This concert bore all the hallmarks of a homecoming gig, except that very few people actually seemed to know any of MacLean’s songs. To counteract this, we received chorus lessons for almost all of them. During songs, we given a heads-up for each chorus and were even asked to sing them by ourselves several times. While many members of the audience relished the chance to take part in the gig, MacLean’s desire to have his audience sing his music back to him often strayed perilously close to vanity. At times it did seem like he just wanted his audience to have a good time but there was often the sense that MacLean was a little too pleased with himself.
He had just spent ten days in the USA and Canada and he quipped ‘I should be in bed’, much to the audience’s amusement. However, a number of times he actually forgot how to play his own songs, calling their inclusion in the 150-minute set into question. Nevertheless, the majority of the music was played well; at times his songs were beautiful. In particular, the stoic chant ‘Ready for the Storm’ showed MacLean’s talents to the full.
The two musicians playing alongside him were superb. Ross Ainslie played a mix of low D whistle (with excellent finger vibrato) and cittern. His astonishing solos on the whistle were musical highlights to many of the songs, sapping the limelight from MacLean’s fairly basic finger-picking or strumming on guitar. Pete Garnett’s unassuming, delicate accordion-playing was never obtrusive, providing a substantial but subtle backdrop for MacLean and Ainslie’s melodies. However, the songs themselves were often very similar and the pacing was so laid back it was almost horizontal. The audience only clapped along to one upbeat song, ‘Turning Away’, which was a welcome change from the many slower grandiose reflections on nature and mankind’s place within it.
MacLean’s interstitial ramblings were mainly good: he included funny stories about climbing mountains and dangerous beasties in Australia, but his four inelegant adverts for his live internet broadcasting subscription service (Butterstone Broadcasting, by the way) really cheapened the show. Behind his tinted glasses you could almost make out glinting dollar symbols on his eyes. After the interval, he asked if we’d got ourselves a wee refreshment. And a wee subscription? It was just embarrassing; mentioning it once was quite enough.
The final song of the night, MacLean's legendary 'Caledonia', was instantly recognisable to the whole audience, with a welcoming chorus sung back to MacLean and standing ovations from some. It was an encore, granted after foot-stamping, applause and loud whooping, so he’d obviously done something right over the course of the gig. Nevertheless, MacLean never seemed to be making much of an effort, relying on his credentials and his fans’ passion to keep the gig alive. Newcomers to MacLean’s music would have been lost, trying to work out how he had generated such acclaim, but for the fans at least, he delivered the goods.