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This article by Nicole Plett was prepared for the August 13, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Irish Rockers Repay a Hibernian’s Favor
If it’s energy you’re looking for this weekend, you
won’t find a more energetic band than the famed Irish rockers, the
Saw Doctors, playing a special "thank-you" show for the Trenton
Ancient Order of Hibernians Club this Sunday, August 17, at KatManDu.
The show begins at 7 p.m., and judging from the final live track of
the band’s new CD, the question that will inevitably follow the show
will be: "Where’s the Party?"
Fresh off the plane from Ireland, founding member Davy Carton called
from the band’s first stop in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, brimming with
enthusiasm and band stories. Carton supplies the raw-edged, soulful
lead vocals to the Saw Doctors’ rough-and-ready sound. The popular
Irish rock band is 15 years young. Founding members Carton and Leo
Moran say they’re still having the time of their lives.
"This is the band’s third tour so far this year. Last year we
were here six times," says Carton, adding, "the audience is
growing for us in the America."
The current 14-show U.S. tour will take the band to some new venues
and some old favorites in Cape Cod, Chicago, Vermont, Atlanta, and
Akron, Ohio. Carton says he’s looking forward to a boat party show
aboard a river boat in Burlington, Vermont — it will be a band
first. And this time the Saw Doctors are traveling with a brand-new
compilation album, released in July, and titled "Play It Again
Carton says that "Play It Again, Sham!," featuring songs from
1990 to 2000, almost all of them co-written by he and Leo Moran, is
designed particularly for the audiences who come to the band’s rollicking
live shows. With multiple albums released, fans often want to go home
with a certain concert favorite. The CD opens with the heartfelt ballad,
"I Wish for You the World of Good," the band’s Top 20 U.K.
hit that looks back at the troubled childhood of so many Irish youngsters.
It also looks forward to: "The sky at night and the open sea,
the clear refreshing mountain stream/ I only wish for you the world
Also featured is the U.K. hit "Small Bit of Love," as well
as the perennially popular concert favorites "Bless Me Father,"
"Michael D. Rocking in the Dail," and "I’d Love to Kiss
The Saw Doctors’ live shows are popular with audiences on both sides
of the Atlantic for their energy and down-to-earth approach to rock
and roll, with a cheerful give and take between the band and its fans.
And maybe that’s why the band is still singing "Me Heart is Livin’
in the Sixties Still."
Hailing from the small, historic town of Tuam in Galway county, the
band relishes in its Irish roots. The songs are full of Irish references,
but it’s an outward-looking love they have for home — one that
any of us can identify with. The songs are drenched in unpredictable
and heartfelt lyrics with songs about growing up, breaking up, family
love, friendship, and football.
"Our birth was fairly simply," says Carton. "Years ago,
when I was 17, I was in a punk rock band we called Blaze X. A couple
of years later, Leo [Moran], who had been to the shows, came and told
me, `You did some nice songs. You’re not going to let them fall apart
"So we started messing around and wrote some more songs in Leo’s
front room and played at a local fundraiser for a theater guild. Then
we got a gig in the back of a pub in Galway, the big town 20 miles
away." This was at the beginning of the 1990s.
"Well, it happened at the time that the Water Boys were recording
in Galway. And Mike Scott, founder of the band, heard us in the pub
and invited us to open for the band’s Irish tour. We developed an
audience very quickly thanks to the Water Boys. Right away we were
playing shows for audiences of 3,000."
The Saw Doctors’ name is also "a bit of a joke," says Carton,
and not particularly planned out. The band is named for a friend who
used to work in a Galway sawmill sweeping the sawdust.
"It’s a bit of a joke on the fellow who used to dignify himself
by calling himself a saw doctor," he explains. "We didn’t
expect it to last this long. Back then it was just a couple of us
writing songs for fun."
The first song that Carton and Moran worked on together was to adapt
"I Useta Lover" from the Blaze X song-list. It became the
Saw Doctors’ first breakthrough hit. Fifteen years later "I Useta
Lover" still holds the record for Ireland’s all-time biggest selling
single. The pair co-write almost all the Saw Doctors’ songs.
The new CD’s title, "Play it Again Sham!," is typical of their
love of word-play. "Some time, back around 1991," as Leo Moran
tells it, he and Davy Carton were in Dublin where they ran into "Ireland’s
greatest living playwright, Tom Murphy," who suggested the title.
This year, when it came time to produce their second compilation album,
the title was still in the air.
"Play it Again Sham!" has been earning some impressive reviews.
"The music is an inviting tapestry that weaves hints of traditional
Celtic with roots rock on songs that have a troubadour’s storytelling
quality. These guys know words and music, and they’re not afraid to
use either," writes Dan Aquilante in the New York Post, adding
his opinion that "Play it Again Sham" is a "near-perfect
collection" of their best songs from 1990 through 2000.
Many songs feature the kind of cheeky humor you hear
in "Bless Me Father" — the song’s chorus is often the
occasion for a sing-along. "Bless Me Father for I have sinned/
She had big brown eyes, silky skin/ Bless me father, I couldn’t resist/
Oh father, you have no idea what you’ve missed!"
Also popular is the band’s spoof song "I’d Love to Kiss the Bangles"
that invokes a cavalcade of music stars from Muddy Waters and Dylan
to the Spice Girls. "I wouldn’t kiss Bruce Springsteen, Jackson
Brown, or Leonard Cohen/ I wouldn’t kiss Mr. Tambourine Man no matter
how much he jingles and jangles/ But Jesus Christ Almighty, I’d love
to kiss the Bangles!"
The Saw Doctors’ Trenton performance is no ordinary gig, but a sort
of "thank you" to the club for playing host to co-founder
Leo Moran when he was in the area last year looking for a place to
watch Gaelic football.
"There’s a bit of a history here for us," says Carton. "When
we came to America first, back in the early ’90s, all 10 of us stayed
with the Kestler family in the area. They were a generous family,
kind of cousins of Leo. In American terms we were a `baby band’ and
as a result they took pity on us. Nowadays we travel with a sleeper
bus, hotels, la-te-la-te-da!"
Leo, who still visits the Kestlers, was staying with the family last
August when he was keen to catch the all-Ireland competition. He found
it via Hibernian-sponsored satellite TV.
"We’re very interested in Irish football — they call it Gaelic
football," Carton explains. "It’s a a very fast moving game
where you score points and goals."
Even fans of European soccer may not be familiar with the "hurling
and kicking" game of Gaelic football. But right now, all Ireland’s
32 counties are playing against each other in an elimination tournament.
The game is played 15 to a side, on a pitch larger than a soccer pitch,
and with goal posts that seem to be a hybrid between a soccer and
rugby goal. A ball that goes into the goal is worth three points;
and a ball that goes over the crossbar is worth one point.
"My Heart is in Maroon and White" is a song written by Leo
Moran about the Galway football team colors and Moran’s boyhood dream
of playing for the team and scoring a championship-winning goal.
"We’re very much identified with the football," explains Carton.
"Tuam, the small town where Leo still lives, is one of the towns
where Gaelic football was strongest for years. It’s the birthplace
of some of the legends of the sport." The Saw Doctors made their
own history in 1998 when the team joined the band on stage at London’s
most prestigious music hall.
"In 1998 Galway won the all-Ireland cup for the first time in
years. We were playing the Royal Albert Hall in London and we were
able to persuade five of the team member to come over with the cup
and appear onstage with us and joined in our finale."
And Gaelic football is not the only kind of football that interests
the rocking Saw Doctors.
"One of our most bizarre tours was last June when we were touring
America during the World Cup," says Carton with a burst of laughter.
"Our manager will never be forgiven. We were in the sleeper bus
with satellite TV dish. Because the games were being played in Japan
and Korea they came on at odd times. I think we watched every match
except the ones that coincided with a concert. I think nobody slept
for the entire tour. We can’t remember where we played but we can
remember all the matches!"
Even as the band members age, they’re sharing the limelight by bringing
the next generation into the family business. This month, since band-member
Anthony Thistlethwaite was unable to join the tour due to family circumstances,
Carton’s 19-year-old son David Carton has stepped in to lend a hand.
The younger Carton, a student at a Galway technology college, is playing
bass on tour. At home, says his dad, he’s a "very accomplished"
guitar player with his own heavy-metal band, Gurt.
"It’s a one off," says Carton, "come September David’ll
be back in college. I don’t want him to turn out like me!" Then
he changes his mind: "On second thought, he can become a superb
musician, but he has to get his degree first!"
But how to discourage young David when his dad’s having so much fun?
"All we have to say is we’re so lucky," says Carton. "We’ve
led a charmed life. So many amazing things have happened to us and
we’re still here.
"We love touring. People ask us if it’s tiring, but you can tell
everyone, it’s a great life!"
— Nicole Plett
29, Trenton, 609-393-7300. Bogside Rouges opens the show. Advance
tickets at Ticketmaster. $25 at the door. Sunday, August 17,
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