The Saw Doctors is a group of songwriting musicians from the West of Ireland, hell-bent on celebrating, observing, recording and sometimes poking fun at their own locality, accent and idiomatic use of language whilst dressing their songs up in their favourite sounds and styles from their years of musical fandom.
Formed in Tuam, really a small market town but in fact a tiny city of two cathedrals,in the late 1980’s, originally with Mary O’Connor as the main singer and later based around the songs and singing of Davy Carton, Leo Moran, Padraig Stevens, John ‘Turps’ Burke with no little contribution from the late Paul Cunniffe (who had written and sang Davy’s previous band, Blaze X’s, repertoire with him)
The Saw Doctors were discovered by Mike Scott of The Waterboys on a stormy Wintry Tuesday night in Galway city, plying their trade with more gumption than virtuosity in the back of The Quays Bar, blue banger slates clattering down treacherously on the narrow, deserted streets outside leading to where the River Corrib meets the Atlantic Ocean.
Scott took an unlikely liking to the unlikely bunch of raggedy and fashion-unconscious triers and offered them the support slot on what was, at that time, the most revered up-coming rock and roll tour of the country. Things must’ve somehow pleased the Scot along the way and in Sligo, before the tour was completed, he offered the itinerant songsmiths the six-week Spring tour of Great Britain, starting in February 1989. Padraig’s coy acceptance of the offer came in four words ‘We’ll pencil it in.’
With Pearse Doherty, the bassist since the start of the Irish tour, in his last year in Science in Galway University and Davy working as a fitter and the father of three young boys, the youngest awaiting holy water and a name,things were not pure and simple. The philosophy adopted was – ‘Let’s not end up looking back in twenty years time telling people in a pub what we could have done wan time’
That decided, Pearse’s mother smuggled his good bass down from Donegal (his father didn’t know he was in a band) and Pearse packed his science books with the rest of his gear so he could do some study along the way(!!!) Davy asked for six weeks off work and was promptly told by his boss that if he took six weeks off he could have every week afterwards off as well. Davy courageously chose to take the six weeks and flew over to London a couple of days later than the rest of the band, Christopher having now been christened, for the start of an epic escapade.
Mike fulfilled his tour-time offer and produced the band’s first single, ‘N17’, which features the then Waterboys’ saxophonist, and now SawDoctors’ bass player, Anthony Thistlethwaite, in the outro; it was a feat of indescribable dimensions how a man could play a sax so well after being in the pub all day.
The single got on the radio a handful of times and a second single was to bereleased to fulfill the two-record deal with Solid Records. With Philip Tennant,whom they had met through Mike and who had engineered ‘N17’, now on theproducer’s perch, they went to the haunted Loco Studios in Wales and put down three tracks – ‘It Won’t Be Tonight’, ‘I Useta Lover’ and ‘Sing A Powerful Song’.
After debates, theories and shit-talk, it was eventually decided that ‘I Useta Lover’ would be the second release from The Saw Doctors. They plugged away at gigs around Ireland and scored an early afternoon slot at the coming-of-age Irish festival of its time, Féile, in Thurles, in County Tipperary, in the August of 1990,. The Welsh ghost must have brought them luck for that Sunday evening they learnt that ‘I Useta Lover’ had somehow entered the Irish single charts from where it slowly climbed, taking seven weeks to reach the Number One spot and remaining on top for the following nine weeks. The Saw Doctors were now known the length and breath of the country and beyond.
Things got fast. A Channel 4, Steve Lock directed, documentary, ‘Sing A Powerful Song’, was shot in Manchester and at their homecoming gig in the Gaelic Football Stadium in Tuam, and it aired in both Britain and Ireland. They made their first trip to The United States in 1991, a journey they have made almost eighty times since.
Through the nineties they chalked up well-received appearances at numerous prestigious festivals including Witnness, Oxegen and Slane in Ireland, Glastonbury, T in the Park, the London Fleadh in Britain as well as at its Fleadh cousins across the Atlantic in New York,
Chicago and San Francisco, and garnered a reputation for being a powerful and exciting live band, playing diligently through Ireland, Britain and the USA, with the odd trip to Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Holland, France and Belgium thrown in. A handful of singles briefly dented the UK Charts through the nineties, the three most successful breaking into the Top 20 – ‘Small Bit Of Love’,‘To Win Just Once’ and ‘World Of Good’.
With four studio albums in their record shop section, ‘If This Is Rock And Roll I Want My Old Job Back’, ‘All The Way From Tuam’, ‘Same Oul’ Town’ and ‘Songs From Sun Street’, The Saw Doctors went where no band had ever gone before and bravely entered the new millennium. Upheaval in the line-up saw long-time drummer John Donnelly and long-time bassist Pearse Doherty move on, joined shortly afterwards by keyboardist Derek Murray and the team-sheet took a while to settle again, with first Jim Higgins and then Fran Breen
occupying the drumstool and Kevin Duffy pressing the black and white keys. For a number of tours a brass section with Danny Healy on trumpet and Richie Buckley on sax augmented the show, as well as the addition of Mouse McHugh on backing vocals. They released their sixth studio album, ‘The Cure’, recorded in Cuan Studios in Spiddal, near Galway and were presented with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Meteor Awards of 2008,with the line-up of Davy Carton, Leo Moran, Anthony Thistlethwaite, Kevin Duffy and Éimhín Cradock.
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. In 2008 they filmed a documentary,“Clare Island to Cape Cod’, the centerpiece being their, by then, eagerly anticipated annual August appearance at the Melody Tent in Hyannis, MA revolving on the stage, surrounded in 360° by banks of loud and sweaty Summertime fans.
With their distinctive version of ‘About You Now’, The Sugababes’ hit, a chance cover from the ‘Rockin’ Roulette’ section of The Podge and Rodge Show on Ireland’s national TV station, RTÉ, The Saw Doctors scored an Irish Number One in October 2008, their first Number One since ‘Hay Wrap’, seventeen years previous.
Over the following year and a half this squad recorded the band’s seventh studio album – ‘The Further Adventures Of The Saw Doctors’ which is probably their most consistent collection of songs to date, barely making it into the‘record shops’ before the concept of an album, and the outlets that sell them, veer dangerously close to becoming obsolete.
The end of 2011 brought another surprise hit for the band – having included a verse and chorus of ‘Downtown’ in the show-closing ‘Hay Wrap’, the band noticed that, like ‘About You Now’, ‘Downtown’ captured the imagination of the audience, making it a potential contender for the Christmas single. On a long-shot, producer Phillip Tennant got in touch
with Petula Clark’s manager and a recording session was arranged in London where the old 60′s classic was re-vamped and recorded – ‘The Saw Doctors featuring Petula Clark’! The lively duet made it to number 2 in the Irish singles Christmas chart and actually made it to number 1 in the i-tunes section of the count.
The beginning of January 2012 saw Éimhin passing on the drumsticks to Mayo man, Rickie O’Neill, the first green and red blooded member in the annals of the team; Éimhin and Rickie had been working together towards the end of 2011 on making the transition as smooth as possible, and smooth it was – Rickie already having put in storming performances at The Glasgow Barrowland and The Manchester Apollo amongst other shows on the December leg of the British and Irish tours.
Loved and revered by their loyal fans, many of whom have been recruited by already fan friends, or friends of friends of fans, if you know what I mean, and often reviled by haughty urban-based media style council as being too rural (Tuam!), painting pictures that the begrudgers believe, from their lofty perspective, don’t exist in the real world, The Saw Doctors continue with a resilience and an effervescent energy that has them lined-up for a six week coast to coast adventure across North America this Spring.
In their own words..
‘Born into a repressed, catholic, conservative, small-town, agrarian, angst-ridden and showband infested society we’re trying to preserve the positive elements of our background and marry them to the sounds which have culturally invaded our milieu through TV, radio, 45’s, fast food restaurants, 24 hour petrol stations and electric blankets’
Photos © 2004 by: Beth Shandles
Davy Carton: Vocals, Guitar
Leo Moran: Guitars, Vocals
Anthony Thistlethwaite: Bass Guitar, Saxophone, Vocals
Kevin Duffy: Keyboards, Vocals
Rickie O’Neill: Drums