REVIEW / Sisters under the skin: The saw doctors - Town & Country

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THE SISTERS of Perpetual Indulgence are more closely associated with the west coast of the United States than the west of Ireland, being the only male flagellant order to wear nuns' habits and thigh boots. Sashaying on during the Saw Doctors' 'Presentation Boarder', a tune with a convent-school theme, they showed how far the boys from Tuam have come. The Saw Doctors dress like tourists, blaringly casual, and like tourists they give the impression that they enjoy praising home while doing

things that would get them run out of town if they were actually there.

Not that there's the least harm in them. In other hands, the ingredients could curdle. Songs about convent girls and football-chant choruses will always tend to bring out the worst in a band, and an Irish group also faces the supreme challenge of how to enter the waters of sentiment without either wallowing or drowning in them.

At their best, the Saw Doctors carry it all off with aplomb; at their worst, they get away with it. One can even forgive, if not overlook, the line from 'I'd Love To Kiss The Bangles' that runs 'I'd love to have it off with Susannah Hoffs'.

The wellspring of the Saw Doctors' success is that they play rock'n'roll with a country air - not a breath of Nashville, but a rural mood of freshness and vitality. They also have an instinctive grasp of how to invoke teen spirit despite the onward march of time, setting many of their songs in recollections of adolescence. 'You Broke My Heart' is a nicely-judged reflection on how a boy's heart may be broken either by a girl, or by the boys in his football team. (We must assume that 'Presentation Boarder', whose subject is forever in the fourth form, is also an exercise in nostalgia.)

Underneath the teenage layer lies an active seam of pop heritage dating mainly from the early Sixties, that era of innocent harmonies. A Beatle-ish element is noticeable, unsurprisingly, and it emphasises the Liverpool echoes in the Saw Doctors' show.

There's the homage to the hometown, the sentimental male bonding, the scarf-waving anthems; the emotions came from Ireland in the first place, and made themselves heard in the Mersey sound, which now returns with a Galway accent. One might speculate

whether the encounter with the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence could set up a similar cultural circuit, between the two merry traditions of Irish Catholic church-baiting and American Gay Pride.

Even that is not as implausible as guitarist Leo Moran's announcement that 'Sing A Powerful Song', with its references to unemployment in the west of Ireland, is to be used in a film about the Los Angeles riots. Truly, the Saw Doctors are the most provincial and the most cosmopolitan of pop groups. And their live show, close on two hours of uplift, could be the best value for money in rock'n'roll. How about a Brit award for that?