Jake Bugg

Jake Bugg has said in many interviews that he fell in love with music after hearing Don McLean’s song Vincent on an episode of The Simpsons. Jake saw Don in concert in Sheffield in 2007 and first wrote to him as a 14 year old asking whether he thought song-writing would be a good move.

When I interviewed Don McLean last summer I asked him about Jake:

Alan: Back in June we received another fan letter written to you by a young man in Nottingham, England. By December 2012 he was one of the biggest music stars of the moment in the UK, touring the US with Noel Gallagher and telling the world’s media that you were his hero. What do you make of Jake Bugg?

DM: I’ve seen some Youtubes of Jake Bugg and I’ve listened to him and I like him and I like his music. I think he plays some nice guitars. He plays guitars which are similar to the ones I used to play and I wish him all the luck in the world. I think he’s very young to have a lot of success – I hope somebody’s managing his money for him and I hope he has a good lawyer who’ll explain to him in simple terms what it is he’s signing so he doesn’t wake up and find himself, you know, in court which is the beginning of turning the dream of show business into a nightmare and it happens to almost everybody.

AH: Do you see a young Don McLean in Jake?

DM: Yeah, I do, I see an enthusiasm and I see a dreamy quality to him. He sees something. I can tell from his letter that he’s quite bright and he’s able to push through imaginary walls and to get to something in a songwriting way that has to do with what he’s seeing. Time will only tell how long he will want to pursue that – you know whether he finds a way to pursue that and to grow in pursing that or whether he gets distracted. There are so many distractions you know – marriages, drugs, alcohol, all kinds of stuff – not to mention court cases – that drag a person down and take the fun out of what it is you’re doing so he has to be careful about those things. I think I was a more troubled person than he seems to be. Very few handled success as badly as I did. I think it’s because singing became an obligation for quite  a while.

You know artists are very self-centred and we know we’re wonderful and we think everybody should think we’re wonderful but sometimes we wake up and realise other people have agendas, they have lives, they have plans for themselves, and they don’t include you, you know. It’s eye opening especially when you’re that self-centred and I certainly was and most artists that I know are and that’s the reason why you don’t pay attention because you assume everybody loves you and has your best interests at heart and they don’t.

AH: What would be one piece of advice that you’d give any young singer?

DM: Get a lawyer who can read whatever it is you sign and write you a simple letter telling you at your level of education what it means to sign this – what this paragraph means, what that paragraph means, etc. Because it’s in legalese and a high school graduate cannot understand what this means. A lawyer who can speak to a high school (or college) graduate, who has that ability, can tell you: ‘you are signing away this right forever, do you want to negotiate that? You are paying for this record, it’s going to come out of your royalties so the chances are unless you sell  this number of records you’re never going to make a dime from this deal, do you still want to do it?’ You know a lot of things like that. Of course you do want to do it, it’s going to do very well but at least you know you know.

Well the record companies today want everything. If they sign you you’re going to pay for everything and they want your merchandise, they want a piece of your performing  but I don’t know what his deal is and I don’t know who represents him so that’s between him and his representatives. But it is good to have an independent lawyer who even checks on your representatives because your managers are not always the people that have your best interests at heart. But if you have an independent individual who can read these things and let you know what they really say, for one thing you’ll scare the manager – the manager needs someone to scare him to make him realise that there’s someone else looking at this stuff, who knows how to read it and that he can’t tell you a bunch of junk about this and get away with it because someone else is going to read it and tell them what the truth is. That will scare the manager into doing the right thing and managers don’t do the right thing sometimes. Managers like to isolate artists and to control information.

Jake’s 2007 review of Don’s Sheffield concert:

“I enjoyed the concert very much even though
he didnt play an encore or empty chairs
but it was a great atmosphere. I couldn’t
believe that it was don mclean i was seeing
it was amazing i wish i could see him again
i got his autograph after the concert
and i think i was the ONLY KID THERE!!!!!”


Our day at Glastonbury (with Don McLean)

Don McLean came to Glastonbury and sang folk, pop, country and rock. He even sang “Sea Man” – an acapella song he wrote 30 years ago while living in Israel.

He sang songs from five decades.

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. It was an extraordinary day: surreal, exciting, amazing and a truly unforgettable once in a lifetime experience. Finding ourselves on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury was a jaw-dropping moment.

We watched as the crowd increased by tens of thousands in the 20 minutes or so before Don was due on stage in the early afternoon “Legends” slot. My unsteady video captures the moment Don took to the stage and, later, part of American Pie. The sight and sound of that huge crowd singing along with Don was a sensory overload (in a good way!)

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 is a good word for it.

A big name in the UK music industry 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 relatively little known Don McLean songs like “Love in my Heart (Food on the Table)” also went down a storm.

Don and his brilliant musicians nailed every song; they 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.

Clearwater and Pete Seeger

Pete Seeger will be celebrating his 90th birthday on May 3rd 2009 with a benefit concert in aid of the Clearwater Organisation.

Seeger was responsible for promoting the project to build and launch a boat that continues to navigate the Hudson River every summer stopping at every town to disseminate information about the environment and the perilous state of the Hudson River. Don McLean was a member of the first Clearwater Sloop crew in 1969.

McLean says: “This boat is an example of the Seeger genius because it combines the fun of boating with the seriousness of environmental degradation and gets everyone involved at the same time while also being a public relations dream.”

McLean’s work as the Hudson River Troubadour in 1968 and his experiences with the Clearwater Sloop in 1969 proved inspirational learning experiences for him.

He is particularly proud of “Tapestry”, a song he wrote while aboard the Sloop and which became the title track to his first album. The powerful lyrics remain relevant today as they provide a warning of the consequences of humanity’s exploitation of the environment. “If man is allowed to destroy all they need. He will soon have to pay with his life, for his greed.”

Despite its powerful message, the song is one of Don’s lesser known compositions, overshadowed on the Tapestry album by the giants, “Castles in the Air” and “And I Love You So.”

Don McLean has never seen himself as any type of ‘environmental activist’ and has avoided becoming a spokesperson for the environmental movement. He says, “Political people bore me, and I don’t want to be one. I’ll settle for being a decent citizen.”

After the first Clearwater Sloop voyage in 1969, McLean left the crew. Before he left, Pete Seeger told him, “Don, I think you’re a genius. You’re like a wonderful chef who serves a great meal once and never repeats it.”

Don returned from time to time to perform at Sloop concerts. He also recorded a version of “Tapestry” for the 1974 Clearwater album and edited a book entitled Songs and Sketches of the First Clearwater Crew, with sketches by his friend Thomas Allen.

Later, in 1984, McLean played Carnegie Hall with the Jordanaires for a Greenpeace benefit. After the show, David McTaggart, the Canadian co-founder of Greenpeace, came backstage and told Don that his song, “Tapestry,” was one of the factors that got him involved in the environmental movement.

Adapted from The Don McLean Story: Killing Us Softly With His Songs by Alan Howard
Copyright © 2007 Starry Night Music, Inc. All rights reserved.
Reproduction or translation of any part of this work without the permission of the copyright owner is unlawful. Used by permission.

Don McLean sings “Tapestry” on Australian television: