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Kiltamagh, Connaught, Ireland

Kiltamagh, Connaught, Ireland
Band Rock Singer/Songwriter


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"Old guitar pulls heart strings"

JOHN Turps Burke is living proof that while it might look to everyone else that you are on the top of the pile, you really feel at the bottom. John was the lead guitarist and musical director of the Sawdoctors, one of the biggest musical phenomena ever in this country.

However, at the height of their fame and success he left the band to reassess his life and possibly, in hindsight, even save it.

A chronic back complaint had crippled him with so much pain that he drank to excess to kill the agony.

He had severe problems with seven discs in his back and was suffering from curvature of the spine.

The lifestyle with the Sawdoctors didnt help matters. John also felt that the band were selling out on their original punk ideals. He quit after the bands second album. After a long period of rest and recuperation, Burke is back with his own extremely fine solo album called Illuminate.

While he has no illusions about his contempt for the romanticisation of rock and roll indulgence, Johns object of desire shows that his love for rock and roll hasnt diminished one whit.

His most prized possession is an original fender stratocaster, the guitar made famous by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and his wild foot-pedalled feedback and distortion and a guitar further immortalised by Eric Clapton.

I was 20 years old at the time and I was living in London in a squat, recalls John around the initial events that lead to him purchasing a fender stratocaster, the guitar many perceive as the wild prince of electric guitars. I had a beautiful Vox guitar made from three different pieces of wood, pine, maple and ash. Then one day the place was broken into. All my records, tapes, books and the guitar were stolen. I was devastated. I didnt do anything for two weeks except remain stoned.

Eventually, though, I came round from the shock of it all and then got a job as supervisor in an electronics factory. Id studied construction studies in Dublin and did a course in computer programming and electronics back in Ireland. I started to save money and my parents gave me some as well.

My 21st birthday was in April so they sent me money which I had the good sense to save. In June of that year, 1984, I spotted a fender stratocaster in a shop in Fulham in Chelsea. It was right beside where Hendrix used to rehearse. I had to have it. It cost me £349, which was a fair amount of money back then. Ever since it has travelled everywhere with me.

From just outside Tuam in County Galway, John Burke first started playing music with his father when he played the spoons in the Keane Family Ceilí Band, which also featured some rather famous other youngsters at the time like a 16-year-old Delores Keane and her brother Sean Keane. Although John now says that the country and nature were always his inspiration, the advent of punk rock to Ireland in the later 1970s proved a turning point for him. It motivated him to push harder to make it with his own band. The history of the Sawdoctors, which John formed with his friends Leo Moran and Davy Carton in 1987, is well documented. Johns own battle with his back problems and the strength he found in his own unique form of a nature-based spirituality, along with the help of the spiritual chiropractor, Dr Laurel Martin is a less well known tale.

From 1994 to 1999 John also suffered from depression. He didnt pick up a guitar nor write a song for two years between 95 and 97. Early in 1999, though, the first stirrings of Illuminate began to arouse him again.

What inspires me most of all now is nature, says John. For the first eight years of my life I lived on a farm. My father took two jobs and my mother one when we moved into Tuam to live. It took me a long time to come back to the healing power of nature.

When youre rushing around in the city its so easy to forget who you are and to fall into the trap of living meaninglessly. But if you sit in a field by yourself you are confronted with yourself. We have entered into a crazy mode of existence where we never have time to think and reflect.

What interests me now is simply honesty and integrity, continues John, who shows himself as a fine multi-instrumentalist on Illuminate, chipping in with backing vocals, lead vocals, acoustic and electric guitars, bass guitar, piano, organs, synths, mando cello, mandolin and percussion, as well as having written all 11 of the original songs on his debut solo CD.
Johns friend and Waterboys founder member Mike Scott, helped and advised him during the making of Illuminate and Scott also took the cover photograph of the album.

John is clearly feeling very well these days. Hes on a roll with songwriting and is enjoying the burst of creativity, after feeling blocked for so long. Along with his newfound sense of well-being, hes discovered a few key priorities in life. Living life in this way leads to a lot more fulfilment for the songwriter and performer.

I wrote 120 songs during 1997 to 1999. My approach to songwriting is like my approach to life nowadays. I trust my intuition and I listen to my inner voice both in relation to my physical, mental and spiritual health.

Illuminate by John Turps Burke is out now on Solid Records, distribution by RMG and Fresh Productions.
- Irish Examiner

"Ex-Sawdoc Turps releases his first CD"

RELEASING one’s debut cd should be a major milestone in anyone’s life. Former Sawdoctor Turps Burke, who is facing just such an event this week with the release of Illuminate, however is taking the whole thing in his stride.

Fourteen years after he joined one of Ireland’s best known bands, John ‘Turps’ Burke is just hitting his stride. Debut album Illuminate sets out an impressive stall of tracks that encompass a wide range of tastes, unified by the unmistakable sound of a man who spent the latter end of the Nineties finding his voice.

With impeccable North Galway credentials — born in Cluide, he moved to Tuam at age eight and now lives close to his parents in St Joseph’s Park — Turps’ finest moment so far is bound to place him firmly high in the pecking order of bankable Irish singer songwriters.

His musical experience began at the age of eight travelling and playing spoons with dad Brendan Burke, singer of the Keane Family Ceili Band.

Later, as one of the first punks in the west, Turps played with his own proto-punk Tuam bands — hands up who remembers Blitzkrieg, The Lads and All Cats Are Grey?

In 1987 he formed The Sawdoctors with school friends Leo Moran and Davy Carton and they quickly became the best known band to hail from the west.

“I was just back from London and the lads knew I played guitar, so they gave me a shout,” he says now.

1990 saw the band produce the biggest ever selling single, I Useta Love Her, and the rest — including albums If This Is Rock n Roll I Want My Old Job Back and All The Way From Tuam — is history.

Turps rapidly began to find his voice within the band, co-writing tracks, singing on the tracks he penned himself, and contributing his crystal clear high harmonies and melodic mandolin/keyboard themes to the sound of the band.

It was around this time he also contributed vocals to The Waterboys’ West of Ireland-recorded album Room to Roam at the request of old mate Mike Scott.

The association with Scott has stood to Turps down through the years.

The folk super hero evidently is impressed with the breadth and range of Turps’ talent and has called on him a number of times down through the years to contribute to his work.

By the time in 1997 that Turps had decided to leave The Sawdoctors, he felt he was ready to tackle the music scene head-on as a solo artist.

“The time between 1991 and 1992 was pretty difficult because we were touring so much. It was difficult not to get distracted,” he says now of his time with the band.

With a publishing deal to back him up, he was able to concentrate on writing.

And it was during this time that he began to travel to Spain.

It is clear that living there had a profound effect on him — the laid back Mediterranean atmosphere obviously agreed with him, and the album includes a number of tracks that were written there, or written somewhere between here and there.

So, with a gestation period of four years on this album, was it worth the wait?

“Apart from the stuff that happened along the way which I wasn’t expecting, I always liked the way Mike Scott and the Waterboys, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Mike Oldfield and Radiohead have made a lot of albums and then go out and tour them,” says Turps. It dosent really matter if it takes 2 to 5 to 7 years to make a record, as for me the final product is what matters, to feel right inside about it, give birth, and then let it spread its wings and fly!

To the same end, he has amassed a stock of some 120 songs over the past four years.

“I just wanted to make a theme type of album, like a film or say sonic picture. The 10 tracks I’ve selected for this album may not necessarily be the 10 best songs I’ve written, but they are the 10 which work best together, and that was important to me,” he says.

Even the album sleeve of Illuminate provides lots of local interest with name checks of more than a few familiar names, including the staff and management of Maloney’s Pub, High Street.

“I really like the atmosphere in the place. The live venue would remind you a bit of the Mean Fiddler in London, and it is the kind of place where you would get people of any age sitting down and relaxing,” he says.

The immediate future, he says, will involve a few gigs some time soon — certainly over the summer.

Catch him either live, or by buying the album Illuminate available in usual outlets.

— Mary Conroy
- The TUAM HERALD May2001.

"MASC Benefit"

THE WATERBOYS, The Saw Doctors, Padraig Stevens, Breda Smyth, Odie Lynch, and other special guests will play a benefit show at the Black Box Theatre on May 7 for the Male Abuse Survivors' Centre which is being organised by former Saw Doctor John 'Turps' Burke.


Turps was a founding member of The Saw Doctors and played with the band until 1992. He released his debut solo album Illuminate in 2001 three years ago and appeared at the Witnness Festival in Fairyhouse. Since then he has been busy working on his follow up CD and other projects. One of these is his work for MASC.

“I lived in London in the early 1980s and I had a friend there who had been a survivor of abuse,” he told me. “He died two years after I came home to Ireland to live. I saw with him and with other friends how badly abuse can affect the life of a person. A few years ago I went to a MASC seminar in the Quality Hotel in Oranmore and I promised I’d help them out any way I could. MASC gets little or no money from the Government and it seemed really wrong because they do so much good work.

"I rang Ollie Jennings and told him I'd an idea for a benefit concert. I then rang Mike Scott and told him about my idea for a MASC benefit concert. Basically The Waterboys said they'd do it if The Saw Doctors did it and The Saw Doctors said they'd do it if The Waterboys said they'd do it - so thankfully they both agreed to do it. I then rang Breda Smyth and Padraig Stevens. A friend of mine called Odie Lynch said he'd open the show. Ollie Jennings rang me and said he was doing up the press release but there was one thing missing and that was my own name on the bill. So, you've Ollie to blame for me playing!"

The Waterboys in Spidéal

The benefit show will feature a one-off ensemble of The Waterboys with former member Anthony Thistletwaite on bass and Fran Breen on drums. The Waterboys came to An Spidéal in the late 1980s to take time away from the difficult recording of Fisherman’s Blues.

"Mike Scott was getting bogged down with Fisherman's Blues and he decided to come to Galway to chill out," Turps says. "I remember Trevor Hutchinson telling me that for the song 'A Bang On The Ear' they did 97 takes!"

Within weeks of arriving in Galway Scott took on a new energy and began to soak up the musical influences around him. It was while in Galway that Scott hooked up with Leo Moran and began to champion The Saw Doctors. "I used to go watch them in the Quays and I was utterly charmed by them," Scott told me in an interview in 2003. "They had wonderful songs like 'N17' and 'The Streets of Galway'. I thought they were the bee's knees."

The Saw Doctors played support to The Waterboys on many occasions but Turps remembers in particular a gig in Leisureland. “In 1986 we supported The Waterboys for the first time in Leisureland – the gig was organised by a nun by the name of Rita Reid. The line-up was Mary O’Connor, Leo Moran, Davy Carton, Fergal McGrath, and me. BP Fallon was the MC and the late, great Sean McBride was there as special guest. I’d just arrived back from London and Leo was trying to convince Davy to get back songwriting so we just decided we’d go for it. The stuff we played that night was like punk country – Dwight Yoakam and Steve Earle were big at the time so we kind of did punk versions of country songs.”

The Saw Doctors' success

For a short period Turps went back to London and returned soon after The Saw Doctors' line-up began to take shape. Pearse Doherty had joined the band on bass and in time John Donnelly would join on drums. "We all kind of identified with each other and we were hungry for success," Turps says.

The belief that something really special was happening dawned on Turps when the band played a gig in Belfast in 1990. "We were asked to play Queen's University Rag Week in Belfast," he says. "We'd only ever played Belfast twice before and that was when we were playing support to The Waterboys. We were due to play this venue that was about the size of the Black Box. We weren't really sure if we'd get a crowd but they'd offered us good money so we said we'd do it. The venue was absolutely packed - there was something like 800 to 1,000 people there. When we got on stage we got a standing ovation for about 10 minutes. We were totally taken by surprise."

This upcoming gig at Black Box will be a time to reflect on the collective successes of this bunch of friends who changed the music scene in Ireland forever. Now they have decided to give a little back and put their considerable talents together for the benefit of a charitable cause. Turps sums up the gig by saying "It'll be a historic night.

- Galway Advertiser - 14 April 2005


The Sawdoctors "If this is rock and roll i want my old job back" UK Top 40. Seven top 10 Irish hits including 3 no 1's and a biggest selling Irish single in the history of the Irish music business. 3 film scores including 5 tracks of which one was; "The run of the Country" starring Albert Finney. A solo album "Illuminate"released to critical acclaim in Ireland and Album of the week in the UK. A guest appearance on The Waterboys "Room to Roam" and many appearances with fellow Irish musicians including the Hothouse Flowers and Sharon Shannon.



JOHN "TURPS" BURKE comes from the cathedral city of Tuam, County Galway in the west of Ireland. A performer equally at home in the worlds of punk rock and traditional folk, he was a founder member of the internationally known SAWDOCTORS with whom he played guitar and electric mandolin, wrote and sang. Turps was one of the first punk rock fans in the West, mad for the Sex Pistols, The Ramones and The Clash, and played with his own proto-punk Tuam bands, wonderful, anarchic ad hoc ensembles with names like Blitzkrieg, The Lads and All Cats Are Grey. In 1987 he formed The Sawdoctors with his former school friends. They quickly became the best known band in the West, and in 1990 had the biggest ever selling single in Ireland with the now classic "I USETA LOVER". Many other hits followed and Turps played a major role co-producing with Philip Tennant in these and the first Sawdoctors album "IF THIS IS ROCK AND ROLL IWANT MY OLD JOB BACK" ,singing lead vocals on his own songs, co-writing several others and contributing his crystal clear high harmonies and melodic mandolin/guitar/keyboard themes to the sound. At this time the band were selling more records in Ireland than U2. Around the same time he also contributed backing vocals to the Waterboys West-of-Ireland-recorded album "Room to Roam" at the request of his friend Mike Scott. After several successful years of touring with The Sawdoctors, Turps quit the band to return to Tuam and work on his own solo music. In the summer of 1997 Turps began writing and demo-ing the set of songs that were to become his first solo album, "ILLUMINATE". The songs were written in and around Tuam and on location in Alicante, Spain. In mid 1999, assembling a group of musicians including Guitarist Thomas Niland and Cane 141 programmer,Paul Brennan, Turps began recording "ILLUMINATE" at Temptation Studios in Galway. He produced the album himself with co-producer, Galway studio pioneer Pat Neary. "ILLUMINATE" was completed in late 2000 and reflects the many sides of Turps' musical personality - full tilt rockers, funky cool groovers, acoustic ballads - all topped with his trademark sweet melodies and set in a warm contemporary atmosphere. Turps songs conjure up the imagery and beauty of his surroundings as well as his own experiences. Deep Down In The City expresses the colour and beauty of the global cultural melting pot and the luxury of having anonymity and freedom to do what you want. To Be The One was written one night at 4.30am as Turps lay awake in his bed in Alicante, just after hed met someone whom he felt may have been a soulmate. According to Turps The trumpets came first with a thumping beat and then the lyrics followed and I was dreaming of the person in questionso you could say it was as spontanious as can be! Chessboard Blues was originally called Brighter Days and is about being as authentic in daily living as one can. Featuring strings and piano, the song was written by Turps in Mike Scott of the Waterboys, West London home with Mike playing along on piano. Following the session, Turps took the cassette to Spain and finished the song off some weeks later. The album cover photograph was taken by Mike Scott (a belated thanks perhaps for those long-ago backing vocals on "Room To Roam") and the inner sleeve pictures were taken in Spain by Turps himself."ILLUMINATE" was released in Ireland to Critical Acclaim on May 25th 2001 on Solid Records, Distributed online by FRESH PRODUCTIONS Ireland. For more information on "TURPS" and to obtain a copy of "ILLUMINATE" go to www.myspace.com/johnturps and follow purchase details from there and also view the Turps other site link.

Band Members