Play It Again Sham!, by The Saw Doctors
Suggested by Nick Hall
Let us consider the most important musical question since records, and records, began…
Who are the coolest musical doctors?
Sure, it’s hard to look past Dr Dre these days, but he’s not always been the general practitioner of choice. The Eighties saw Doctor and the Medics rise to Surgeon General status. And in the Seventies, Dr Feelgood had us hooked while Dr Hook made us feel good.
Were the Nineties a private practice for The Saw Doctors, Ireland’s finest Medicinal Musicians? Enquiring minds what to know!
With their traditional Irish folk-rock style, The Saw Doctors spin yarns from four different thematic fibres. The first is ‘nostalgia’, with sweet songs about childhood, and days of Yore with a capital Y. This is best exemplified by songs such as Me Heart Is Living In The Sixties Still and the great We’re The Popsuckers (the suckers for pop). While there’s a danger of being downbeat, these songs are always pitched as uplifting and endearing. Nostalgia is great, ‘member?
The second theme is ‘lost / unrequited love’, and here the songs go full-on maudlin. Personally, this is the weakest of The Saw Doctors arsenal, which is a shame as it’s a theme that’s tapped over and over and over again. This compilation starts with World of Good, which is perhaps the worst offender, with lyrics such as “the understanding of a druid / and the innocence of a child”. There’s more songs like these, like Winter’s Just A Dream or Letter From Louise. It was mawkish pap like this that pushed me away from the band in the Nineties.
The third theme is ‘fun’. This is the opposite of the previous, and it’s the stuff that pulled me to the band in the Nineties. Thankfully, this compilation is packed with tunes in this category, such as Broke My Heart (the story of an expected pass in a football match that goes awry) and my personal favourite, I’d Love To Kiss The Bangles. This up-tempo crowd-pleaser is basically a shopping list of folk with which the band would not like intimacy, before repeated professions of love / lust for ladies who Walk Like Egyptians. Admittedly, there’s a certain end-of-the-pier saucy postcard grubbiness in this song, and in others such as Bless Me Father and Howya Julia, but I can’t help but laugh at lines such as “Shane MacGowan’s not my type, his teeth are green and mangled / But Jesus Christ Almighty, I’d love to bang a Bangle”.
The final theme is perhaps the most pervasive, and definitely the most understandable: It’s ‘Ireland’. With such rich accented voice, Davy Carton and Leo Moran can’t do anything but display their heritage and history as a proud heraldic banner. The galloping folksiness is a massive aide to this, and there’s so much clichéd local flavour in songs like Michael D Rocking in the Dail and Crock of Gold that I can almost smell the peat bog and taste the Guinness.
For me, The Saw Doctors are a band with strengths and weaknesses. The colour and charm of their happier songs is a definite strength, while their overindulgence in the twee and the sentimental is a definite weakness. Their folk-rock sound and Irish patina could be counted as either, but it’s a qualified plus for me. Play It Again Sham gets 6/10, but the yin-yang nature of their output could see a different set of songs judged far more harshly.