gets by with a little help from his friends.

Asked why it has taken him so long to throw his hat into the solo album ring, Doyle jokes that it was largely laziness that held him back all these years.

“Aside from my laziness though, timing in relation to Great Big Sea activities is always something that has to be considered. And it so happened that I knew that the band was going to be on a bit of a break before we begin celebrating our 20th anniversary together so everything neatly fell into place,” Doyle says.

Though timing is understandably important when you have to take the touring juggernaut that is Great Big Sea into consideration, Doyle says that Boy On Bridge was largely assembled at his leisure. He says that while a couple of the songs featured on the record date back a number of years, the bulk of the material was written with this project in mind.

“I had the opportunity to travel to Nashville to write with Gordie and also wrote a couple of songs with Hawksley Workman in Northern Ontario. In all honesty, however the record kind of snuck up on me. I didn’t intentionally set out to write a record but 10 months into writing, I ended up having 20 songs recorded. Not having a goal or deadline to keep in mind took a lot of the pressure off. It was rather liberating to write for the sake of writing; writing for sheer joy and nothing else.”

In addition to having made a record, Doyle shares that the process of writing and recording Boy On Bridge was captured for a documentary that will be hitting the film festival circuit later this year. Having recently seen a rough cut of the film, Doyle admits that it was a nice stroll down memory lane for him.

“I am so glad that we had cameras rolling throughout the process. The film is a wonderful document of the whole drill of the record.”

As Doyle marvels at the fact of his solo record finally seeing the light of day, talk turns to the good fortune that has greeted Great Big Sea for the past two decades.

“If there has been one constant over the past 20 years, it is that Sean, Bob and myself never strayed from our goals, no matter whether it means making records on our own or making movies or writing books. While we are very happy to perform together, these interests outside of Great Big Sea help make playing music together that much more satisfying.”

Doyle is the first to admit that the group is blessed with some of what he called “the most dedicated fans” of any band in existence today. Were it not for them standing by both the group as a whole and their individual endeavours outside of the band, Doyle says the group would basically have gone nowhere fast.

“Great Big Sea has enjoyed the support of the most dedicated, patient and tolerant fans of anyone in the music business,” he says. “It seems as though no matter what we do as a group or individually, they are enthusiastically standing behind us. Our fans have been so good to us, it is almost impossible to express the gratitude for the life we have been given.”

 Article published in June 6, 2012 edition of the Times & Transcript