Alan Doyle is a busy man. The Newfoundlander plays Wolf Redmond on the Canadian TV series “Republic of Doyle” and another part as Dingy — with Will Smith, Colin Farrell and an old chum and co-star from “Robin Hood,” Russell Crowe — in the upcoming big-screen adaptation of Mark Helprin’s book “Winter’s Tale.” Then there is his first solo album outside his group Great Big Sea: “Boy on Bridge,” named for his childhood acting credit in “A Whale For the Killing.” Finally, there is “XX,” a two-disc, 40-track greatest-hits collection spanning Great Big Sea’s 20-year history.
The best thing about rollicking Great Big Sea concerts is that the crowds are almost all Canadian expats — hipster doofuses never caught on, no?
Yeah! And it is kind of fun to have a band that’s just on the outside of what’s going on. I remember going to the states for the first time, opening for this band called The String Cheese Incident. And I’d never heard of them in my life. But the theater was sold out to the doors, and I talked to the band members, and they had 100 theaters in the states they could sell out. No press. No singles. No videos. And I thought, “How awesome is that? What a great career to have, this sort of thing that just lives on its own!” And Great Big Sea has always been that way, especially in America.
You started out in St. John’s sailor’s pubs. Were the crowds all, “Arr! Play us a sea chantey! Arr!”?
In a word, yes. I’m serious! But that’s where we cut our teeth playing music, in those pubs, where all the dockworkers and fishermen historically would go. So we were born out of a rummy, sailor-town pub culture. And I’m grateful for it, an apprenticeship in pubs like that, where there’s a lot to compete with — fellas talking to fellas, fellas talking to girls, darts going on and pool tables. And if you can win their attention? And keep it? I remember when we got to play our first theater, and all the seats were facing us. I was like, “Holy s***! They’re already looking at us! This is going to be easy!”
Why is “XX” divided evenly — one disc folk, the other pop?
We just very loosely categorized stuff. But the coolest thing about compiling it was, it was a brief moment of patting ourselves on the back, I suppose. Like, “That’s a good song. And that’s a pretty good song, too. Hey, we’ve got 40 pretty good songs!”