Ah, Simon and Garfunkel. How the very words take me back. Back to my teenage years, where part of my nightly ritual was to play at least one of three particular albums as a reward for having got through the homework and to prepare myself mentally for the humiliations and torture that would doubtless befall me the next day. One of those three albums was Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits. After that nightly soothing of fourteen amazing tracks I felt strengthened and more confident. Funny how music can do that to you.
As my young teens progressed into my older teens, I felt the need to discover more of their work, so saved up and bought all their albums. The Dowager Mrs Chrisparkle bought me Paul Simon’s Greatest Hits Etc for Christmas in 1976 (I think), and I also started exploring Art Garfunkel’s solo work. At university my friend the Lord Liverpool showed me how much more satisfying was the acoustic version of I Am A Rock rather than the fully orchestrated version with which I was familiar. Then when I went to London University as a postgrad I became great mates with a first year undergrad, the Prefect of Pontardulais, who was a massive fan of Paul Simon. He never rated Garfunkel though; memorably describing him as simply a w***er. In the summer of 1982 he and I went to see Simon and Garfunkel perform at Wembley Stadium, getting there as early as we could so that we could get as near the stage as possible. It was a fantastic concert. I never dreamed I would see S&G live; a memory to cherish.
As the years progress, new musical favourites take the place of old favourites, but even if you only play those old songs occasionally, when you hear them again it’s like they never went away. So a show like The Simon and Garfunkel Story is a wonderful way of reliving old memories and wallowing in nostalgia. It’s a very simple show, but none the worst for that. Dean Elliott plays Paul Simon and David Tudor is Art Garfunkel, in front of a three piece band and a simple projection screen that constantly reminds us of S&G’s old albums, tracks and photos. They start off with the classic The Sound of Silence and the moving He Was My Brother and then go back to the very early Tom and Jerry days and work their way through their opus album by album. On the way they fill in little nuggets about how Simon and Garfunkel met, how their friendship developed and how it eventually fell apart. It’s enough background information to contextualise each song or album, without ever becoming too factual or biographic. What you’ve really come to the theatre for is to listen to those incredible songs again, and the five of them really put on an excellent act.
When we saw the Beatles’ show Let It Be, I was particularly impressed with how the four musical actors accurately recreated the recorded sound of all those Beatles tracks. In the S&G Story, Messrs Elliott and Tudor don’t aim to give you the same sound as the old records. They perform as S&G would have done in live concert, so it’s got an appropriate amount of rough edges and musical variation. That said, David Tudor absolutely nails Garfunkel’s exceptionally pure and clean voice, especially in those earlier tracks. When he sang For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her it literally brought a tear to my eye through its complete perfection. I also liked the way he sat impassively, almost hiding from attention, whenever he wasn’t singing – that’s just how I imagine Art Garfunkel to have been, eclipsed by his partner’s more showmanlike behaviour. As Paul Simon, I thought Dean Elliott gave a great performance, really bringing back all of Simon’s sincerity and stage presence, even if he slightly over-stressed (IMHO) the nasal tone of those earlier recordings. It took this show to make me realise that S&G really do have very distinctive voices and it’s a big ask to impersonate them.
Over the course of the evening, they perform about thirty of the duo’s finest songs – all the standards of course – Homeward Bound, I Am A Rock (the non-acoustic version), Scarborough Fair (“remember me to all and sundry”, as Mrs Chrisparkle regularly re-interprets the lyrics), Mrs Robinson, Cecilia, Bridge Over Troubled Water, and ending up with The Boxer as the final encore. There are a few of my personal favourite “B” sides in there as well, the immaculate Leaves That Are Green, the harsh Hazy Shade of Winter and the joyous Baby Driver, which I was still singing, fairly badly, by the time we got home. They recreate the excitement of the Concert in Central Park (which was the same as the concert the Prefect and I saw in Wembley) with really stunning performances of Late In The Evening and Slip Sliding Away. And it was with much relief that they included my all-time favourite S&G song, America, that ultimate chasm between hope and reality; such a beautiful song that never fails to move me.
The Simon and Garfunkel story ends with the split – there are a few musical and visual pointers to the guys’ solo careers, but none of those latter songs are actually performed fully on stage. Probably wise – at 2 hours 20 minutes it’s just the perfect length for a really enjoyable look back at their careers and to relive those incredible songs, the majority of which remain timeless classics. If you like a bit of S&G you’ll really enjoy this show. They’re touring all over the place all year as you can see here, and they’re definitely worth catching. The mainly slightly more senior audience really enjoyed it and it received a very warm ovation. Recommended!