Billed as ‘The American Troubadour’, it is difficult to think of many other veteran American solo singer-songwriters whose songs have been such popular hits as those penned by Don McLean, who arrived on Tyneside on Friday for a gig in Hall One of Sage Gateshead.
The evening opened with a student from Northern Ireland, Chelsey Chambers, who had managed to bunk off her second year exams to fill the support slot on McLean’s tour.
Her songs and polished performance justified her booking and being excused from her exams.
I had been expecting Don McLean to perform as a solo artist, however he arrived on stage accompanied by a five-piece band and kicked-off the night with a couple of up-beat songs before greeting the audience and telling us they had “a day off tomorrow” so would be playing a long and varied set.
He was gushing in his praise for the acoustics in the Sage.
Over the as-promised long performance that followed, the set varied between up-beat music perfect for a Friday night and slow, emotional songs.
Highlights included And I Love You So, Castles In The Air and a Bessie Smith blues number which gave his band the chance open up.
The band were all outstanding and the sound was mixed so each musician could be given their moment to shine.
The set ended with a long version of American Pie, with the somewhat restrained audience being encouraged to join in. McLean called out “imagine you are at the football”.
McLean returned on stage, started his encore with Vincent which he sang solo before the band came back on to pick things up.
Once again he thanked the audience and commented that “it don’t take much effort, I enjoy it”.
He performed a new song, He’s A Waving Man, which was inspired by a military veteran who he regularly drives past back home in Maine. The ‘vet’ sits outside his old peoples home and waves at people.
Audience participation was demanded and it didn’t take long for everyone to be singing merrily along to the easy-to-follow chorus.
I went along to this concert not knowing quite what to expect; I thought the evening might have been deep and intense.
However I found McLean’s style was warm and friendly. A passionate song-writer with a happy outlook on life. A polished, enjoyable and memorable night in the company of one of music’s best.