It’s only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it

Leo Moran of The Saw Doctors told David Hennessy that it was great to see the interest in the recent reissue of their debut album, how it was Mike Scott who made the band consider having to be a full-time band, about the day they were daunted by playing at the same time as Bob Dylan.

One of Ireland’s best known bands The Saw Doctors reached number three in the charts in Ireland with a re-release of their debut album  thirty years after its original airing in 1991.

If This Is Rock and Roll, I Want My Old Job Back rmade it to the No 1 spot when first released in 1991.

Guitarist and vocalist Leo Moran told The Irish World: “It was nice to walk down memory lane.

“It was very enjoyable and it was lovely to see that people are still interested in it.

“It’s hard to believe it’s been thirty years but it is now and that’s it.

“It does feel like yesterday and in another way it feels like a different lifetime as well, a different kind of a time entirely.

“But it was great fun and lovely to see that people are still interested in this at all. That’s a great old buzz.”

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.

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.

“It was magic really.

“He came in and saw us in the Quays and said, ‘This band is something I’d like to have with us on tour  as support act’.

“The Waterboys were huge and there was a buzz about them.

“For us to have been that close to them was amazing.

“So that was brilliant for us and the Irish tour led to the British tour.

“And that was just amazing, that kind of kicked us into having to consider being a full-time band.

“That really gave us a great platform. We played in front of the Waterboys’ audiences in Britain so that was a great platform for us.

“And then during the British tour he said, ‘I’ll produce your first single, I’ll produce N17 for you’.

“So it was a huge confidence boost.

“It wasn’t just a confidence boost, it was a brilliant gift to us really.”

And Scott would be no easy taskmaster when he produced the now iconic anthem N17: A song about an Irish emigrant longing to be driving on the N17 national route.

“Mike drove us hard but I think we got the desired result. After being up all night in the studio, we went to an early-house called The Windjammer where we had a feed of creamy porter and went back to Fergal McGrath, our friend and ex-drummer’s house, crashed out on the floor for a few hours and drove back home in Davy’s car, exhausted.

“Oh, yeah, he worked us hard. But it was great that he worked us  hard because he really did get the best out of us.

“Because we weren’t always the most diligent bunch of our own volition.

“I suppose we were, you know, trying to get away with stuff.

“And when you have somebody like Mike Scott on production, you won’t be getting away with much.

“It was lovely to be learning how to record properly as well, to the best of your ability and get all the great help from the brilliant technicians we had.”

Could they have thought back then when working on it that the music would become as iconic as it has? “Not really. You were just trying to do them as best as you could.

“We were playing a lot of those songs live before we recorded them so we knew people liked him and they were working but you always kind of hoped they would have a life of their own, and a lot of them went on and did that.”

If Leo says it was Mike Scott’s intervention that had them looking to becoming full-time musicians, does he think it would happened anyway? “It’s hard to know.

“You would have had to have had a certain amount of success to make it work.

“So who knows if we would have ever got there without the Waterboys’ hand and tours?”

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.

“And then Channel 4 made a little documentary about us in Britain then and that was a huge boost to be on television over there.

“So between the Waterboys tour and the documentary and having a couple of hit singles in Ireland, that gave us the chance to be a little bit known in Britain.

“We went to Britain 25 years on the trot. God knows how many times. I probably spent three years over there.

“For the last maybe 15 years, we ended up doing a Christmas/ December show in London.

“And people made it that their kind of routine that they came every year and they met their friends.

“It wasn’t just us playing a gig, there were other kind of connotations to the whole night out which was brilliant.”

Playing songs like N17 and Irish Post would be especially poignant when playing to such a crowd.

“You just throw the songs up the air and people almost play them on their own.

“That’s one of the things about when those kinds of songs are popular, the band can almost go into autopilot when you’re playing them because there’s this whole other version of the song going on in front of you,” he laughs.

“We were absolutely made welcome. That’s the one thing I have to say about Britain.

“I don’t know how many times I’ve been there or how much time I’ve spent there but I’ve never once not been welcomed, have never felt unwelcome.

“We’ve got the heartiest hospitality everywhere we went, from way down in Cornwall up to Land’s End, up to the Highlands and Islands of Scotland.

“Everywhere we went, we were always received with warmth and hospitality. It was brilliant.”

And many of the band’s highlights would come on these shores.

Leo remembers their appearance at Vincent Power’s Feis back in 2011 as a particular highlight.

“The time we played at the Feis in 2011, we had to play at the same time Bob Dylan was on the main stage.

“That seemed daunting.

“We played in a brilliant, big top up the far end.

“It just started filling up.

“People came in and it turned out to be the best gig that we did that year.

“It was really magical, there was an amazing energy in that big top that afternoon.”

Another highlight of their career would be the band’s appearances on Top of the Tops: “That’s like a dream come true.

“It’s actually mad that it happened.

“I think we were on it three times in all.

“We played Glastonbury three times. One of the times the sun was splitting the stones and the other times we were up to our knees in muck so we got both extremes,” Leo laughs.

Of course, the album’s title is tongue in cheek but we wonder if in seriousness Leo ever considered going back to the day job even for a second? “No, we would only have packed it in if we had to.

“I loved every minute of it. I loved travelling different places. I loved going places and eating different things and drinking different things and meeting different people. Waking up in a new town is always brilliant.

“And then of course, we’ve built up a lot of familiarity.

“So you would get off the bus and you would know where you were going and where you wanted to go, all that kind of craic. It was brilliant.”

The Saw Doctors pictured at Meteor Grafton Street store holding their Lifetime Achievement Award given at the Meteor Ireland Music Awards in 2008.

How has Leo got through the uncertain last year? “Just ourselves in the house, we kind of enjoyed the first lockdown because it was so different and it was very calming and it was very clear exactly what you could do and what you couldn’t do.

“But as the different lockdowns proceeded then it got a little bit tedious.

“And the fact that you weren’t sure which way it was going..

“But it was grand.

“We stayed healthy and we kept doing things. No complaints really.”

The band has not played a tour since 2017.

Are there any future plans? “We’ve no plan at all really. We haven’t sat down and discussed it.

“It’s been such a difficult time to plan anything.

“We’re in no hurry but we might start thinking about it pretty soon and see what happens.”

The Saw Doctors had the idea of putting their fathers on the album cover.

Three of the fathers, the dads of Brendan, Tom and Jimmy, have passed away in recent years.

“The ‘old job back’ in the title gave us the idea.

“Most of us didn’t have old jobs.

“Our fathers at least had jobs so we could use them to depict the idea of an old job.

“So we got them to do the photoshoot. It was hard work for them.

“Photoshoots are harder work than you might think.

“They worked hard. We had to get them a couple of pints in the evening to relax them.

“They deserved it.

“They did a full day standing in front of the cameras and posing and changing their clothes and all this kind of stuff.

“And they were no spring chickens at the time.”

If This Is Rock and Roll, I Want My Old Job Back is out now.

For more information, click here.

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