Interview: The Saw Doctors

The Saw Doctors bring us down that N17 as Dylan Murphy chats to the Irish Band now in their fourth decade of business

The first line of The Saw Doctors’ Wikipedia entry simply reads ‘The Saw Doctors are an Irish rock band’ and while that may seem expository of the seemingly lazy research done on the part of a music writer for a University Magazine, it actually says a lot in it’s simplicity. Hailing from Tuam, Galway, the band have always stood by their own brand of unpretentious sing-along, three-chord rock, which has clearly stood the test of time and earned them a devoted fanbase both at home and abroad.


Through the nineties, The Saw Doctors chalked up well-received appearances at numerous prestigious festivals including Witness, Oxygen and Slane in Ireland, Glastonbury, T in the Park, the London Fleadh in Britain as well as at its Fleadh cousins across the Atlantic and garnered a reputation for being a powerful and exciting live act. Now they’re back on the road where they await a sold-out show in Dublin’s Olympia Theatre.


Having spent the better part of the last decade in Galway where The Saw Doctors (or simply ‘The ‘Docs’) have become legends, I was curious to hear from the band themselves about the songwriting process, their future and what exactly it was that has helped them to endure so long.


I spoke with Leo Moran who seemed openly positive about touring life and enjoying the fruits of his labour: “Well one thing is we really enjoy it and another thing is [that] it’s a wonderfully easy lifestyle. It’s very satisfying and it’s creative, it gives you a chance to see a lot of different places that you would never have been otherwise. There’s kind of a ‘what’s not to like about it?”


Last night marked the band’s return to playing live, after a necessary six-month hiatus that resulted from lead singer Davy Caron’s health issues. “We’ve a couple songs started and one recorded but because Davy’s throat was damaged in October we had to take a complete break from doing everything until last week. It was very worrying and we just didn’t know exactly what we’d have to do but we were advised that if we took a few months off that it should be OK. We did our first gig after the break in Westport last night and it went very well. We were delighted. It was kind of like our challenge game before we got to Dublin to play in the championship…We’re heading into the 30 now”


With The Waterboys, The Stunning and The Stiff Little Fingers being notable exceptions, seeing Irish rock bands hit the fourth decade of their career is rather rare and momentous occasion and I was curious to hear what it was about The Saw Doctors that has kept them going. “I think we’re a bit more persistent than the other bands. We’ve played more gigs and stuck at it for longer and been to more places. There’s loads of other bands that could have done the same thing were they more persistent.”


But of course it’s not just Irish audiences that have kept the band busy. Having played to rapt crowds as far away as Australia (look up their 2010 Patrick’s Day performance on YouTube) and toured the US dozens of times, there is a definite international appeal of hits such as ‘N17’ and ‘I Usedta Love Her’ that also resonates with fans of all ages. “It’s amazing, we’re very lucky that we have a few songs that people like. People come out and enjoy themselves and we’re able to enjoy ourselves with them and it’s a great privilege.”


Throughout the noughties The Saw Doctors gained an ever-increasing and enthusiastic following on the Irish college scene, ensuring a young and lively new audience in their home country making it difficult to define the average fan of the band. “We get very mixed crowds, that’s a big thing about the Saw Doctors, we’ve a very mixed audience. It’s very hard to pin down the typical fan but as long as we’ve got human beings in front of us, we’re happy.”


Having written so many songs about their hometown and county such as ‘N17’ and ‘Joyce Country Ceili Band’ Leo and the rest of the band still reside in various parts of Galway county and Leo speaks with pride about it’s musical reputation. However, he also maintains that home is not only where the heart is but also the audience he seems most eager to please. “A crowd is a crowd but when you’re playing to your friends and the people that know you best, that’s the biggest test, they’re the most difficult and most critical audience. You’re more bare in front of them than you are in front of strangers, so if it works in Galway it’ll work anywhere in the world.”


When it comes to the songwriting process, he says there is no magic formula but says when inspiration strikes you have to get it while you can. “People ask me ‘how do you write a song?’ and I don’t know. I might never write a song again! I don’t know how you write songs really. I say it half-jokingly but there’s truth in it. If I knew how to write a song I’d have written three of them this morning! They’re elusive creations a lot of the time and when they’re coming you better make the most of it because you never know when the flow will stop.”


Though Carton’s health issues threatened the future of the Saw Doctors, Leo says that himself and the rest of the band are eager to keep going, with a full tour lined up for the next six months. “We’re hearty and confident now about going to Dublin and we’re going around Ireland a few times until the end of March and then a tour in England in April which is always a lovely tour. We’d just love to keep going, we’d love to come up with a few new songs and play in new places. That’s all you want to do really because what it is is very enjoyable anyway so we’d just like to keep going, that’d be great.”


As we say our goodbyes, Leo shares with me his favourite thing about touring and how he keeps it enjoyable for himself, even if it means some cajoling from rest of his bandmates. “You never really know where you’re going to have a special gig but very often the special gig isn’t the big one everybody’s thinking about and looking forward to. That’s the wonderful thing about music, even when you’re playing the same venue a couple of nights in a row, every night is different with it’s own chemistry. The spontaneity is what makes it special.”