The Saw Doctors
@ Leeds Irish Centre

Having managed to sell out the venue for the annual outing, this was to be the first of two nights at Leeds Irish Centre. The room was packed with middle-aged gents in casuals and women in their spangly best tops. A smattering of younger folks held up the reputation of the all-ages appeal. The Guinness was flowing and an excited chatter held sway. As the lights dimmed, the Star Trek theme struck up, introducing the band on their inter-galactic voyage from County Mayo to Yorkshire. Opening number, A17, sets the theme of the evening. A paean to the joys of driving down the eponymous road to Galway and Mayo, it strikes a nostalgic chord amongst exiles and wanna-bees. Other songs roam over lost love, golden childhood summers, family bonds and a love of place and country. Though how many of those present tonight would swap the delights of cosmopolitan Leeds for rain-soaked (sorry, ‘soft’) small-town rural southern Ireland is questionable. But let’s not quibble, this is a night for raw emotion, singing along and generally wallowing in emoting.

Sounds from the motley crew include an accordion, a keyboard, a big echoey semi-acoustic. They’re a disparate bunch – the lead singer (Davy) a long-haired lanky fellow, the second lead (Leo) is speccy and geeky looking with a mop of hair, the bass Anthony) is balding and skinny. They’re your local lads from the pub.

They pause a line sometimes to let the crowd sing the next. There’s enough that know them all and, besides, the rhymes are obvious and easy enough to gift us with second sight. Family affections are important – “I wrote this song with your guitar” and feelings are ones we can link with – The Saw Doctors are blessedly free of those crappy songs about how awful it is being famous that bands like The Ordinary Boys fall into. Nah, these lads are too busy totting up their blessings. Anthony holds his axe upright and grooves, sinewy, in front of the bass speaker. Leo stares at his fretboard and concentrates. Davy smiles confidently. They break their “Green and red of Mayo” song out and feather boas and a flag are waved about the crowd. By now I am confused as to whether the boys love Galway or Mayo best…..

The soppy “Why Don’t We Share The Darkness Tonight” rolls out the ‘life’s too short to feck around’ message. Elsewhere they sing of the joys of lying in the grass and of staring at the stars. They work place names in all over, working the sense of place in the exile. Though this is also a nostalgia for now, diurnal tales of a land that never was that we live through everyday in our dreams of the perfectly warm life we could have in a friendly place, away from the alienated city. Each song gets its own decoration, whether it is a waltz, a country limp or fairground organ effects; whether the song is about girls, chip shops or pubs, a different colour palate is added.

By the end everyone is suitable refreshed and loosened up for the biggies – Davy: “Would you please, just one more time / That’s what she said, that’s what she said last night”. The crowd responds “We don’t, we don’t believe you”. Having seen them cover the Ramones, I was happy to hear a Jumping Jack Flash and Bolan’s Get It On, run into a purely daft jig called Joyce County Ceildh Band. The splendidly silly Hay Ride (“don’t go up on the trailer when you’re bringing in the hay / a farmyard is not a place to play”) includes a snatch of Tom Robinson’s “2,4,6,8 Motorway”. The encore is less an encore than a second set, being seven songs long and taking us to the two hour mark…. From here on in it is only crowd pleasers. Oh, but it was all crowd pleasers before…. Okay, less alternating old and new, just old faves and silly covers.

This is not a band to see because you want to follow their development and hear the new album plus hits. The Saw Doctors are more a showband with a revolving repertoire cycled to fit the mood of the time. They seem guaranteed to set up a great night out and that has to be well over half down to the audience’s determination to party hard.

Ross McGibbon