Saw Doctors

SURE THE SAW DOCTORS COULD SIGN a major label deal and let the suits try to break them in America. But why? The fun- loving Irish band has made its own success in Ireland and England, and will continue to take its sweet time conquering the world one country at a time.

The band, founded 11 years ago over a pint at a pub just outside Galway, has quite a history in Europe. The members were barely getting started when Mike Scott of the Waterboys took them under his wing.

“He took us where we barely played five or six shows on a support tour of Ireland and during that, he asked us to do a six-week tour of England,” Saw Doctors frontman Davy Carton told POLLSTAR. That turned out to be a sellout tour of 2,000- to 3,000-capacity venues. “So we were plucked from nowhere,” he said.

Soon after, The Saw Doctors’ second single became the biggest ever released in their homeland. “So that made us household names in Ireland and then, we decided to just start at the bottom in England,” Carton said. As luck, or perhaps talent, would have it, the band scored a documentary on England’s main television channel that ran one New Year’s Day. That led to a licensing deal with Warner Bros. U.K.

While its future looked bright at the time, the band would eventually find out that a major label deal isn’t the end-all, be-all of success. “To be honest, they didn’t know who we were at all,” Carton said.

After about 18 months, both sides decided it was in their best interest to split, and The Saw Doctors formed their own label, Sham Town. They’ve since had three singles reach the U.K. Top 30.

Now, it’s time to get a foothold in America. After all, the members of this band consider the good ol’ USA the home of rock ‘n’ roll. “It’s where a lot of the people [are from] that we started listening to when we were younger and people we try to write songs a bit like, you know, Buddy Holly, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Waits, Tom Petty, John Fogerty, John Prine.”

The band has actually been coming to the U.S. since 1991. Back then, the idea was to build a word-of-mouth reputation by playing on the East Coast where there was a population of young Irish immigrants.

In 1997, the band took the money it earned from its success in England and really invested in America, mounting a full-scale U.S. tour. While The Saw Doctors were performing in front of 25,000 people at Fleadh festivals on the East Coast, they were introducing themselves to the West Coast for the first time. Just recently, the band completed a 26-show tour of the States and was invited back to headline a major club in a city that’s been hard for it to break – Los Angeles.

With The Saw Doctors, it’s the live show that has music fans and critics buzzing. Carton believes the group’s heritage makes its enthusiastic performance natural.

“Being Irish, I think we have good ability to entertain because we come from a culture where people like to party and like to chat and like to sing and like to dance in a very natural kind of way,” he said. “One thing that’s often remarked on is we tend to have a great time. We love playing. And people have told us that this comes across, that people see us having a great time and it’s a signal to everybody else to have a good time….

Davy Carton
Pearse Doherty
Leo Moran
John Donne

“A typical Saw Doctors show would last two hours and generally, people would have to buy a new T-shirt because their existing T-shirt would be wet,” Carton said, laughing at the prospect that that’s one way to sell T-shirts.

He let POLLSTAR in on what he called the band’s “little secret weapon” in getting crowds enthused: bass player Pearse Doherty. “People warm to Pearse an awful lot,” he said. Once, while Doherty was playing, his fingers got sore so he stopped to loosen them. “The crowd saw him and they thought that it was a signal to all flick their hands over their heads. And that’s become a routine,” Carton said. “He takes his hands off the bass, puts the two hands over his head and starts flicking his hands to loosen them and 1,500 people follow what he does. It’s quite amazing.”

Though the live show thrives, The Saw Doctors haven’t had as much luck with album sales. They are selling records at about the level of 25,000 to 30,000, Carton said. “It is a frustrating thing that we can play very well to a live audience but we just can’t maximize that potential in terms of radio and television in order to sell more records.”

However, the band has a marketing and distribution deal in the U.S. with Paradigm Records, which was recently acquired by Sin-Drome Records, and plans to meet with the new owners this month to hash out the discrepancy.

In the meantime, The Saw Doctors will visit the East Coast of the U.S. August 12-14, release a new single in the U.K. in October to be followed by a 20-date tour and ring in the new year with a millennium concert in Dublin. They plan to have a new record out in America next March, at which time they’ll be back to conquer a bit more of the States.