I was interviewed by award-winning director George Scott for the BBC 2 Classic Albums episode about Don McLean’s “American Pie” album. The interview took place at the Sleeper Sounds Studio in Ladbroke Grove, London on August 2nd 2017.
I was on the show as Don McLean’s biographer and spent a couple of hours talking about McLean’s career. At lunchtime, we were joined by Jake Bugg who was recording his contribution in the afternoon (McLean was one of Jake’s earliest influences). It was good to catch up with Jake as we’d only talked by email previously.
It was a fascinating and exciting experience taking part in and observing the recording process for a TV show. The show was first broadcast on BBC TV in December 2017 and later on PBS in America.
Don McLean came to Glastonbury and sang folk, pop, country and rock. He sang Buddy Holly, Elvis Presley and demonstrated his own legendary singer-songwriter status with four of his top-10 hits, three of which reached number 1.
Don sang for an hour – just 12 songs – to an estimated audience of 100,000.
I was honoured to be there with my wife as Don’s guests. Finding ourselves on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury was an unforgettable once in a lifetime experience. It was an extraordinary and exciting day.
Our day began meeting up with Don and his tour bus at the Bath Spa Hotel in Bath, Somerset. As we arrived, Paul Simon was just going into breakfast. The hotel is clearly a popular base for Glastonbury stars. However, having stayed in the hotel twice myself, I am not so sure it would meet Beyoncé’s standards.
Once at Glastonbury, we watched as the crowd increased by tens of thousands in the 20 minutes or so before Don was due on stage in the afternoon “Legends” slot prior to Beyoncé’s headline act that evening. My unsteady video captures the moment Don took to the stage and, later, part of American Pie.
Watching the BBC coverage later, I noticed Don say “wow” as he came out on stage and clocked the crowd for the first time. Wow was a good word for it.
Don’s agent and acoustic stage booker – Paul Charles – advised us that Glastonbury crowds will vote with their feet if they don’t like an act. They stayed with Don throughout and the big roars of approval weren’t just reserved for the classics – Vincent, American Pie and Crying – but lesser known Don McLean songs like “Love in my Heart ” also went down a storm.
Don and his brilliant musicians nailed every song and were clearly determined to do their best performances. As always, Don was tuned into the audience; he chose to sing American Pie slightly earlier and surprised everyone by finishing with “Sea Man”. The crowd would be dancing all day, but this song gave them something to think about.
For someone so often associated with just one or two songs, Don has a back-catalogue of hits and other influential songs that surprises many. Beneath the Pyramid Stage a huge Greenpeace banner was visible for all to see. However few present would know that a Don McLean song, “Tapestry”, was an inspiration for that movement’s formation after the co-founder David McTaggart heard Don perform the song in 1969.
After his set, Laura Marling was among the first to congratulate Don. Marling won Best British Solo Female Artist at the 2011 Brit Awards and is a brilliant contemporary singer-songwriter who is clearly appreciative of Don’s work.
A quick interview with BBC TV followed and then with a wave from Beyoncé’s dancers we were ‘out of there’ on Don’s tour bus to Heathrow in time for his flight to Canada for the next stop on the tour. Sadly we said goodbye at this point and headed from the airport to our train connection back to Bath where our adventure had begun early that morning.