“Time it was, oh what a time it was” – as the lights went down, the poignant notes of what is for me one of Simon and Garfunkel’s most persistent earworms played in my head – and then echoed on stage to open a show that reminded me just how many earworms the pair gifted us.
Sam O’Hanlon and Charles Blyth work subtly together and with their stonking backing band to conjure the sound and look of Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel without slavishly aiming to be look- and sound-alikes. Their role as narrators is important too, for this is billed as the folk duo’s story. We learn how these two Jewish boys met at their Queens, NY, elementary school, appearing together in the school production of Alice in Wonderland – Paul as the White Rabbit and Art the Cheshire Cat. The animal theme continued as they made their musical debut as Tom and Jerry, before using their own rather more memorable surnames.
The milestones of their professional and private lives together (and later apart) are marked by the extraordinarily beautiful and distinctive music that accompanied them, album by original album, against a socio-historical background evoked by archive and news footage of stills and movies from rock ’n’ roll to the Vietnamese War; other great names in rock music such as Bob Dylan and The Beatles get a look in as silent bit-part players. You notice how many carefully-shot and composed stills there are of the musicians themselves, looking as wistful as those unforgettable minor-key numbers: ‘Sound of Silence’, ‘Scarborough Fair’, ‘Kathy’s Song’ – named after and written for Kathleen Chitty, the English girlfriend of Simon, whose absence inspired ‘Homeward Bound’, famously penned on Widnes Station “on a tour of one-night stands”, as a plaque on the platform proudly testifies – and so many more.
So I guess this is less a biography and more a nostalgia fest for those of us who were there first time round – and an intergenerational bonding session for an audience of all ages who love the music.
O’Hanlon and Blyth got a well-deserved standing ovation and even though they inevitably left us wanting more, they built in two encores – both of them personal favourites I feared they had left out, ‘The Boxer’ and, climactically, ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’.
I began with a poignant quote from Bookends and I’ll end with another: “How terribly strange to be 70”. Both men were born in 1941, so the strangeness of reaching 70 is behind them. Their days of playing together are too, by all accounts. It seems they have grown apart musically. But on this showing the popularity of the music they made together will live on and there is something gloriously life-affirming about sharing it live, whatever memories it evokes.
By Judi Herman
Photos by Jacqui Wilson
The Simon & Garfunkel Story runs on Monday 2 October, Monday 6 November & Monday 4 December. 7.30pm. £19.50-£60. Lyric Theatre, London, W1D 7ES.
The Simon & Garfunkel Story is also touring around the UK until Friday 8 December (and internationally to January 2018, including dates in Israel 13-18 September). Visit the website for all dates and locations: www.thesimonandgarfunkelstory.com/tour-dates