For the first time Don McLean shared his life story in this 420-page biography available from Amazon (print and Kindle) and other top bookstores. This site provides information about the book and regular additions of free sample content from book chapters. The site also contains full details about all albums released by Don McLean.
Chapter 1: Everyone’s Caught on a Carousel Pony…Growing Up in New Rochelle Chapter 2: Castles in the Air…Musical Apprenticeship, 1960s Chapter 3: Tapestry…The Hudson River Troubadour Chapter 4: Magdalene Lane…First Record Deal Chapter 5: American Pie…Something touched me deep inside… Chapter 6: Starry, Starry Night…Vincent and the Grammys Chapter 7: Dreidel…My world is a constant confusion… Chapter 8: Homeless Brother…There’s Freedom When You’re Walking… Chapter 9: Prime Time…Nashville and Jerusalem Don McLean on Song Making and Recording Chapter 10: “Crying”…The Comeback Chapter 11: Crossroads…1980s, Litigation Chapter 12: And I Love You So…1990s, Family, and the Surf Ballroom Chapter 13: Garth Brooks and Madonna…Another Planet Chapter 14: A Long, Long Time Ago…Don McLean on American Pie
Don McLean is one of America’s most enduring singer-songwriters and is forever associated with his classic hits ‘American Pie’ and ‘Vincent (Starry Starry Night)’. Since first hitting the charts in 1971, Don has amassed over 40 gold and platinum records world-wide and, in 2004, was inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame. His songs have been recorded by artists from every musical genre, most notably Madonna’s No. 1 recording of ‘American Pie’ in 2000 and George Michael’s version of ‘The Grave’ in 2003, sung in protest at the Iraq War. Don McLean is immortalized as the subject of the Roberta Flack/The Fugees No. 1 hit, ‘ Killing Me Softly With His Song’. The author interviewed McLean at length about his childhood, the making of “American Pie” and his career as a singer, songwriter and performer. Says Jim Monaghan of WHDA radio, NJ: “…Alan Howard did a terrific job in not just sharing Don’s story, but revealing a personal side of Don rarely seen by the public.”
Thanks to Don McLean for putting the post-war, twentieth century experience to words and music and singing it all with a voice that transports us to a better place. I want to thank him for sharing his story.
Thanks to Fred Hellerman, Erik Darling, Pete Murphy, Pete Childs, Rob Stoner, Ed Freeman, Jerry Corbitt, Ed Begley Jr., Bob Dearborn, Joel Dorn, John Peters, Larry Butler, Gordon Stoker, Fred Snel, Chris Horsnell, John Platania, Tony Migliore, Ralph Childs, Jerry Kroon, Patrisha McLean, Dick Boak, Pat Severs, Garth Brooks, Ron Buck, Bob Gregg, Alan Young, and Bill Nisbet for allowing me to include their thoughts on Don McLean and his music.
Don’s first experience playing a musical instrument happened when he was 10 years old. A man named George Andrews lived behind the McLean Family. He was a thin, bald, anxious, chain-smoker who worked for a public relations firm in New York. Tension ran in the family, and his son ended up being institutionalized after having a nervous breakdown. George played the baritone ukulele and sang songs like “I Don’t Care If the Sun Don’t Shine” and other jazzy prohibition tunes. He taught Don a few chords and allowed him to play his ukulele from time to time. After much persuading, Don’s parents agreed to buy him a ukulele for Christmas.
A year later, Don discovered that his friend, Brad Bivens, owned a guitar. After baseball, they would go back to Brad’s house and Don would practice the chords he had learned on the ukulele. Brad was the son of the TV announcer Bill Bivens and owned many great record albums by artists who remain some of Don’s favorites today: Carlos Montoya, Josh White, Django Reinhart, Johnny Smith, Chet Atkins, Duane Eddy and The Ventures.
On one visit, Brad’s father got drunk and started playing the blues harmonica. He then took out his 16mm film projector and played a kinescope of Elvis Presley’s first television appearance on The Tommy Dorsey Show. He was one of the few people in the world who had a copy of that film. The film captivated Don. It made him dream of performing on stage. Presley has always been McLean’s favorite artist.
Extract from Chapter 1 of The Don McLean Story by Alan Howard
1. Botanical Gardens
2. The Lucky Guy
3. A Total Eclipse of the Sun
4. Waving Man
5. When July Comes
6. You’re All I Ever Had
7. Rock ‘n’ Roll Your Baby
8. I’ve Cried All the Tears That I Have
9. Ain’t She a Honey
10. The King of Fools
11. Grief and Hope
12. You’ve Got Such Beautiful Eyes
13. Last Night When We Were Young
Another chapter starts as Don McLean releases his new album ‘Botanical Gardens’ on March 23rd, his 19th studio album and first in 8 years. The album is arguably one of Don’s most reflective to date. As he puts it, “The inspiration for the project started years ago when I would walk in the beautiful gardens in Sydney Australia near the Opera House. I would dream young dreams and it was a comfort and an inspiration. I was always young inside, like we all are, and I felt it again there.”
Further reflecting on the record, Don says, “the whole album really revolves around the title song. Later on I realized that the gardens are really a metaphorical heaven, and there’s a kind of death and rebirth.”
Intimacy can be found at the heart of this record, with Don penning personal numbers looking back on a life well lived, as well as his observations on youth and love. Recording at Watershed Studios in Nashville also allowed a different kind of intimacy for Don and his band, as they were made to “play close and feel the music”, resulting in a raw, yet tight sound throughout. Don proves his prowess at writing timeless sounding songs once again, as the album weaves country, Americana, folk, and boot stomping rock in this release
The story behind the “American Pie” album featuring all new interviews with Don McLean, the producer Ed Freeman and musicians involved in making the record. Premiered December 8th, 2017 on BBC 4 and is now available to stream and buy on Amazon Prime.
Released October 2014. Recorded at the Free Trade Hall, Manchester, England in October 1991 accompanied by John Platania and the Jamie Marshall Band.
Disc: 1 (CD)
2. Love In My Heart
3. Can’t Blame The Wreck
4. Homeless Brother
5. Orphans Of Wealth
7. Castles In The Air
8. And I Love You So
9. Superman’s Ghost
Disc: 2 (CD)
6. American Pie
Disc: 3 (DVD)
2. Love In My Heart
3. Orphans Of Wealth
5. Castles In The Air
6. And I Love You So
7. Superman’s Ghost
13. American Pie
2. CASTLES IN THE AIR
3. AMERICAN PIE
5. AND I LOVE YOU SO
6. ADDICTED TO BLACK
8. EMPTY CHAIRS
9. SINCE I DON’T HAVE YOU
10. I TUNE THE WORLD OUT
11. HOMELESS BROTHER
12. WONDERFUL BABY
13. HAVE YOU SEEN ME
14. I WAS ALWAYS YOUNG
15. LOVERS LOVE THE SPRING
1. WORDS AND MUSIC
2. LEFT FOR DEAD
3. IF I HADN’T MET YOU
4. IF WE TRY
11. SUPERMAN’S GHOST
13. MAGDALENE LANE
15. THE STATUE
Released by Time Life Sept 2012
Nanci Griffith: Duet
Buddy Holly: Composer
Don McLean: Producer, Executive Producer
Roy Orbison: Composer
D. McLean: Composer
Jim Brown: Producer
W. Lester: Composer
N. Petty: Composer
J. Melson: Composer
J. Vogel: Composer
J. Beaumont: Composer
Mike Severs: Mastering
Patrisha McLean: Cover Photo, Back Cover Photo
Alan Howard: Liner Notes
Larry Buttler: Producer
An extended version of the documentary about the Don McLean story produced by multi Emmy-award winning film director Jim Brown was also released on DVD in September 2012. Included in this 90-minute feature film is music by Elvis Presley, Madonna, Fred Astaire and Garth Brooks and interviews with Brian Wilson (Beach Boys), Mike Mills (REM) and Lori Lieberman.
Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts at Worthy Farm, Pilton, Somerset, UK. 26 June 2011.
Don McLean came to Glastonbury and sang folk, pop, country and rock. He even sang “Sea Man” – an acapella song he wrote 30 years ago while living in Israel.
He sang songs from five decades.
He sang Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and demonstrated his own legendary singer-songwriter status with four of his top-10 hits, three of which reached number 1.
Don sang for an hour – just 12 songs – to an estimated audience of 100,000.
I was honoured to be there with my wife as Don’s guests, the day starting with joining Don on his tour bus at the Bath Spa Hotel where he and other performers at Glastonbury had been staying. It was an extraordinary day: surreal, exciting, amazing and a truly unforgettable once in a lifetime experience.
Finding ourselves on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury was a jaw-dropping moment. We watched as the crowd increased by tens of thousands in the 20 minutes or so before Don was due on stage at 1.30pm in the early afternoon “Legends” slot. My unsteady video captures the moment Don took to the stage and, later, part of American Pie. The sight and sound of that huge crowd singing along with Don was a sensory overload (in a good way!)
Watching the BBC coverage later, I noticed Don say “wow” as he came out on stage and clocked the crowd for the first time. Wow was a good word for it.
Paul Charles, Don’s UK agent who joined us on the tour bus, said that Glastonbury crowds vote with their feet if they don’t like an act. They stayed with Don throughout and the big roars of approval weren’t just reserved for the classics – Vincent, American Pie and Crying – but relatively little known Don McLean songs like “Love in my Heart (Food on the Table)” also went down a storm.
Don and his brilliant musicians nailed every song; they were clearly determined to do their best performances. As always, Don was tuned into the audience; he chose to sing American Pie slightly earlier and surprised everyone by finishing with “Sea Man”. The crowd would be dancing all day, but this song gave them something to think about.
The full set:
Medley – Well Alright, Peggy Sue Got Married La La Love You Love in my Heart Homeless Brother Have You Seen Me Vincent Tulsa Time/Deep in the Heart of Texas Crying American Pie I Gotta Know Sea Man
For someone so often associated with just one or two songs, Don has a back-catalogue of hits and other influential songs that surprises many. Beneath the Pyramid Stage a huge Greenpeace banner was visible for all to see. However few present would know that a Don McLean song, “Tapestry”, was an inspiration for that movement’s formation after the co-founder David McTaggart heard Don perform the song in 1969.
After his set, Laura Marling was among the first to congratulate Don. Marling won Best British Solo Female Artist at the 2011 Brit Awards and is a brilliant contemporary singer-songwriter who is clearly appreciative of Don’s work.
A quick interview with BBC TV followed and then with a wave from Beyoncé’s dancers we were ‘out of there’ on Don’s tour bus to Heathrow in time for his flight to Canada for the next stop on the tour. Sadly we said goodbye at this point and headed from the airport back to Bath where our adventure had begun.
The Pyramid Stage crowd area was packed with approximately 100,000 Glastonbury fans joining Don singing American Pie, but they loved the whole set with Love in my Heart and Crying also getting a huge response.
Addicted to Black
Run, Diana Run
Mary Lost a Ring
Lovers love the spring (William Shakespeare)
Promise to Remember
The Three of Us
I Was Always Young
This is America (Eisenhower)
In a Museum
Released by Don McLean Records in 2009. Studio album of original compositions.
Issued by Proper Records 2011 (UK) 2012 (US).
All tracks composed by Don McLean unless otherwise stated.
If We Try
Mountains O’Mourne (French-Collisson)
Words And Music
Your Cheating Heart (Williams)
Since I Don’t Have You (Beaumont-Vogel-Verscharen-Taylor-Lester)
Maybe Baby (Petty-Hardin)
Have You Seen Me
And I Love You So
Castles In The Air (1981 version)
Vincent (Starry Starry Night)
In a Museum
Released by EMI Records in 2007. Top 40 hit in the UK and includes a whole DVD in addition to the CD listed here
All tracks composed by Don McLean unless otherwise stated.
If You Could Read My Mind (remastered) (G Lightfoot)
Vincent (Starry, Starry Night)
Love Me Tender (E Presley)
(It Was) A Very Good Year (Ervin M. Drake)
My Saddle Pals and I
And I Love You So
Empty Chairs (recorded in 1978)
Run, Diana Run
You’ve Got to Share
Released by Hyena Records in 2005. Career retrospective including previously unreleased material, the original studio recording of American Pie and Don’s new song, Run, Diana Run. Includes a bonus DVD featuring Don McLean rehearsing at home with the Jordanaires in 1984 and Don’s only music video – Headroom. Produced by Don McLean and Joel Dorn.
Released by Don McLean Records in 2003. “Some albums are labors of love, others works of art. In returning to the western music which fired the imagination of his youth, Don McLean has clearly, beautifully, crafted a work of love and a work of art as well, spanning the spectrum of western music.” Ranger Doug, Riders in the Sky This album is dedicated to the memory of Neal Matthews and Duane West These were their last studio sessions. “My Saddle Pal and I” was recorded at the wrap party for the “Chain Lightning” album. Recording made on the spur of the moment, all quite drunk.
“Singin’ The Blues” composed by Melvin Endsley
“Kaw Liga” composed by Fred Rose and Hank Williams
“Among My Souvenirs” composed by Edgar Leslie and Horatio Nicholls
“Ribbon of Darkness” composed by Gordon Lightfoot
“The Story of My Life” composed by Burt Bacharach and Hal David
“Love Me” composed by Jeanne Pruett
“Don’t Worry ‘Bout Me”, “El Paso”, “I Can’t Quit”, “Devil Woman”, “Time Goes By” and “You Gave Me a Mountain” composed by Marty Robbins
June 2000 has seen Don McLean complete a sensational mini-tour of England. Three sell-out shows took place, starting at the London Apollo, Hammersmith on June 27th.
For some reason, UK Don McLean concerts become ‘events’ rather than mere ‘shows’. There was huge anticipation across the country as tickets for these shows became like gold dust. Prior to the London show, tickets were being sold by touts for upwards of ?150 (> $200)!
Fans were not disappointed (see the reviews on this site) as Don performed three of his best ever concerts, accompanied by a full band with each show lasting between two and three hours. Don McLean acknowledged his British fans as his “bedrock” and confirmed that he would be returning to tour the UK again.
For a group of his most devoted fans the London show proved to be an occasion that they will never forget. Don had given his permission for this web-site to organise a competition to find 15 – 20 lucky fans who would be able to attend the sound check and meet Don after the show. You can read about their experiences on this site. The event was highly exciting and very special for all who took part with Don McLean being incredibly generous with his time. A photo of the pre-concert sound check is shown below.
Enjoy the reviews below and I hope that it gives you the feeling of being part of the Don McLean concert experience.
Photographs provided by Bill Hamilton, Dave Cook, Ron Buck and Diane Howard.
Many thanks to:
Janet & Eve
The Sound Check…….
For 20 very lucky Don McLean fans the London Apollo show started three hours early at 4.30pm as they were allowed in to the empty auditorium to take front row seats for Don’s pre-concert sound check. This remarkable honour had been made possible by Don McLean allowing this website to run a competition to find a group of lucky fans to attend the sound check and to meet Don after the show. Here, you can share the experience.
Dave Cook writes: “The words, “That was probably the best day of my life” are said by everyone now and again. I can honestly say that, along with the births of my two kids, that was THE best day.
The warm sunshine which greeted us by the Thames was the curtain raiser. Meeting people in the flesh for the first time after knowing them through this forum was something I found really superb. By the end of the day it was as if we’d known each other for life.
The Blue Anchor early starters quickly became one, and souvenirs were passed around and handled with awe and reverence.
Bill Hamilton’s Sainsburys bag was brimful with Don’s Concert Programmes since the year dot. I quickly realised why he’d brought them in a Sainsburys bag ; no-one would snatch a bag like that from him (LOL)…. My rucksack was full of stuff as well – Would Don sign some of it? Little did I know at that stage that not only would he sign all of it, but would pose for photos with us and chat as if he’d known us all his life.
Dave ‘djf’ Fulton and I quickly became best mates while our wives looked skywards and at that stage seemed to find our ramblings mildly amusing. In a few hours both would become totally committed Don McLean fans.
Loekie had come all the way by bus from Amsterdam and Eva and her friend had yomped down from the Isle of Skye. Bill H arrived the Pandora’s Box opened. When Alan and his wife arrived, it seemed everything was set.
Meeting up with the others outside the Apollo was like the second wave sweeping over us… A couple from New Zealand, Dave and Joan Moore from Liverpool, Gill, Alan Woodward, Gary Chance (What a Guy!),Leana from Greece emerging from a Black Cab like a modern-day Aphrodite (sorry Leana, but you were!)and then Ronnie Buck arriving with his wife who had not been told anything about the event. The look on her face when she found out that not only was she going to see Don but meet him as well was worth a million dollars.
Within minutes everyone knew everyone else and it was like a reunion – even though a few hours before we were only cyber-relations!
Alan’s ‘Access to all Areas’ badge was worth it’s weight in gold, and before long we were within feet of the man we had all been waiting so long to see.
Don greeted us immediately, thanking Alan for getting this together and supporting him through the Web-site. The Sound-Check began and lasted from about 4.35pm until 6pm! Don told us to feel free to take photos, do as we liked really, but everyone was spellbound as we were treated to what I felt was our own personal, intimate concert.
Spontaneous applause greeted the numbers the band did – Don and the guitarist, Kerry Maxi (is that the correct spelling?) were working out bits and pieces together, whilst Tony Migliore, the piano man and musical maestro, had his finger on the pulse throughout.
Love Letters, Little Sister, River of Love were all practiced to perfection, Don casually dressed in a polo shirt and jeans, wearing his customary glasses, then a superb jam of Johnny Cash’s Big River. Suddenly we were in Folsom Prison!
Don did a few numbers sitting down – he complained about the air on stage – it was obviously getting to him as the throat sweets came out – then we had a couple of Blues numbers before a classic rendition of ‘On the Amazon’ which brought gasps from our group as Don hit the last note – djf and I were now beginning to think this was more than just a dream.
The Very Thought of You was next, and Don crooned as if he was doing the real show. The Fashion Victim song followed, then came what for me was the highlight of the afternoon thus far – Jerusalem. Spontaneous applause greeted it’s conclusion. Don said,”You will not hear that done better tonight”. I thought at that time he was probably correct. We were both later proved wrong.
‘Isn’t it Strange’ and, finally, ‘You Gave Me a Mountain’ from the new Marty Robbins album,and that was it. The Sound Check had lasted just short of 1 1/2 hours and we were starry eyed. I looked round from my seat in the front row and looked at the others. It was incredible.
Don then had a quick chat with us all, shook our hands and asked us who we all were, then he was off for a rest and the majority of us adjourned back to the River for a snack and a chat as to whether what we had just witnessed had really happened.
We took another route back to the pub ; away from the main road, through a local council estate. I chatted with Gary Chance who described the route as a short cut, the ‘Orphans of Wealth’ route as opposed to the ‘Black Highway Snake’. Nice one, Gary.
The day was only half way through, and the best was yet to come!
Well folks, that was the Sound Check! Sorry if I missed anyone out, I was desperately trying to remember everything, and the pints of Fosters were doing their best to stop me!
As for the concert, well, that review will follow later. djf and I were hastily writing notes like two eager journalists. I think the folk in front of us thought we were at a Spice Girls concert, we were like a couple of teenagers. But who cares, eh Dave?
The best was yet to come, including a little something that made my whole day, a surprise I was not expecting at all, and something I will treasure for ever.”
Ron Buck writes “Firstly, apologies for not responding sooner guys, but the adrenaline rush wouldn’t die down for some 48 hours and the injuries Kim (my other half) later inflicted on me as a consequence of the little “surprise” I set up for her only allowed me to be fully discharged from hospital today.
Just to put the latter into better perspective for those who were not fully aware of the circumstances, Kim has loved Don most of her life, got the record, tee-shirt, video, “been-there, done that”, but had never seen our man “in the flesh” as it were. When she awoke on the morning of the twenty-seventh she had no idea that she was going anywhere, let alone to meet DON MCLEAN in person! Women like surprises of course and life usually provides those of the nasty kind, but the opportunity of making this day into one of the “nice variety” was just too much for me resist!
Having delegated the “school runs” weeks in advance and teed up a nice lunch venue on the Thames (en route) in anticipation, we set off to Hammersmith to meet the rest of the “Alan Howard Project”. All over lunch I had been torturing myself whether to let the “cat out of the bag” (or at least expose a paw or two), but then decided to see how far this surprise thing could run if allowed to “freewheel” a bit.
We eventually arrived outside the Apollo where all the other “Kindred Spirits” were assembled and quickly mentioned (wherever I could) that Kim was completely innocent of the whole proceedings. I have to thank all concerned for “going along” with me at this point (I think because everyone there put themselves in Kim’s shoes and thought “Wow, I’d love this to happen to me sometime!”),
I was really beginning to think it would “keep” right up to the point where Don was behind Kim and I could utter my, by then, much mentally practiced line – “You wanted to see Don Mclean? Well turn-around he’s behind you!”, when Kim spotted his name on the billboard outside the Theatre. Just as well actually because as she did so she “filled up”, legs gave way, blood pressure dropped etc, resulting (as all present will attest) in me having to escort her into the Theatre to “powder her nose”.
Under the “extenuating circumstances” a helpful young Theatre Assistant let us both in through a “tradesman’s entrance” into the theatre. En route we both caught a glimpse through widely open doors of the empty auditorium, already frantically busy stage crews, and the fully powered-up lighting rigs all directed at the “centre-staged” lone vocal mic-stand and side-positioned stage monitor speakers that are the haul-mark signature of any modern day “unplugged” (more on this later) performing Guitar laden singer/songwriter.
At this moment I had rapidly begun displaying all the symptoms I am hoping I was about to assist Kim in overcoming, and I am ashamed to say, was about as much use to her from this point on as as “A One-Legged Dwarf In A A**e-Kicking Competition”.
Having ogled the stage from a distance for as long as we could without the helpful Theatre Assistant getting “the twitches” we found ourselves propping each other up back “on the street” when, after what only seemed like a few seconds we were beckoned back into the Apollo (this time in a more official manner) by the same young Theatre Assistant. We were going inside to be with Mr. DON MCLEAN, breathe the same air (not very clean as it later turned out), see the same surroundings and smell the same smells!
Suddenly Kim and I perk right up!
The hug I got from Kim and this stage reminded me of the very first one she’d ever given me….it was the kind of hug that you thought would go on forever – in many, many ways I know this is actually the truth. Call me an “Old Romantic” (well, middle-aged would be better!), but you can’t buy a moment in time like that one, whatever your bank statement is reading. I didn’t feel guilty though – let’s be honest, who could love Don’s music and not call
themselves “Romantic”? Wasn’t this a group-call for all us true Romantics after all?
I was reminded then and there of Don’s short introductory passage in the first of his songbooks, which I paraphrase from memory (The inside cover it was written on having long gone to leave only its dog-eared contents) –
“People are never satisfied unless they analyse and destroy whatever magic they find in things in the first place – and I believe in magic”.
At this point so did everyone in the Alan Howard Project, about to enter the Hammersmith Apollo, and, more importantly all of us knew the exact identity of the Magician who was about to cast his spell over us. It was time to start seriously thinking about chevys, flaming flowers that brightly blaze, mummies and wonderful babies….”
David Fulton writes: “Having only arrived in England on Monday from Germany and realising that a short trip to London is an endless marathon of hop-on/hop-off between tube and taxi, my wife and I finally made it (late!) to the arranged meeting venue – the Blue Anchor.
This rendezvous was an amazing experience, Dave, Pam, Alan, Diane, Bill, Loeki, Eva.created such an atmosphere sat outside that cosy little pub, that we all felt that we’d known each other for years and had been sitting there for hours. (Although, if we had been sitting there for hours – with that continuous flow of ale – I don’t think I would have remembered all those names).
Anyway, there wasn’t much time for drinking, as Alan soon got us all on our feet and on our way to the Apollo for an occasion, that we all knew was going to be something that we would all treasure for ever. My “ticker” was pounding like a Trinidad steel drum, I was in conversation during the short 10 minute walk, but not really registering what I was saying or hearing. I was much too preoccupied with what was about to happen. For the last 28 years I had been, as vigorously as possible, following close behind a man and his music, who in a physical sense seemed to be light years away from me – and now this – I was on the eve of a confrontation with the nucleus of those years of admiration, perhaps the feeling could be described as being the exact opposite of a dja-vu, a feeling that I had never had before and probably never would again.
Well, we all got to the Apollo where we met the others, including Gary Chance, Dave Moore and his wife, plus two people who had come over for the week all the way from New Zealand. Just after we arrived, Leana climbed out of a taxi to join us.
But perhaps the nicest thing that happened at this point was when Ronnie’s wife cried tears of pure joy when she found out that she was, not only here for a concert, but an invitation to the sound check and the – more or less – inevitable meeting with Don McLean.
We hung around outside for sometime, Alan having found out, that Don hadn’t arrived yet (this was about 4.00 pm).
After a little while two cars caught our eyes as they gracefully pulled out of the humdrum of the Hammersmith traffic and made their way past the side, to the rear of the theatre. We knew it couldn’t be anyone else, as the tell-tale wave from an open window of one of the cars suggested (was it Don or perhaps Ralph who waved-I’m not really sure?).
Slowly, cautiously, led by Alan we made our way through the main entrance of the Apollo and into the stalls area. What we all saw was a bit difficult to fathom – the man who wrote and sang some of the most memorable verses this side of WW2 standing with his band on the stage amid a jungle of wires, musical instruments and microphone stands – and the place was EMPTY! Dave (Cookie) – (what a fellah!)- summed it up nicely by saying he badly needed pinching, this was how I think we all felt at that moment.
We were invited by Don to take a front seat, take photos if we wanted to, and enjoy – and enjoy we did – a good hour to an hour and a half of pure and natural sound-checking: The very Thought of You, Love Letters, On the Amazon, River of Love, Jerusalem, to mention but a few. None of us were actually sure after each song, whether we were supposed to applaud or not during a sound check. But Don, having noticed our dilemma, assured us it was fine by him.
Don made us feel so relaxed, welcome and comfortable, it really was as if we were all sat huddled together in his living room. It was intimate and heart-warming, he performed so naturally and with such concentration, as if it didn’t make any difference whether we were there or not. It was bliss on a lollipop stick, that unfortunately had to end.
Don then came over to the edge of the stage to meet, and have a brief chat with us,
He is such a pleasant chap, so polite, his mellow charm warmed me right to my toes. He was everything I’d always imagined him to be.
I was also thrilled at the opportunity to meet another fine gentleman – Ralph Childs.
To Don and his band it was just another sound check, to me it was a precious, priceless ornament that I will guard and treasure for the rest of my days.
Thank you Don, thank you Alan, for this infinitely valuable and magic experience.”
“…having attended at least one concert on every tour Don has made here, this concert was right up there amongst the best…possibly even THE best and that is saying something from someone who remembers the great concerts with just Don, his guitar and banjo.
The whole day was an unforgettable exprience…first meeting and talking to other ‘diehards’ over a beer beside the river..then going up to the theatre for the soundcheck. As Alan says this was over an hour,longer than some concerts I have been to! After a slow start (though fascinating to watch the musicians talk things through on stage)we got our own private versions of probably about 10 songs after which Don came to the front of the stage and chatted a bit before retiring for a well earned rest before the show.
We then retired back to the pub, taking our time over a beer and some food. Our beloved leader Alan assured us there was a support so we didn’t hurry too much!! Fotunately just before 7.30 we decided to head up to the theatre…and only just in time as Don arrived to do his first set!! Oh Alan…imagine the embarrassment if you’d made us miss it lol.
The next two hours were just stunning. Don’s performances always have highs…but right from the opener of Maybe Baby this concert ROCKED…tight band, great sound and a set list largely built around American Pie and the Don McLean album along with LOTS of other stuff..Marty Robbins, Josh White etc.
The second set ended with an amazing version of Pie with the whole audience (even me, the worst singer in the world!)singing along at the top of their voices. At the end of the song there was a huge standing ovation…a real hands above the heads job…so good that Don reprised Pie and we all sang along to a couple of choruses and the first verse.
There was no danger of Don not coming back for an encore which he did…playing a rare Josh White song and a well received Mountains o’ Mourne amongst other things before finally taking his leave to another huge ovation.
Within about 5 minutes Don came back onto stage to talk with a sign autographs for a group of about 50 fans who had waited, including of course our group.
One amazing unforgettable night. Probably even more amazing was Don’s apparent slow progress away from luddieism…mentioning all the web sites on stage…indeed referring to the Josh White thread here before performing a song…although he still only has a fax…no email address lol.
So thanks Don, special thanks Alan for seeing to the extras…now what is there to do today…ah yes…another concert…life sure is tough sometimes… Next review sent by Miss Abi Chinn, 17 yrs.
“I heard he sang a good song,
I heard he had a style,
and so I came to see him to listen for awhile”</i><P>
Which was exactly what I did on the 27th of June 2000 at the Hammersmith
Apollo in London.
I had grown up with his voice, and many others, to say the least. Of course,
his was the most poignant for me and the funny thing is – I can’t even say
why. I can tell you why I think he is an exceptional musician now, but I
can’t tell you what appeal he offered to a six-year old girl, who also had
an infatuation with Kylie Minogue at the time
Going to see this man 11 years later with my father really made an impact on
me. It wasn’t just because I could match the voice to the face, but that I
could really watch him play his music to us Brits, whom he seemed to have a
bit of a soft spot for. I was not really used to sit-down type venues, I’m a
bit of avid festival-goer, and the unfamiliar surrounding made me feel
uncomfortable. I’d far rather have sat at a table in a trashy caf sipping
gin, watching him perched on a stool with his guitar, than sat as I would in
a cinema. He didn’t seem to belong there, a true American, and the
arrangement of the band looked amateur and cramped. This was not helped by
the ridiculous ‘school disco style’ lighting which completely glared out the
whole stage. But he proved that this unsuitable setting could not alter his
ability to please the crowd in anyway
When he walked on, we saw the old man – a figure not unlike my father, a
regular American guy, jolly, contented and ready to make music. He has lost
the cheeky, and chilled glow which he had had all that time ago, which you
can see on the Pie cover. But, that has to be expected, this man has moved
on, just as the International music industry has. When he sang a perfect
rendition of ‘Crossroads’ which was one song I has been looking
forward to all night. I wasn’t the only member of the audience to see the
irony. He had written this spookily reflective song when he was in his
youthful prime, unaware of the impact and implications it would leave when
singing it to an audience thirty years later. When he sang these lyrics,
tears came to my eyes, as he sang them slow and bitterly.
“I’ve got nothing to regret,
But I’m all tied up on the inside,
No one knows quite what I’ve got;
And I know that on the outside
What I used to be, I’m not anymore.
But there’s no need for turning back
`Cause all roads lead to where I stand.
And I believe I’ll walk them all
No matter what I may have planned.
Can you remember who I was? Can you still feel it?
Can you find my pain? Can you heal it?
Then lay your hands upon me now
And cast this darkness from my soul.
You alone can light my way.
You alone can make me whole once again.”
He is still the same person who wrote the amazing lyrics in the masterpieces; “Vincent”, “American Pie” and “Empty Chairs”. How can he change that? Let alone anyone else? He still sings the words he had once written with satisfactory sincerity and poignancy, showing himself to be a commendable and convincing musician, and thus proved that he is still standing as firmly as he ever did – as Roberta Flack once described him – the man “who sang a good song”.
He spoke to us of his love of performing to people and making music for an
audience, calling us ‘inspiring’ and ‘great’. It is quite clear he loves the
lime light, as he tells us in ‘Pie; “And I knew if I had had my chance, I
could make those people dance, and maybe they’d be happy for a while”.
He was totally turned on by the thrill of seeing our faces gazing at him, as
he sang the words to that overplayed, but glorious tune.
The grand finale was of course, a rendition of ‘Pie, an enthusiastic and
energetic crowd pleaser which went down really well. The encore was an Elvis
song, throughout which, McLean revealed a guitar technique similar to
Clapton’s – which I have also grown very used to.
Overall, Mclean proved that he still can play like hell and has not lost
that honey smooth voice which is so enticing.
Katie McBlain, Age 17. Corby, Northants, provides the next review
In everybody’s life there are specific defining moments. Moments where
suddenly everything clicks and for that second you feel like you know
who you are and what you are meant to be. Moments where you feel
completely at ease with your surroundings and you could quite happily
stay there until the end. Moments that you could look back on at any
point in time and still have that same feeling of butterflies, or
electricity, running through every vein in your body and sending a
shiver right up your spine.
I can finally identify with these extraordinary experiences just by
reflecting on the clean, harmonious sound of Don McLean’s voice singing
the sentimental, beautiful lyrics of Crossroads. Voice full of emotion,
Don simply and straightforwardly confirmed every reason ever held in my
heart to refer to him as the greatest singer-songwriter this planet has
But it wasn’t merely Crossroads which unlocked this emotion within me.
Tuesdays concert was, without doubt, one of the few highlights of my
life so far. Never before have I felt so enchanted solely by another’s
presence in the same room, never before have I been moved to tears by
the tenderness held in a voice filling the room I am sitting in. Just to
say I was able to dance to American Pie, sing along to The River of Love
and listen to the poignant and bittersweet lyrics of Empty Chairs and
Vincent all sung live by an artist as unique and gifted as Don McLean,
makes me feel immensely privileged.
The only criticism I have about the concert is that it ended far too
Review from Gill Boys on the Hammersmith and Croydon concerts:
Two days, two very different concerts, one very extraordinary man..
I think I am just starting to come down to earth after having the opportunity to
attend the Sound Check on Tuesday and then the Hammersmith and Croydon
concerts. I know I’m about to re-iterate some of things that have already been
written most eloquently and if I do plagiarise anyone it is totally unintentional, it is simply my agreement of sentiment. I would just like to try and share what the
whole experience has meant to me personally.
Don McLean is currently in the very best of form. I have never been anything other than bowled over by a Don McLean concert but with a 2 hour plus set on both evenings and the man seeming so relaxed in the company of some excellent musicians, I was transported back to and beyond the days of the Free Trade Hall, Manchester a long, long time ago.
I have often been asked (by non-believers of course!) why I would want to go and
see the same performer 2 nights running. Why? How little they know. Although it is impossible to generalise anything with regard to Don McLean I will push the point and say that on Tuesday I went to a rock and roll venue and on Wednesday I went to the folk club. That is not to say we didn’t rock and roll at Croydon, we did – Little Sister, Tulsa/ Deep in the Heart of Texas (?) and when it came to American Pie, we all, or at least most of us, got up to dance and we did get the chance! Both nights we heard Crying, And I Love You So, Vincent, Love in my Heart to name a few but here the similarity ended.
At Croydon Don talked about his children, singing Daddy’s Little Darling for his
daughter followed by Wonderful Baby. For his son, who loves cowboys, there were cowboys songs including Bronco Bill’s Lament. Whilst at Hammersmith we were swept along by the River of Love.
We heard some lovely old stalwarts, Winterwood, Empty Chairs and Crossroads.
Before singing Empty Chairs at Hammersmith Don quipped that he was now very
happy in his life, thanks to his wife and family, the downside was that he didn’t
write depressing songs any more. The plus side was that he was still alive!
It was so good to hear Jerusalem again (this has always been one of my personal favourites) at both concerts. We sang little Light of Mine together both evenings and at Croydon this was followed by a beautiful gospel style song Shine on Me which I don’t remember hearing before. Don must just have felt like singing it. He told us the band didn’t know it but would pick it up as they went along. The music, interpreted so skillfully by Don, just led the way.
When Don sat down to sing (after American Pie) he appeared totally relaxed and to be thoroughly enjoying himself. At Croydon he spoke of loving to sing together with his family and treated us amongst other things to one of his guitar picking specials and Castles in the Air. Sitting in the front row I know, if I had ever doubted it, exactly why Killing me Softly was written.
I know this may not be the most coherent review ever written but I hope from my
ramblings that a little of the magic I have been lucky enough to experience seeps
through. I have always thought Don McLean’s concerts are just so beautifully
crafted, the songs flowing together but it was a privilege to hear the Great Man
explain, after the Hammersmith concert, his abhorrence of play lists and how he
lets the music lead and flow forward. He spoke of singing each song with the aim of giving it’s very best performance every time.
As for the sound check and getting to talk to Don. Well I know I wasn’t the only
nervous person there. Having been in awe of the man’s talent for the best part of 30 years I was afraid my illusions would be shattered by some self opinionated
Superstar. Far from it! We got to chat to a highly intelligent, courteous man with an excellent sense of humour. And what’s more I did get to ask him if he still plays the banjo. Yes, but it’s too much bother to cart it about for 2 songs!!! Sing Babylon Don and I’ll carry it anywhere for you!!
Surely the question of “where were you when Kennedy was shot or Diana died”
should be expanded to include “where were you when you first heard American
Pie?” My own memory is so vivid and special. But as that song has moved on and evolved in my feelings so has the way Don performs it and for me it gets better each time. That’s such another special thing about Don McLean. So many “stars” push out their hits at a concert as a sort of courtesy or to merely humour the audience. Not Don, I have never seen him give it anything other than his “all”.
I’ve sung that song to myself in the car, when I’ve been sad, when I’m happy. I’ve
recited the words under my breath to take my mind off an uncomfortable medical
procedure, I’ve sung it with friends. (Being a slight white-knuckle flyer I used to play it on a Walkman during take-off, probably not a good choice given the connotations but what the hell!) However I must apologise to those around me at both concerts. I know my singing could clear Wembley Stadium and I have a tendency to clap out of time but forgive me my intentions were good! I was having a BLAST!
Don you promised us at Croydon that you’d be back in the UK again to do a tour.
What about bringing that banjo and letting us all sing Babylon together one more
I could go on forever but reality calls. I’d just like to end by thanking Don McLean
and Alan Howard for giving me two of the most special days. You are both very
Next review is provided by Dave Cook (Cookie):
In 1973 a 27 year old American Singer-Songwriter took the stage at the Royal Albert Hall and enthralled 6,000 people. At the Hammersmith Apollo on Tuesday, the same person, now double the age he was then, enthralled a smaller but more enthusiastic crowd as he sang and played his way through 27 years in two and a half hours.
Most of the audience has grown up with Don McLean. The kids of ’73, and I was one of them, have kids of their own now. Some of those kids were there tonight. A generation, not ‘Lost in Space’, but one which has come to notice a type of music and phenomenal talent which has sadly been passed over in recent times.
Don McLean is as exciting today as he was then, if not more so. His style and musical tastes have changed as have we all, but at Hammersmith we were treated to an encyclopaedia of wealth, and most people, I think, realised it.
The show opened with a tribute to one of Don’s musical influences, Buddy Holly, as ‘Maybe Baby’ settled the audience and eased in the latecomers, and the era was continued with ‘Little Sister’. We then went back to the early years, with ‘La La Love You’ showing that Don had not lost his command of the vocal chords – the early tenor has become more mature with age, but the high notes were hit with consummate ease. ‘Winterwood’, a song which I have always thought occupies a special place in Don’s heart, came next, and by now the audience realised they were in for a magical evening.
Don then introduced the band ; regulars Tony Migliore on keyboards/piano and Ralph Childs on bass were joined by Kerry Maxi on guitar and Jerry Crune on drums. The blend was just right ; Tony’s arrangements were spot on, and the first bars from his piano of ‘Crossroads’ brought instant recognition from the die-hards. Don sang this song with a passion and feeling that is the same now as it was when the song first appeared, nearly thirty years ago.
The tempo was upped for ‘It’s just the Sun’ and ‘Love in my Heart’, followed by ‘If We Try’ from the album ‘Don McLean’, and then
Don metaphorically put on his tux and black tie for ‘The Very Thought Of You’, which was introduced as “An English Standard, the chord changes in this one, they’re very easy to do…” Don went on to describe how he would listen to the Ray Noble orchestra on the radio… his classic ‘And I Love You So’ followed as easily as night follows day, and the followers gazed intently at the troubadour, hanging on every word, every note, every breath.
The days of the crooner were then replaced by the Country sound of ‘Singing the Blues’ and ‘Crying’, which brought the first half to a rapturous close. The voice again did not let him down, and Roy Orbison must have looked down as appreciatively as the rest of us.
After the interval we were treated to ‘On the Amazon’, an amusing Bobby Short number which continued to display the vocal talent of the man, and was sung as well tonight as it was in the old days. Not an easy song to sing, but again, done to perfection.
‘Jerusalem’, a favourite of many fans, ‘River of Love’ and then a superb rendition of the Johnny Cash song ‘Big River’ came next, then it was time for the band to have a breather while the lights went down, and we were treated to what I remember best about Don McLean, just him and his guitar and my favourite song of all time (and that’s saying something), ‘Empty Chairs’, brought tears to my eyes and I have no doubt, to many others.
Don then said a few thank you’s – to Alan Howard for all his hard work on this wonderful web-site, to Jeff Hanlon for getting the show on the road, and to his wife Patrisha.
‘Castles in the Air’ led to a soft piano number and straight into ‘Vincent’. The audience had starry starry eyes alright.
It was then time for a singalong as the perennial favourite ‘This Little Light of Mine’ had everyone joining in – three choruses and noisy applause brought the comment, “Carry on with the soccer match’ from Don, but we didn’t. We calmed down (but not for long) and listened to ‘Love Letters’ instead.
What came next, not even I was expecting. A twenty minute masterpiece called ‘American Pie’ hit us like a tidal wave. The whole concert hall was singing, clapping, the standing, dancing, and it was patently obvious that Don knew he was home and in front of his favourite fans. When the song eventually ended, and Don left the stage, we all knew we had witnessed something very special indeed.
Time for the encore, and again, another plug for Alan’s web-site, and also the web-sites of Martin Maguire in Belfast and Bob Gregg in Australia. Don was really appreciative of them, and mentioned how he logs on in hotel rooms and airports and reads them with interest.
It was then time for a Josh White interlude, and Don revealed he has a project up his sleep to record a tribute to the late, great blues artist who was so dreadfully treated by the powers that be in the bad old days of ‘Developing America’. ‘Pure Religion’ was performed skilfully and with great feeling, with Don sitting down, front stage, on an old red chair as if he was singing to us all in his front room.
‘Mountains of Mourne’, another classic was next, then Don became Elvis for a few moments for ‘That’s Alright Momma’, and indeed, ‘That WAS alright momma’, as the show ended and the audience remained, transfixed, savouring every last second.
David Moore’s review of the Liverpool show
Don McLean at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall 29th June
I found it. There on the bookshelf amongst the sheet music. Vincent. A little curled at the edges, but still in pretty fair condition, a somewhat youthful Don McLean leaning forward nonchalantly with his face cupped in his hand. The key of G. It checked out with the record. Funny but Ive always sung it in D which is a much lower register. I tried G and it sounded pretty good. To me anyway.
So I took tucked the music into a plastic cover and took it with me to the concert. Maybe he would sign it, my ancient copy of Vincent.
It was quite a bit different that night at the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. Different from the show we had been to at the Hammersmith Apollo two days before. It was a fresher more relaxed Don McLean who walked out onto the stage with his Martin DM40 guitar tucked under his arm, wearing a short sleeved blue shirt dotted with tiny motifs and sporting the familiar crumpled, faded jeans. The jet lag had lifted and given way to a fit and ready for anything singer/songwriter with his elite band of musicians.
Not that the Hammersmith show wasnt wonderful. It was all of that, but Liverpool was lighter and Im glad to say, a little longer, with 12 additional songs that Don hadnt performed at Hammersmith. The Tuesday evening had been more emotional, one from the heart, and, its fair to say that the appreciation felt through the applause was very palpable. I mean it was loud and very long and most sincere. But on Thursday the emphasis was on fun, and fun it was.
The “Phil” is also widely renowned for its perfect acoustics. Its always been famous for that, even before it was re-modelled a couple of years ago. So its a perfect place to listen to music. The ideal spot.
Don opened up with the Buddy Holly standard Maybe Baby, gliding lightly through the set, but leaving out The Very Thought of You and On The Amazon. But the man doesnt like working to lists, following slavishly. And he didnt, especially not later in the second half. He recalled Tapestry, his very first album, “the first of 32” he proudly proclaimed and so he launched into it, beautifully.
He sang some wonderful stuff he did, introducing a back-to-back rendition of childrens songs. The old Bing Crosby classic from White Christmas, Count Your Blessings and his own Wonderful Baby. Don recalled an early disastrous marriage. “It was a mistake,” he said, “I was too young”. But that was long ago, things are much different now and he is blessed with two children aged 7 and 10. The songs were dedicated to them.
He promised that we would travel many roads musically throughout the evening, many paths and we did. Even sailing close to opera. “I dont do opera, but this is kinda close to that as youll see.” The song was called My love Was True.
It seemed no time at all before he brought Crying to a shattering close along with the first half of the show.
In the second half we were treated to Supermans Ghost, then Don talked about record compilations, how artists put albums together, lovingly, taking care in getting the balance of songs just right. Then along comes the record company and jams a mass of tracks together into a compilation, to revive interest and, naturally, sell records. “They come up with these amazing titles”, he said, “like Lost Hits. And with that he sang one of his “lost hits”, If We Try.
It seemed only the wink of an eye when he struck up “Madonnas hit” and off we went. Everyone bashing out American Pie. It seemed to go on forever, with extra guitar bridges and then “shall we go again?” and of course we did.
After the applause had died down. Don sat down. “Im not going to do that walk off and come back on again thing.” He stayed and played. There was Josh White, one of his beloved inspirations. Just as he had done at Hammersmith, he sang
Hallelu, but this time he added another of Joshs songs. “There were two Josh Whites. The Christian Josh White and the Blues Josh White”. We had a taste of the Blues Josh. I didnt catch the title, but sex, drugs and rocknroll were strongly represented. “We had a ride and a gin, then we had another ride and another gin and another ride and another gin..”
We had Mountains of Mourn. We had Vincent. Then Don did walk off the stage. That was to be it. Goodbye. But. It was the last show, so I guess he thought, “what the hell”. He came back to play “a very old folk song from the old club days, with just two chords”. A story of the pioneers of the plains, covered wagons and the cowboys and Indians. An old trail folk song.
By this time he was hooked and on a roll. The band joined in with an old Don Williams country song, Living On Tulsa Time. Then, “Im going to sing one of the most beautiful songs ever written.” And it was. And he did. Hoagy Carmichaels Stardust. Just his voice and Tony Miglioris piano. The rest of the band sat on some benches at the side of the stage and listened too. It was, well just wonderful.
It had to be the end. But it wasnt. Old standards like Stardust. One of his pleasures is to walk into a record store and rummage through the bins to find albums with cover photos that have guys with loose ties leaning on lamp posts in misty surroundings, with the backing groups that go “doo-wop.” So with the help of bass player Ralph Childs chipping in with the odd “doo-wop” Don closed the show and the tour with a song called a cheeky, lazy number called “If I had a Match”.
And that was it. Over. No Castles in the Air or On The Amazon or The Very Thought of You, but after that who cared? And my ancient copy of Vincent? He signed that too..Eventually.
Review of Dons Liverpool concert 29.06.00
From Anne Shirley
In 1972 I fell in love with, became infatuated with (call it what you like I was a teenager)
a young American singer songwriter called Don McLean. I was totally enchanted by him and still am now. I first saw him on a black and white TV on Top of the Pops. Im only glad now that I have this opportunity to speak to other fans and Don via the web site, thanks to Alan Howard.
Don said in his concert that he doesnt remember individual fans that he meets but I want him to know that we always remember him.
The concert at the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool was out of this world, I think one of the best Ive ever been to and Ive seen Don nearly every time that he has toured in England. The actual stage is very low and it made you feel that Don was just entertaining you personally.
Leading up to the concert I couldnt eat for the excitement, it had been 3 years since I had seen Don, too long for me, but as Don said on stage he was happy to be here and glad that his health permits him. I never knew that he suffered with asthma, you wouldnt know from the fabulous sounds he produces. His voice is still as charismatic as it was all those years ago, it just seems to have become richer It reaches the depths of me anyway.
I arrived in Liverpool early, not happy about driving in the city. My friend and I came straight to the Phil. I wanted to know where the stage door was for after the show. Imagine our pure pleasure to hear Don on stage doing his sound check. We had the most fabulous time listening through the stage door so thanks Don even though we couldnt see you, your presence was there
Fate to was on hand that evening as I had got tickets for the balcony but I wanted to be closer. The box office changed our seats for 2 front row ones that had just been released
It was a sellout but these were extras.
Don was announced to the audience as the legendary singer songwriter DON MCLEAN
And he casually came on to the stage and I was hooked as always. There were late comers and Don laughed saying sorry youve only got me; no support, well he didnt need anybody so we were a very privileged audience.
After an hour Don sang Crying and took a well-deserved break. He was particularly
Well supported by his friend and talented pianist.
The second half continued the magic of Don. He was more at ease than I have ever seen before, his obvious happiness in his married life and being a daddy radiated throughout. He talked to us about the cost of coming to see him, the difficulties we encounter having to get babysitters etc. but he gave us more than our moneys worth. He even talked about being a disappointment to his parents, well youre not a disappointment to us Don.
Don has always said he hope through his music that he could introduce his fans to other Musicians. Don you have always done that and I know will continue to do so. Dons music has run parallel with my own life changes so thanks Don.
As others have said before, you began to feel like you were sitting in living room whilst he just played away and had fun particularly after he had sung Madonnas hit single! I still prefer the original.
The concert drew to a close and I went forward with some roses for Don, its something Ive always done at he end of a concert my way of saying thanks Don, you have always been kind and taken them from me.
Well Don went off and we all stood and continued to applaud and continued and continued. I dont think we would have forgiven you if you hadnt come back. The encore was even more magical than I wished for. Don just gets better and better.
Afterwards I queued at the stage door and there was a air of anticipation and excitement waiting for Don not knowing how tired he would be or whether he would stop. As always Don surpassed our expectations, stopping to sign all the autographs for everyone that was there, not hurrying anyone and allowing me to have two separate photographs with him. I had one cuddle with him and got to the back of the queue and asked again for another photograph and cuddle. I now have the most fabulous memories of that night.
I hope everyone that was in the audience that night experienced the same special concert that I felt we had been lucky enough to be part of.
Well Happy Trails to all and Don please please come back soon. And yes for anyone that wants to know Im still enchanted with Don and his music.
Janet from the Isle of Skye provides the following:
I have been reading over the reviews of the concert and I only wish I’d been
at them all, but I did enjoy every minute of my day in Hammersmith and it
was lovely meeting everyone of you at the river beforehand. The trip down
to London was worth al the effort and I now know I would certainly do it all
again. It was lovely how we all gelled together, and if anyone thinks of
going across the Atlantic for a concert I would appreciate it if they would
let me know as I would go that far to hear and see himself again.
It was the strangest feeling walking down the aisle to actually see him, I
just thought this is the man I have been listening to these past 30 years
and I know his voice with such familiarity and had only cassette covers and
CD pictures of him and here I was a few feet away from him. Before the
concert I had some moments of apprehension as I thought he may be a big
performer with a great big ego and would seem quite false and not the
beautiful man that touches your senses with his singing. The Don McLean
that I listen to touches my feelings of agony and ecstasy with his voice
all our thoughts come to life with his songs and although I know them all
word for word its still like hearing them for the very first time. What Van
Gogh did for art lovers and sunflowers Don will be renowned for his own
masterpieces as a singer songwriter.
I am old enough to remember Buddy Holly and I have watched the social and
political changes of all these years ago when there was still an innocence
to music and teenagers. When he sang “Singing the Blues” well that took me
back to my first job out of school in the fifties. Although Don says he
sings mechanically and not from the heart the way he did when he probably
wrote these songs like “Crossroads” and ” Empty Chairs” there was no
difference to how he sounded. I am glad he sang “The Mountains of Mourne”
for that is so significant to me and I have never heard anyone sing it like
him. The reason being the Irish workmen immigrated to England to build the
roads and that was their special song and the Scots who went down to join
the Metropolitan Police also made that their special one too.
It has been 30 yrs since I have been to a London concert and I am so glad I
made the effort to go. If Eva hadn’t come down with me I wouldn’t have had
the courage to go and anyway I wouldn’t have managed to cross the road
without her. As you may know I don’t have television or a computer; this is
by choice. I don’t think they would be suited to my way of life and defeats
the purpose of living in a Hebridean cottage. I would like to keep in touch
with you but I have to go 30miles to Eva’s office, so she can keep me
I want to ask Ronnie and Kim what date they are coming up in the Autumn and
I want to hank Alan and Diane for all the work they put into this project
and if they come up this far they will be made more than welcome as my guest
and that goes for all of you who were at the river.
Would it be inappropriate to ask Don if he is familiar with Jacques Brell
(not sure of the spelling of his surname) the Flemish songwriter and if he
sings any of his songs. Janet
Meeting Don McLean……
The 20 lucky Don McLean fans who had earlier watched the London Apollo sound check were given ‘After Show Passes’ so that they could stay behind and meet Don McLean properly. We were joined by a few extra fans who managed to skillfully avoid the tight security present at the Apollo. Don was very generous with his time and did not leave until everyone had had all the autographs, photos and questions answered that they wanted. Here are a few photographs and memories:
David Fulton writes: “About five minutes after leaving the stage, he very kindly came back to chat to about thirty or forty die-hards, where he answered many assorted questions and signed his autograph on anything we asked him to. I managed to get a few words in myself, asking him about the Martin DM40 guitar, at which he told me that they had all been sold. And how well he remembered the 1972 Manchester Odeon concert, (which I attended). He said he remembered it very well.
He must of sat at the edge of that stage for something not far off an hour. He was in very good spirits and it was evident that he had enjoyed himself.”
Cookie writes: “The highlight for me came after the show (as if the whole day hadn’t been one highlight after another). I didn’t want to appear too indulgent, but I had brought the odd thing or two to be signed by Don.
You know, the usual stuff, the cover sheet music to AP and Vincent, some classic old photos, the pictorial single cover of Vincent/Castles in the Air…….. Well, Don signed them all, and looked at each photo with great interest..(“Did I REALLY used to wear shirts like that back in 1972?”)
Then, Tony Migliore, the pianist and musical maestro came over. I shook his hand, and introduced myself. Tony then took from his pocket and handed me the new ‘Don McLean Sings Marty Robbins CD. He told me he had been given it to give to me by his friend and mine, Mary from Nashville, who is the event coordinator for Don’s concerts. The CD had already been signed by Don, to my wife and I, and when Tony told Don who I was, I was thrilled to hear Don say, “I know, we’ve met already!”
That was the icing on my cake for the day.”
In response to a recent question posted recently on our fan forum page, Bill H.notes that “…Funnily enough one of the ladies from Skye asked Don after the show in Hammersmith if he was a Christian. From what I heard of the answer he said he was, but not necessarily in the way they might understand the word (something along those lines!!).
When then asked if he believed in God he very firmly said yes.”
Gill Boys comments: “Well I know I wasn’t the only nervous person there. Having been in awe of the man’s talent for the best part of 30 years I was afraid my illusions would be shattered by some self opinionated Superstar. Far from it! We got to chat to a highly intelligent, courteous man with an excellent sense of humour. And what’s more I did get to ask him if he still plays the banjo. Yes, but it’s too much bother to cart it about for 2 songs!!! Sing Babylon Don and I’ll carry it anywhere for you!!”
One amazing story from this whole event was the surprise trip to England arranged by Geoff Novak for his wife (pictured below meeting Don McLean). To celebrate their wedding anniversary he bought tickets for the Apollo show. Just one small extra was required – two return tickets from New Zealand!
Finally, Bill Hamilton shares some well considered thoughts on Don McLean, England 2000:
“As I gradually bring myself down from the highs of Tuesday and Wednesday, I thought I would contribute a few fairly random thoughts that passed through my head today. Originally I was going to write a review of the Croydon concert, but I think that has already been more than adequately covered in the past couple of daysI hope that we lucky few who attended the concerts have given you even one-tenth of the sensations we experienced.
One thing that struck me immediately about both the concerts that I went to, and to a large extent the tour of 1997 in which I was lucky enough to catch 3 performances, is that Don is a lot less precious about his music now. I dont know if this is a result of just being older (sorry Don!) or the happy place that he seems to have found in his life. Whatever the reason, it did appear to me that at certain times in the past he would (almost intentionally it seemed) play less accessible material in concert. I am talking probably about songs like Three Flights Up, Orphans of Wealth, Homeless Brother, The Legend of Andrew McCrewmaybe even Chain Lightning and Genesis. Now dont get me wrong, I love each and every one of these songs and they are all masterpieces in their own way. However, I am not sure that they were always ideally suited to concert performances – perhaps fine for the diehard fans but maybe a bit heavy for Mr and Mrs average. To me they are the sort of songs that you need to be in the right mood to listen tomore poetic than musical (geez Im probably going to get fried for saying that!!). Anyway, ultimately the point Im making is that I think the concerts flow much better without them.
Don has always had four songs that form the core of every performance. I wont be tedious enough to name them hereI think you all know the ones Im referring to. It does seem to me now that there is a fifth song that is a must have .and that is Crossroads. I think almost every post made about the concerts has rightly referred to itit is simply stunning when performed live with just the piano accompaniment. Unfortunately, unlike the Premier League where there is always a Derby or a Southampton to relegate, I cant suggest one of the existing 4 songs to drop a division. I have to say I did once go to a performance where Vincent was (almost unthinkably) omitted. If I recollect correctly it was the Albert Hall sometime in the early 80s. anyone ever remember Pie being omitted??
Talking about big songs, I have been going round for the last two days singing (fortunately only to myself!) You Made Me a Mountain which I thought was another of many show stoppersmy tip for the top. Im sure Don will just love that since it looks really hard to singlike another CryingThree Flights Up is a bit easier (s).
One final thought, and call me a sentimental old fool here, but the posting that really got to me (amongst many wonderful ones in the last few days) was the one by the 9 year old girl so excited about going to see Don at Liverpool at a cost which she duly noted as equal to her annual pocket money.I am sure she had a wonderful time and hope that it was worth foregoing a few candy bars. Still struggling with the reference to the ladies toilet though (s) !!
PS I am still gutted by the continued omission of Planet Noise from the live concert experience. Mind you, we got the extended version courtesy of the traffic at Hammersmith as we waited for the soundcheck…”
Released by Capitol in 1988. The first and only time Don McLean has recorded brand new songs written by other composers. ‘Can’t Blame the Train’ became a top-40 country hit. ‘Love in my Heart’ made the top-10 in Australia.
CAPITOL C1-48080, Released August 1988 [LP]
CAPITOL CDP-7-48080-2, Released August 1988 [CD]
All tracks composed by Don McLean unless otherwise stated.
Released by EMI in 1983. Recorded live in concert at the Dominion Theatre, London in 1980. Features band and strings. The concert was also filmed and released on video as “The Music of Don McLean”. In 2007 the video was re-issued on DVD as part of EMI’s “The Legendary Don McLean” package.
EMI DOM 82 (UK), Released 1982 [LP]
GOLD CASTLE D2-71332, Released 1990 [CD]
HIP-O HIPD2-40033, Reissued March 1997 [CD] as “Greatest Hits LIVE”
All tracks composed by Don McLean unless otherwise stated.
Produced by Larry Butler. Released by EMI in 1981. Includes the re-recorded ‘Castles in the Air’ and the highly popular ‘Jerusalem’. The 1997 Hip-o records re-issue of this album includes detailed liner notes written by Don McLean himself. In them he tells us that he re-recorded ‘Castles in the Air’ for this album because “I never liked the original, which at most had been a ‘B’ side for both ‘And I Love You So’ on Mediarts Records and later for ‘Vincent’ on United Artists Records. When this recording was released it went top-40 around the world and it’s now the ‘hit’ version of the song.” CD re-issue on hip-o records in 1997 includes bonus track: ‘Dream Lover’ (studio version).
MILLENIUM BXL1-7762, Released October 1981 [LP]
INTERFUSION (FESTIVAL) L37705 (AUS), Released 1981 [LP]
HIP-O HIPD-40060, Reissued August 1997 [CD]*
A worldwide hit album produced by Larry Butler. Recorded Jun 26, 1978-Aug 23, 1978 in Nashville and features for the first time with Don McLean, Elvis Presley’s backing singers (The Jordanaires) and musicians. ‘Crying’ and ‘Since I Don’t Have You’ became huge hits. CD re-issue (hip-o records, 1997) includes bonus track ‘If You Could Read My Mind’. CD cover also features the original artwork that was not used for the original release.
EMI INTERNATIONAL INS-3025 (UK), Released December 1978 [LP]
INTERFUSION (FESTIVAL) L36758 (AUS), Released 1979 [LP]
MILLENIUM BXL1-7756, Released January 1981 [LP]
HIP-O HIPD-40061, Reissued July 1997 [CD]*
*With Bonus Track: If You Could Read My Mind (Lightfoot)
Don McLean – Vocals, Acoustic Guitar
James D. Capps, Ray Edenton – Acoustic Guitar
Tommy D. Alsup, Billy R. Sanford – Electric Guitar
Produced by John Peters and released by Arista in 1977 – Don’s one and only album with Arista records. Arguably his least successful album but one that contains excellent songs. ‘When Love Begins’ and ‘The Pattern is Broken’ were written and recorded for the film ‘Fraternity Row’. Re-issued in 1997 on Hip-o Records with ‘If You Can Dream’ bonus track and liner notes written by Joel Dorn.
ARISTA 4149, Released October 1977 INTERFUSION (FESTIVAL) L36446 (AUS), Released 1977 [LP]
HIP-O HIPD-40055, Reissued September 1997 [CD]*
*With Bonus Track: If You Can Dream
All tracks composed by Don McLean unless otherwise stated.
Recorded live at Manchester, Bristol and Oxford, England. Produced by Don McLean and John Peters.
UNITED ARTISTS UA-LA652-H2, Released August 1976 [LP] UNITED ARTISTS UA-EA652-J2, Released August 1976 [8T] UNITED ARTISTS (FESTIVAL) L70067 (AUS), Released 1976 [LP] BEAT GOES ON (BGO) 2779 300 2 [CD]
Sunshine Life for Me (Sail Away Raymond) (Harrison)
The Legend of Andrew McCrew
You Have Lived
Great Big Man McLean
Tangled (Like a Spider in Her Hair)
Crying in the Chapel (Glenn)
Did You Know
Produced by Joel Dorn. Released by United Artists in 1974. Features ‘Wonderful Baby’, later recorded by Fred Astaire. ‘La La Love You’ became a minor hit. Reissued in 1994 by BGO records on CD with extensive liner notes.
UNITED ARTISTS UA-LA315-G, Released August 1974 [LP]
UNITED ARTISTS UA-EA315-G, Released August 1974 [8T]
LIBERTY LN-10211, Reissued September 1983 [LP]
BEAT GOES ON (BGO) BGOCD247 Reissued 1994 [CD]
All tracks composed by Don McLean unless otherwise stated.
Released by United Artists in 1972. Follow up to the ‘American Pie’ album and single. From this album, ‘Dreidel’ and ‘If We Try’ became hits. Reissued in 1994 by BGO records on CD with extensive liner notes. Produced by Ed Freeman.
UNITED ARTISTS UAS-5651, Released November 1972 [LP]
UNITED ARTISTS K-0461, Released November 1972 [CS]
UNITED ARTISTS U-8461, Released November 1972 [8T]
UNITED ARTISTS (FESTIVAL) UAL-34676 (AUS), Released 1972 [LP]
BEAT GOES ON (BGO) 2779 246 2 [CD]
All tracks composed by Don McLean unless otherwise stated.
Released by United Artists in 1971. Don’s first album, famously rejected by over 30 labels before being snapped up by Mediarts. Mediarts was soon taken over by United Artists. Album includes legendary ‘Castles in the Air’ and ‘And I Love You So’ and other excellent folk songs concerned with environmental and social issues. Reissued in 1994 by BGO records on CD with extensive liner notes.
MEDIARTS 41-4, Released April 1970 [LP]
MEDIARTS M 84, Released April 1970 [8T]
UNITED ARTISTS UAS-5522, Reissued August 1971** [LP]
UNITED ARTISTS U-8280, Reissued August 1971 [8T]
UNITED ARTISTS UAS-29350 (UK), Reissued 1971** [LP]
PICKWICK SPC-3702, Reissued 1979* [LP]
LIBERTY LN-10157, Reissued January 1982* [LP]
BEAT GOES ON (BGO) 2779 232 2 [CD]
EMI E2-53928, Reissued 1996 [CD]
*PICWICK and LIBERTY release missing Three Flights Up and Respectable.
**UNITED ARTISTS and later releases contain a remix of Castles In The Air, and a remix of No Reason For Your Dreams.
All tracks composed by Don McLean unless otherwise stated.
UNITED ARTISTS UAS-5535, Released October 1971 [LP]
UNITED ARTISTS U-8299, Released October 1971 [8T]
LIBERTY LN-10037, Reissued October 1980 [LP]
EMI MANHATTAN CDP 7 46555 2, Reissued 1987 [CD]
ULTRADISC MFSL UDCD 728, Reissued July 1998 [CD]
Commentary on “American Pie” from The Don McLean Story
“American Pie” is partly biographical and partly the story of America during the idealized 1950s and the bleaker 1960s. It was initially inspired by Don’s memories of being a paperboy in 1959 and learning of the death of Buddy Holly. “American Pie” presents an abstract story of McLean’s life from the mid-1950s until the end of the 1960s, and at the same time it represents the evolution of popular music and politics over these years, from the lightness of the 1950s to the darkness of the late 1960s, but metaphorically the song continues to evolve to the present time. It is not a nostalgia song. “American Pie” changes as America, itself, is changing.
For McLean, the transition from the light innocence of childhood to the dark realities of adulthood began with the deaths of his father and Buddy Holly and culminated with the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963, which was the start of a more difficult time for America. During this four year period, Don moved from an idyllic childhood, through the shock and harsh realities of his father’s death in 1961, to his decision, in 1964, to leave Villanova University to pursue his dream of becoming a professional singer.
The 1950s were an era of happiness and affluence for the burgeoning American middle class. Americans had a feeling of optimism about their prospects for the future, and pride in their nation which had emerged victorious from World War II, setting the world free from the tyranny of Nazi Germany. Popular music mirrored society. Performers such as Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley, and Bill Haley and the Comets churned out feel-good records that matched the mood of the nation. Sinister forces such as communism were banished, and serious folk groups like the Weavers were being replaced by the beat poets who, as members of the intelligentsia, were excused their lack of optimism.
The 1960s was the antithesis of the previous decade. The exuberant simplicity of the 1950s was displaced by a much more volatile and politically charged atmosphere. People were asking questions. The cozy world of white middle class America was disturbed, as civil rights campaigners marched on Washington, D.C., and Martin Luther King Jr delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. The following year saw the 1964 Civil Rights Act become law. On the world stage, America’s leading super-power status was being challenged by the Soviet Union, and its military might was being tested by the Vietnamese. Even in music, America soon found itself overrun by a British invasion. The 1960s was a turbulent time for McLean’s generation.
By 1971, America was still deeply troubled. The Vietnam War was out of control. The anti-war movement was gathering momentum and being listened to. On April 22, 1971, former naval officer, John Kerry, stated to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee:
“…In our opinion, and from our experience, there is nothing in South Vietnam, nothing which could happen that realistically threatens the United States of America. And to attempt to justify the loss of one American life in Vietnam, Cambodia, or Laos by linking such loss to the preservation of freedom, which those misfits supposedly abuse, is to us the height of criminal hypocrisy, and it is that kind of hypocrisy which we feel has torn this country apart…”
Other events of the time, such as the successful launch of Apollo 14, did little to restore national pride. “American Pie,” in the opinion of the song’s producer, Ed Freeman, was the funeral oration for an era: “Without it, many of us would have been unable to grieve, achieve closure, and move on. Don saw that, and wrote the song that set us free. We should all be eternally grateful to him for that.”
Extract from The Don McLean Story: Killing Us Softly With His Songs by Alan Howard Copyright 2007 Starry Night Music, Inc. All rights reserved. Reproduction or translation of any part of this work without the permission of the copyright owner is unlawful. Used by permission.
Don McLean Sings American Pie on Top of the Pops (October 31, 1991):