Putting Galway in the smut: Jills, smuts and feeks. Alan Murdoch receives a crash course in the language of The Sawdoctors

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AT THE close of their show, The Sawdoctors often surprise audiences with a simple acoustic encore - a quiet, accordion-backed elegy, 'I Hope You'll Meet Again', that's all the more poignant for the contrast with the unrestrained energy that precedes it. Originally written as a poem by the band's lead singer, Leo Moran, it addresses his mother's grief for the death of a son killed in an accident before Moran was born.

Only later set to music, it was first performed by the band's other vocalist, Davy Carton, at the funeral of Moran's mother two years ago, just as the band were achieving their earliest success. Its inclusion in the set is revealing, a glimpse of deeper feeling beneath their more familiar boisterous good humour.

Like the other core members, Moran and Carton grew up in Tuam (pronounced 'Toom'), Co Galway. They're often portrayed as a rural outfit from somewhere in the sticks, but they see themselves 'townies' - Tuam in its own way being a little metropolis in the region, home of a big sugar beet processing plant.

The closure of the plant, and of the engineering works where Carton was a welder, prompt allusions in their more serious moments to recent mass emigration and depopulation of their home territory.

Much of their infectious charm is tied up in this identity, so much so that 'N17', their joyful evocation of the ruggedly picturesque road home (chorus: 'Stone walls and the grass is green . . . '), has been adopted as a universal anthem of homesick modern-day emigrants from the west of Ireland scattered as far afield as Canada and Australia.

Moran's own speech is spiced with curious slang of the 'shams', sharp-dressed Tuam youths, who deem themselves urban sophisticates next to 'the buffs - the country fellers'. The large numbers of local (Romany) travellers are dubbed 'minks', a phrase they use themselves to emphasise their separateness.

'Tuam has its own rhyming slang, and the second album (All the Way From Tuam) has the odd flavour of the vernacular,' says Moran, whose ear for linguistics set him on his first career as a French teacher. 'On the football field you'd hear phrases like 'Plank it across lively for the noodle, his jills with the KD is a gomey' - 'Cross the ball quick for a header, the goalie with the hat is an eejit.' '

'Jills' and 'gomey' may be travellers' slang; other terms, Moran believes, came via another important regional phenomenon, the visiting 'showbands' that packed dance-halls and cabaret lounges in Ireland's rural centres in their Sixties and Seventies' heyday, or from schoolboy slang. 'A photo is called a 'smut' - 'There's a smut of me there now' you'd say. When we were young, going to see a film your mother would say 'You're not going to them smutty things]' if there was a hint of nudity involved. So the movies became 'the smuts'. '

Mildly risque boyhood reminiscences add mischief in their music. Pointing to the absurdity of broad Glaswegian accents singing cliched American slang (an implied swipe at the maudlin 'Culchie and Western' popular in some parts of rural Ireland), Moran determined to reinvent the language of rock'n' roll. 'No grown woman has been called 'baby' in Tuam High Street for at least 25 years,' he claimed in justification on Irish radio.

Thus, 'She's a dead feek fourth-year Presentation boarder' describes a stunning convent schoolgirl. ' 'Dead feek' means nice and approachable if you're 12, or something a bit more to the older ones,' explains Moran, whose thick glasses and gawky stage antics suggest a hyperactive Hank Marvin.

Earlier fans will recall this furtive teenage ogling from the cover of their debut hit single 'I Used to Love Her,' with its unholy Sunday Mass adoration at the moment of distributing the Host. ('When she'd go to receive I'd kneel down there and watch her pass / The glory of her ass . . . ')

Such melodic high spirits have won Tuam's most famous sons a fervent domestic following, pulling crowds as large as 50,000 at summer festivals where they have topped the bill, with a parallel London following to match. They are now beginning their first large-scale British tour, before testing the water in eight countries on the Continent.

The prospect is an intriguing one. Quite what the Finns, Danes and Swedes will make of 'shams, buffs and minks', not to mention the concupiscent reality of adolescent Catholicism in Bishop Casey's diocese, God only knows.

Tour details: Gigs, facing page

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