Thursday 16th March 2017
The Ulster Hall, Belfast

What to do of a St Patrick’s day eve in Belfast? Well, one of the better options was The Saw Doctors gig in the Ulster Hall. For two solid and joy filled hours the six piece band from Tuam belted out hit after hit.

The evening began with a nicely paced support set from the Whileaways from Galway. Great harmonies, clever percussion, and a warm stage presence entertained the ever increasing crowd. By the time the Doctors hit the stage at 8.45pm, the Hall was filled to capacity and cheering the band from the off.

Initially, on the back of their first single, ‘I Useta Lover’, the band were seen as something of a novelty act. However a string albums and singles has seen them develop an almost cult status. But it is live on stage that the Saw Doctors are most renowned, and tonight, that shone through.

Davy Carton is in fine voice tonight following his throat operation which saw the postponement of gigs in January. But tonight it seems apparent that it is Leo Moran, who is leading the show, as the main songwriter in the band and raconteur. He informs the post-Brexit crowd that the group is delighted to have traveled all the way from “Europe” to appear tonight!

At one point Leo, apparently stealing a trick from President Trump’s friend – Snoop Dogg, to increase audience participation, entices the crowd to “raise your motherf*cking hands in the air”. The soft west Mayo accent perhaps not carrying the menace normally conveyed by the American rapper, but the crowd loved it!

Surprisingly, the age mix in the crowd, for a band playing since 1986, is very varied, but united in their energetic responses to the songs – ‘Green and Red of Mayo’, ‘Same Oul’ Town’, and ‘To Win Just Once’. The crowd singing along seemingly to every word. Towards the end of the evening, even the seated section in the balcony are on their feet.

Hidden in the singalongs and revelry are some fine slices of observation of Irish life –

Why you ever bothered going to mass. Was it fear of God, or to find a wife. Or just buying shares in the afterlife.

On the eve of St Patrick’s Day, some of the banter is obviously alcohol fuelled, but there is a genuine warmth and sense of being together in the moment that is a joy to be part of.

There are many standout moments during the night; the aforementioned ‘I Useta Lover’, ‘Joyce Country Ceili Band’, and ‘N17’. A special mention goes to the sax playing of stalwart Anto Thistlethwaite who added so much depth and variety to the music throughout the night. His solo on ‘Share The Darkness’ was outstanding.

It has been some years since the band last played Belfast. Leo suggests it was in the “Winnie” Mandela Hall. Hopefully, it won’t be too long before we get another musical prescription from the good Doctors!