NO TWO people’s experience of the pandemic and the lockdowns have been the same. For many, it has been tough, a time of deep uncertainty, something they have had to endure.
For others, the slowing down of life has been a chance to pause and take stock, a rare opportunity to look at how they live, and develop a different approach to life. Tuam singer-songwriter, and co-founder of The Saw Doctors, Leo Moran, is among this latter camp.
“Lockdown and the pandemic shows there are no days to waste, if you can do something, do it,” Leo tells me during our Monday afternoon conversation. “That said, I actually enjoyed the early part of the lockdown. It taught me how to relax and stay put. I’m always getting on for being active and always doing the next thing. Being able to relax was actually a good skill to learn.”That said, Leo has probably done with the relaxation for a while. He admits he is eager to get on stage and perform again, and is looking forward to playing the Galway Advertiser’s Live Again concert in the Town Hall Theatre on Thursday December 2, where he will join Padraig Stevens on a bill that also includes Julie Feeney, Ultan Conlon, and Trad on the Prom.
“To play a gig is a privilege,” says Leo. “It’s great to oil the wheels. To perform on the stage of the Town Hall is always a great thing. Songs are valuable things as they reach emotions not easily reached in other parts of your life. Songs have been good for me in sad and happy times.”
Padraig Stevens and Leo Moran. Photo:- Aengus McMahon
Over recent years, Padraig Stevens and Leo Moran have become a popular duo, having played many memorable gigs around Galway, principally showcasing Padraig’s songs. Indeed, with Leo and Davy Carton, Padraig has co-written Saw Doctors’ favourites like 'I Useta Lover', ‘Same Oul’ Town’, and 'That’s What She Said Last Night', while Padraig’s non-Docs work, such as 'The Tuam Beat', ‘Streets of Galway’, and 'Ireland for the Summer' have been covered by Christy Moore, Michael English, and Eleanor Shanley.
“Padraig is the godfather of songwriting in Tuam,” declares Leo. “He pointed us all towards writing about what we were looking at around us. He allowed us to see that what was in our life was as valid as anyone else, regardless of where you lived, it was about celebrating the local.”
Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy
Indeed Leo feels Padraig is one of Ireland’s best kept songwriting secrets, a songwriter who deserves to be more widely known and appreciated.
“He writes brilliant songs in every part of the spectrum of emotion,” says Leo. “If people got to hear them they would love them. Many people do know them, and do love them, but I want to increase the number of people who know his work.
“It’s brilliant to play with Padraig. He’s got songs by the truck full and many haven’t yet been heard. Many people will know his songs through those who have covered them, but it'd be good to hear the originals, and Padraig has 20 other songs for each one of those.”
The collaboration between Padraig and Leo goes back before their current incarnation as a duo, back before The Saw Doctors, back to the late 1970s and early 1980s in Tuam. “Since I was a teenager, I’ve always loved music,” says Leo. “I've been lucky to be always hanging around with talented people, I was hanging around with the McHugh brothers, and then Blaze X happened.”Blaze X - featuring Davy Carton, Paul Ralph, Ja Keating, and the late, great Paul Cunniffe - are possibly the greatest cult band to come out of Ireland in the punk era, and who, along the way, created some thrilling music with songs like ‘Some Hope’ and ‘Rippy’.
“I heard about this band rehearsing in the youth club in Tuam,” recalls Leo. “They were a bit older than me. I went to see them, expecting them to be middling, and I couldn’t believe it. It was as good as any of the records I was buying. Pardaig had just come back from London and became their manager. I was a young, enthusiastic fan, and was giving them a hand. They were magnetic, fantastic, aggressive, and melodic, everything you’d want in a band. Their songs had the melody you’d hear in the Ramones or the Undertones. It was an education in how good something local could be.”
Photo:- Mike Shaughnessy
Although a short-lived enterprise, Blaze X were an inspiration to the Tuam musicians in the years and decades that followed. Their principal legacy is The Saw Doctors, who, despite their roots and folk sound, inherited punk’s irreverence, energy, and way with a belting chorus.
Indeed, it was 30 years ago this year that The Saw Doctors released their debut album, If This Is Rock’n’Roll I Want My Old Job Back, and 31 since ‘I Useta Lover’ - a song written by Leo Moran, Padraig Stevens, Davy Carton, and Paul Cunniffe, became a massive hit, and one of the biggest selling Irish singles of all time.“It was originally a Blaze X song,” says Leo. “When The Saw Doctors came together, we’d started writing about ‘I have fallen for another’, but we had no chorus, and then we said, ‘What about that Blaze X song?’, and it all fell together.”
“We always knew it was popular as we had played it around Galway for a few years, it always captured people’s attention, and made them smile,” says Leo, “so we weren’t surprised when it became a hit, but we were surprised by how big a hit it became and by how many people liked it.
“It was lucky timing, and all this happened coincidentally, surreptitiously, it took hold with people so much that we had to be careful not to be identified as a ‘one song band’, so we got the album done quickly so that song wouldn’t be head and shoulders above the rest. ‘I Useta Lover’ is an animal I’ve known and loved. It gave us a platform to go abroad, but it doesn’t have the same significance for audiences in Britain and the States, as it does for audiences in Ireland, and that’s a good thing.”
The future?In the years since, Padraig has released the solo albums Sound!, Puddles and Rainbows, and most recently, Home Recordings, while in 1998, Padraig and Leo released an album of Gaelic football songs as The Folk Footballers. Might there be another album from this intrepid duo?
“Whatever happens next is next,” says Leo. “We’re delighted to play the Town Hall and I’m sure there will be some new songs on the night as well.”
Live Again is a 'Galway Advertiser presents...' concert. The MC will be Matt Keane, the award winning traditional musician and folk singer. Doors are 7.30pm. Tickets are €25 from the Town Hall (091 - 569777, www.tht.ie ). See Galway Advertiser social media for updates.
Entry requirements for admission to the event will be in line with the Government’s Covid-19 guidelines in place at the time.