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Straight outta Tuam

Leo Moran of The Saw Doctors told David Hennessy about playing the Feis at the same time as Bob Dylan, bringing the Sam Maguire to the Royal Albert Hall and being taught by Michael D Higgins.

One of Ireland’s best known bands, the Saw Doctors will return to London’s Eventim Apollo later this year.

This follows their sold-out show at London’s Eventim Apollo in November last year.

The band will also welcome back former member Pearse Doherty on bass guitar, wooden flute, and penny whistle.

This summer The Saw Doctors are playing fifteen shows across UK, Europe and North America.

The Saw Doctors’ 2023 comeback tour, following a five-year hiatus, was a resounding success, marked by sold-out shows in Dublin, London, Manchester, and a powerful performance at Electric Picnic festival.

And it continues as they have sold out their recent Dublin gig at Fairview Park on Saturday 29 June (capacity 7,500).

They have also just released new music with the single, Man In The Moon.

Formed in 1986 in Tuam, Co. Galway, The Saw Doctors rose to prominence when they supported popular bands like The Hothouse Flowers and The Stunning.

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However, it was when Mike Scott of The Waterboys saw them playing at the Quays Bar in Galway in 1988 that he decided he had to have the band tour with them.

Scott would produce the now iconic anthem N17: A song about an Irish emigrant longing to be driving on the N17 national route.

The band have achieved eighteen Top 30 singles in Ireland including three number ones with I Useta Lover topping the Irish charts for nine consecutive weeks in 1990.

It still holds the record for the country’s all-time biggest-selling single.

Known for their live performances, the Saw Doctors have a cult following especially here in the UK where songs like N17 get especially poignant renditions.

But it could all have been different. Although now iconic, N17 made little impression when it was first released.

Had their second single I Useta Lover Her not been such a success, that could have been the end of their record deal.

However the band are now just two years off being on the road for four whole decades.

Are you looking forward to coming to Hammersmith in October? “Oh, yeah. We played there last year. The venue is unbelievable.”

Those comeback gigs must have been special after the break you took..

“Yeah, the break probably did us more good than harm and people were interested in seeing us again, there was a great appetite so that’s been working really well for us.”

You have just released the new single Man in the Moon…

“We didn’t know what to expect but it got a very favourable reviews.

“I’m pleasantly surprised to tell you the truth.

“I had no expectations of putting out the songs because usually when you put them out over the years, the ones you’d expect to go well, don’t and the ones that you don’t expect, go well.

“I had no expectations of this but it’s been nicely received.

“It’s no big hit or anything but people like it.”

Did you think I Useta Love Her would be such a big song for you when you wrote it?

“Not at all, you never have a clue.

“You just throw it out.

“I mean, it was kind of a last ditch second single at the time because N17 hadn’t done well and we were just basically fulfilling our contract.”

Really? So could it have ended there?

“Well it was a two single deal we had so, like I say, the first hadn’t gone well. If the second one hadn’t gone well, there probably wouldn’t have been a third.”

Not on that deal but would you have continued anyway?

“Well, I like to think we would.

“We were enjoying ourselves and we were getting a bit of a following.

“And we had done the support tour with The Waterboys so that was a great boost.”

Is N17 always special when you play it in the UK or states to emigrants who relate to it so much?

“Absolutely, I think you have people coming to gigs who wouldn’t go and see us at home.

“And people relate to it.

“But any song you have that people see themselves in or connect to: That’s all you want really.”

You have always had such a strong and loyal following here in the UK…

“Our first trip over was with The Waterboys, so that was an amazing platform to start off from.

“Then Channel 4 did a documentary on us and that got us a wider audience over there as well.

“We’ve just kept going back year in year out except for a few years in between and we’ve had nothing but hospitality and enthusiasm in England, and Britain in general.

“We’re very lucky.”

The Waterboys were so key to your rise, weren’t they?

“Absolutely. It was such a privilege and an exciting place to be at the time and we were, very, very lucky.

“We’ve been very, very lucky.”

I’d say they were great tours to be on..

“Oh, absolutely. It was our first ever tour and we had a Volkswagen camper van,

“There was six of us in it and everybody was smoking except me.

“There was a limiter on the accelerator. We could only do 50 miles an hour and that would be downhill.

“It was some craic, a great adventure.

“Every day we’d arrive at a venue that we’d only ever heard of in the music press and we were so impressed and excited, it was brilliant.”

Did you ever have any problems in the dark days of the troubles with anti- Irish sentiment?

“I never experienced anything but hospitality in England in all my years.

“I never ever felt anything negative towards the Saw Doctors.

“No, I tell a lie. Once.

“We played support at Knebworth one time.

“Genesis were the headline act and this is actually funny.

“It just shows you the times that were in it.

“It would have been early 90s and there was a huge crowd of 100,000 people there and none of them knew who we were.

“We did one of the songs, Presentation Boarder or whatever and there was this ripple of applause and then in the silence, somebody shouted up- The timing was brilliant- ‘Go home to f**k, ye fenian bastards’.

“But it was comical.

“It was so daft, it was comical.

“Because we weren’t singing rebel songs or anything.

“That’s the only time that we ever had any kind of reference towards anything negative.”

You have Pearse Doherty back with you again…

“Yeah, Pearse is brilliant.

“He has such enthusiasm and energy.

“He played a couple of gigs with us last year in Tuam and Glasgow and you could see that people just loved to see him.

“He was never really far away from The Saw Doctors, we were always friendly with him so it’s a great extra element now this year.

“We have a completely different show again this year which is great for us and hopefully good for the audience as well.”

The line-up has changed over the years but the engine room of the Saw Doctors has always remained constant. That is  you and Davy Carton who have both been there since the very start. What is it about the two of you that works so well?

“We just have special chemistry that we’re able to be creative with each other and that’s a rare enough thing.

“We do it with Padraig Stevens as well.

“The three of us are able to be creative with each other.

“And I’ve tried writing songs with other people but it doesn’t always work to say the least.

“There has to be some kind of deeper connection rather than just sitting down with somebody trying to come up with a song.

“It’s hard to explain but you know it when you see it.”

Did you ever play in the Mean Fiddler?

“Our first ever gig outside of Ireland was in the Mean Fiddler, we supported the Stunning and of course we were awful excited because at that time, the late 80s, Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle and all those acts had been regulars in the Mean Fiddler so we were very excited to be going there with the Stunning. That was some night.

“Our first ever gig abroad: The Mean Fiddler.”

And did you return to do your own shows there?

“We played in it afterwards but only the once.

“If we were in London on a night off, we used to go up there.

“It always had good stuff on.

“It was a great place.

“Vince (Power) was a big loss.

“He was very good to us, and he was very good to bands and music in general.

“He was a real music fan.”

You did a lot of stuff with the late music promoter Vince Power who passed away this year, didn’t you? I’m sure he promoted your 2012 gig at Under the Bridge in Chelsea…

“Yeah, you’re dead right.

“And of course the Fleadhs.

“We were at the Fleadhs: Most of them if not all of them in the 90s.

“And then there was the Feis in 2011.

“We were in a tent at the same time as Bob Dylan was on the mainstage and we thought, ‘Oh God, this is going to be a disaster’.

“But the tent was full, it was actually the best gig of the year that we had.

“Who would have thought?

“People came into the tent and they were very excited and they had amazing energy.

“It was brilliant.”

Because Dylan would have been a big influence on you, and Bruce Springsteen..

“Oh yeah, we stole bits from all over the place.

“We just love all kinds of music really.

“I love 60s pop music as well.

“I love country music.

“I love Springsteen obviously.

“I love Tom Waits.

“I love all the punk stuff.

“We’re very lucky to have been able to borrow so many great bits and to end up being a part of the whole big picture.

“I mean, we’re only a tiny little pixel at the edge of the frame but it’s great to be a part of it, we’re delighted.”

What has been a particular highlight of your time in the band?

“We did the hometown show in Tuam in ’91 and we repeated it last year for the first time.

“Just to be able to bring a festival atmosphere and an event and a crowd and a sense of occasion to the town where you grew up and where I live was great.

“Such a pleasure to do.

“We were delighted with that really of all things, I think, because it’s a small town here and we don’t get that many big events so to have something that’s a little bit out of the ordinary every now and again is good.”

In 1998 Leo and Padraig Stevens released The First Fifteen, a collection of songs featuring local artists that celebrated the Galway football team following the All- Ireland football success.

“Yes, we rode that circus as well.

“We got to play in the hotel where the team went after the match in ’98.

“We had half the team up on the stage so that was a very special time as well.

“Then we were able to bring the Sam Maguire to the Royal Albert Hall.

“Coincidentally we were booked in the Albert Hall on 12 October ’98 and our great friend who isn’t with us anymore, Dympna Burke, figured out getting the loan of the cup and we got it over to the Royal Albert Hall with John O’Mahony, the manager, and four of the Galway players.

“That was an amazing event.

“I’m sure a lot of people in the audience mightn’t have known exactly what the Sam Maguire was but they knew it got people excited.”

Of course you’re a Galway band but one of your songs has become a real Mayo anthem. I’m talking about The Green and Red of Mayo..

“That’s funny, isn’t it?

“Because there’s loads of great Mayo songs and they could really choose any amount of them but our one seems to have become the song of choice for the big events. That’s lovely.

“We’re very friendly with all the Mayo people 364 days of the year so that’s not a problem.”

What inspired that song?

“It was our first ever visit to Clare Island and we were coming back in on the boat and it was absolutely beautiful.

“It was Sunday morning and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky.

“We were just looking across at Croagh Patrick and the other hills and thinking, ‘Oh, there’s the heather and there’s the grass. That must be where they got the flag from’.

“So we started writing a poem.

“Gerry Mulholland, who passed away last year, was with us.

“He helped us write the song as well.

“That was always a lovely connection we had with Gerry.”

When did you know it was music for you?

“Well when I was a teenager, it was a pipe dream but I didn’t expect it to come true.

“But the dream has come true.

“It’s amazing for it to have become my life and my friendships and my lifestyle and has brought me to places all around the world that I would never have gotten to otherwise.

“The fact that I’m going on 60 this year and we’re still able to go out and do it and have people come to see us and have people singing along at the gigs, it’s really been a dream come true. Many dreams come true.”

The live shows are what you have been known for and probably what it has been for you to a large extent, right?

“Oh yeah, I love the live shows.

“I like recording as well, and making up songs.

“The live show’s amazing when you see people smiling and singing and shouting.

“There was one person over the years that said they preferred our records than our gigs,” Leo laughs.

Who was that?

“I don’t know who it was.

It was a long time ago, I didn’t know the person anyway.

“They were just saying that they preferred the records but that person was the complete exception in 37 years.”

You wrote that song Michael D rockin’ in the Dail about our President but of course it was long before he was President.

You knew him long before he was elected, didn’t you?

“I went to college and my first lecture in college was Michael D and he really opened up our minds.

“It was such a different experience from the Catholic education we had got in the CBS.

“Now we got a very good education but Michael D’ sociology lectures were eye opening about how to see the world and how every country has their own models and different ways of doing things.

“It was a great course and I became friendly with him. That was 1983.

“Not friendly with him, just knew him so kept the connection all the way up and always threw him a vote.

“He’s such an eloquent man, such a wise man.

“I know he’s not supposed to do too much of it as President but when he speaks about things abroad, he’s always very knowledgeable and always very wise about it so I’d always be inclined to listen to him and value his opinion.”

After all these years, do you still enjoy performing as much as ever?

“Well I think after the break, we’re appreciating more than we ever did.

“We’re doing fewer gigs so every gig is kind of a big occasion now.”

You’ll be playing for a long time yet though?

“I certainly hope so.

“We’re taking it kind of season by season and we haven’t booked anything for next year.

“We have stuff up until December and I suppose once October/ November comes around, we’ll start having a look at next year and see what’s possible.”

The Man in the Moon is out now.

The Saw Doctors play Manchester Castlefield Bowl with guests Billy Bragg & The Undertones on Saturday 6 July.

They also play Kelvingrove Park in Glasgow on Wednesday 7 August and London’s Eventim Apollo in Hammersmith on Thursday 31 October.

For more information, click here.



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