Don McLean has now completed his 1997 UK tour, a tour that must be considered one of his best ever. Reviews of Don’s radio and tv appearances, together with reports from Woking, Basingstoke, Brentwood, Weymouth, Glasgow, Cheltenham and Tunbridge Wells are given below. I am happy to receive additional reviews by e-mail which I will then add to this page. Last update: 1 June 1997.
Ralph Childs (bass guitar) and Tony Migliore (keyboards and piano) accompanied Don and provided the ideal musical setting for his songs. They were superb in all the shows.
The full tour was as follows:
13th – Interview, Debby Thrower show, BBC Radio 2
14th – Live performance, Richard and Judy show, ITV
14th – Woking – HG Wells Suite – 01483 712710
15th – Grimsby – The Auditorium – 01472 311311
16th – Basingstoke – The Anvil Theatre – 01256 844244
17th – Brentwood – Brentwood Centre – 01277 262616
18th – New Brighton – Floral Pavilion – 0151 6391794
19th – 20th – Weymouth – The Pavilion – 01305 783225
22nd – Glasgow -Royal Concert Hall – 0141 227 5511)
23rd – Cheltenham – Town Hall – 01242 227979
24th – Tunbridge Wells (Assembly Rooms Theatre, Tel 01892 530613/532072)
25th – Norwich – Theatre Royal – 01603 630000
The Malcolm Feld agency was responsible for tour organisation and management.
The support act, ‘Night Games’, prompted many compliments and complaints! They were very different and although not to everyone’s taste they were a substantial improvement on the 1993 alternative comedian and a fine young band in their own right. Don clearly liked them, and in the final concerts had them join him on stage to provide backing vocals for American Pie. Their lead singer has appeared on ‘New Faces’ and is Britain’s disco dancing champion.
Many people would have been disappointed that Don missed out much of England. Don gives his reasons below. The great news is that Don may tour LONDON and Ireland in 1998.
Review: Don McLean on radio 2, 1420-1445 hrs, 13 May 1997
Don appeared on the Debby Thrower show – not one of our leading DJs but she did a good job all the same.
After playing ‘Vincent’, Don talked about all his albums now being available; how in 1987/88 you could hardly buy a ‘Don McLean record’. But then he signed with EMI and compilation CDs which did very well were released over here. Then Curb records (4 albums), BGO records (5 albums), and now MCA records are releasing seven albums in the USA. Don described it as a “bonanza”
Then talked about this being his 25th anniversary of World touring. Also explained that he’d been on the road touring since 1968 really and before that he’d been a regular in New York coffee houses in the early 1960s.
Don talked about going to nightschool and learning Shakespeare – an early McLean influence it would seem! He went to college ‘because his dad wanted him to’ and it helped him a lot, was a major influence on his subsequent writing and life in general.
The story of the Legend of Andrew McCrew was talked about briefly. Then Debby Thrower asked if ‘Killing Me Softly’ was really about him. Don patiently explained the story and commented that he was always getting asked about it again since The Fugees took it to number 1 in 1996. Don didn’t know how to pronounce ‘The Fugees’.
Then a very interesting section on Jim Croce. Jim heard Don sing when Don arrived as a Freshman at Villanova University and declared he wanted to be his friend. Jim managed to get Don a job as college radio DJ, and Don had his own show playing folk records. He also said that although Jim cultivated an image of a cigar smoking, truck driver what he really wanted was to be a child psychologist and the trucker image was not really him.
Castles in the Air was then played
Talked about Tapestry and explained why it was rejected by 34 record companies. Not because of ‘And I Love You So’ or other such stories, but simply because Don demanded to keep the publishing rights – his ‘smartest move’. He’s proud he succeeded – ‘I’m very proud of all my songs and albums, they mean a lot to me, my whole life’s work’. Despite the pressures of American Pie, he ‘never regretted anything’.
Today he says he has a much more balanced life. Instead of a 25 date UK tour, it’s 10 shows followed by a holiday in Paris with his wife. His life ‘is in control now’.
In answer to why he keeps travelling, Don says he took an 18 month break a few years ago and realised if he didn’t get back out singing he’d forget how to, and it was the only thing he really knew how to do. But again, he stresses that it’s kept in balance with his family life today.
He calls the music business, a great business, one without prejudice and one in which you just never know what will happen next
Interview concludes with Don’s views on IT and computing. “Computer world is taking over”; it frightens him, people are losing their sense of history, locality and culture.
Don McLean live on ‘This Morning’, 14-5-1997
Don McLean appeared live on Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan’s ‘This Morning’ show on ITV today. This Morning is Britain’s most popular daytime show and Don was given star billing. The show began with Don singing a little of ‘American Pie’ (Tony and Ralph were with him). Later, Richard talked briefly to Don; Don said that this was just a short tour because of his family, he also confirmed that he does not tour much anymore and that he has turned offers to perform in South Africa and Australia. Bad news for our Australian friends, I think.
Don then performed a medley of songs – Everyday, Crying and Vincent.
Don concluded the show with a full length ‘My Love was True’ taken from the ‘River of Love’ album which Don was strongly pushing as his new album even though it was released in the UK in November 1995 and is widely available.
Don’s voice seems to be in perfect condition. Again a great performance.
Don McLean – Woking, 14 May 1997
I was very honoured to be invited to join Don backstage for the whole night starting with the sound checks. Regular readers of the web sites will be delighted to hear further confirmation that Don knows all about both sites and thinks they’re great. It was the first time I’d met Don and he was great, looked after me well and even gave me a seat on the edge of the stage.
The start of the show was delayed by there being no front-of-house or backstage manager to either get the audience in from the bar or turn the canned music off. Don just decided to walk on and start whatever. His opener was Everyday, followed by Love in my Heart and then This Little Light. The sound quality was excellent – Don has two very competent sound engineers with him – and the musical setting was the best I’ve heard with Tony Migliore playing grand piano and keyboards simultaneously and Ralph Childs doing an excellent job on bass guitar. A variety of songs followed: And I Love You So, Castles in the Air – both well received by an audience clearly quite familiar with non-American Pie album, though old, material. Don then performed, Lovesick Blues, I Can’t Help it if I’m Still in Love With You, You’re my Little Darlin’, My Love Was True, Homeless Brother and one or two others that I can’t remember. The finale was Crying followed by American Pie (which sounded very close to the record) and an encore of Vincent and a Ray Charles song. A 75 minute performance very well received by an enthusiastic audience. The theatre was small – perhaps 600 seats – but sold out with an average age of about 50. I won’t forget my moment on stage with Don McLean as I gave him his glass of water mid-way through…. But to make readers jealous I can tell you that during the soundcheck he sang a complete version of ‘Crossroads’ accompanied by Tony on piano! I think he’ll be including it regularly during this tour, though not in the concert last night. Don himself is still looking youthful and is in perfect voice.
Bill Hamilton writes:
Had to make a brief post as I just got home from the Woking concert. Don’t want to steal anyones thunder as I know a fuller review is due…but as a veteran of many McLean tours and concerts my view is that the man is in great form and I thought his performance tonight was as good as any I have seen in recent years…I hope to maybe take in at least one further concert during the tour.
Can’t leave without commenting on the support act…don’t miss them…they are certainly different. Maybe we should persuade Don into some midset costume changes…if you see the support you’ll understand what I mean lol.
Thanks Don for another memorable evening.
A DM Widower writes:
Having attended the Woking concert last night, I thought Night Games were one of the most entertaining supporting acts I have seen for years. Perhaps the only criticism was the absence of St Johns Ambulance to attend to the potential heart failures in the audience!!!
An long established DM widower!!
Tony Smith writes:
Just back from seeing Don at Grimsby Auditorium, Excellent! I will try and send a full review over the weekend, but I am heavily into my finals at the moment.
I felt guilty taking one night off from revision! Congratulations on the superb home page.
Basingstoke – May 16th
Don’s third concert of the tour and the third completely different set of songs starting with Ain’t that Love, followed by Everyday and It’s Just the Sun (very appropriate given the thunder and lightning outside). It was great to hear Don perform songs such as Oh My What a Shame, La La Love You and Crossroads very much as they were on the original record. The Berkshire audience was a good deal more muted than in Woking or Grimsby until the end when they suddenly came alive with tremendous participation in the encore, This Little Light, and their true feelings were highlighted by the standing ovation given to Don as he left the stage at the end of the 75 minute concert. I believe the theatre holds about 1000 people and was full except for a few of the cheapest seats.
Before the show I was able to speak to Don again and ask him a few questions. There is a reasonable chance that he will return to the UK in 12 months time to do a concert at the Royal Festival Hall. He says England is close enough in travelling time so he is still happy to come here. I asked Don about the techno-version of American Pie that hit the UK top-40 in 1995. He knew all about it, could name the singer and said he likes it! He has the CD at home and it is a great favourite with his daughter! He was also amused to hear that someone had impersonated him two years ago on the tv show ‘Stars in their Eyes’. He also confirmed that his name is trade-marked to prevent rip-off artists calling themselves Don McLean and going about singing his songs. Apparently someone did that very same thing very successfully in the early 1970s in the USA – so well in fact that security at one theatre thought that Don was the imposter and was almost arrested. It goes without saying that this has been the week of my life to have met and spent time with Don McLean.
Pictures from this show and the Woking concert will be appearing in due course.
Bill Hamilton’s review on Don McLean in Brentwood, 17 May 1997
People often imagine that you must be a bit weird to want to see the same performer twice in four days. Yes, they say, it sounds like it was good but do you REALLY want to sit through all of it again? I must admit, the same thoughts crept into the corner of my mind last night as I conjectured whether to take the 45 minute drive to Brentwood. Fortunately, instinct triumphed over inertia and I was rewarded by a real gem of a performance.
And the key word here is performance….because that’s what you get when you go to see Don….a unique performance, for one night only, never to be repeated. Sure Don always plays all the standards as he must….he knows that the audience will be disappointed if he misses even one out. But the real magic for a connoisseur lies more in the other songs which he performs, and in the little conversational interludes. I think that it is those that keep us coming back….I don’t think I have ever been to one of his concerts and not heard something new.
Last night for example, there was a rousing singalong version of an old folk song ‘There’ s more pretty girls than one’ (I apologise if that’s not the title, it was certainly the chorus) which Don introduced as something he sang often with his daughter. His family clearly have had a big influence on him and the mellowing comes across clearly on stage…I doubt I have seen him so relaxed as on this tour. His enjoyment in singing and performing comes across so strongly that I don’t think any audience could fail to be drawn in.
Some of this can also be attributed to having found the right level of backing with Tony Migliore playing piano and keyboards (simultaneously on many occassions!) and Ralph Childs on the bass. Having seen everything from Don playing solo, to performing with an orchestra I think this is the best compromise. He is an artist who loves to be able to change his material at the spur of the moment, throwing in little oddities and old standards on whim. It is clear that the backup musicians have as little idea what he is going to play as the audience as they frantically leaf through their music sheets when Don goes off on yet another little trip!
A real highlight was when he decided, clearly entirely on the spur of the moment, to sing a blues song ‘Treat me like a fool’. Again, this was something I have never heard him sing in concert before, and I probably never will again, but it was amazing as Don not only sang the song but also all the backing vocals! I can think of very few artists who would decide to do that, entirely unrehearsed, and pull it off with such aplomb. Another first for me was to hear Crossroads performed live with Tony providing great accompaniment on piano…this had been omitted in Woking.
Don was in particularly chatty mood, and spoke between songs about the shock of going to New York at the start of his career having been brought up in the country. Also about being at Johnny Cash’s house with Roy Orbison after failing on one of his Grammy nominations.
With a great seat, plumb in front of Don and about 20 yards from the stage, it felt as though the entire concert was being performed for my benefit. I had no watch on, but the concert was definitely longer than Woking, probably around 90 minutes. After the usual rousing finale of Pie, the audience of course demanded an encore which comprised Stardust followed of course by Vincent and then This Little Light of Mine before Don left to a genuine and well deserved standing ovation.
Weymouth ‘Empty Chairs’ concert – May 20th 1997
Don McLean’s latest concert took place in the far-flung location of Weymouth on the Dorset coast. The rickety old theatre holds about 1000 people but was perhaps just 70% full last night giving Don his smallest audience of the tour so far. But this didn’t stop Don putting on a most entertaining and professional performance. Unusually he started very quietly with ‘Count Your Blessings’ which immediately led into ‘Wonderful Baby’ and then ‘Ain’t that Love’. The audience was treated to many songs from the ‘Best of Don McLean’ album including ‘Empty Chairs’, ‘Castles in the Air’ (he had apparently received complaints for not singing this song every night), ‘And I LoVe You So’, ‘Crying’, ‘Dreidel’, ‘Vincent’ and ‘American Pie’. Don did his best to get the audience participating with ‘This Little Light’ but they were more enthralled with the classics and songs such as ‘Sea Man’, ‘My Love Was True’ and ‘Travellin’ Man’. This was a superb performance especially since Don has picked up a slight cold. The tour is developing into a real classic.
A review of the Glasgow concert from Ken Fletcher
We were a generation lost in space for 95 minutes of magic from Don tonight. In the past Don could appear a bit irksome but tonight he produced a mellow, mature performance with his classics well up there with his best performances. >From a start with Ain’t That Love all the way through to his encore (and standing ovation) with This Little Light of Mine, it was bliss for all his fans in the auditorium, which was, I reckon, about 70 per cent full – but then, it has not been all that well publicised up here. The superb Crossroads, which I’ve never heard live before (I’ve been to five previous concerts), was the highlight for me. It was a moment of rare beauty in these days of techno-crap. There was a peerless rendition of Sea Man to show that when you have a voice like that, who needs music. We also got Lovesick Blues, another favourite of mine, but no Homeless Brother. Liked his new song, Angry Words, while the classic Crying had everyone giving it yahoo. Don talked quite a bit throughout the concert, recalling playing the old Apollo theatre in Glasgow – “It was so cold it was like playing inside an igloo” he said. The Royal Concert Hall was singled out by him as one of the best theatres in the world for sound. We could all vouch for that as he launched into a finish with Vincent, then American Pie, before his single song encore with This Little Light. A magic night … and we all hope he’ll come back again, but he’s obviously becoming reticent about touring. So enjoy it while you can!
And Ken Fletcher has very kindly sent in the following review from The Scotsman newspaper:
Article written by Fiona Shepherd
The worry with songwriting giants such as McLean, whose greatest moments are at least 20 years in the past, is that when they come to perform their classics, as they feel duty bound to do, the songs will be a pale shadow of their former glory, or worse, a tacky ’90s reworking. Not so with Mclean. He arrives on stage with just his voice, an acoustic guitar, a bass player and a pianist who oscillates between a grand piano and a synthesiser keyboard, only one of which can do real damage to the diamonds he serves up. It is clear McLean favours timeless arrangements for timeless songs.
While he doesn’t necessarily turn in the most emotionally charged performance of his career, he can hardly fail to hit the mark with his timeless songs and the clarity of his voice which isn’t swamped by fussy, muso arrangements. Empty Chairs and Roy Orbison’s Crying are greeted with the total silence of a rapt audience although it is the beautiful Vincent, tantalisingly left until last, which really touches, despite an intrusive synthesiser presence on a song which requires no embellishment.
Inspite of the minimal approach, McLean offers a rich blend of styles – gentle country and folk standards, souped up Sinatra crooners, a hint of gospel and a singalong finale with the very obvious choice of American Pie, whereupon the motley support band trundle on to add their vocal contribution and ruin the atmospheric reverie. Don, however, remains dignified.
Cheltenham – May 23rd 1997
This concert took place within the impressive setting of Cheltenham Town Hall. A sold out capacity audience of about 1000 (including Don’s No.1 fan from Australia) watched a memorable performance in which Don performed an unusual number of songs from the American Pie album: ‘Winterwood’, ‘Vincent’, ‘Empty Chairs’, ‘Crossroads’ and ‘American Pie’. The audience took well to Don’s chats between songs including how Don and Ralph had visited a Chinese restaurant near the concert hall in Glasgow the previous night – ‘the worst food I’ve ever eaten’ he told them, but made up for when ‘And I Love You So’ came across the music system. Don joked, ‘You know you’ve made it when you hear your songs played in the worst Chinese restaurant in the world’. A nice story retold the following night when ‘And I Love You So’ mysteriously changed to ‘Castles in the Air’!
The 90 minute concert reached a magnificent climax as Don was joined on stage by Night Games who provided backing vocals for ‘American Pie’. A memorable performance of this song even by Don’s standards, helped along by an enthusiastic audience including some who were even dancing in the aisles. A standing ovation followed until Don returned to the stage, clearly impressed by the reception, for an encore of ‘This Little Light’ and ‘If I Only Had a Match’. The audience (which had earlier been quiet) was ecstatic by this point prompting Don to wonder why he hadn’t been to Cheltenham before! An evening that no-one in the audience will forget in a hurry.
A word for Tony Migliore, who was brilliant as usual, despite suffering from a bout of food poisoning resulting in severe dehydration. He was very grateful for the bottle of water bought for him by Don’s No.1 fan from Australia who, everyone will be pleased to hear, got to meet Don McLean before the show.
Tunbridge Wells – May 24th
This was my 5th and final concert of the tour and was acknowledged by my girlfriend to be fantastic. As far as I am concerned this is the best Don McLean concert I have ever attended.
The audience (a full house, loud and enthusiastic) was treated to a large number of songs from the ‘American Pie’ album, together with a long list of classics including, ‘La La Love You’, ‘It’s Just the Sun’, ‘Everyday’, ‘Dreidel’, ‘Wonderful Baby’, ‘Castles in the Air’, ‘And I Love You So’, ‘Crying’, ‘Love in my Heart’, and ‘This Little Light’. Like previous nights the ‘new’ album, ‘The River of Love’ was not given much prominence with only ‘Angry Words’ being performed. Don was in a very happy mood on stage and clearly loved the audience’s reaction. Night Games again joined them for American Pie and although many have complained, Night Games are a good young group clearly liked by Don McLean.
There have been standing ovations on most nights and all the audiences seem to have savoured what has been a truly great and classic tour. Don says he hopes to be back this time next year to perform at the Royal Festival Hall for which you probably need to check this site often for early notification because those tickets are going to be like gold dust!
And a review from another member of the Tunbridge Wells audience:
I was at last nights concert in T. Wells and fully agree with the comments on the web site about how brilliant it was. My husband, who I felt was just accompanying me to humour me, said at the end “that was excellent”.
It was the first time I had seen Don in concert. However “American Pie” was the first “grown up” album I bought when I was 13 or 14. In fact, my initial thought when I walked into the theatre was – what a lot of old people. then I remembered, I am no longer young!! But Don’s music brought back so much of my youth as well as later years.
It was a fantastic night. Did you realise there were a lot of French people in the audience? I saw a French coach outside and there were a lot of them near us in the audience.
I loved Don’s comments about his recent meal in Glasgow -and also the risque joke about child molesters.