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A new dynamic due Anto Thistlethwaite and Leo Moran hit the road

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Anto Thistlethwaite and Leo Moran.
Anto Thistlethwaite and Leo Moran.

Let's turn back the clock — May 1, 1988 in Galway to be exact. A young band called the Saw Doctors was playing at the Late Late Breakfast Show in the Warwick Hotel, a fundraising event for the Galway Arts Festival.

Eleven miles away in the seaside village of Spiddal, the Waterboys were creating their new record Fisherman’s Blues.  Waterboy Anthony “Anto” Thistlethwaite arrived at the Warwick with his sax and got up and started blowing along with the band.

It would start the musical friendship between Saw Doctors guitarist Leo Moran and Anto that will be on full display this month as the duo tours pubs and parlors for an acoustic tour of songs you know by heart.

The show will include different takes on well-known Saw Doctors songs.  “We’ll be playing songs acoustically in our own style — well-known, lesser-known and unknown ones, and telling stories and sharing whatever else comes to mind as we make our way from show to show in our Dodge Avenger rental car,” says Moran.

“It’s all new and fresh and challenging and scary and exciting! It’s going to be a quieter affair. Because it’s just myself and Anto, it is very new and a bit scary. But it will be great fun and let’s face it — I have a 25-year apprenticeship on dealing with audiences and life on the road. I’m not too concerned.”

The big elephant in the room, of course, is the state of the Saw Doctors in the future. Will the band carry on or, as Black 47 announced last week, will they call it a day after their wildly successful 25th anniversary tour earlier this year?

I posed this and other questions to Moran during an exclusive chat over the weekend. Here’s how it went.

We spoke last March and it seemed the Saw Doctors were up in the air and that you were going to go back to your respective corners for a while.  Where is the band now?

We’re taking the time off and it is exactly where I left it with you last. We will have no real discussions on it for the next few months. Believe it or not, it’s almost too late to book something for March of next year in the States now even if we changed our minds, so I could tell you for certain you won’t be seeing us next winter.

Faced with that, some of us are looking forward to the break. But for Anto and I, we would have been bored just hanging around so we decided to record an album and get on with it.

How are you feeling about the Saw Doctors hiatus? Angry? Relieved? Confused?

I went through all those things. I love touring and playing. If that happens inside the band, great. But I like to live in the present. Touring and recording as a duo brings us new challenges.

Since we stopped playing with the Saw Doctors I’ve had time to reflect on the band and what it was and what it wasn’t. I always wanted to make it something more.

If we do get back together, I would want to go about things a different way. But for now it’s in the rearview mirror.

I would imagine this will be a lot different for you, touring as just a duo. 

Yes! We are driving ourselves around. There is no sleeper bus chauffeuring us from gig to gig in the middle of the night.

I am really looking forward to it. Looking forward to avoiding highways, getting lost on the roads, exploring. There are only 100 miles or so between gigs, so we will have the opportunity to do that.

We are selling the CDs and booking the hotels by ourselves. A whole new experience.
Tell me about the album.

We recorded it at Anto’s house.  He has recording stuff in his loft. We figured out how to work the songs in new ways.

We hit on some Saw Doctors songs that are lesser known. There were some unrecorded tracks that both Anto and I had laying around.  Our motto on this project was, “It didn’t come out as bad as we thought!”

What was the recording process like? 

It’s liberating and scary. We are the only two human beings that heard it because it was done in Anto’s house. Usually you have engineers, managers and other band members weighing in on what they think of things. We had no independent judge, which was strange in a way.

We brought it to Sun Street in Tuam to have it mastered. Kenny is our engineer. His first comment was the sound quality, with Anto’s prowess with the recording knobs. He did a great job mastering it, from making it into a tape form into a record.

It’s not a groundbreaking, bestseller kind of record. This is going to be more or less what they heard of the night, not much fancy stuff on it.

What have been some challenges around putting this new project together?

For one thing it has become awfully difficult to enter the U.S. You have to get your visas and tax stuff before you come in. If it were myself and Anto we never would have figured it all out. Thank God we have management.

There’s this feeling within the Irish musical community that coming to America is more hassle than it’s worth nowadays, and that is sad because it deprives American audiences of some great new Irish voices.

How have fans reacted to the duo? 

You don’t get a huge reaction when you’re announcing small stuff, the micro goings-on of the people. We are getting great reactions to the shows and selling shows.

For a full listing of tour dates and to buy tickets go to: http://www.leoandanto.com/

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