"To Win Just Once," a rousing sports fan's anthem from the Saw Doctors' 1996 album Same Oul' Town, took on a whole new significance for the band last month. "I was born in 1964," says guitarist Leo Moran, sounding for all the world like a long-suffering Indians fan. "I've waited a lifetime for this."
Moran is referring to the championship won by the Galway club in the All-Ireland Gaelic football final. The Galway men rallied in the second half to defeat Kildare and take the Sam Maguire Cup, Ireland's equivalent of the Super Bowl, for the first time since 1966.
The Saw Doctors, football fans all, call County Galway home, specifically the rain-drenched hamlet of Tuam, a community of 9,000 souls that was once the center of the Irish sugar beet industry. The pub-rock band came together in the early '80s in Galway City at the clubs surrounding the university there.
For the Docs, the home team's victory in the championship match was worth celebrating--so two weeks after the game was played, they invited four of Galway's players and head coach John O'Mahony on stage at the Apollo Theatre in Manchester, England. The players, the coach, and the five band members were joined by the Sam Maguire Cup.
"It was one of my biggest thrills ever," Moran recalls. "To be up there with the players and have the cup there with them is just so hard to describe."
Compared to that moment, a tour of America may not seem like such a big deal. But the Doctors say they're gearing up for their return to the States. "We have five days in New York to get our act together," Moran says. "We hope we can work everything out before we get to Cleveland. To spend five days in New York can be tough, if you know what I mean."
This time around the Docs are touring in support of their fourth full-length album, Songs From Sun Street, which is scheduled to be released in the U.S. on November 3. The band's first three records, on their own ShamTown label, were available only as imports. And though the group signed last year with New Yorkbased Paradigm Records (which put out the Doctors compilation album Sing A Powerful Song last fall) Sun Street is their first album of original material to be released in America.
"We're having a great time doing the record release tour," Moran says. "In the day it's a lot of record-store rubbish, but the gigs at night have been great."
The Docs sold out their shows at the Apollo, London's Royal Albert Hall, and the Sheffield City Hall. Before that, they went on a one-week tour of Scotland after having given a free concert at Dublin's open-air College Green the night before the All-Ireland football final.
Songs From Sun Street, named for the location of Kenny Ralph's Studio in Tuam (where the band recorded all its albums), is a bit of a departure from the Docs' last album. Same Oul' Town was loaded with sweet nostalgia and a surprising maturity--sort of like an Irish Pet Sounds. The new record is more of a return to the band's beginnings, recalling the girl-chasing simplicity of If This Is Rock and Roll, I Want My Old Job Back and the 1993 magnum opus All the Way From Tuam. In short, it rocks.
"I think that's so," Moran says. "I'll say this about it: We were very comfortable making it. We're not the kind of band that thinks it has to knock itself out making a record. You can call us lazy, but maybe it's a better way to make an album."
It should come as no surprise that Moran and the rest of the Docs--Davy Carton on vocals and acoustic guitar, Pearse Doherty on bass, John Donnelly on drums, and Derek Murray on keyboards--were relaxed recording Sun Street. In many ways the material on the new CD is a throwback to the singles the band cut even before its first full-length album. In fact, much of the new album wouldn't sound out of place were it on Friends, Demos & B-Sides, a compilation of early stuff available only through the Saw Doctors' Web site.
"So much of what was on Same Oul' Town wouldn't be well received in concert," Moran says. "I don't think we ever did 'All Over Now' or 'Mercy Gates' at a show. They're not concert songs."
By contrast, the Docs have been dishing out many of the songs that appear on Sun Street--"Galway and Mayo," "Tommy K," "D'Ya Want to Hear My Guitar?" and "Will It Ever Stop Raining?"--since their spring 1997 tour of North America.
Of course, with the Docs' albums being so difficult to get in America for so long, live shows have been vital. This will be the group's third tour of the U.S. over the past two years--fourth if you count participating in the Guinness Fleadhs last June.
"It gets a little better every time we play in the States," Moran says. "We're a word-of-mouth band anyway. People hear us, then tell their friends about us. I think that's a better way to become popular. People are more likely to trust their friends' judgments than what's said in a newspaper or magazine, even if what writers say is good."
The Saw Doctors. Thursday, November 5, Odeon, 1295 Old River Rd., $10.50 ($12 day of show), Ticketmaster 216-241-5555.