Vaudeville Theatre, London
I’d been looking forward to The Simon & Garfunkel Story thinking how much this was the music of my coming of age years – but it’s funny what tricks your memory plays because Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel met the year I was born and starting making music together at school. By the time I went to university, Bridge Over Troubled Water was the biggest selling album of all time, they had disbanded and gone their separate ways.
Like the Beatles, though, their few recording years left a legacy that echoed for ever. The influence they had on the folk rock industry was undeniable. Thanks to Mike Nichols’ incorporation of their songs into The Graduate – an association which Simon claimed is what eventually drove them apart – their own music continues to appeal to the widest possible audience range, as evidenced by this week’s residence at the Vaudeville Theatre, a pause in a very long national and international tour.
To be fair, it’s best to watch a lot of this with your eyes closed because despite a strong facial resemblance Charles Blyth is too tall for Art Garfunkel, and Sam O’Hanlon looks more like Rodney Bewes than Paul Simon. But vocally, they are extraordinary – O’Hanlon works incredibly hard to replicate Simon’s guitar technique, and there is possibly more pure beauty and clarity in Blyth’s falsetto than even Garfunkel could command.
The performance is at its best when it’s just the two voices in close harmony, O’Hanlon’s guitar and occasional support from bass guitar, drums and keyboard. Some numbers are ‘enhanced’ by a capable and enthusiastic brass ensemble which over-punctuates the music and feels wrong for the period.
So we have an excellent Simon, an excellent Garfunkel, now where’s the ‘story’? Pretty much absent, it has to be said: there’s no ‘book’ writer credited in the programme – it’s probably Wikipedia – and clearly no-one has read the excellent Robert Hillburn biography in which their many differences, jealousies and bitter falling-out are exposed.
The boys sing with the inflections of Americans, but speak in their native Brit and the script is bland and lame, illustrated only by random images of American politics from JFK to Vietnam, a cartoon representing psychedelia and a few nice shots of Widnes railway station for ‘Homeward Bound’.
I once made a pilgrimage to Widnes station to see where Paul Simon had been inspired. It’s something you wouldn’t do twice.
But OK to see this once.