This is the Face that tells the Story. This is the Boy and the Man, the Boy in the Man. This is You.
Love the Face, love the Story. Love the Boy and the Man, the Boy in the Man. Love You.
I could probably just stop right here - especially if I added in a heartfelt Happy Birthday, Dear Alan. You did well. You are loved.- with all that needs to be said having already been said. But you know I won't. And you know why.
Writing your birthday blog has been exceedingly, achingly difficult this year, not because of an inability to come up with your Biggest Accomplishment (as ever, the only challenge there is deciding which of your many jewels of achievement shines most brightly and lastingly) and not one bit from any lack of potential Advice for you in your Year To Come. Plenty of possible options there too, considerably more so than in most years.
But for all the plethora of sweet and easy choices, for all the sincere resolve to be honest and brave, direct and maybe even concise, to refuse to circle around the heart of the matter or bury the Truth beneath an obscurant pile of graphics...still, this year's words do not come easy. You know why this is too. Let that suffice as halting Preface.
I'll begin with your own words, then, written this past December as part of a recap of the initial three legs of your So Let's Go Tour, your own retrospective, introspective view of the events - and of one special, seminal show, that tour-closing Halifax show last May - during your prior Birthday Year:
But more than just a good show, that evening announced a special arrival of Spring for me, as I felt that the rebirth of my life in a band was for real. If the whole tour hinted people might still want to hear me sing and play outside the GBS Mothership, this night in Halifax confirmed it. I never really confessed to anyone how terrified I was at the thought of GBS retiring after Sean’s departure. Touring in a band in a van or bus with a gang of fellow fools is not just a musical passion of mine. It has become my way of life. I still love the rolling cavalcade as much as I did when I dreamt of it as a 10 year old. And when GBS finally rolled with a crew and side players on a bus all over the place, I took a knee and thanked my lucky stars, and have thanked them every night from the bus bunk since. As it became more and more evident that the GBS Mothership would be tied up, I wondered if that treasured way of life for me was over.
On that night in Halifax, the very city that gave me and the boys our first Canadian applause, I sat in the dressing room after the show and let myself believe that I might actually get a second chance. Alan Doyle and The Beautiful Gypsies it is. I’m ever grateful to Kendel, Cory, Shehab, Kris, Todd and Paul for sharing their time and talents with me. Off we Go. - December 29, 2015 blog entry
I did see your terror, not so much because it showed as because I was looking for it, expecting it. I don't know how anyone could have seen you on so many stages and across so many miles, seen how your eyes fill with the blaze of the spotlight and how that dazzling smile spreads across your face as the cheers grow louder, without understanding the ruling passion of your heart, as well as the fear that would strike that heart when faced with the threat of losing the way of life it most desires.
Even so, even expecting that terror, I believe I may have underestimated it, at least to a degree, perhaps because of how much time I have also spent out there in the midst of those same people you were afraid might not want you outside the GBS Mothership. I knew better than that. I knew they would still want you, and even more than that, I knew- I will always know- with a firm and unshakeable (and a bit terrifying in its own right) Faith that you would be willing to do whatever it took, work however hard you needed to work, pay whatever price was demanded of you, and make whatever sacrifice you thought might be required, to make sure they would still want you.
So you have. Yes, Alan Doyle and The Beautiful Gypsies it is.
Let's call that my somewhat-less-halting secondary Preface and see if I can possibly live up to all that sincere resolve.
Biggest Accomplishment (hey, I did say "direct and maybe even concise"): Because it's so fresh (and awesome) in memory, I'm strongly tempted to say your biggest accomplishment of this Birthday Year is the amazing feat you just pulled off with organizing, publicizing, and most of all catalyzing the YYT4YMM Fort Mac Fundraiser here in St. John's. All day long you were simply everywhere, like a pack of Orphan Black clones, doing absolutely everything that needed to be done for as long as it needed to be done to make the fundraiser the brilliant success that it was. And anyone who can persuade and coordinate more than 30 Newfoundland musicians across three venues with nary a hitch deserves nothing but praise. And more than a little bit of awe.
But as thoroughly impressive a feat as it truly was, and as much as it speaks to your pivotal role as a Leader in NL's Arts/Media Community - again and again, I heard folks saying all day and all night long that nobody but you could have brought so many people together and gotten them to do so much, a sentiment with which I completely agree - I still think your Roving Festival is indeed a Grand Accomplishment yet not your Biggest.
The same goes for another Grand Accomplishment of yours this year, your Where I Belong Audiobook, which excels beyond all reasonable expectation, or at least beyond the reasonable expectations of someone who doesn't know you and might think that a fellow who had never done such a thing before in his life likely wouldn't be able to do it to perfection. But then, that unknowing person probably wouldn't have read your book either - if they had, they very well might have had more expectation and considerably less surprise. I have some small idea of how hard you worked to make your Audiobook the polished and professional work of oral art that it is. Well done, Alan - again, grandly done. And again, still not your Biggest and Best.
That Biggest and Best Accomplishment honour goes, in my own opinion, to your Juno Weekend, all of it, the entire Weekend - your well-deserved nomination for So Let's Go, your spectacular Songwriters' Circle performance, your charming award presentations on both nights, and not the least of all the connections you made and the bonds you forged every waking moment (which was pretty much every moment) you spent in Calgary.
No, you didn't win the Juno, not this year, but if you must lose an award, it's good to lose to a Living Legend who has just won the Polaris in the year she turns 75. Better is the simple fact it that is you - Alan Doyle, not the Great Big Sea Guy - who was nominated for this Juno Award, nominated for an excellent album you yourself created and crafted. Best of all is that this is merely your first Juno nomination...next time, let there be no competing Living Legend and that Juno will belong to you. Even without the hardware (for now), you were a Force to be reckoned with at this year's Junos - the darling of the Songwriters' Circle (as ever and always), the most charming of presenters, and from all that I saw and heard, the hardest-working artist in attendance. You won the Juno Weekend, Alan. I cannot wait to see the fruits of your labours.
Having found my way to being fairly direct and concise, now comes time for honest and brave. Choosing Year-To-Come Advice for you was a bit tricky this time around, but at the end of the day, I figured that much of what I'd thought to say about such nuts-and-bolts matters as number of gigs per year needed for financial feasibility, costs of travel compared to size of venues (and venue payouts), bandmates' ability/willingness to tour as much as you might choose to, the risks vs. rewards of GBS-ification of your sound, the danger of needing something so much that you let yourself be pressured into doing things that are far removed from the person you see yourself as being (now there's a mine field - not quite that honest and brave yet), that whole thorny issue of what each band member's "main gig" truly is, etc., are likely all matters you've already considered and have well in hand. Well, maybe not that last one. I admit to being rather tempted to say more about that, but it's a resistible temptation. Maybe next birthday, if it's still pertinent.
No, I am instead going with Bridges. Yes, Bridges. The last time I was in Saskatoon and walking across one of that lovely city's many bridges, the thought occurred to me that one of the likely reasons you love Saskatoon as much as you do (not to mention San Francisco) is because of the abundance of bridges there. You are a man who appreciates and values connections, perhaps most of all connections across otherwise-isolating expanses, be they literal or metaphorical, and you are most of all a thoughtful and careful man who would invariably see the wisdom of preserving such connections whenever possible. In short, you are the antithesis of a bridge-burner.
This is a laudable quality, prudent and wise. But - and doesn't nearly all advice begin with that telltale "But"? - the intact bridge, the unburnt bridge, if you will (with that bridge's still-standing status often enduring only because of diligent effort and impassioned dedication) is of sadly little value if it is not used, there being scant effective difference between the burned bridge and the abandoned bridge. Caution preserves; courage crosses.
Time after Time I have seen you achieve whatever it is you have set your mind and heart to doing; you have a perceptive mind and a good heart, and when you engage both fully to the task at hand, you are indeed Unstoppable Alan. I believe in you, believe that there is no bridge that is beyond you, no equivalent force capable of altering the Path of your choosing. But what really matters, all that really matters, is that you believe this too.
Even though I probably believe it enough for the both of us.
Your Birthday Year, or at least parts of it, certainly nowhere near all of it. This is already almost too big to open properly - if someone could put all of what you accomplish in a given year in one place, the Internet might explode.
After having started work on your Audiobook in late Spring/early Summer, one of your first Summer public appearances was on a "Music In Words" panel with other author/musicians at the Luminato Festival in Toronto. Serious, thoughtful. articulate you among your literary peers. I loved every minute of it.
Not long after that, you and your Beautiful Gypsies headed off to the BlackSheep Festival, returning to Germany for the first time in more than a decade (actually, I think the last time was 2001, when Murray filled in for Darrell), and from there off on your own pilgrimage to the Valley of the Somme to meet up with Allan Hawco and Mark Critch and work on the film project that follows the path of the Newfoundland Regiment in World War I (and which is scheduled to be shown this Memorial Day, July 1st).
You wrote passionately and powerfully about those three days in your own blog (so much so it makes me long for more such blog entries from you, though I understand why you write there so infrequently these days...and I'm surely not one to be wishing for what I don't myself manage to do), words which are all the more timely to repeat here now, considering how soon that documentary will be airing:
Hard to quickly describe the pilgrimage that followed over the next three days. I think of myself as a student of Newfoundland history and I thought I had an understanding of our country’s involvement in the Great War, and the ripple effects of our victories and losses there. But until I walked in the trenches at Beaumont Hamel, knelt at the gravestones of hundreds of Newfoundlanders buried in a foreign country, and received a grateful handshake from the descendants of a century held Belgian family farm that was saved from occupation and destruction by a single Newfoundlander, I really had no understanding at all.
We were a proud and determined country at the time of WW1, eager to contribute and make our mark no matter how small our numbers compared to the larger allied forces. But we were also very vulnerable as a nation with a tiny population, and the loss of hundreds of our finest changed the course of history for us forever. I look forward to a time when I have thought about this trip more, so I can better relate to you mix strange mix of emotions about it all. Reverence. Anger. Frustration. Pride. All culminating in the singing of the Ode to Newfoundland on Wednesday, July 1st at a ceremony on the very ground where the promise of the country my parents were born in, was killed in a matter of minutes. - July 6, 2015 blog entry
And then you sang the Ode, Newfoundland's own Anthem of the Heart, at Beaumont-Hamel, the final resting place of so many of Newfoundland's best and bravest, on the day that honours their sacrifice and laments their loss. Exactly as you should.
From there it was back to Canada: Summer Festival Season was in full swing, and so were you and your Gypsies, heading first to play (finally, after getting rained out the year before) the legendary Stanfest and then on to Thunder Bay for their Bluesfest. Not too long after that, you would find yourselves on the Very Big Stage at Cavendish in PEI, one of the largest music festivals in the country. Every review I read about these three performances was glowing, which was absolutely no surprise at all. After all, you do have the Best Band On The Go. And that Best Band has you.
More Summer Festivals and Gigs followed after, as they always do, including an opening slot for Blue Rodeo at Belleville's Empire Rockfest (with the much-anticipated show-closing all-hands collaboration), as well as a solo guest appearance with BR on the George Street Festival Stage.
There was also Elora's Riverfest, Hagersville Rocks, Haliburton's Forest Festival, Burlington NL's The Gathering, and a spectacular night at Toronto's CNE, what I thought was the Best Show of the Summer.
Again, there you are, right in the midst of your peers.
Shining on in the Hagersville sunshine.
And just as brightly as part of the Newfoundland Trifecta in the Hagersville Rock Stars spotlight.
The AD Trio was as lovely as their setting on a floating dock on Bone Lake in Haliburton.
And with the full complement of Beautiful Gypsies, you were breathtaking at an awesome show for a huge (and hugely appreciative) crowd at the CNE.
You know how much I love that smile on your face.
Back Home again, there was a grand night out when you and Kendel joined Cory and his Critical List mates at the Fat Cat.
And then that awesome weekend in Halifax, where you played an AD Trio popup gig at the famed Lower Deck during CCMA weekend. Your indefatigable efforts and irresistible charm those few days have led to more than a few great nights out in the present, and so much more yet to come in the future. I saw (and heard) much of what you accomplished that weekend. You can be even more amazing offstage than on.
Songs About Imbibables - Past, Present...And Future.
Before you all headed out as the Opening Act on the big, nearly-cross-Canada Barenaked Ladies Silverball Tour, you managed to fit in a short but sweet little run of Northeastern US shows.
Then there was the broadcast of your stellar CMT Live At The Edison show, along with the release of the brand new 1,2,3,4 video with Ed Robertson.
You also got to sing your Dream Of Home from Home on CBC-TV's The National - with a seagull choir accompaniment. How friggin' cool was that?
And sing the anthems (impeccably) at an IceCaps game.
(You and your prodigious Anthem-Singing Skills would soon be called up to the Bigs, leading to your gig in Edmonton at the Habs game...erm, make that at the Oilers game against the Habs...along the BNL Tour road)
But that's getting ahead of the Story. Before that, before the opening show of BNL's Canadian Tour in Prince George, your impressively-well-done Where I Belong Audiobook came out, along with the book's paperback version.
The first sight I saw when I walked into the rink in Prince George was a sweet one.
And it just got sweeter from there.
(Just as a reminder, the Victoria crowd is cheering their hearts - and lungs - out for you as you return to the stage to join BNL for Lovers In A Dangerous Time. Hence that much-loved smile.)
Happy Birthday To Ed in Kelowna.
And a Hilariously Happy Halloween to all from Medicine Hat.
Alan the Flappy Toucan.
Getting White-Hatted. Now you're an Honourary Calgarian. ("I'm a Cowboy...")
When was Winnipeg ever anything other than a wonderful show? The perfect post-birthday gift.
Putting on the spectacular show on the hallowed Massey Hall stage. Next time will be your headline.
With cheering Massey Hall crowd, plus pick toss and catch.
Hard news and sad hearts near the end of this Road. Godspeed to Ron.
Oh, Alan, dear Alan.
Singing Ron Home, together.
Honouring a personal Hero.
As 2015 wound down, it was time for the annual Rockin' Big Give fundraiser for NL charities, held for the first time in St. John's herself. Who better to headline this auspicious occasion?
Wielding your hockey-dance guitar to raise money for all the deserving local causes.
Petty Harbour Hockey-Dance Rock-Star Boy.
After the NYE gig at Niagara Falls, there were the three brief but intense Winter and Spring mini-tour legs, covering ground across Ontario and all over the US Midwest, Northeast and South, the first starting off with your brand new Signature Song.
After you and your Gypsies did a deadly set at the Ann Arbor Folk Festival, the mission was to get at least a glimpse of you onstage with Joan Baez. And there you are. You always peek.
Definitely a memorable vantage point at Cincinnati's Ludlow Garage.
You found the time - you always find the time - for a fun charity gig back Home before heading out again.
Goin' down South, for the first time in a very long time.
I'll remember Asheville more for Dream Of Home - and the "not that confused" - but this was a lovely Wave Over Wave.
Two nights in Hoover, Alabama, including Paddy's Day. One of the most unique venues and audiences of yours I've seen thus far. You handled it all with expert skill and polished grace. They loved you. Wise of them.
And then there was Decatur. Sold out to the doors.
You were joined by a lovely, classy lady with a big, beautiful voice in Florida.
Happy MUN to you too. You sure packed that dance floor.
Before the last swift run of shows in this Birthday Year of yours came the Juno Awards. In your own inimitable way, you made them your own. Bravo, Alan.
The last run of shows of your Birthday Year, starting out on Holy Ground.
More new music in Cleveland.
One of the beautiful new songs you co-wrote with Cory for his upcoming album.
And a beautiful, too-seldom-heard favourite.
I love your continued willingness to do special requests just as much as I love hearing those requests
And these two from Northampton, which together tell their own story: The brand new AD&TBG song and the classic GBS song, both done on a stage once owned by GBS in the Past and now owned by your new band in the Present. Looking forward to the Future chapters of this story.
I think for the rest of my life whenever I hear this song I will have an impulse to go vote for the Much More Music Top 10 Videos. Among other things. And I'll still be glad every time I hear it.
How awesome is any year in which you wind up with a sandwich - a really good sandwich, mind you - named after you like you did in Londonderry?
You raised the roof and lowered the floor - and closed out your Spring Tour - at the NB Heart Truth fundraiser in Moncton, first with one of your new songs and then with your classic GBS tune. Deadly combo.
What a way to wrap up your Birthday Year: Pouring every bit of your energy and enthusiasm into the YYT4YMM Roving Festival Fundraiser, becoming the Face and the Heart of that impressively successful effort.
What could be the sweetest of all here at the end. I saw the moment when utterly exhausted you - on the run all day long, talking, singing, encouraging, organizing, explaining, picture-taking, hugging, smiling, dear and weary you - looked over to your left...and let yourself relax into the Familiar. It's been a very long time since I've seen you do that. I could barely stop myself from bawling then. No need to stop myself now.
Happy Birthday, Dear Alan. You did well. You are loved. This year, every year.