“Are we ready to have some fun?” asked legendary American Troubadour Don McLean to a packed London Palladium. This pandemic (which McLean refers to as the “damn panic”) delayed show marked the 50th anniversary of his iconic American Pie album. McLean is very appreciative of his English fans “In my career there’s been ups and downs but England has always been solid for me. I love playing here and this is a lovely hall.”
With a band consisting of drummer, lead guitarist, bassist and pianist Tony Migliore, who McLean quipped “has been with me for 37 years , which is longer than both my marriages put together …. and more fun!”
He began his set with a uptempo tracks and moved into the ballads for which he is known. Dipping into American musical history and telling fascinating stories along the way he held the Palladium faithful’s attention for the best part of two hours, albeit if a percentage had come to hear one song. Botanical Gardens led into the rocky Thunderstorm Girl and American boys invented rock’n’roll and a cover of Every Day by Buddy Holly, the artist that had such a profound influence on McLean. “It took me ten years to write American Pie, after the death of Buddy Holly and my father [his father died when he was 15].”
After guiding us with a musical education from folk to country, and a gentle singalong to the Pete Seeger track Bye Bye My Roseanna, which provided the start to his famous chorus, he gave a beautiful rendition of Crossroads, accompanied by his acoustic guitar and piano, one of several songs he would perform from the feted album. A standout track was the chilling Homeless Brother, the social commentary he preceded with the sombre prediction that homelessness will become a whole lot worse in America.
Empty Chairs from the Pie album followed and Castles in the air preceded a delve into the blues with a cool cover of MuddyWaters’ I’m Ready. Then audience favourites Crying and Vincent. Another delve into American folk music history brought a gritty version of Woody Guthrie’s Hard Travellin’ and more willing crowd participation.
Without a fanfare came the immortal words “A long long time ago, I can still remember.” This was THE moment everyone had been looking forward to. THAT song. The song listed in the top 5 Songs of the Centuryby the RIAA (Recording Industry of America). The track that has changed lives and led to voices been lost to raucous singalongs to house bands in New York, Dublin and many cities in the world. What can you say about one of the most iconic songs ever written?
McLean did it justice, stomping all over the mere 8-minute original version (which was the longest number one song for over fifty years) with a stellar Palladium-worth 13-minute rendition. History indeed. McLean had the house lights turned up to see the people with awe on their faces, tears in their eyes and joy in their hearts.
It was a privilege to be a part of this enormous part of modern musical history.
With an Elvis-inspired encore of Heartbreak Hotel and the McLean-composed track And I love you so which Elvis loved singing, McLean was off, whisked into a Rolls Royce limousine parked directly outside the front door of this most iconic of venues for this most iconic of performers.