LEO Moran, the immediately recognisable frontman/guitarist of The Sawdoctors, is enjoying the sunshine in Galway, happy to be out and about in the fresh air, seeking to wash away the cobwebs of any jet-lag lingering from the band’s recent tour of America.
They played 29 dates in a six-week tour, shattering any notion that their popularity is on the wane across the Atlantic; it is the same here as they prepare to play in the Big Top @ the Milk Market during Riverfest.
In chatting to the gregarious Moran, one thinks back to the Dolan’s D-10 party on the Limerick Docks several years ago, when the Sawdoctors filled a tent full of screaming fans. As we stood and observed the show from a distance, two Gardai were gently encouraged to remove their headgear and join in the dancing taking place to the band’s classic tunes, which they duly did to much cheering.
And how many classic hits there were, indeed still are. The most surprising thing about a Sawdoctors show is not how good they are - their skills as consummate musicians are beyond question - but how many songs you will realise you know outside of the ‘hits’ - eighteen Top 30 Singles and four number ones, if you want the stats.
Moran acknowledges this, despite the fact that the band haven’t released an album in nearly two years.
“A lot of the so-called 18 hits people wouldn’t know half of, but there are other songs that weren’t hits at all that people would know,” he laughs. “It is strange how songs make their way into the collective consciousness and very often it is not the ones you fully expect to.
“You just stumble along songs that people really like, it is amazing,” he adds.
Amazing is one word for the longevity of the Sawdoctors, who formed when Tuam duo Moran and Davy Carton started writing songs together some 25-odd years ago.
“1986 or ‘87, we are not really sure,” laughs Moran. “We got together and played some songs Davey had and then started writing our own ones. We had other people in the band helping us write brilliant songs.
“I always hoped it would last a while, but when you are 23 you don’t think about being 43. We have never thought more than six months ahead, that’s always been the way,” he laughs.
The band, who welcomed a new drummer in Rickie O’Neill to their ranks recently, have just returned from the aforementioned six-week tour of the USA - in and around their, wait for it, 90th consecutive tour of America.
“We have been going since 91 and we have about 90 trips done I’d say, so it is an average of maybe four a year,” says Moran.
“It has grown. Our original audience would have been nearly all Irish immigrants, now it is a load of Americans, because we have gone back so often, we have built a kind of a natural network. We have seen a lot of it and met a lot of characters,” he adds.
The shows, as many will recall, are a wildfire singalong session, classics like I Useta Lover and N17 mixed in with anthems like Downtown - a recent runaway Irish hit for them - and newer material from 2010 album The Further Adventures Of The Sawdoctors. They try to perform an entertaining set.
“We play for two hours, so you get to do loads, it is a big mixture,” says Leo. “You are always fighting that dilemma of artists where the audience loves the familiar and you love what you wrote last week. It is always a fine balance that you have to try and maintain. I have great admiration for people who go out and do new material all the time. We are probably a bit behind now on a new album,” he admits.
The straight talking Moran will admit that the band are constantly pushing themselves to stay relevant, to keep things fresh, to keep pushing themselves to new challenges, and is aware that they could lose some of their audience in doing so.
“No matter what you do you will lose people and gain people one way or another. My dream Sawdoctors would be bringing out a new album and people loving the songs,” he says.
“Enough people say to us, that is the best I have ever seen you, and that is our challenge when we go on stage every night, we really don’t want people to say I saw you three years ago and you were much better, that is not going to work.
“Luckily now people are saying this is a great line-up and it’s the best show they have seen. That is very encouraging for us, but you have to keep on your toes. You can’t look back, it is like any career, you have to be thinking, what’s next?”
The Sawdoctors play Live At The Big Top on Friday May 4. Gates open at 7.30pm, tickets are €23.