Saturday, 30 May 2015

Don McLean

27th May 2015

Edinburgh Usher Hall

Whilst it is difficult to imagine anyone viewing Don McLean as a one-hit-wonder (he has enjoyed two other UK Number Ones, for goodness sake), there is no doubt the presence of The Big One has cast a long, and occasionally impenetrable, shadow over his long career.  I noted that he recently has sold at auction his original written lyric for American Pie, including sixteen pages of explanatory notes…..for £1.2 million!  Now that is what I call a pension scheme.

My personal exposure to McLean over the years has not really extended much beyond his second album, and a "Best of" CD I picked up cheap from Asda a few years back.  So, I fully expected to be hearing a number of unfamiliar tunes this evening.

Playing in front of a five-piece band – Nashville stalwarts all – proceedings opened with a remarkably lumpen rendition of Buddy Holly’s Everyday.  This really could have been a fair-to-middling pub band at play here.  Jerusalem came next:  a sprightly enough ditty, unfortunately weighed down by some appallingly trite lyrics:

"And you will show, show the way, to all who see it shine,
That we can live, in peace, in Jerusalem this time.
 Jerusalem is old, Jerusalem is new,
 Jerusalem can hold, Muslim, Christian, Jew."

I rather doubt this Don, and one can be fairly sure a thousand years from now these clowns will still be bickering over ownership of worthless caves and rocks; murdering each other’s children in the process.

Not an auspicious start to the gig then, but the time we had reached Cocaine Blues things had picked up considerably, and a trio of the man’s better known recordings : And I Love You So, Castles in the Air and Crying soon came along.

Whilst the casual listener may consider McLean to be a bit of a folkie, on this evening’s evidence C&W appeared to truly be where his heart lies these days.  For we were treated to a fair few slices of Americana, of which Danny Flowers’ Tulsa Time in particular stood out I felt.

Then without any preamble, McLean moved straight into “Long, long time ago” and the atmosphere in the place changed.  Folks stood up and set to dancing and to bellowing along with the chorus like dafties; young and old alike.  Sitting, as we were, in the third row I did wonder what Mclean must have thought had he caught sight of my teenaged daughter singing along – every single verse word perfect.

Whilst McLean, due to hit 70 in a few months’ time does acknowledge his picking skills ain’t what they once were, his voice has lost only a little of that unmistakeable quality.  This evening he effortlessly negotiated that vocal assault course Crying, without putting a foot (or note) wrong.  His hair does look rather odd, though... and I could not help but wonder if hidden within that extravagant thatch was the most epic comb-over seen on these shores since the days of Arthur Scargill in his pomp.

The encore was a mixed bag, with a brace of country-fest shindigs bookending Vincent, which was itself prefaced by a few a few lines from the Sinatra standard Lost in the Stars.

And I sat with the rest of the Usher Hall in rapt silence luxuriating in his paean to Van Gogh, I could not help but reinforce my view that this song, and not the Pie one, really represents McLean’s true crowning glory.

Don McLean - Edinburgh 2015

Don McLean - Edinburgh 2015

Don McLean - Edinburgh 2015


Homeless Brother
Cocaine Blues
Beautiful Eyes
And I Love You So
Castles In The Air
Tulsa Time/Deep in the Heart of Texas
Midnight Special
He's Got You
American Pie

Ain't She a Honey
Lost in the Stars
Greenback Dollar

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