Old-style entertainment on a starry, starry night
We met a gum-chewing man who sang the blues, asked him for some happy news, and after a stunning night, he just smiled and turned away.
The gum was probably medicinal.
“You may have heard I had to cancel some shows due to illness,” McLean says. “I’m here tonight thanks to the Irish who gave me some magic drink with honey and some other strong things in it.”
He’s still got greatness. At 72, the upper register of Don McLean’s voice may not be what it was way back when his then angelic vocals and global hits packed out Páirc Uí Chaoimh twice in the 1980s, but on a starry, starry night such as this, his legendary status was enhanced by his commitment to entertainment.
McLean is still a great performer, a great acoustic guitarist, and still a fine singer. The brilliance of the songs is irrefutable: ‘Vincent’, ‘Crying’, ‘And I Love You So’, ‘Mountains of Mourne’, and the evergreen ‘American Pie’. He also plays other old classics, tributes to Guy Mitchell (‘Singing The Blues’) and Buddy Holly.
He still enjoys connecting with his audience. He has plenty of stories to tell, all of which get a warm reception.
McLean said: “I write songs that combine folk with a kind of rock and roll that I can understand; in other words, it stopped around 1963 with Gene Vincent. I’m lucky that a lot of people have recorded my songs. People ask me what ‘American Pie’ means; it means I don’t have to work anymore.”
And he’s clearly doing this for the love of music. Certainly not for the money. The original handwritten lyrics to ‘American Pie’ alone sold at auction for $1.2m in 2015.
A global mega hit, McLean somehow didn’t win a Grammy for ‘American Pie’. Instead, he was hanging backstage with Gilbert O’Sullivan (nominated for ‘Nothing Rhymed’) while Harry Nilsson’s ‘Without You’ won the best male pop prize.
He also recounts how his lawyers helped him own 60% of one of Drake’s hits, one which borrowed heavily from McLean.
Lots of storytelling, lots of great tunes, old-style entertainment.
Ashley and Stephen Hayes, Blarney, at the Don McLean gig at Live at the Marquee, Cork.
Margaret and Joe Cashin with Bernie O’Neill, Tramore, all set for the Don McLean concert.