The Saw Doctors were formed in 1986 by Leo Moran (formerly a member of defunct Tuam reggae band, Too Much for the White Man), Davy Carton (formerly a songwriter and guitarist with short-lived Tuam punk band Blaze X), and local vocalist Mary O’Connor. The trio got their start playing small gigs in local venues such as Tuam’s Imperial Hotel. O’Connor left the group the following year to emigrate to London. Carton and Moran added other musicians, and carried on with the band.
Moran and Carton have been the only constant presences in the Saw Doctors’ ever-shifting line-up. Past members have included musical artist, producer and co producer of the bands debut album, John „Turps“ Burke 87 to 93; bass player Pearse Doherty; keyboard and accordion player Tony Lambert; keyboard player and guitarist Derek Murray; and drummers Padraig Stevens, John Donnelly, Jimi Higgins, and Fran Breen. The fluidity of the band’s line-up in part accounts for the variety of musical influences, including pop, punk, rock and roll, and traditional Irish, that make up the band’s signature sound.
At present, the Saw Doctors are Leo Moran (vocals, guitar), Davy Carton (vocals, guitar), Kevin Duffy (keyboards), Anthony Thistlethwaite (bass guitar, saxphone), and Rickie O’Neill (drums).
Rise to fame
The Saw Doctors rose to gain national attention during 1987 and 1988 as they toured in support of popular Irish bands such as the Hothouse Flowers and The Stunning. They also proved to be a success when they played at the 1988 Galway Arts Festival. In the spring of 1988, when The Saw Doctors were playing a six-week residency at the Quays Bar in Galway, their live show attracted the attention of The Waterboys, who were then recording their Fisherman’s Blues album in nearby Spiddal. Pub sessions and budding friendships among the two groups would prove fruitful for the Saw Doctors’ future, and would see eventual crossovers between the two groups. The band’s current bass player, Anthony Thistlethwaite, and former drummer, Fran Breen, have both been members of The Waterboys.
In the autumn of 1988, The Saw Doctors filmed a rockumentary on a flat-bed truck while driving between Galway and Salthill. A parody of U2’s newly released Rattle and Hum film, in which U2 played Bob Dylan’s „All Along the Watchtower“ from a flat-bed truck in San Francisco, The Saw Doctors’ Crackle and Buzz had its world premiere at the Claddagh Palace Cinema in Galway. The Saw Doctors played live from the cinema’s balcony, caricaturing the short acoustic set U2 played atop the Savoy Cinema on O’Connell Street when Rattle and Hum premiered there on 27 October 1988. Footage from the tongue-in-cheek stunt was featured on RTÉ’s main evening news.
In late 1988 and early 1989, The Saw Doctors accompanied The Waterboys on tours of Ireland and Great Britain. In August 1989, The Waterboys’ frontman Mike Scott produced the band’s first single, „N17,“ a song about an Irish emigrant longing to be driving on the N17 national route which connects Galway with Co. Mayo and Co. Sligo, psssing through the Saw Doctors’ hometown of Tuam. Although „N17“ did not chart upon its original release, the band’s appearance at the inaugural 1990 Féile music festival in Thurles, County Tipperary, cemented their reputation as a live act. The song became known as the band’s anthem.
Following their success at Féile, the band released their second single, „I Useta Lover,“ a humorously off-colour paean to an ex-girlfriend. The single topped the Irish charts in September 1990 and spent nine weeks at number one, becoming Ireland’s all-time best-selling single. A re-released „N17“ reached number one in the Irish charts at Christmas 1990, and the following year, the band’s debut album If This Is Rock and Roll, I Want My Old Job Back entered the Irish albums chart at number one.
In 1992 the band released their second Album All The Way From Tuam, which included live favorites „Green & Red Of Mayo“, „Exhilarating Sadness“ and „You Got Me On The Run“ as well as the singles „Wake Up Sleeping“, „Pied Piper“, „Never Mind The Strangers“, „Me Heart Is Living In The Sixties Still“ and their next number one hit, „Hay Wrap“. After the release of All The Way From Tuam the band parted company with Warner Music, and formed their own record label Shamtown Records.
The first release under their new Shamtown label was the „Small Bit Of Love“ EP which gained them their first Top 30 hit in the UK Singles Chart and an appearance on BBC Television’s Top Of The Pops.
The band released their third studio album Same Oul’ Town in February 1996. It went on to peak at number six in the UK Albums Chart. It included the hit singles „World Of Good“, „To Win Just Once“ and the double A-side „Clare Island“ / „Everyday“. However, the hit singles dried up for the band after the success of Same Oul’ Town. Many line-up changes happened over the next few years. However, the band had successful British and US tours, as well as appearing at the Glastonbury Festival and Oxegen.
In October 1998, their fourth album Songs From Sun Street was released, which included tracks that had been part of the live show for the previous few years including „Galway & Mayo“, „Tommy K“ & „I’ll Be On My Way“. They also appeared in the 1999 Walter Foote film The Tavern as well as contributing songs to its soundtrack.
The fifth studio album Villains? was released in 2001 and contained the minor hit „This Is Me“. Entertainment.ie said in its review „to many music fans they’re a novelty act that’s long since passed its sell-by date. It would be a shame, however, if their dodgy image obscured the music, since Villains? is by some distance the best album they’ve ever made.“
Pearse Doherty left the band after the touring of Villains? was completed leaving only Carton and Moran as members from the early days. The line-up changed to include Anthony Thistlethwaite on bass guitar. Thistlethwaite had been playing saxophone on and off with the band since the late 1980s, even playing on their first single „N17“.
Live In Galway was released on CD and DVD in 2004. Another live album, Live On News Years Day as well as the sixth studio album The Cure followed. Their career was giving a boost when at the 2008 Meteor Irish Music Awards, The Saw Doctors received the Lifetime Achievement Award. The week before the Meteor Awards the band appeared on the Podge & Rodge Show on RTE. When on the show they covered the Sugababes song „About You Now“, and later decided to release the track as a single. In October 2008 „About You Now“ reached number one in the Irish chart, some seventeen years since their last chart-topping feat.
They followed this with the release of another live album and DVD, Live At The Melody Tent, recorded in Cape Cod in the summer of 2008. „She Loves Me“ charted at number two. In 2009 after six studio albums, Universal Music released To Win Just Once - The Best of The Saw Doctors. The compilation album featured twenty two of their tracks, and went platinum within weeks of release.
During 2010 the band played a number of music festival appearances, including playing at the 40th anniversary of the Glastonbury Festival. September 2010 saw the release of their seventh album, The Further Adventures of… The Saw Doctors.
Their cover version of „Downtown“, recorded with its original singer Petula Clark, was released on 11 December 2011.
The Saw Doctors hit single „I used to love her“ was voted Irelands favourite number 1 on Today FM on August 2012.
Live shows and recordings
Although the Saw Doctors have released only seven studio albums over their two-decade career, their live shows have brought them international renown. In 2004, the band recorded its show before a crowd at the Black Box Theatre, Galway, and released a live audio CD and a concert DVD, both titled Live in Galway. The DVD also contained a 50-minute documentary, „A Different Kind of World,“ following the Saw Doctors around their favourite locales in the West of Ireland (including a trip to Clare Island) and showing them on tour in Brooklyn, New York. A follow-up live album, New Year’s Day, again featured the band in the Black Box Theatre, this time on New Year’s Day 2005. The band donated profits from this album to victims of 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake.
The band performed three songs at Celtic Park, Glasgow on 21 November 2006 before Celtic F.C.’s UEFA Champions League match with Manchester United F.C…
The Saw Doctors’ song „She Says“ is used as the theme song to the BBC Northern Ireland comedy series Give My Head Peace. Under the name „The Folk Footballers,“ Leo Moran and former Saw Doctor Padraig Stevens released The First Fifteen, a collection of songs that celebrated the Galway football team in the wake of its success in the 1998 All-Ireland Senior Football Championship. Re-released in 2001, when Galway again won the All-Ireland football championship, the album included a host of local talent. Further collaborations brought a self-titled album by another side-project band, The Shambles“. Guinness used the Saw Doctors song „Never Mind the Strangers“ in an advertisement campaign for Harp Lager in the US. The Saw Doctors made an appearance in The Tavern and „Same Oul’ Town“ was featured in the film. The Saw Doctors appeared on the 2007 Killinascully Christmas special. The band reappeared in 2010 Killinascully Christmas special
The Saw Doctors have a rabid international fan base that has been compared to that of the Grateful Dead. Fueled by those in Ireland as well as those of Irish descent in the US, UK, and elsewhere, this unofficial fan club prides itself on seeing the band live as many times as possible. They meet online in a forum on the band’s website and pursue ongoing global conversations about the band.
In April 1993, the Saw Doctors’ keyboard and accordion player Tony Lambert, who had previously played with Bonnie Tyler and The Sensational Alex Harvey Band, won £852,000 (Irish punts), or approximately €1 million (euro) in today’s currency, when he hit the jackpot in the Irish National Lottery’s Lotto game. Lambert, who at the time was living in a converted bus that he had driven from his native Wales to Galway and parked just off the N17 road, had purchased his winning ticket in a local Claregalway shop. After his win, he left the band and settled in County Galway, where he restored an old house and built his own recording studio.
Coincidentally, the Saw Doctors’ song „To Win Just Once“ was written and recorded shortly before Lambert hit the Lotto jackpot. It is the only song on the Same Oul’ Town album that features his musicianship.
If This Is Rock and Roll, I Want My Old Job Back (1991)
All the Way from Tuam (1992)
Same Oul’ Town (1996)
Sing A Powerful Song (compilation) (1997)
Songs from Sun Street (1998)
Play It Again, Sham! [compilation] (2002)
Live in Galway [live] (2004)
New Year’s Day [live] (2005)
The Cure (2006)
That Takes the Biscuit (2007)
Live At The Melody Tent [live] (2008)
To Win Just Once / The Best Of The Saw Doctors [compilation] (2009)
The Further Adventures of… The Saw Doctors (2010)
25:25 [compilation] (2012)
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