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  1. An audience containing just about every age-group were treated to a wonderfully varied set at St David’s Hall on Sunday night. Don McLean, forever to be remembered mostly as the man who gave the world “American Pie”, demonstrated that his extraordinary songwriting abilities are matched by his talents as a performer, mixing and matching McLean originals from a long and varied career with classic rock’n’roll covers, folk songs and American standards to take the audience through a wide spectrum of emotions.
    The entertainment began with a rendition of Buddy Holly’s “Maybe Baby”, which segued neatly into another Holly favourite, “Everyday”, with which McLean had a hit in the 1970s.
    Familiar moments from the man’s prolific back-catalogue came in the form of such masterpieces as “Castles in the Air”, “Crossroads”, “Winterwood”, Homeless Brother”, “Vincent” and “Empty Chairs”, sometimes performing solo, sometimes backed by a four-piece band.
    Another big cover-version hit, Roy Orbison’s “Crying”, received a rousing ovation before “American Pie” provided a natural crescendo, with the hitherto somewhat subdued audience singing along and dancing to an extended version of one of pop-music’s greatest anthems.
    Ostensibly that brought the performance to an end, but no-one was buying that, and as the crowd remained on their feet baying for more, back they came to do another two rock’n’roll covers before McLean was again left with the stage to himself, for him to bring the Welsh audience back down with something of their own – poet Idris Davies’ ballad about the 1926 general strike in Wales’ mining communities, “The Bells of Rhymney”, which was set to music by American ‘folkie’ Pete Seeger. McLean sat and picked out the accompaniment on a traditional five-string banjo, while the audience sat in rapt silence, breaking into rapturous applause as the song drew to a close, bring down the curtain on a memorable evening made the moreso for many who were able get an autograph and chat with the great man in the lobby after the performance.

  2. Don’s music is a part of the ‘tapestry’ of my life! I last saw him perform live in Cardiff around ’75 so obviously leapt at the chance to go see him again after all this time. He did not disappoint! That voice was as clear as a bell and his Nashville backing musicians really cooked up a storm!
    Don played a range of material from his back catalog ranging from country to good ol’ rock ‘n’ roll with his take on some Buddy Holly tunes, plus of course the Mclean classics that everybody wants to hear! Don established a great rapport with his audience…especially with his final number, “Bells of Rhymney” , with its Welsh theme! We all went home with smiles on our faces. Don’t be a stranger Don…come back again soon!

  3. Cardiff, St David’s Hall
    7 October 2007

    My first ever visit to the Welsh capital and I started by getting lost – twice!

    Firstly, I decided to sort of memorise the directions to my hotel on the outskirts of town. A few circles later and I was on the phone to Tom for some local (actually Googled) knowledge which told me predictably that had I carried on two more corners I’d have been there! Having checked in I then got lost in a more minor way trying to locate the Millennium Stadium, which should be fairly obvious one would have thought.

    Anyway it is at times like these that mobile phones are actually a help and Tom was able to ‘talk me down’ to the pub. We haven’t met before but we were soon happily ensconced amongst a few trailing rugby fans (France beat NZ here the day before) and reminiscing over Don concerts past, particularly the one exactly 34 years previously to the day in Glasgow when we had both first seen Don as callow youths!

    Well really Tom did most of the remembering since either my faculties are inadequate or his are especially acute. I had no recollection of Don being on TV the night before that 1973 concert, or of some of the other programmes that apparently were on at the time. He could even remember where he was sitting at the concert! I have enough trouble remembering last weekend, let alone my student years which are something of an alcoholic blur!!

    We took a wander round the centre of Cardiff which has lots of redevelopment going on. Outside the theatre a bloke was flogging some tickets at half price – it sometimes pays to wait but our tickets were purchased months ago.

    Eventually at about 7.45 we went in to the auditorium, carefully stepping around the walking frames and sticks (s). It is always alarming to realise that these ‘grey haired’ people are your peers, though as at any Don show there was also a mix of much younger folks.

    The support act started shortly after 8. Emily Maguire sang well and seems to have some good songs though I did have quite a bit of trouble making out the lyrics (of which more anon). She was backed by a guitarist, rather as John Platania used to accompany Don in the old days. Half an hour was passed pleasantly if unexceptionally.

    A short break and on came Don wearing a light blue shirt (shock horror!) and dark trousers. My prediction to Tom came true and we launched into ‘Maybe Baby’ quickly followed by ‘Everyday’. I would have to say that overall during the show the sound quality wasn’t as good as I have heard in other places. Don’s voice seemed a bit distant and ‘echoey’ and the base beat seemed overly prominent. I am not musical but that’s the best I can describe it! Also the level was too high for me sitting halfway back in the stalls – indeed I found it overpowering during ‘Have You Seen Me?’ where I could only make out the lyric because I know the song. If Don or the band are reading this….slip it down a couple of notches chaps and it will sound better (end of amateur advice!).

    Back to the show. I didn’t do a set list but AP was well represented as ever, only ‘Castles in the Air’ and AILYS from Tapestry, nothing at all from ‘Don McLean’. The unexpected track of the night was the last track on the Rarities CD – see if you can work out what that is!! * ‘To Have and To Hold’ was another track that I haven’t heard in a while and it was nice as ever to hear ‘Superman’s Ghost’.

    Big finale with AP including the middle instrumental which I like and the replaying of the first verse which I think is a bit of overkill – not like it is a short song to begin with! Two young girls in the front row danced through most of it to Don’s obvious pleasure – he specifically pointed at and acknowledged them as he left the stage to their delight. Most of the audience were on their feet by the end as Don left then came back with some Elvis and ‘Travellin Man’.

    The banjo had been sitting on the stage for the entire show and it almost looked like it wouldn’t be used at all. Then Don said he would do one more on his own. For an awful moment it appeared he was going to use the guitar but no…a cheer went up as he picked up the banjo. Unexpectedly what we got was ‘Bells of Rhymney’ but of course it was a wise choice with its litany of Welsh town names, each of which drew a small cheer, the largest of course being for Cardiff! Let’s hope for a bit more banjo at other venues – and spare a thought for Pat Severs who never even got to use his dobro!

    There was a signing afterwards but the only thing on offer was the new CD/DVD – I am amazed that the bio isn’t being sold. Surely there can be no better opportunity to hit your target market? I didn’t wait in the queue – there will be more opportunities for that starting in Birmingham tonight! And how about a ‘Birthday Song’ or ‘If We Try’?

    *OK the Rarities track is ‘Gonna Make You Mine’. I have NEVER heard that before in concert. Maybe we can expect ‘Aftermath’ or ‘Milkman’s Matinee’ soon!!

  4. – in response to Bill’s comment, the biography will be available at later shows (while stocks last) – the original stock was taken by Waterstones.

  5. At Cardiff last night. Sound level was good for us and we thought his voice was immaculate. We enjoyed the whole range of songs but obviously the songs where it was just Don accompanying himself were best. Someone said the audience was fairly restrained until near the end ….. where were they sitting?? We were singing along, clapping, standing, dancing, cheering from about 5 minutes in. Yes, there were all ages at the gig and good for the young girls at the front dancing but don’t forget WE have been dancing to the music for 35 years! I had American Pie as the first ever audio cassette I bought and played it constantly. Don’t let our grey hair fool you (and pardon me but I didn’t see any ‘sticks’ or ‘frames’) we’ve still got what it takes! Next time, come and join the oldies having a party in Tier 3.

  6. To Angela and Bob

    Apologies if my attempt at humour missed its mark. I have more than enough grey hairs myself as many here will attest, and first saw Don perform live on 7th October 1973. Since then I have seen him close to 40 times, so you can take it I am a fan!

    If you read my review again I will think you will see that at no point did I criticise Don’s voice as such (would I ever!) simply that it seemed a bit buried for me in the mix. However I accept that I seem to be in a minority of one here…even Tom sat beside me texted me to say he didn’t hear it the same way!!

    Anyway, I am about to go to the Symphony Hall in Birmingham, so I’ll post feedback from there. As ever I will call it as I see it – but you will find very many positive reviews from me in these pages and only a few less than glowing!

    Kind Regards

    Bill

  7. This is the third time I have seen Don McLean having been a fan for many years. I believe him to be the greatest musical poet ever and last night his performance was brilliant.

    The only criticism I had was of his backing musicians. Although they were very talented guys they were too loud, and at times Don was drowned out completely. I was in the front row and struggled to hear.

    The previous times I had seen Don perform in St David’s Hall was with one other man to accompany him on the guitar. That worked perfectly well – Don doesn’t need a band to drown out his wonderful voice. When he sang on his own last night he was at his very best. I hope he will soon be back.

  8. St David’s Hall looked 95% full from where I sat. For those who remember the 70’s solo gigs and their intimacy then any band or orchestra is a layer that has to be filtered to get to Don’s voice

  9. We really enjoyed the concert. It was the first time I’ve seen Don play banjo iy was great and the audience really enjoyed it. I’ve posted the video of the whole song on youtube along with a couple of other songs. I was also really pleased Don took time to meet us and sign cd’s afterwards, as I’ve mentioned somewhere else it would have been fantastic if the band had joined him. Hope to catch them all at another concert beofre they leave the UK. Fingers crossed.

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