Musical men at work

Alan Doyle, Russell Crowe appear on ‘Republic,’ will perform in concert tonight and Thursday

Published on August 3, 2011
Great Big Sea frontman Alan Doyle (left) and Academy Award-winning actor Russell Crowe pose on the set of CBC TV’s “Republic of Doyle” Tuesday morning. The pair, along with Crowe’s wife Danielle Spencer, actors Kevin Durand and Scott Grimes and Irish pop/folk duo Size2shoes, will perform two sold-out musical shows at the LSPU Hall tonight and Thursday. — Photo by Tara Bradbury/The Telegram

It was never a matter of whether or not actor Russell Crowe and Great Big Sea frontman Alan Doyle would release another record together — it was simply an issue of when.

Crowe and Doyle have been penning songs together since meeting in Toronto in 2004, releasing “My Hand, My Heart” a year later.

The pair’s newest album, “The Crowe/Doyle Songbook, Volume III,” was released on iTunes Tuesday morning and by evening, had hit the No. 9 spot in Canada.

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“The title comes from a delusion we have that we are more prolific songwriters than the reality. We’re working on Volume 7 as we speak,” joked Doyle.

Doyle and the New Zealand-born Crowe were preparing to release some music when the perfect opportunity to do so arose.

Doyle guest-starred in an episode of CBC-TV’s “Republic of Doyle” last season, and arranged with show creator/producer Allan Hawco to offer Crowe a part, along with actors Scott Grimes and Kevin Durand. Doyle, Grimes and Durand had played merry men to Crowe’s Robin Hood in the 2010 Ridley Scott movie of the same name, and had been looking for an excuse to get back together on screen.

“It was something that each of us wanted to happen since we walked off the ‘Robin Hood’ set,” Doyle explained. “I told Allan, if you guys can come up with an amazing story, the guys will probably be interested in doing it. They came up with a story the boys just couldn’t resist.”

Crowe, Doyle, Grimes and Durand were on the “Doyle” set on the southside of St. John’s harbour Tuesday, but neither was giving any hints about the episode’s storyline.

Doyle is reprising his role as Wolf Redmond, an ex-con, while the others play his old comrades. Crowe, dressed in a hoodie and jeans, would only say he plays a thug.

“If I told you what the characters really were, then the reveal of the episode gets destroyed,” Crowe told The Telegram, smiling as he lit up a cigarette.

“Republic of Doyle,” starring Hawco and Sean McGinley as a father-son team of private eyes, is currently taping its third season on location in St. John’s.

The show has attracted some high-profile guest stars in the past, most recently taping an episode with Shannon Tweed as a kidnapper.

Academy Award winner Crowe, whose films include “A Beautiful Mind” and “Gladiator,” has been giving the “Republic of Doyle” crew tips, helping with the narrative of the story. He’s not surprised the show is doing well, he said, adding he’s in awe of the effort put into it, particularly by Hawco.

“The thing about this show is the energy of all the individuals on the show. Everyone on the crew and everyone on the production side is fantastic. Godspeed to them and I hope their success keeps going because it’s got to be one of the best current imports that Newfoundland has, and it brings a lot of attention to you.”

“It’s a joy whenever you get an opportunity to work with the best of the best,” added Hawco. “I just feel grateful that I’m even on the set and that it’s my show.”

Once they knew they’d be together for the “Republic of Doyle” gig, Crowe and Doyle — who had planned a tour of the States together last year that had to be scrapped when Doyle injured his back and needed surgery — made plans to release their album online and with two shows at the LSPU Hall in St. John’s.

With Grimes and Durand, Crowe’s wife Danielle Spencer and Irish pop/folk duo Size2shoes also on the ticket, the shows, happening tonight and Thursday, sold out in 36 minutes.

People have complained about the lack of tickets for the shows, which are fundraisers for the Hall, but it was an intimate concert in a small venue that they were looking for, Crowe explained.

“That’s part of the beauty of it. We could have sold quite a few thousand tickets, but that’s not the point. We didn’t want to be putting a band together or stuff like that; we just wanted to be our own band and keep the songs on that level. In a venue of that size, we’re hoping that we’re going to make those shows really special and that the people there will remember them for a long time.”

Four of the tunes on “The Crowe/Doyle Songbook” are influenced by Australian writer Tim Winton and his book “Dirt Music,” and written for a film adaptation which is currently in the works, Doyle said, with Colin Farrell and Rachel Weisz expected to star.

The acoustic demos on the record are Crowe and Doyle’s interpretation of what a family band in the book might sound like, including two guitars, a mandolin, two male voices and one female one.

The female singer? Spencer, a singer/songwriter in her own right, marking the first time she and Crowe have recorded together.

While it may be strange to have three voices singing a love song together, not in harmony but all on the same note, the result is haunting, with a Peter, Paul and Mary feel.

“You could say that about all the songs, that there’s a certain strangeness to them, but it’s the sound we’re going for,” Crowe said.

The songs also have Doyle’s musical stamp all over them, with an obvious Celtic vibe — something Crowe is also fond of.

“The things that he likes are the things that I like,” he said of Doyle. “I like a good story and I like a good tune. I like to know that the songwriter has spent more than a little time crafting what I’m listening to.”

When “Republic of Doyle” filming wraps up this week, Crowe, Spencer and their two boys — Charlie, 7, and Tennyson, 5 — will spend some time playing tourists around St. John’s.

While Crowe was here once before, in 2005, it’s the first time for the rest of his family, and he’s looking forward to sightseeing with them. He loves this province, and it’s clear it’s not just a polite interest, since he’s able to recite historical tidbits about Joseph R. Smallwood and the construction of local churches that show he’s done at least a bit of research. Doyle’s former job as a museum tour guide has also proved helpful, he said, smiling.

While he reckons a recurring role on “Republic of Doyle” won’t be an option for a while, since he’s got five consecutive projects awaiting him once he leaves, a trip back to St. John’s is something he’s looking forward. The release of future records with Doyle is, too, especially since the digital age makes it easier to release albums without disrupting other work schedules.

As long as he’s acting, he’ll have a foot in the door of the music industry, Crowe said.

“Some people don’t understand this, but creativity sources from the same place. To me, it doesn’t really matter what the creative pursuit is, as long as in my life I have something,” he said. “There’s something fantastic about doing gigs and getting that immediate response from people, but there’s also something fantastic about sitting and planning out the arc of a character and then 18 months later watching it with 1,000 people.”

“The Crowe/Doyle Songbook, Volume II” is a digital-only release. It’s available on iTunes now, and will be released on Amazon and other digital outlets Aug. 9.

The third season of “Republic of Doyle” will premiere in January.