Cleveland adores the Saw Doctors.
The North Coast’s music-loving Irish contingent always turns out in strong numbers whenever the rock quintet from the little Galway town of Tuam play our neck of the woods, whether it be at The Odeon, Tower City Ampitheater, House of Blues, or one of the local I.A. Clubs.
So packing the Beachland Tavern for a couple solo Saw Doctors shouldn’t be a problem.
Guitarist Leo Moran and bassist Anthony “Anto” Thistlethwaite will swing by the historic Waterloo Road concert venue on October 24th to regale diehards with a two-man acoustic set that touch on their band’s huge catalog of hits (“N-17,” “Green and Red of Mayo,” “Bless Me Father,” etc.) along with a few new songs and rarities.
Formed by Moran and singer / guitarist Davy Carton in 1988, the Saw Doctors have been touring for nearly a quarter-century, notching hits in its native Ireland and supporting albums like Same Oul’ Town, Songs From Sun Street, The Cure, and 2010’s Further Adventures of The Saw Doctors with uproarious shows in New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Chicago, Cleveland, and other “green” cities in America.
But it was at one of the band’s earliest shows back home in Galway that Leo and Anto formed a longstanding friendship. The Doctors were playing a fundraiser at Warwick Hotel on May 1, 1988 when Anto—whose own band just finished a gig minutes away in Spiddal—leapt onstage for an improvised sax solo. The fellows cemented their musical bond over pints, and within months The Saw Doctors were opening for Anto’s not-so-insignificant little group, The Waterboys. Vocalist Mike Scott even produced the Doctor’s first single, the now-classic “N-17,” on which Anto again lent his sax skills. And when the Doctor’s original bassist retired in the early 2000’s, it only made sense for Thistlethwaite to slip into the gap, playing his first instrument of choice.
The Saw Doctors will return; they’re merely on sabbatical. But Leo and Anto decided to capitalize on the downtime by recording some fresh, folksy songs and work-shopping them in intimate venues across the U.S. We checked in with Leo by telephone within hours of their stepping off the plane, and the guitarist sounded enthusiastic about winding his way through the Midwest in true troubadour fashion.
EXAMINER: Hello again, Leo! Great to be catching up with you again! So you and Anto are just recently arrived back in the States, yes?
LEO MORAN: Yes, we’re two nights in. It’s been lovely!
EXAMINER: If I have my dates correct, you’re starting the U.S. tour with a couple shows at the Palmer Cultural Centre in Three Rivers, Massachusetts.
LEO: Yeah, we were up there last night when we arrived. It’s like a cultural center, an old church.
EXAMINER: This is different for you guys. Is it just you and Anto? Nobody else?
LEO: It’s just gonna be me and him. I play guitar and sing most of the songs, and we do versions of some of the more popular Saw Doctors songs, and then some songs I had that were never in the Saw Doctors set. And Anto’s going to sing a few songs as well. He plays sax and mandolin and harmonicas, and a bit of guitar. So we’re going to be switching it around. And we’re going to be learning on the road. I’m serious! We had a little place back in Ireland where we tested it out, and got a good response. And it looks like it worked. But we’ll be tweaking it as we figure it out!
EXAMINER: Apart from the music, how will this tour be different from a Saw Doctors tour?
LEO: It’s going to be a whole new experience for us, because when we’re in the band, we drive around all night in the sleeper bus. We never did much traveling in the daytime, or navigating or anything like that. But we’re going to be driving ourselves around this time, and seeing more of the country than before. Most of the journeys are around 100 miles average, so it won’t be too hard driving around most days.
EXAMINER: Driving yourselves…by car?
LEO: A car. Just a car! If you see a Dodge Avenger, you better look out!
EXAMINER: You’ll certainly see more of the country that way.
LEO: I’ve been asking people, and they tell me about the journeys you can take as far as the highways go, how you can stop at nice places. So we’re figuring stuff out. We’ll have time for a bit of craic, but it’s like a whole new thing for us. It’ll be like a whole new country for us, seeing it like this.
EXAMINER: I saw you and Anto did a “test” show last week before leaving. How’d that go for you?
LEO: Absolutely! We did the first show in my front room, and that’s the scariest because we had a bunch of our friends around—and that’s the hardest audience! And then we did a little one in Galway City, where the people didn’t know us quite so well. So that one was easier. It was a confidence-builder for us. But there’s a whole culture in the United States, of these house concerts, and playing with that kind of hospitality from people taking us around. It’s a great culture and a great trend, and hopefully we’re plugging into that. We’re starting out here in Massachusetts with some great friends who’ve supported us over the years. So it’s all going to work—I hope! We’re going to be learning on the way by trying out different songs. We’ll try anything, to tell you the truth [laughs]!
View Leo & Anto tour teaser here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=gUqeLuKcr0M
EXAMINER: The first sample of material from your new album, Flyin’ In, is an acoustic-based version of “Clare Island.” Is that a mandolin I’m hearing, or ukulele?
LEO: Yeah, it’s a mandolin. Obviously, we wanted something different if we were going to re-record it. We wanted all new songs for the album but didn’t have time because the tour came together quite quickly. So we wanted it to be different from anything we’d recorded before. So we used the mandolin, which is a very different thing than what we’d done before with the Saw Doctors. And I think that’s important. People are saying to me it feels like they came to Ireland before we left it, because they’d heard the songs for years. So hopefully we’ll be able to keep people amused, and give them a different angle on stuff.
EXAMINER: The Saw Doctors have been touring regularly for over twenty years now, so you’ve certainly earned a break. Why not take one? Or was the time simply right for this two-man traveling show?
LEO: Yeah, but me and Anto just can’t be idle; we’d be bored! We love music and love touring and doing all these things, so this is an alternative way of doing things. It’s going to be refreshing for us, and hopefully it’ll be that way for the people who come see us. It’s going to be a challenge, and we’re relishing it. We’ll be going into the room and playing a few songs that hopefully people will like, and do our best so they feel it was worth their while to have left their houses for a few hours!
EXAMINER: What else is on the disc? Other Saw Doc favorites like “Exhilarating Sadness,” maybe?
LEO: We didn’t do “Exhilarating Sadness.” One of the ones we did do—which was a peripheral song for the Saw Doctors—was “Winter’s Just a Dream” [from 2002’s Play It Again, Sham!] And we had some friends of ours come in. Padraig Stevens has a couple songs on it. There’s one about that Shell to Sea fiasco up in Mayo, I don’t know if you’re familiar with that.
[Ed. Note: Shell to Sea is a protest group in opposition to the construction of a natural gas pipeline through Erris, County Mayo in Ireland, and against the construction of a refinery at Bellanaboy by Royal Dutch and other big oil interest to drill the Corrib gas field.]
EXAMINER: Will the new disc be available at the shows?
LEO: Absolutely. That’s probably one of the only ways you can sell a CD anymore. Not much market for it elsewhere, really.
EXAMINER: You’ll be among friends in Cleveland on October 26th. We’re looking forward to having you back.
LEO: We’ve been lucky because we have so many friends in Cleveland. It’s just this incredible network of friends who’ve been so hospitable to us over the years. I suppose we’re just lucky that we can tap into that now, as a duo! But we’ve a lot of miles to go yet!
*** You can follow Leo & Anto’s tour blog at their website (see link below). And for the record, they rented a Chevy Impala. The Dodge Avenger wasn’t available.
Leo & Anto (of the Saw Doctors). Thursday, October 24, 2013 at Beachland Tavern (15711 Waterloo Road, Cleveland). $18.00 / $20.00 DOS. Doors open at 7:00pm.
Tickets available now: http://tinyurl.com/lwvhj2u