FOREWORD: Working class Irish folk-rock combo, the Saw Doctors, gained a huge international cult following thanks to exuberantly festive live shows. In New York, they sold out Irving Plaza countless times. I saw ‘em there during autumn, ’97. Since then, they’ve released infrequent studio recordings such as ‘98s Songs From Sun Street, ‘01s Villains?, and ‘06s The Cure. I interviewed co-leader Davy Carton to promote their durable compilation ’97 compilation, Sing A Simple Song. This article originally appeared in Aquarian Weekly.
Hailing from Tuam, a nearly rundown factory town outside Galway, Ireland’s Saw Doctors nostalgically reinforces original Celtic-flavored universal anthems in disguised rock settings. By assembling the greatest tracks from’91s If This Is Rock And Roll I Want My Day Job Back debut, ‘92s All The Way From Yuam, and the belated ’96 release, Same Oul’ Town, this pub-friendly act hopes to conquer the world with their Sing A Simple Song comp.
Ever since the Saw Doctors debut, “I Useta Lover,” became the biggest selling single ever in Ireland they’ve maintained critical acclaim and massive fan enthusiasm while staving off early local media exploitation. It seems some disgruntled conservative-minded religious zealots disapproved of “I Useta Lover’s” provocative line about the ‘glory’ of some chick’s ‘ass.’
Meanwhile across the ocean, New York’s Irish bars stuffed jukeboxes with the catchy ditty while the nightclub Tramps had to dela with a capacity crowd of loyal, cultish fans (quite an accomplishment considering they had no US record deal). Authentic Irish folk rockers with solemn hometown odes, chanted work songs, Gaelic tunes, and love ballads, friendly vocalist-guitarists Davy Carton and Leo Moran keep the home fires burning with earnest sentiments and wry humor.
I spoke to Carton over the phone one late October afternoon. His band was getting ready to come to New York to play Irving Plaza (a venue Carton admits he has never been to).
What initially inspired you to pursue a music career?
DAVY: I just loved music and always liked a good song. I’m a self-taught guitarist without a major music background.
Would you agree the Saw Doctors songs work so well because the arrangements are so tight.
DAVY: We do spend a lot of time arranging. But you’ve got to have a knack to correctly arrange a song. There’s a lot of good songs that lose their appeal if they’re not arranged well. It’s fortunate for us that people like our songs. But first we have to like them ourselves. We’re like guinea pigs testing them out.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask how the Saw Doctors first single, “I Useta Lover,” gained such universal appeal.
DAVY: It caused a small little revolution within the Irish Catholic church. But the thing about it was the church wasn’t against it because it brought people back to the church. It’s weird how it almost changed the face of music in Ireland. It was originally seen as taboo to rhyme ‘the glory of her ass’ in that song. But we get a kick out of it gets people to laugh at themselves. I used to play that song in a power pop band called Blaze X in ’79. But the main chorus was added later in ’84. Me and Leo then put extra lyrics in it and it became a huge hit. The chorus is catchy but it developed over time. It’s still the biggest selling single in Ireland, which is an achievement in itself.
Your sold out show at Tramps had people hanging from the rafters.
DAVY: Tramps was a strange venue because they keep the people from getting too close to the stage. We encourage audience participation. I can remember loads of times when we didn’t have enough P.A. from the soundman because the audience was singing along so loud. That happens regularly in Scottish Celtic places. It’s like a big choir. They must think we’re a karaoke band.
How is the current Irish scene doing?
DAVY: Ireland is a very small, close community. A city like Dublin has only 700,000 people. But it’s always thriving with traditional music. Bands spend weeks there playing local clubs. But Dublin is the base for Irish rock music since the influence of U2 is still felt. It’s a really healthy scene, but not on the grand world stage.
I was intrigued by your first albums’ wry title, If This Is Rock And Roll I Want My Day Job Back. Was that a rip at the relentlessly tiring and monetarily unstable lifestyle musicians live through?
DAVY: Exactly. It was done tongue in cheek. When we started out doing it for a living it was rough to make money. Then again, I used to be a cotton and material weaver.
Although your Celtic-influenced rock couldn’t be considered punk, the Saw Doctors seem to have that type of raw energy.
DAVY: The punk attitude keeps us on the edge and givers us an anarchistic touch. Punk doesn’t have to be a particular brand of music. We’re just working class guys, not royalty. We’re small town local heroes. Some people define punk as just mohawk hairdos and violence. But there’s more to it. We’re a whole generation of self-motivated thinkers. Some people believe punk is not intelligent. But if people enjoy it, that’s fine.
The band seems to shy away from major political concerns. Why?
DAVY: We have our own attitude. People should make up their own political opinions. The way I vote is strictly my own. I am not a politician and cannot solve country’s problems.
In your opinion, should Northern Ireland be free from British nationalism?
DAVY: I’m not sure. People take it to the extreme, pitting Unionists against Nationalists. But what about the people in the middle who want a well-run system without fear of getting hurt? History has to change for something positive to come from it. Extremists are not fair. We need a policy across the board that will work. Instead, it still comes down to power and money.
I thought it was cool how the Saw Doctors purposely came to the US while Ireland played in the World Cup Soccer Championships. Did you go to the Meadowlands and watch Ireland upset Italy?
DAVY: No. I was in New York that night watching the game. But I went to see Ireland lose to Mexico in Orlando afterward. The heat is tough down there in Florida during summer.
What musicians inspired you when you were growing up?
DAVY: My first big influence was Creedence Clearwater Revival. John Fogerty’s quite a strange3 character, I hear. But I do like his singing. His new songs seem glossy and pale and not as hooky compared to Creedence, but here it is nearly 30 years later. I like most pop music singer-songwriters like Bruce Springsteen. And also I love the Ramones. Leo likes Woody Guthrie.
“Macna’s Parade” is one of the Saw Doctors most authentic Gaelic tunes. What inspired its creation?
DAVY: That particular song is about an annual Galway festival parade. Macna’s Parade is a street theatre company that has grown with us over the years. They were responsible for the heads used in U2’s Zoo TV.
I heard your original accordion player quit the band a few years back because he won the lottery.
DAVY: Yeah. The lottery in Ireland ranges from one to four million pounds. He won 850,000 pounds, which is like a million dollars. Eventually, after eight months he felt he couldn’t work with us anymore. He had extra money he wanted to spend and the band restricted him. That suited us because his replacement, Derek Murray, played keyboards too. And now everyone involved is much happier.