Don McLean – Live Review – Halifax Victoria Theatre

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By Victoria Holdsworth, May 2018

Tonight, Yorkshire is in the presence of a living legend! A long-time resident of the Songwriters Hall Of Fame, and writer of some of the most famous and influential songs of our time, Don Mclean takes unassumingly to the Halifax stage with his band. The city born, cowboy-living musician, looking more like Mel Brookes these days, launches straight into his adaptation of ‘Singing The Blues’.

There has always been something warming and familiar in Don McLean’s voice. I remember it from a very young age with fondness, and I was wondering if it was going to hold up after all these years. I shouldn’t have worried – I was amazed at how good he actually sounded.

The Buddy Holly classic ‘Everyday’ follows and is warmly received by the audience. McLean’s slowed down version is intricate and personable and shows an even greater depth to the original song.

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image: Keith Perry Photo

Taking time out to speak to his adoring fans, he remarks: “It’s an elegant evening, in a beautiful theatre, and you clearly all have great taste in music.” Then rolls right on into ‘Bronco Bill’s Lament’ and the extremely touching ‘Homeless Brother’, from the same album, released back in 1974.

“Stunning version”

The way that this man tells a story through song is quite remarkable, and his lyrics are picked and chosen carefully.

‘And I Love You So’ sounds as beautiful as ever, and Don tells the crowd afterwards that his favourite version of that song was done by Shirley Bassey, which is also followed by a rather uncanny impression of her, which made me chuckle anyway.

Starting to get the elderly massive limbered up, he goes down the country route for a few with ‘Tulsa Time’ and a the Johnny Cash classic, ‘Folsom Prison Blues’, which is one of the best songs of the night.

After then introducing his band, assisted by his Dick Van Dyke look-a-like keyboardist, Tony Migliore, he performs Roy Orbison’s ‘Crying’. Obviously, Don cannot reach the same levels as Roy did, however it is a stunning version and seems to unlock the audience even further, which is clearly noticed by Don. He remarks that most people look like they are just sat watching television, and that he likes to work with more vibes from the crowd.

‘Jerusalem’ is a bit of a pass-me-by affair, however ‘Crossroad’ from the American Pie album is lyrically soul grabbing and soundslike a brand new song, until it drifts into an impromptu sing-song of ‘Cottage for Sale’.

“Trance-like quality”

‘Castles In The Air’ is word heavy song, almost a poem, but the clarity of his voice and vocal inflections on certain words, really make it stand out.

There is newer material tonight, from his 19th studio album of the same name as his next track, ‘Botanical Gardens’. This and ‘Lucky Guy’ have an almost trance-like quality to the way that he sings them.

Another cover of a Ray Charles hit, ‘Hide Nor Hair’ really seems to wake everybody up, as does another Botanical Gardens track, ‘Total Eclipse Of The Sun’. These are the stand out songs for me, by far and above the rest, and he hasn’t even played the old faithful yet!

Of course, it’s not long before the song the whole evening has been about arrives. Don joked earlier with people in the audience who were continually getting up and down that if they kept getting up and leaving, he would just drop ‘American Pie’ in at any time so they might miss it. As usual though, the best is saved until the end, and the string work from Nashville guitar legend Vip Vipperman really ramps it up from the recorded versions.

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Tonight, Don Mclean was like an artist covering over some old canvasses. He reshapes his own songs as though they are written by another artist, and for the most part of the evening, the songs move seamlessly from one to the next. It isn’t until the end of the set that the crowd really appreciates him fully.

An encore consists of another few verses of ‘American Pie’, another stage exit afterwards and I honestly thought the elderly crowd were about to cause a riot, with their foot stomping and screaming, which had been lacking all night.

McLean takes to the stage for a part two, and sits at a stool, teasing to play what the crowd is shouting at him. So much does the crowd want this song, that at the quietest moment possible, while Don fiddles with his microphone and acoustic guitar, an elderly gent bellows from the balcony: “Just play ‘Vincent’, you dick!”

And he obliges.

Another stage exit, and then we are on encore part three, and he plays ‘Greenback Dollar’, which is definitely the last song of the night, and maybe just a song too long in my opinion.

Tonight was outstanding. Don McLean’s best days might be behind him, but he’s still a capable and captivating interpreter of some golden era classics.


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