Neil Wyatt writes:
Don McLean in Douglas (Isle of Man) 24th August 2005
In a week that sees the Isle of Man prepare for the annual Manx Grand Prix motor cycle races there was also the excitement of a Don McLean concert in town.
The evening before the show I met up with Bill & Hannah (Mr & Mrs) who had travelled in from Glasgow on the same small aircraft as Don and the band.
Following a wet Tuesday afternoon and evening, Wednesday, the day of the concert was warm and sunny. The warm sun must have been what put a smile on Don’s face as could clearly be seen from our 2nd row central seats.
Before I go into Don’s concert I think it only right to give a mention to the opening act, that being a three-piece band called ‘Back Door Slam’. These were all young lads and my fourteen-year-old son, with me for his first Don McLean concert was well impressed with them.
Don opened with ‘Tulsa Time,’ which made a change from ‘Maybe Baby’ that was performed second then ‘Superman’s Ghost.’ Still going without a break came Fuzzy’s favourite; ‘Jerusalem.’
At this point, following Jerusalem, Don said that it was great to be here, he said he was last in here twenty years ago although I seem to remember after the event him playing in Douglas in 1996 or 1997, as part of a whole UK tour I missed through poor communication. This after the nice Mr New (Friends of Don McLean) stopped sending fans Don’s tour info. A point I suppose where the Internet took over; those on line at the time were the fortunate ones. Correct me if I’m wrong please. Don mentioned his time around twenty years’ ago when he lived in Israel before he sang a very nice And I love You So followed by ‘Promise to Remember’.
There then followed a perfect ‘Crying’, which Don called one of his all-time favourite songs. All the high notes were hit, just for the record.
‘Food on the table’ came next then followed ‘In a Museum’.
Into rock mode next for ‘Have you seen me’. Bill H thought that the Glasgow concert a couple of days before hand was more heavy than this one just for the record.
For ‘Vincent’ the stage backdrop actually looked like a starry starry night, a nice touch and a song well sung. This received a good cheer on completion.
Don went on to introduce the band, same guys who have been touring with Don for a good while now; Tony on piano / keyboard, Ralph on his now familiar green five string green bass, Jerry on drums and Pat on guitar. For the buffs on this occasion Pat was playing a yellow / orange top Gretsch complete with bigsby. With one of these you can play all styles of electric perhaps save for the Gary Moore long thick sustains. Anyway, as for the fashion report, Don was wearing a black long sleeved shirt with twin breast pockets, somewhere to hide the capo and plectrums I suppose. He was wearing light coloured jeans but I was too close to see the footwear, sorry if there are any shoe fans out there. Next time maybe!
A section followed with just Don accompanied by Tony on piano. First ‘Crossroads,’ Tony just gets better and better at playing this, not the sort of stuff you hear on Grasshopper! After the next old time piano song I’m not certain of the title of Don talked about music from the wartime when ‘people were tough but the songs were soft.’ These days Don said that ‘Songs are tough but the people are soft.’ In a way I agree with that idea. Next song then was ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’.
The Shakespeare song came next, someone please enlighten as to the title since I think this appears recently to be on Don’s regular song list he says he doesn’t have. (Only joking Don)
And now the bit some folks have waited at least twenty seven years’ to hear. You see 24th August is Bill Hamilton’s Birthday. Bill according to Don has been following Don for the last one hundred and fifty years. Well-done Bill you are a credit, you got Don to sing ‘Birthday Song.’ The song was performed in a similar style to that on the Don McLean titled album with the addition of an instrumental middle eight and the words sweet fish replaced by lovers in the last verse. Birthday Song received a long and loud applause, only bettered following the next song; ‘American Pie’ for which the ‘do you want some more’ repeat of some of the verses on completion made this into a near fifteen minute song. The additional entertainment consisted of a handful of over excited people dancing in the aisle and towards the end; the near capacity audience off their seats clapping.
At the end of ‘Pie’ Don said ‘Well you’ve had your money’s worth, I guess I could just go now but I’m going to sing a little more for you.’ Since this was around one hour and 20 minutes into the concert I would put that comment into the same context as when Don finished ‘Pie’ at Liverpool many years’ earlier. There he took a chair and said something like; now that’s out of the way I can do pretty much what I like.
At this point Pat put down his guitar and picked up the old ‘hound dog’ (Dobro) with very high action as my son pointed out. That’s the distance between the strings and frets. Pat finished his session with this. Anyway, the next song was ‘Since you’ve been gone’ or something like that followed by a yodel type blues song typical of Hank Williams style; TV blues not to be confused with Don’s song little heard of late: Colour TV blues.
A great surprise followed when Don played the Gordon Lightfoot classic; ‘If you Could Read My mind.’ In all my years of watching Don’s concerts this was the first time I had heard this performed live so like Birthday song I was grateful to have had that pleasure too.
‘Castles in the Air’ followed Don saying something about not knowing when he would be back, though it did sound slightly optimistic, I’m sure lots of us have hear wore comment on that front. My only criticism of Jerry on drums in the past was that the loud beat of the drums was not suited to Castles in the Air. Whether it was my location or that these reviews are viewed seriously I don’t know but what I can say it that the measures on this occasion sounded bang on. Well done.
A three chord Woody Guthrie song followed;’ I’ve been doing some hard travelling.’ A happy clappy sort of song. Don leaves the stage followed by the band after being played out. (Earlier Don said he would do a couple more and then he was leaving)
After a long applause Don came back with Ralph on bass to play some Josh White. Following being entertained by some guitar tuning Don sang ‘What you going to do’.
Of course it wouldn’t be a Josh White session without ‘Where were you baby’ which followed.
A big cheer for Ralph as he left the stage and there was Don on stage all alone. Those were the days. Don finished the concert with a new song which he said was on a new album, the song I would suggest was called ‘I’ve Grown Old Missing You’ and I would suggest played in E minor.
So, that was it. Lots of people hung around hoping to meet Don but it wasn’t to be.
On the plus side we had all seen two excellent concerts which included Birthday song and a brand new rather nice SOLO song to end on. He may be 60 on 2nd of October but a long way off his sell by date so keep the music coming Don. It’s also more of a pleasure to hear those Don McLean songs not performed live for far too long now.
Finally it was nice to meet up with Bill and Hannah in one of the nicest locations on Earth, also to Joe whom I had met in Dublin some years earlier who is lucky enough to live there.