DOCTORS IN THE HOUSE
As they release a long-awaited greatest hits album The Saw Doctors reflect on almost a quarter of a century at the forefront of Celtic rock by Colm O’Hare
It’s hard to believe the Saw Doctors have been around for over 20 years, bringing their unique blend of rock and roll, good-time anthems and native balladry to audiences from Canada to Australia and in between. It’s even harder to believe that – until now that is – they haven’t released a comprehensive Best Of or Greatest Hits collection. To Win Just Once…The Best of The Saw Doctors features 22 of the Tuam legends’ best-loved songs, including long-time live favorites such as, ‘That’s What She Said Last Night’ ,‘I Useta Lover’, ‘Joyce Country Céili Band’ and ‘Never Mind the Strangers’. It also includes a live version of their emigration–themed anthem, ‘N17’ and their unique take on the Sugababes’ hit, ‘About You Now’ which hit number one on the download charts when it was released.
For guitarist, songwriter and founder member, Leo Moran, putting out a compilation album was a case of ‘it’s now or never’, as he explains. “It wasn’t something we were ever mad into doing over the years,” he says. “When you’re out playing live, you’re always looking forward to the next gig and the next album. Being in a band, we’ve found it’s always good to have a sports person’s attitude – the last game doesn’t matter, it’s the next one that counts.”
However, apart from the fact that 2009 marks the 20th anniversary of that first breakthrough single, ‘N17’, they were persuaded that it might be a good idea to put together a retrospective while the demand was still there. “One of the factors that was put to us was that downloading might become even more prominent in the future and if we didn’t put it out now it might be too late,” explains Moran. “Dave Robinson, who compiled it, did a good job with choosing the songs and with the sequencing which is important. If it was left to the band, it’d become a committee decision and we’d still be sitting around talking about it.” It also provided an opportunity for the band to re-assess their output with the benefit of hindsight. For Moran, who along with Davy Carton is one of two remaining original members, re-visiting the band’s recorded legacy brought mixed feelings. “There’s always a few songs you think you wouldn’t mind recording again,” he muses. “A lot of the songs have evolved into something different over the years. But it’s hard for people to enjoy listening to their own music anyway. I rarely sit down and listen to our old albums. But if you’re in a bar and you hear something over the sound system, you get to hear it the way a punter would and that’s always interesting.”
Apart from releasing over half a dozen albums and almost 20 singles, the Saw Doctors have seen many live triumphs over the past two decades. Just some of them include appearing at the Finsbury Park Fleadh in London alongside The Pogues, Christy Moore, Van Morrison and a host of other big Irish names, guesting with Neil Young and Pearl Jam at Slane Castle in 1993 — and then there was the famous Tuam homecoming, not to mention countless American sojourns over the years. “They were all great occasions for us and I remember them all very well,” says Moran. “America is probably where a lot of the great memories come from. Would you believe we’ve been to America almost seventy times? We always try and play proper, normal venues rather than just the usual Irish places. You want to be known as an Irish band that plays songs, not a band that plays Irish songs. Vince Power brought that London Fleadh idea to America for a couple of years and it was a great audience for us. You had people like John Prine, Lucinda Williams, Billy Bragg on the bill. We’re off to Australia early in 2010 and that should be interesting given the huge numbers of Irish that have moved over there in recent months.
When it comes to the songwriting approach of the Sawdoctors, Moran says there is no particular formula or method. “We write in all kinds of different ways and we’ve probably tried everything. You have to be in the humour for it – songs are like birds, you have to let them land on your shoulders. But essentially we’ve a pot of lyrics and a pot of tunes and we try and put them together – the well-known songs always manage to sound like the Saw Doctors.”
Despite their massive and sustained success over the years, the band members have stayed true to their roots, Moran still lives in Tuam. Was there ever a feeling that they were ignored or even looked down upon by the Dublin-centred media? “There was a bit of that in the early days alright, but I completely understand it in a way. We all grew up in the town of Tuam and it has a kind of an urban attitude. We thought we were that bit cooler than the guys who had to milk the cows before they came to school.” “But I still think we should probably get a bit more acknowledgment in the music press. We’re doing a 17-date UK tour, starting at the end of November. There are very few Irish bands who are doing what we’re doing, packing out venues like the Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, the Manchester Apollo and the Barrowlands in Glasgow.”