*Please note: the tour has been rescheduled, see more here*
After a three-and-a-half-year break, the Saw Doctors are back on the road with a UK tour that kicks off at The Tramshed in Cardiff on 28th November. Tony Bell talks with founding member Leo Moran about the band, the Waterboys legacy and how you become a member of the band that Chris Evans of BBC Radio 2 descibed as ‘One of the great live bands’.
Leo I’ve been a fan for years but have yet to see you play live, hopefully I will fix that omission when you visit the Cambridge Junction.
Well, only one person in all the years we’ve been playing said we were better on record than we were live.
The Saw Doctors are less a band and more the latest incarnation of a musical collective, would that be fair to say?
Well, we’ve had a lot of members, that’s for sure! I wouldn’t like to count them all. But it’s nice to get new members because they bring a new life and new ideas to things – that’s always a good thing.
Does that change the way you write your songs?
Nor really, because myself and Davy write the songs… and our ex-drummer, Patrick Stephens who is a master song writer as well, he helps us as well. We generally keep the songwriting in that realm and that kind of keeps it consistent – it’s hard to explain.
There is a certain irreverence in your lyrics.
There has to be a certain something in the song for it to be a Saw Doctors song, or certainly a successful Saw Doctors song. We write a lot of songs that don’t work – you play them once and you realise that people go to the toilet and start talkin’ to each other – you put those aside mostly! But the ones that work have to have something distinctively Saw Doctor about them, it manifests itself in different ways, but you know it when you hear it.
And yet one of your number ones was a Sugababes song
Oh yeah – that was good fun, ‘About You Now’ – a great song. We have a slot in the song Hay Wrap, where we insert verses of anything we feel like – it might be a local reference song, it might be like, the last night we played in London it was Chuck Berry’s birthday so we did ‘You Never Can Tell’, it might be somebody died lately, any reason or it might be no reason at all. One of the songs we inserted one night was ‘About You Now’, and you could just see that people just loved it – it worked. It was a great litmus test that we unknowingly set up for ourselves, but you could see from the reaction that it would work and it did.
Where did the name come from as a matter of curiosity?
I was told a story that there was a person working in the saw mills locally, he had no interest in work so one Monday morning the boss called him in gave him a white coat, made him feel important and he said from now on you are a saw doctor. It was a false motivational technique, that’s why we call ourselves the Saw Doctors ’cause we try to motivate ourselves and make ourselves sound important… and it seems to have worked! Its got a ring to it.
It is definitely different, when you Google Saw Doctors you don’t come up with many bands.
Its funny, I’ve got the Google news alert and I like Springsteen, so I get the news and reports from all over the globe, loads of them ten or eleven at a time. So I set up a Google news alert for ‘Saw Doctors’ just to see if anyone was writing articles about us. Most of the ones I get are ‘…she fell off the wall and broke her arm and she saw doctors…’ We don’t exactly get the same volume of articles as Springsteen does, I have to say.
You have just complete a Scottish tour.
Yes, we were up in the highlands and islands which we have done a few time before. It is an absolutely beautiful place to play. We have always got on well with the Scots, our first trip to Scotland was with The Waterboys in 1989, we did St Andrews and Glasgow and Edinburgh and Ayr and we took to the Scots and they took to us and we’ve been going up there ever since. You feel very comfortable up there and the more remote places you go to, the more of a welcome you get because they really appreciate you that you took the trouble to make the journey.
What do you do to relax when you are not writing and singing?
Ah, I just hang around at home and go in and out to Galway city and have a few pints in the evenin’ There might be a few songs now and again when you go into a pub and somebody is playin’ you are generally expected to join in.
And of course Quay Street in Galway is alive nowadays
Oh it has been booming since the late eighties and it has never looked back. Really and truly it never got hit by the hard times. The centre of Galway is very prosperous, the outskirts maybe not so much, but the city centre is with the tourism and the students.
What is the music scene like in the west of Ireland?
Oh God – unbelievable, there is talent around every corner. I rarely go two or three weeks without stumblin upon somebody, you know reasonably local, who is really really talented. There is an amazing amount of talent around.
You were spotted by the Waterboys when they were recording in Spiddal. Now that you are a headline act, and have been for some time, do you have much say in who opens for The Saw Doctors?
Absolutely, we have full say. And we always make sure they get paid! We got paid by The Waterboys so that is the legacy of the kindness we were shown, we always pass that on. If you are a headline act you can actually charge support acts but we don’t do that. It’s only fair, we were treated very kindly by Mike Scott and it is only right that we should pass that on to the next generation.
You’ve been off the road now for three and a half years, was that a deliberate decision or something that just happened?
No, it just happened. Davy moved to England, he had a new baby and he needed time to settle his life back down again. He moved back to Ireland a year ago so that’s when we kind of started puttin’ the pieces back together. We were always thinkin’ are we ready to book a gig, have we got the work done? Of course the way to sort that is to book the gig then you have to do the work – that’s usually a good solution. Our jaunt in Scotland was really like a rehearsal tour, figuring out a lot of the stuff. Its the only way we can do it, we don’t ‘act well’ in rehearsals, its boring and you don’t get that edge or the life in the songs.
The tour starts in Cardiff on 28th November – are you all ready?
Oh yes, we’ve played a few more gigs in Ireland since Scotland. The last three gigs were really tight. The new lads have got their legs and they have the confidence now to just bang it out.
How do you go about choosing new band members, is there some sort of Saw Doctors induction they have to go through?
There is nothing really at all, we’ve never had an audition. The people who have joined the band over the years are people we have known and would have known not just as musicians but as people as well. Its quite important, there are many angles and elements you need to become a band member, you have to get on with them, they have to have a sense of humour, thy have to like travellin’. The two lads we have here now, we’ve known them for years, and they are great musicians and with them we have a lot more elements to our songs. Will came in on the bass, and is a very good singer, Anto was freed off the bass to play saxophone and mandolins and all the stuff he plays. Kieran is on the keyboards and he is also a very good singer as well so we’ve got more vocals than we had before and we have more instruments than we’ve had before. It is very enjoyable now playin’ around with the new elements.
So fans have nothing to worry about then?
I don’t think so, no. Well, I’m not worried about anything anyway!
The tour has been rescheduled from November. See here for more: sawdoctors.com / www.grapevinelive.co.uk/the-saw-doctors-rescheduled