He didn’t achieve it singlehandedly, but if you said that Alan Doyle is among a handful of people who has brought Newfoundland– its life and its music– to the world, you wouldn’t be wrong. His band, Great Big Sea, have written themselves into Canadian cultural history with their extensive work, and Doyle’s excellent first book, the memoir, “Where I Belong,” carried on this tradition. We’re thrilled to have him lay even more colours on the story, this time through his love of records, and the small joys of the 45.
I was born in the last deep breaths of the 1960’s in a small fishing town, Petty Harbour, a short drive but a world away from Newfoundland’s capital city St. John’s. Life was simple. Some would say we were poor. I wouldn’t. Most of my musical memories kick in a decade later as the 1970’s were all but done. I was under the most awesome tutelage of my barely older brother Bernie as he would tape late night radio from Mainland Canada and the US on a 3rd hand dual cassette player he’d rigged to a wire hanger antenna he had somehow poked through a crack in the windowsill and raised above our roof. It made for a nasty draft in February, but at least we got to hear cool tunes.
He would go on to become an engineer and it’s no surprise as he was always taking stereos apart and making them work better, somehow. We had a few uncles who were in their twenties when we were young teenagers and they regularly donated their old speakers, record players and most importantly, records. While my mom and dad had Clancy Brothers 8 Tracks, my uncles had Cream and Average White band records: both Friggin’ Cool. The 8 Tracks and LP’s were easy to store as Bernie built a set of shelves in our shared bedroom to fit them perfectly. The 45s were a bit more of a challenge. Ever resourceful, Bernie cut a square out of a sheet of plywood and the butt end off a broken hockey stick to stack the small records in an orderly and very Canadian fashion.
It was in these 45s we learned that Kiss had one song, ‘I was Made for Loving You’ that sounded more like disco than metal; this dude Michael Sembello played the electric guitar with both hands on the fret board; and if you played Olivia Newton John’s ‘Please Mr. Please, Don’t play B17’ on the slower speed, it sounded just like Dan Hill singing the same song (seriously, try it).
These 45s were a big part of the body of music that I tried to copy when learning to play guitar. I learned that I was way better at playing rhythm than lead guitar and had a knack for adapting rock songs like ‘Hit me With your Best Shot’ to acoustic guitar. I also learned I had a much lower voice than most of the bands I liked. Try as I might to sing the high notes in ‘Cum on Feel the Noise’, I was too much a baritone, even then. I could not sing ‘Every Breath you Take’ along with Sting but taught myself to play the funky and unusual chords. Me and Bernie would joke about how, one day, I’d get to be Sting’s guitar player as we drifted off to sleep and dream impossible dreams.
But of course, in Petty Harbour, or anywhere, you never know what’s possible, do you?