Sunday 5 October 2014

Book ~ "Where I Belong" (2014) Alan Doyle

From Goodreads ~ Singer-songwriter and front man of the great Canadian band Great Big Sea, Alan Doyle is also a lyrical storyteller and a creative force. In "Where I Belong", Alan paints a vivid, raucous and heartwarming portrait of a curious young lad born into the small coastal fishing community of Petty Harbour, Newfoundland, and destined to become a renowned musician who carried the musical tradition of generations before him and brought his signature sound to the world. He tells of a childhood surrounded by larger-than-life characters who made an indelible impression on his music and work; of his first job on the wharf cutting out cod tongues for fishermen; of growing up in a family of five in a two-bedroom house with a beef-bucket as a toilet, yet lacking nothing; of learning at his father's knee how to sing the story of a song and learning from his mother how to simply "be good"; and finally, of how everything he ever learned as a kid prepared him for that pivotal moment when he became part of Great Big Sea and sailed away on what would be the greatest musical adventure of his life.

Filled with the lore and traditions of the East Coast and told in a voice that is at once captivating and refreshingly candid, this is a narrative journey about small-town life, curiosity and creative fulfillment, and finally, about leaving everything you know behind only to learn that no matter where you go, home will always be with you. 

I've been a fan of Great Big Sea over the years and have seen them many times in concerts.

I first discovered them in the mid 1990s when they were just starting out.  Sister Sarah, my friend, Leanne, and I had gone to the Exhibition Grounds here in Toronto for an east coast show (Sister Sarah and I are originally from Nova Scotia) and Leanne is from Vancouver (she moved back there in 1997).  Cape Breton fiddler Sandy McIntyre played in the beer garden before the show at the bandshell.

Leanne (with Sandy McIntyre fiddling on stage behind her) - mid 1990s
Leanne and I - mid 1990s

The Irish Descendants were headlining and Great Big Sea was opening for them.  We'd never heard of Great Big Sea and they were good!  And cute!  And yes, the Irish Descendants were good too.  Alas, I didn't take pictures of Sister Sarah or the show.

Alan Doyle was one of the members in Great Big Sea.  He seems like a nice guy and I was interested in reading his story.  I figured it would be a good one and it was.

Doyle tells of growing up in a small fishing village just outside of St. John's, NF.  His family (dad, mom and four kids) didn't have much but they didn't realize that because they had what everyone else had (or didn't have what others didn't have) ... they didn't even have a bathroom for many years.  Most of Petty Harbour is related to them somehow ... kinda cramps your style when you're looking for a girlfriend because most of the girls are either your cousin or Protestant.

We hear what it's like working on the wharfs when the fisherman would come in and his job was to cut the tongues from the codfish and try to sell them for pocket money.  Things improved when he got a job when he was 16 in St. John's in a museum as an interpreter.  Plus he started picking up gigs in bands, which eventually led to him meeting Séan McCann and forming Great Big Sea.

I liked the writing style ... I thought it was honest and humorous.  I bet Doyle would be a fun guy to sit and have a beer with.  The dialogue is great because it's written phonetically and I could hear Newfie accents when I read it.  At times, there is a bit of swearing.  Throughout the book there are pictures of when he was younger ... with his oversized glasses and peach fuzz moustache, he was stylin' (NOT!).  Ha!  His mom's bread sounds and looks amazing ... I haven't seen "double" bread since I left Nova Scotia.

This was a fun yet interesting book about an east coast Canadian who started with not a lot financially and has done well for himself.  I'd recommend this book.

Update:  The author was recently at the reference library talking about his book and Gord and I went.  Nice guy!


Teresa said...

Love Great Big Sea too! Sounds like an interesting read.

Lisa said...

I'm looking forward to picking up a copy of this book at the end of the month at a book signing with Alan Doyle in Boston. And hey, I'm originally from NS too :)

Teena in Toronto said...

We're going to see him soon too.

John Mutford said...

Oh dear, I had the peach fuzz moustache and I used to cut cod tongues for money. The only thing I can't relate to was the Protestant girls comment. The part of the island I was from strictly Protestant. I was a teenager before I discovered that any Catholics lived outside of Ireland, let alone right there in the very same province!

Teena in Toronto said...

Maybe you should write a book too, John :)

Nikki in Niagara said...

I have this book and can't wait to read it! My priest is a Newfie and always talks about his job as a cod fish tongue extractor (did every young man in NL do that?). We went to see Great Big Sea play at the Niagara Falls New Years Eve Concert a few years back and they put on an awesome show!