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Simon & Garfunkel - Reunion at Hyde Park, London on 15 July 2004
featuring The Everly Brothers
(I hope to edit the size of this one day; for now, skimming is advised!)
What could be better than sitting in the Park amongst friendly, like-minded people on a gorgeous summer’s day in London? Some lovely live music, perhaps? What about legends like Simon and Garfunkel and the Everly Brothers standing before you, singing your lifelong favourite songs? That could only be a dream…but it happened, and I was there.
Even Mother Nature was silenced by the joy of the awesome sight of Simon and Garfunkel performing together in London for the first time in 22 years. Despite predicted storms, she only released a tiny bit of sprinkling for a few minutes during the encore, which I saw as a mere method of reminding us she was there, applauding along with the rest of the 50,000 people at the end of the phenomenal show in Hyde Park.
Billed to begin at 8pm, the concert was delayed as thousands of people forming long, thick queues trickled through the entrances of the temporary compound near Speaker’s Corner. Some of us had been lucky enough to bag seats for £65 each as soon as they went on sale, whereas some people paid up to £300 on E-bay or through less reputable ticket agencies for standing room behind us. We were all excited children looking forward to our long-awaited evening at the funfair, as the stormy cloud-filled sky that had clung to London all day turned bright blue with the sun shining over Hyde Park in more ways than one. None of us would be disappointed.
Once settled in our own personal patch of park in front of a giant black stage with an electronic tree in the middle—actually a tower leading up to the lighting rig—and three giant blank screens, we all bubbled excitedly in mass anticipation. Nobody seemed to be annoying anyone else, as often is the case at concerts. That spirit continued throughout the show, with the exception of the woman in front of me whose selfish decision to be tall and frizzy-haired meant that many of my poor, distant photos feature rogue strands of her hair if not the full whack of her Barnet.
The tickets referred to special guests the Everly Brothers (misspelled as ‘Everley’), so many of us assumed they would be opening the evening as support for the headliners. It therefore struck me as odd when, at about 8.20pm, a film showing clips and still photos starting with a terribly young Simon and Garfunkel interspersed with images of their fans over the ages, including flower children in the 60s, and news events scattered across the timeline of their partnership, such as the collapse of the Berlin Wall, whipped us into such a frenzy to see those two that it would be a sick disappointment when the film ended and the Everly Brothers took the stage. It was a touching film set to the duo’s music, which ended by showing a map of Great Britain, then zooming onto a map of London, then zooming into a map of Hyde Park, which got us all cheering (it didn’t take much that evening). The film stopped abruptly and we turned our focus to the stage in between the two largest screens, all of us undoubtedly expecting to see Don and Phil Everly. Nay. We saw a duo standing on the stage all right, but it was Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel. The park exploded in electricity as a galvanised crowd roared. We could hardly have been more excited by this entrance if they had parachuted onto the stage.
Art and Paul walked toward two mikes placed centre stage with a few feet between them, taking us through a time warp as Art was wearing the same outfit that he wore at the Central Park gig in 1981 (I suspect he’s washed it since then though)—a black waistcoat over a long-sleeved white shirt with a greatly loosened tie and dark trousers. Simon wore a red or fuchsia T-shirt under a dark jacket with matching trousers. Simon had much less hair but Garfunkel, surprisingly, still had plenty, which he wore in a mad Gene Wilder height that would have passed for fashionable in the 70s, helping us step back in time and fully realise our dream. It seemed to be a confirmation that this was a quality reunion, revisiting the golden past, rather than a mere nostalgia trip where paunchy, middle-aged bald strangers replaced those we paid to see. Simon and Garfunkel both looked fabulous.
As we rose to give them a standing ovation just for turning up, Art held his arms out to his side as though he were flying, his gesture implying that he would hug us all if he could. When our cheers finally became more subdued, Paul started picking out a tune on his acoustic guitar, and the two quietly sang Old Friends. The poignancy was not missed by anyone, particularly as this was the Old Friends tour, so their choice to launch this memorable show with that number was understandable. However, the song was so tremendously quiet in its semi-plodding gloom that I could only think how much more an amazing entrance it would have been if the stage had been set alight with a powerful band and the pounding voices required for A Hazy Shade of Winter. But mainly I focused on the privileged existence I was living at that moment, watching THE Simon and Garfunkel perform in front of me live, so really they didn’t need any party tricks at that moment. I cannot justly describe the ineffable excitement stirred up by seeing these two perform before us after so many years; a buzz of extraordinary delight permeated the atmosphere.
We did our best to convey those feelings to them, whooping when they finished, and Paul held up his guitar to accept our adulation. A seven-piece band sneaked on the stage behind them: a pianist, keyboardist, drummer, percussionist with a full array of toys that he could play, bass guitarist and two guitarists, in addition to Paul’s guitar and Art’s melodic voice.
As if they had read my mind, Simon and Garfunkel and their band burst into a powerful performance of A Hazy Shade of Winter, which I hate to admit I first heard in the form of a cover version by The Bangles for the dire 1987 Brat Pack film Less Than Zero. I immediately sought out the original then, was astonished that it was by the usually tranquil Simon and Garfunkel whom my mother had played when I was a kid, and fell for that version. Now I had the pleasure of hearing it performed live by the masters who created it, and under a beautiful blue sky.
The two sang with serious expressions on their faces but Art would occasionally betray his enjoyment of the event with a wry, easy grin creeping over his lips during the odd musical interlude. Paul, however, remained fairly dour and slightly grumpy. Nothing of a Van Morrison degree, you understand, he was just a bit stiff and slightly cold throughout much of the evening, though he did let a small smile ooze from his face as he watched their peculiar looking electric guitarist play a solo on this thumping number. I describe the talented guitarist as peculiar just because it looked so extremely odd when the shots on the large screens went from these two folky chaps straight from the 60s who were in their 60s to a close-up of what looked like a Hell’s Angel thrashing his body over the guitar as though he were in AC/DC, his long curly locks flying madly around him. Actually, he looked a lot like the lead singer from the Commitments, but tougher. If he looked out of place playing guitar in that company, just think what I thought when he later delicately played the cello.
When the song stopped suddenly as it does, the crowd screamed in delight and, still having said nothing directly to us, the performers moved on to their next song. Paul plucked out the gentle acoustic guitar introduction to I Am A Rock, one of my golden favourites as I used to be the defiant loner they were mocking. After cheering upon recognising the introduction, the crowd went silent so they could concentrate on the marvel being created on stage. I have to say this consistent feature of the audience was a welcome one. We all heard Simon and Garfunkel sing their songs; that’s what we came for, why we paid a fortune. I didn’t want to hear the person behind me singing these songs off-key, and I never did. The audience was beautifully behaved and appreciative of the privilege they were enjoying, and on this tune, Simon and Garfunkel demonstrated that their inevitably ageing voices still had a significant amount of power. The band played a particularly loud ‘rock’ solo during the song, which worked rather well. I had been wondering how the concert would cover both the duo’s softer songs and their fuller, rockier numbers such as this one, and the band of skilled professionals demonstrated quickly that the matter was in hand.
After the applause at the end of the song had died out, Art looked out over the dozens of latecomers trying to find their seats in a massive makeshift venue, and warmly welcomed them warmly with, "Come on in!" How often does one have a 50-foot tall legend beam down upon you from a giant screen and address you in front of 50,000 people?
"I’m so thrilled to be here, my second home," Art told us to irrepressible cheers. Then he introduced the next number with, "This is a song about my country and a time and place that no longer exists." Well, that’s about as political as they get these days, and Paul played a slow prelude on the acoustic guitar to America, which was even better than I remembered it. Art and Paul sang the first verse accompanied only by Paul’s guitar, and the band kicked in. The duo clearly weren’t as folky as I had remembered, and the polished band made everything sound appealing and modern, with jazzed up arrangements that did not overwhelm the original tunes that we have all loved for decades. The performances stirred up a passion that had the hairs standing up on the back of my neck—and not just because they were singing about my native country. I was more focused at the time on the fact that this was one of many songs that mentions the mysterious recurring Kathy, and I wondered who she was.
Art grasped the mike stand with one hand as he sang, his extremely loose tie dangling so low from his neck it was more like a hangman’s noose, but then I suppose to create such gorgeous harmonies, you don’t want anything gripping your voice box like a necktie. When he sang on his own, I was surprised that his voice was much grander than I expected—not the wispy tenor destined to provide only dream-like backing vocals or the main voice when a light touch was called for; he can sing with considerable force when required. Although he was the light-hearted one when chatting in between tracks, Art always sang with a terrifically serious look on his face, his brow furrowed and his eyes piercing the lovely evening on which he gazed.
Whenever Art sang on his own so Paul had no need to be near the mike, Paul never stuck around. It would be clichéd to surmise that he couldn’t wait to get away from Art whenever he got the chance, but really that is not so unrealistic. Certainly, any time he could, he strode well away from the closely placed mike stands to the preferred company of the other guitarists, coming to life there as though he were more in his element with the musicians. On this song, the two took turns singing verses, but when Paul returned to the mike area, Art remained in place and never sought the same freedom as Simon. When they harmonised a bit during the bridge of America, Paul’s voice cracked slightly as though he were tired for the only noticeable time. He recovered to join Art in aurally harmonious perfection just in time for the thundering drums to pound out a lead-in to an extremely long Bon Jovi style electric guitar solo by the long-haired Hell’s Angel guy. The second electric guitarist, Larry Saltzman, had a chance at a solo before the keyboardist, Rob Schwimmer, took over, sounding like a xylophone.
As we roared our approval at the end of that terrific treat, Paul led us into At the Zoo, which I found myself expecting to hear after America since I’ve spent so much time listening to the Definitive Simon & Garfunkel. Paul started strumming on his then paused, holding up one arm as in casual conversation and half spoke, ‘Someone told me it’s all happening at the zoo.’ The thrilled crowd cheered as Art and the band picked up the song, one that I used to unkindly see as less worthy than most of their material, and not just because it spoke of some freaky zoo that kept hamsters. I felt the song was too simplistic for such incredible talents and seemed to be written to entertain a child, even if you interpret it as a sort of Animal Farm political analogy. Still, the Carnival of the Animals worked for Camille Saint-Saens, though it worked against him by overshadowing his more serious work forever. In any case, I must confess that my foot instantly began tapping away to the irresistible music, and when I crawled down from my high horse, I couldn’t wait to join the others at the zoo. People were jigging about and it brought us all tremendous pleasure.
Somehow seamlessly, Art and Paul were suddenly singing "What's my number / I wonder how your engine feels", creating a fun nursery medley by merging At the Zoo with Baby Driver, and it worked wonders. The smooth transition made it difficult to distinguish one song from the other. Art, in particular, seemed to enjoy delivering to our salivating souls the tracks with such potent punch, the park was propelled to a new level of ebullience. Meanwhile, Saltzman played an impressive acoustic guitar piece as the other musicians added what could pass for 60s doo-wop backing harmonies. Warren Bernhardt raced his fingers up and down the ivories of the grand piano as though they were in a speed competition with each other, and the rapid rhythm maintained by the band had the whole park swirling in euphoria as though we were teenagers at a Beach Boys concert in the 60s. Just when the band seemed to bring things to a close to allow us to catch our breath, Paul called out "1-2-3-4!" and burst into an 80s-style solo on the electric guitar before the song ended to ecstatic cheers. The frenzy created by that medley proved already that the show was never special solely based on the occasion, that is a reunion that one must appreciate as a privilege like an audience with the Pope. It earned its credentials by being terrific fun throughout, a treasury of spell-binding quality entertainment.
The backing band departed for a bit, and once again, it was Art who stepped up to the mike to chat to us. "I see people still coming in," he said, pointing to the endless amount of people milling about, "It’s that damn congestion charge!" Art clearly was in touch with modern London issues. Mayor Ken Livingstone’s congestion charge of £5 for vehicles driving into London succeeded in reducing congestion along with the profits of the retail establishments in central London since people avoided the charge by shopping elsewhere, and the charge’s proceeds have not turned public transport into the pleasurable dreams that had been promised. So everyone cheered when Art recognised something the average Londoner curses with frequency.
Art, now seated on a stool, explained his knowledge of London by telling us that he and Paul used to live in Cable Street, that they’d sing for bus fare and their friend Kathy would come along. I had to imagine this mysterious friend was something special to feature in so many timeless songs. "Here is my vote for Paul’s most beautiful ballad," Art said, before his mellifluous voice began singing Kathy’s Song to welcoming cheers. This habit of Art’s to praise Paul when he might have stolen the spotlight himself was repeated throughout the evening.
Paul was, at this point, far away playing guitar on the right side of the stage, and he would only wander back towards Art when a bit of harmony was called for—vocal harmony, that is. Mainly Art sang on his own, his thin, burgundy hangman’s noose of a tie blowing half over his shoulder in the welcome breeze that began to bring a slight chill to the summer’s evening. During this ultra-peaceful piece of musical beauty, one of the images projected on the three big screens surrounding the stage was the view that Art and Paul were seeing as they gazed out over the tens of thousands of their worshippers: an absolutely stunning sunset. Its oranges and violets must surely have been somewhat inspirational to the performers on stage. I was sorry it was behind us, but then we had the better view.
When Art reached the line, "I gaze beyond the rain-drenched streets / To England where my heart lies", he accentuated the last part and we cheered patriotically on cue. As the gorgeous, peaceful song drew to a close, the cameramen on stage delivered to the screens an amazing view of Paul plucking away at his acoustic guitar in front of that booming sunset with a jet plane silently crossing the vista in the distance. It all combined to make such a stunning experience that 50,000 people gave Paul and Art a moving standing ovation.
Art played master of ceremonies again and began telling us about how he had met Paul in the sixth grade when they had both been cast in a school production of Alice in Wonderland. "I was the Cheshire Cat," he said, beaming as though in demonstration of his suitability for that role. At the time, he said, Alan Freed—the man credited for coining the term "rock ‘n’ roll"-- and some indistinguishable name I did not catch had brought a new subversive music to the New York radio. The second name sounded like Lenny Bruce, which confused me as he was a controversial comedian (and incidentally the inspiration for the character of Corporal Clinger in M*A*S*H after he received an honourable discharge from the Navy by dressing in women's clothing). Bruce’s death is reported by the newscaster at the beginning of Simon and Garfunkel’s Seven O’Clock News / Silent Night, so perhaps I subconsciously wanted to hear that. Art must have said Ramon Bruce or Bruce Morrow, as I believe they were both New York DJs at the time. Anyway, how interesting that this duo who I always classed in my mind as being folk singers came out of the new rock ‘n’ roll movement that upset the peace and folkiness of the day. Art finished his chat by saying that this was now the 50th anniversary of "this friendship that I hold very close to me", which naturally earned adoring cheers from the audience.
Like an old married couple, the other half then had to tell his version. Paul stepped up to the microphone and, in a deadpan voice that was clearly laid on for humorous effect, confirmed that they did meet when they were 11 years old. My mind wandered to the Human League hit Don’t You Want Me where the woman and the man each tell a different version of how they got to where they were today. Paul confirmed that he had been cast in Alice in Wonderland. He had just come from a difficult fifth grade production of Death of the Salesman, he said with delicious seriousness, "and I was looking for a change. The part of the white rabbit was offered to me—a leading role." He stressed that the Cheshire Cat had merely been a supporting role, but he conceded that it had importance nevertheless. Over our titters, he told us that he and Art started to sing together a year later, which seems an admirable pastime for two 12-year-olds before the regrettable creation of Pop Idol type programmes. Then at the age of 14, Paul said, they started to argue. So, whilst Art had pointed out that this was the 50th anniversary of this special partnership, Paul pointed out that it was the 48th anniversary of their arguing, although he let half a smile creep onto his lips as he said it.
Paul spoke of their first release under the name of Tom and Jerry—"never mind which was which". That song, which I hadn’t realised broke into the Top 50 and earned the 15-year-olds a spot on American Bandstand in 1957, was Hey, Schoolgirl—or as Paul referred to it this evening, Hey, Schoolgirl in the Second Row. To our delight, Tom and Jerry then treated us to a couple verses of what, frankly, sounded exactly like an Everly Brothers song (specifically, like Bye, Bye Love combined with Bobby Darin’s Splish Splash), so the choice of the as yet unseen guests named on the ticket began to make clear sense. As we cheered as the end of this sample of their earliest hit, Art reached out and touched the nearest shoulder of Paul with both hands, as though he just had to reach out to the old friendship they’d shared. He certainly seemed to be a more emotional man, frequently almost as touched by the supremacy of the evening as we were.
Paul did not acknowledge Art’s gesture and continued his routine for us, saying that no one would be putting any blue plaques [which commemorate places where noteworthy people lived] on the streets with that song. He admitted that it had been their way of trying to sound like the Everly Brothers, who had been their role models in that he and Art had learned how to sing by playing their records. He ended with the thrilling statement, "So what a pleasure it is to welcome the Everly Brothers on stage!"
Although it was no surprise that the brothers would make an appearance at some point, the intoxicating sensation of another legendary duo taking the stage before us on this beautiful evening had us going wild. I expected some shrivelled bald paunchy elderly men to shuffle slowly onto stage. What was I thinking? They’re roughly the age of my (extremely youthful!) parents. Phil was born in 1939 and Don in 1937, so they’re only just reaching retirement age. They have genes many would kill for as they both had admirably full heads of hair; I like to think they weren’t wigs. Although they’re no longer the skinny kids I picture from 50 years ago, they weren’t exactly Roseanne Barr, and Phil could pass for 45 with a figure of which any man of his age could be proud. So two quite respectable looking men dressed in black suits with black shirts strode towards a different set of two mike stands, each with a dark, large 50s-style acoustic guitar over his shoulder. Overwhelmed, we gave them a standing ovation just for appearing, so focused on this new elation that we somehow hardly noticed Simon and Garfunkel leave the stage as their band crept into their places on stage.
Immediately and without a word, the brothers launched straight into one of their hugest hits, Wake Up, Little Susie, fortified by the lively band. Interestingly, whilst we had mostly sat calmly and listened in awe to Simon and Garfunkel, no one could keep still when this nearly 50-year-old hit came to life before us, and I think every one of the 50,000 of us stood clapping our hands, singing along and bopping a bit. This was The Everly Brothers singing Wake Up, Little Susie! I cannot recall when I last had such uninhibited fun. Fortunately, the acoustics were fantastic, particularly for an open-air gig, so the tens of thousands of voices joining in did not drown out the heroes of the moment (weren’t we fickle!), who performed immaculately.
We cheered for an age when they finished, yet they made no attempt to address us and just proceeded to their next number, the utterly sublime All I Have to Do Is Dream. In this context, the roots of the famous harmonies of Simon and Garfunkel were evident, though I had never made the connection before. Perhaps Simon and Garfunkel also copied the brothers’ notoriously dysfunctional acrimony, but the Everlys hid any past belligerency that might have existed between them, and their voices in unison were breathtaking. Some people still sang along with them, but fortunately the amplified voices of Phil and Don (who was Axl Rose’s father-in-law for a short time) were winning the battle by far. They took turns singing different verses before melting their voices together during the dazzling chorus, and they sounded nothing short of fantastic. The crowd was so overwhelmed that they leapt in with their hearty cheers before the song was even finished and carried on cheering for some time.
One of the brothers then half-spoke into the mike, "I bless the day I found you," and either the bulk of the audience misinterpreted that as a comment directed at us or, more likely, they recognised the first line of a classic song they loved, and they uttered a mass, ‘Awwwww!’ as the boys began Let It Be Me. I was the only one, it seemed, to be disappointed initially as I was hoping for Cathy’s Clown, Bird Dog or Walk Right Back and I wasn’t sure how long we would have these guys before us. But my thoughts were soon hushed by the brilliance of this unbelievably lovely song. The brothers again took alternate verses and then merged into more harmonies that would have pleased musical archaeologists searching for the links that led to Simon and Garfunkel’s hitherto apparently unique style. For much of the song, Don was just holding his guitar rather than playing it, and the two brothers would often face each other as they sang—a stark contrast to their famous imitators. Phil had many strong solo moments where his voice really took hold of the Park with tremendous feeling. We were thrilled with the performance and let them know with ebullient cheers.
Then, presumably in order to test how much excitement we could take before dropping into a dead faint, Simon and Garfunkel returned to the stage to sing with their one-time mentors, suggesting that they perform the first Everly Brothers record they had owned. With the Everly Brothers stage left and Simon and Garfunkel stage right in front of a strong band, the audience were treated to both duos singing a sensational rendition of Bye, Bye Love. Needless to say, we were all singing with them and dancing around, fortunately failing to drown out the incredibly awesome aural feast of four of the most talented harmonisers in the world working together at once on stage. The big screens’ cameras ventured out onto the audience for a bit, capturing numerous people belting out every word with smiles bursting from their animated faces.
Clearly having enjoyed it almost as much as we did, the four singers took the time to hug and kiss each other before the Everly Brothers left the stage to absolutely massive roars from the rejuvenated crowd. There had been no evidence of their committed feud, as they made peace in the 1980s, although I only later realised they hadn’t spoken to us at all. It seemed unreal that we had only been treated to four of their hits, but the short set left us so energised that it felt as though we had been performing mass aerobics. Still, we were here to see Simon and Garfunkel, who had had an extremely short break considering the expected length of the concert.
As we calmed down, so did the band, who remained seated and silent as Simon and Garfunkel strolled into the next song on their own, with Simon playing the world renowned introduction on his acoustic guitar to Scarborough Fair/Canticle.
Although clearly a huge hit for which they will always be remembered, and deservedly so, the song and their success with it are rather controversial amongst the folk fraternity in England. Legend has it that, when Simon was trying to make it as a solo singer in London’s thriving folk scene in 1965, soaking up the atmosphere of Les Cousins where Martin Carthy, Bert Jansch, Sandy Denny and John Martyn played, Simon asked Carthy to write down his unique guitar arrangement of the traditional song commemorating a 13th century fair and four herbs closely associated with death known as charms against the evil eye. Carthy selflessly obliged and in 1968, Simon and Garfunkel turned Scarborough Fair into arguably the most famous folk song. Rumour has it that Simon even copyrighted the song the day after Carthy transcribed his own arrangement for him. British folk legends Jansch and Ralph McTell still speak bitterly of the "theft" and Simon’s failure to credit Carthy in any way so that he never received a penny as the arranger. Carthy, husband of Norma Waterson and father of Eliza, has been much more forgiving ever since Paul finally acknowledged Carthy’s contribution in an interview 25 years later—long after legal action brought by Carthy ended in a settlement in 1970, and he seems to feel that a line was drawn under the saga when Simon invited him on stage at the Hammersmith Apollo in 2000, as though singing the song together ended the 40-year feud. However, McTell and many other imposing British folk figures continue to speak of their blood boiling over the incident. If you are interested in hearing Martin Carthy’s original arrangement, you can sample it on the BBC Radio 2 website for the time being.
Meanwhile, back at Hyde Park….
This world famous song was delivered to us initially by only Paul plucking away at his guitar underscoring Art’s delicate vocals, as he removed his mike from the stand and clutched the cord, punctuated by some distant percussion in the form of either a triangle or xylophone tapped from time to time. The crowd, who throughout the evening was enthusiastic, bouncy and loving anything thrown their way, hushed to hear this well-known beauty in this rare setting. Some poor soul was pushed past me by the London Ambulance Service in a wheelchair, as someone had been during the Everly Brothers’ set—how awful for them to miss this momentous occasion after undoubtedly anticipating it for so long. I hope they all recovered fine.
Somewhere within the stupefyingly awesome yet minimal portrayal of this tune, I noticed the stunning sound of a cello, so I searched the stage and noticed that a long-haired woman was seated behind Art playing cello masterfully. But no, it wasn’t a long-haired woman; it was the male guitarist Mark Stewart. What a bizarre sight to witness this Hell’s Angel look-alike sweetly coaxing a gentle song from a delicate classical instrument, but it was a faultless sound.
Seeing Art in that vest and loose tie, clasping the mike and staring into the crowd with a serious gaze beside Paul, who was strumming his lovely guitar as both sang rich notes, made it seem as though we were watching the Central Park reunion concert DVD. But this was happening right in front of us, THE Simon and Garfunkel were singing Scarborough Fair live in person a few hundred yards away from us. It was heavenly. Near the end, Art leaned the mike stand over as though he were Tom Jones, and eventually he returned it to its upright position as the amazing experience came to a close to a well-deserved standing ovation. Then Art, playing MC again, introduced Stewart as the guitarist/cellist, to big cheers.
Those cheers grew in momentum as the audience then recognised the introductory notes of Homeward Bound, and everyone sang along fondly with the old familiar tune. Sticking to the pattern of wandering far from Art when he wasn’t required at the mike, Paul continued to create astounding beauty on his acoustic guitar. Particularly poignant, it seemed tonight, were the lines "Tonight I’ll sing my songs again, I’ll play the game and pretend" with perhaps a twisted stab at the need to reform this reunion in "Like emptiness in harmony, I need someone to comfort me." Like so many of Paul’s compositions, the lyrics of this classic were breathtakingly gifted, despite his claim in one line, "But all my words come back to me in shades of mediocrity."
Whilst the pair’s loyalty to the original form of their classics was welcome—we would have been gutted if Scarborough Fair had been reinvented as urban music with rappers, for instance—they did occasionally venture to some interesting updated arrangements that were subtle enough so as not to detract from the song itself. This plan was assisted greatly by the talents of their accompanying musicians, all of whom were clearly highly skilled, experienced performers, as well as the superb skills of the sound mixer. It would have been intolerable to have had these historic voices drowned out by electric guitar, and they rightfully always took centre stage.
With Homeward Bound, pianist Bernhardt added an absorbing improvised jazz solo over an almost bossa nova beat before the non-Hell’s Angel guitarist, Saltzman, took the spotlight. Art turned around to watch each soloist (as another woman was carried off by the paramedics—was the evening too exciting?) whilst Paul was on his travels elsewhere, but they came together in the end. They finished on an impressively high note that proved their voices were still in tact despite their maturity and decades of working them. After holding out that note for some time as the band slowed the previously upbeat tempo, the singers added a final, gentle "silently for me" whilst Paul played a little flourish on his guitar. The crowd could hardly bear it and began cheering before the song had quite finished. I was one of them, of course; here was another example of a song I thought I knew as well as my own name being, in reality, astonishingly better and more fascinating than I had remembered.
Over our frenzied cheers, Art name-checked Saltzman and Bernhardt so we could applaud their masterful solos. Bernhardt’s solo had given away his jazz roots. He has recorded countless jazz albums as well as accompanying Garfunkel in the past, in addition to a different Simon (Carly), George Benson, a stint with Steely Dan as their pianist and musical director, and playing on more than 50 feature film soundtracks. Saltzman has also played on several film soundtracks, including David Mamet’s marvellous State and Main, and featured on the Brecker Brothers’ 1995 Grammy-winning jazz album, Out of the Loop.
It was now 9.10pm, still light out but clouding over ominously. Drink sellers moved through the crowd yet we were never subjected to any rowdy drunkenness. Perhaps the audience was largely made up of former flower children that were now responsible adults with mortgages who would never behave badly in public. More likely, we were all too dumbfounded by the extraordinary experience to do much more than smile.
That experience became even more spine-tingling when Paul played on his acoustic guitar a full verse of The Sound of Silence. It gave us a feel of the song’s brilliance that had existed even before producer Tom Wilson took hold of it and got Bob Dylan’s studio band to add the electric sound that sent it to number one in the charts. We have a lot to thank Wilson for; if he had not achieved that feat without even Simon and Garfunkel’s knowledge, they would never have reformed after their only album, 1964’s Wednesday Morning 3am, initially flopped and encouraged the two to go their separate ways. As it was, that remixed song’s success lured Simon back from Europe and tempted Garfunkel away from Columbia University where he was pursuing a doctorate in mathematics. Tonight, they had reformed for a third (or eighth, depending what you count) and possibly final time, and we were going to savour every second, every note.
The crowd was whistling and cheering, unable to contain themselves during Paul’s solo, until the duo put us out of our misery and began singing this justifiably renowned work of genuine beauty. It is rare that such exquisite poetry is put to moving music of equal eminence.
Once again, Art’s voice revealed an impressive strength that
I had always overlooked, and the duo’s powerful harmonies transformed the London
park to nirvana. When they reached the third verse, which begins "And in the
naked light I saw / Ten thousand people, maybe more", it sounded as though they
sang, "Ten thousand people sang along", and the lighting director shone
spotlights on us all, five times the number mentioned, dutifully singing along.
As we began cheering with the excitement of—what, Simon and Garfunkel
recognising each of us in the enormous crowd?—well, just being obedient and
gladly doing as expected, the band kicked in to join Paul’s guitar and the
pair’s heavenly voices. The audience began clapping to the beat, and the band
hushed for the final verse, prompting us to cheer again at the wondrous sound of
just Simon and Garfunkel. Their voices boomed out with a newly found power when
they sang the masterful lines, "The words of the prophets are written on the
subway walls And tenement halls", as Art shoved his hands in his pockets as
though he were taking part in something casual and ordinary.
The performance was utterly stupendous. We sat staring at these two icons harmonising stunningly on this beloved tune, with a sky gathering the gloom of dusk just behind them. The atmosphere in the park was electric and there will be few such memorable moments in my life, I am sure. The song came to a close as the hairs undoubtedly raised on the back of 50,000 necks and the compound filled with an almost deafening roar as we gave them the standing ovation they deserved. It was breathtaking.
We were all so overcome, busy cheering and trying not to faint that we almost didn’t notice the performers disappear backstage. Our attention turned towards the giant screens, which were showing more images of the people we had just seen in person. The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy) poured through the speakers as we saw Paul Simon wearing a turkey outfit during his 1976 appearance on Saturday Night Live, quite a few memorable clips of Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate, with the song interrupted long enough for us to hear the famous "plastics" line of the film before the soundtrack moved on, understandably, to Mrs Robinson. That was halted by Hoffman’s famous line in the film, "Mrs Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me." It made me want to rush home after the concert and throw in the DVD for that classic film with a brilliant cast and, of course, extraordinary soundtrack.
Cleverly, we were successfully manipulated again in that our attention was so drawn to the drama on the screen that we didn’t notice what was happening on stage, which was that Simon and Garfunkel and their band had returned after only a brief interlude. With many of us barely aware they were there, the musicians burst into a rocking introduction to Mrs Robinson, the song we had just been listening to as a recording, and here it was, come to life like Pinocchio as though we had wished it. Paul Simon, who had discarded his jacket, was bending his right knee in an intriguing stance as though he were firing his guitar like a rifle, but there were explosions of another sort spinning from his instrument.
No one could resist jumping up for a dance to this one, with its memorable guitar riff, and we clapped our hands to the beat, which was—again—far more substantial than I had remembered. I had been wrong to remember Simon & Garfunkel as being a quiet, gentle folk duo, when they really knew how to rock, particularly tonight with some slightly more daring modern arrangements for the full band.
During another fine Bernhardt piano solo in Mrs Robinson, which sounded almost tropical, Art walked over to stand beside Bernhardt and bashed out a beat on the grand piano. Art then celebrated the woven wall of music with what almost passed for a little jig that mostly involved his arms, but hey, he’s a middle-aged white man, what do we expect? Meanwhile, Paul wandered around the stage looking as though he dreamt of playing with Guns and Roses, but thankfully not sounding like them. He kept returning to that bent-knee stance so I eventually wondered if it were his own, possibly arthritic version of the Chuck Berry duck walk.
The cheers after all that were almost deafening, but Paul fairly quickly introduced the next song with "Here’s a song that was not recorded by Simon and Garfunkel, but should have been." How intriguing; for all we knew, they might play Baby Got Back. Thankfully, they did not, and instead we immediately recognised Paul’s solo 1977 hit Slip Slidin’ Away, which was one of the two new tunes offered on his first greatest hits compilation. For me, this tune will always stir memories of a family ski trip in North Carolina as a child when our car slid slowly down an icy road as this song fittingly blared from the car radio. It was interesting to hear Simon suggest that this could have been a Simon & Garfunkel song, as it certainly benefited tonight from Garfunkel-like harmonies. On the recorded version, they’re provided by the Oak Ridge Boys, almost a precursor to the sound Simon would seek on his definitive Graceland album with Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
Tonight, it was a Simon & Garfunkel song, which made it twice as amazing, with Art, seated on a high stool beside a standing Simon, adding dazzling high harmonies to the lower tones of Simon on the chorus of Slip Slidin’ Away, punctuated by a somewhat tiresome rock guitar and steady drums until the band boomed during the choruses. During one refrain, Art swivelled towards the piano and demonstrated with his arm in a gesture I did not comprehend; perhaps he was moved by Bernhardt’s playing. Garfunkel sang a bit of the final verse on his own, beginning with "God only knows, God makes his plan / The information’s unavailable to the mortal man," and the two took turns singing the descending scale of words at the end, which was lovely.
Interestingly, this was one of the few times during their set when, as we had done during the Everly Brothers’ stint, we all jumped up and sang along in unison, with people even dancing in the aisles until the unusually friendly stewards moved them on. Although Simon has a remarkable solo catalogue, it is surely inconceivable that his solo material would be better known to those present than that of the duo, so I assume the reaction to this song had more to do with its refrain being simple to learn and the fact that it would be sacrosanct to interrupt the magic of the duo’s classics with the distraction of our own voices.
This performance was tremendous fun, but then everyone likes a sing-a-long—look at the popularity in some circles of the Lambeth Walk. Yet another person was overcome and taken out by the London Ambulance Service, but this one was unconscious on a stretcher. It was odd to be so enjoying oneself and then see that stark bit of reality carried past you, so it was preferable to believe that the patient had been overwhelmed with joy. The truth is, in a crowd of this size, statistics must dictate that some people would have a heart attack, whist I suppose others might faint from standing so long. The concert had been well organised though, and several ambulances were parked in the Park waiting for these occurrences so there was no delay in reaching the casualties. Throughout the concert, people were wandering around, getting refills of drinks and visiting the many food stalls that were in the Park for the occasion.
Without a break after the previous song to allow our madly ecstatic applause to reach its climax, the two non-Simon guitarists began taking turns playing a part with a Spanish feel that became almost like a guitar version of Duelling Banjos from Deliverance. The song quickly took shape and revealed itself to be El Condor Pasa (If I Could), Paul’s winsome treatment of an 18th century Peruvian folk anthem. We added forceful handclaps to the beat and the whole front section of the seated audience could not help but stand. Now surrounded by the darkness of the night, the stage was bathed in artificial pink light to replace the previous glow of the sunset. The full band added a fitting world music sound as Simon delivered his verses, before moving to join fellow guitarist Saltzman when Art, who sang into a mike he had removed from its stand, took turns singing. The audience sang throughout, having got a feel for joining in after the last number. We were like children in a school assembly singing songs that were like nursery rhymes to us because we grew up knowing them.
Paul drew the song to a close with another flourish on his acoustic guitar, and we repaid the band for their solid grandeur with another standing ovation. Still glowing pink amidst the darkness that enveloped the rest of the park, the band didn’t hesitate before the drummer beat his drumsticks to lead them into the next song, which had the vocalists immediately singing in perky unison, "Gee, but it’s great to be back home." Sticking with the remarkable, Grammy-winning Bridge Over Troubled Water album from 1970, they performed a tremendously upbeat, rapid Keep the Customer Satisfied. As most people in the audience must own that album, one of the best selling of all time, they were all able to sing along, particularly to the enchantingly catchy chorus with the words, "I get slandered, Libelled, / I hear words I never heard In the Bible…." Whilst I am a huge fan of the brass instruments that infiltrated the recording of the song, their loss tonight mostly went unnoticed as they were replaced with a massive magnitude of enthusiasm and vastly superior vocal ability from these now seasoned singers--Simon and Garfunkel, I mean, not the audience. At the part in the bridge reminiscent of the Beach Boys’ Help Me Rhonda, the stage was bathed in yellow as the lighting director toyed with the newly fallen darkness, and the park was charged with a new energy. Mark Stewart took off on an electric guitar solo to which Art couldn’t resist another little white man’s arm dance. Simon and Garfunkel sang the last line a cappella, before the band tied up the end of the song as Paul changed guitars in anticipation of the next number, as the audience went ballistic in its praise of this unbelievably vibrant tune.
Undoubtedly sensing that we would all need to be carried out on stretchers if they didn’t give us a breather from all of this excitement, Paul began gently strumming a quieter song on his acoustic guitar. He stepped up to the mike and, rather than singing, told us, "I wrote this song when Art went down to Mexico to film Catch-22." A particularly loud woman in the audience took that as a cue to express her obsession, shouting, "I love you Aaaarrrrtttt!" Ironically at a time when Simon had just mentioned Garfunkel’s film career that he had reportedly resented, he was again slapped with the intrusive adoration of his "old friend" in this woman’s proclamation. Paul ignored the outburst and accompanied his own vocals on the acoustic guitar, until bass and piano were added. Art stood in the shadows behind Paul.
Paul sang gently, "Tom, get your plane right on time. / I know your part’ll go fine. / Fly down to Mexico." I guess that tells us which one was Tom and which one was Jerry. Interestingly, that means that Garfunkel’s nickname came first in the partnership’s name in the early years, and then they switched. I’m sure that is more to do with how it rolls off the tongue than any power struggle or acknowledgement of contributions. This rather touching song, The Only Living Boy in New York, was also released on the Bridge Over Troubled Water album. It suggests a continued fondness on Simon’s part for his partner when he wrote it in 1969, whilst celebrating a brief period of having no responsibilities while in a great city, including the delightful sentiment, "Hey, I've got nothing to do today but smile." It has its Beatleseque moments, particularly during the livelier bridge of "Half of the time we're gone but we don't know where" and its floating Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds backing vocals. "Hell’s Angel" guitarist Stewart joined in on those lovely backing vocals whilst standing beside Art, who remained behind Paul, reaching dreamy heights as he sang into the loose mike, as though trying to stress that this was not a joint effort but a mere accompaniment to Paul, who should shine. Paul treated us to a solo on his acoustic guitar before the organ took over, sounding like a flute or tin whistle, as they were all bathed in a moody blue-ish purple light. I must admit, this was not a song I remembered well, but its delicate performance was quite moving.
Whereas it was normally Art who stepped forward to credit the band members for their artistic solos, I suppose because it was so much Paul’s song, it was he who did so as we applauded, crediting Freddie Washington on bass amongst others. I believe Freddie is the only band member who did not play on this tour in America; he replaced Pino Pallidino, who had been called up by the Who to complete their band after the sad death of John Entwistle the night before their tour began. Washington has played fatback bass on albums featuring Eric Clapton (The Crusaders), funky jazz saxman Michael Paulo and many others, and like several of the musicians on stage tonight, he has also worked as a producer.
Simon spoke to us now as though he were finishing a sentence begun before the last number, saying, "…Then there are those songs that seem to be written into the future. This is a song written 30 years ago but it could have been written last week." Another intriguing introduction. Keyboardist Rob Schwimmer led us into the song with a toy piano part on the organ as the spotlight now fell, literally, on Art. Interestingly, Art began to sing a song released by Paul on his 1973 There Goes Rhymin’ Simon album, American Tune, hailed my some as having the greatest lyrics Simon has ever written, which was later covered by the late Eva Cassidy in her unique interpretative style. It did seem a bit odd that we heard no songs whatsoever from Art Garfunkel’s solo career. One might have expected Bright Eyes but, as that was written by Mike Batt, its omission perhaps was down to copyright issues or the fact that it might have detracted from the celebration of this duo’s work, rather than being attributable to Simon megalomania. Certainly the decision for Garfunkel to sing the first verse of this Simon solo tune lent itself to that theory, so the former’s angelic vocals filled the park with a beautiful rendition of this battered ballad reflecting the shattered American dream. Simon returned to his mike and sang a verse with his deeper vocals, looking serious with sad eyes, as Art generally look warmly out over the crowd, clearly appearing to have great fun. Whilst Paul sang these lines, Art leaned his head back as though he were singing himself and getting carried away with the passion of the words. A spotlight fell on the alternating singers, and finally they both joined in together, punctuated by booming music from the band.
Once again, a surreally delicate cello solo was added by the Commitments guy, Mark Stewart, as he sat in front of the twisted tower to the lighting rig that looked like a giant beanstalk leading up to the black night above the stage. The golden vocalists kicked in at the end with Mark Nevin’s favourite and frequently applied lyrics, "it's all right, it's all right" and topped off the priceless delivery of the song with, "You can't be forever blessed / Still, tomorrow's going to be another working day".
Paul picked up his black acoustic guitar as we cheered, and the pianist played a few terribly familiar notes that were a bit reminiscent of the beginning of the Specials’ later Rat Race. I couldn’t understand why the audience didn’t greet the tune with an approving roar of recognition, until I realised that it might be more familiar to me because, as a 9-year-old, I had this 45rpm single and played it incessantly. I hadn't remembered that I'd owned a Simon and Garfunkel single, I only remembered my parents owning their albums. My Little Town was a one-off single released in 1975, five years after the duo had officially ended their partnership. Its somewhat dark tone with lyrics so cold they were condescending, bolstered by an uplifting arrangement, was recorded for Simon’s Grammy-winning Still Crazy After All These Years album. I was caught in a true time warp first when they sang the line about pledging allegiance to the wall, which we all did in grade school although usually to a flag on the wall. The particularly hazy venture back in time exploded into sharp clarity when Simon and Garfunkel began shouting out the pounding chorus of "Nothing but the dead and dying / Back in my little town". The booming band sent me straight back to my room in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where I’d repeatedly played this single for hours. Now, almost 30 years later, I was finally witnessing it being performed live by these celebrated figures. I simply can’t believe that the people who pay to see Madonna romp about with dancers and do choreographed drills with rifles can even begin to comprehend the spine-tingling brilliance we experienced on this night.
After doing his left knee bend gunning stance, Paul ripped off his guitar strap and held his guitar high above him as he accepted the crowd’s adulation on behalf of the whole band. Barely allowing us to catch our breath, never mind the band theirs, the pianist began playing what I would have thought was one of the world’s most famous introductions to a song, but surprisingly few people in the audience seemed to recognise Bridge Over Troubled Water until Art started to sing this phenomenal classic with its eloquent offer of comforting hope. The spectacularly gorgeous Grammy-winning title track of the duo’s multi-Grammy winning swan song (yawn, so many Grammys, they’re so perfect) saw everyone stand to sway quietly and occasionally even sing along. Garfunkel’s lilting tenor hushed us into awed silence, and an unusually guitar-less Simon came to the mike to sing the second verse, his proficient vocals addressing the reputed historic problem of having the limelight firmly focused on Art during the song, which I seem to recall Simon wrote in the spirit of Carole King’s remarkable You’ve Got a Friend. Paul stretched out one of his arms as though he were doing aerobics, frequently closed his eyes and focused fully on delivering the pure grace of the song, another ensconced in my childhood because, at the age of 4, I thought the song was about my dog Laika. The tune’s wondrous powers are haunting.
The second verse by Simon was followed by a dainty piano solo that took in a key change, as the rest of the band just sat in silence and watched the magic unfold around them. At some point, Paul picked up an electric guitar, and Simon and Garfunkel began applying their stunning harmonies to the "Sail on silver girl" part, looking straight out over the crowd with great intensity. We were all transfixed; some experiences are so magnificent that it’s difficult to grasp fully the wonder of it all. I can be pretty certain that several thousand hearts were racing, spines were tingling, jaws were dropping, and most of our brains must surely have been filled to capacity with the word, ‘Wow.’
Throughout the evening, although their voices had aged in that the men were older, Simon and Garfunkel’s abilities seemed strengthened from many years of experience and practice rather than tired or stretched beyond their capabilities as men of retirement age. But as we approached the climax at the end of this classic, I can’t have been the only one to wonder if the 62-year-old Art would be able to reach those terribly high notes, and with any power. We probably would have forgiven him if he had lowered his goal and dropped the key, but this night never depended on compromises. There was half a second when Art paused and seemed to strain to get there, but then he did, and smoothly. That half-second delay only filled us with suspense—the rest was full, utterly uncompromising splendour with a strength young Britney Spears surely would not have managed. Art pulled the mike out of the stand, held the cord like he was Frank Sinatra, and also grabbed hold of the note he was singing and held onto it for a tremendous stretch. Although this whole sensational evening was a testament to the fact, that note alone proved that the man is still amazing.
Needless to say, that was a showstopper, not that we wanted the show ever to stop. The performers looked out over a huge field of people standing for miles with their arms raised almost in salute, like a million extras in an epic Hollywood film, but none of us were acting as tears filled many eyes. Art and Paul almost returned the gesture—Paul’s extended arms with cupped hands, as though raising an invisible baseball bat above his head, was his first significant acknowledgement of the crowd. The duo stood near each other for the first time, raising their arms to their many worshippers and genuinely looking touched. I hope they comprehend the gift they have given the world in their talents. I like to think that is why they reformed for this tour again; the cynics put it down to money, and there is no harm in their earning their due. But I am sure they both also acknowledge that there is a magic to their partnership that has never been replicated either by themselves or anyone since. Besides, even the worst curmudgeon would surely be won over by the sight of a sea of 50,000 worshippers and the emotions that must bring; it cannot all be about the money. Even Paul Simon cracked a smile when he looked out over us adoring him at the end.
They left the stage after that gift to us, but no one believed that was it, and even if it were, we were too busy trying to restart our stalled hearts and dry our sentimental tears to fully appreciate their abandonment. Fortunately, they were back on stage in two minutes; perhaps they realised we needed some time ‘alone’ to recover, and perhaps they needed it themselves.
Art came to the mike and said, "Thank you so much for your affection and support," which of course stirred us into a roar of affection and support. I had been so overwhelmed by the song that I had barely noticed the rest of the band kick in once Paul started playing his guitar, but clearly they all contributed to the magnificent performance. It was lovely when Paul, clearly the less sentimental one, praised them (albeit with an almost indistinguishable mutter, but that was surely unintentional) as he began plucking some notes out on his guitar. In particularly, he credited pianist Bernhardt, Jamey Haddad on percussion and drummer Jim Keltner.
Haddad and Keltner were also musicians of such skill and exemplary reputation that they deserved to share the stage with these legends. Haddad, a musician since the age of four, is an Associate Professor at Berklee College in Massachusetts and even designs music instruments. With particular leanings towards jazz and world music, he records with several world musicians, but regularly plays with Simon—with whom he came in contact through his young daughter, who played with the daughter of Simon’s sound man—as well as the Paul Winter Consort, saxophonist Dave Liebman, and Broadway singer/actress Betty Buckley.
Keltner might be known to some through The Charlie Watts Jim Keltner Project, and his name is apparently spoken amongst drummers with the same reverence as Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa. He has played with an endless list of wonders, including John Lennon, the Travelling Wilburys, Bob Dylan, Mick Jagger, Joe Cocker, George Harrison (in fact, Jim is the drummer on Harrison's final album, Brainwashed), John Lee Hooker, Randy Newman, Roy Orbison, Pink Floyd, James Taylor, Boz Scaggs, B B King, Eric Clapton, Brian Wilson, Elvis Costello, and Harry Chapin. ‘Nuff said.
The random notes that Paul had begun to play led to even more of a spotlight on the percussionists, as the next tune was the classic Cecilia. A few raindrops here and there joined the booming beat shaking the park, but fortunately they lost interest in us and moved away. The audience never found the strength to sit down after the last song, so we were all dancing on the spot to this infectiously catchy tune. Fifty thousand voices sang this song, even most of the musicians on stage did as they provided truly lively, bright music with a world music feel. Percussionist Haddad did some amazing things just by banging on some sticks and organist Rob Schwimmer added a solo somewhere amidst the excitement. At the end, the singers seemed to stretch out the word ‘Jubilation’ for ages by adding several syllables, which suited the occasion. People manoeuvring their cars around the treacherous traffic of Hyde Park Corner roundabout nearby must have thought there was some mass church revival going on in the park…and they must have been tempted to join us. Everyone in the band seemed so enthusiastic, the power of so many hands clapping to the beat was intoxicating, and the song’s delivery was ultimately bewitching. Art reached again towards the sky as though trying to pluck a star from behind the clouds, but we had all we wanted here on earth.
It was 10pm and I was beginning to worry that the end was nigh, as surely the entertainment licence granted for such an outdoor event wouldn’t allow amplified music to disturb the rich people with homes in the vicinity late into the night, even with an honour like this experience. I felt for a second like a toddler tempted to cry at the mere thought of the undesirable, but my pure elation would have dried any tear before it fully formed.
At this time, one tries to take stock of which expected songs haven’t yet been played. My friend had been desperate to hear The Boxer, her husband’s favourite, and suddenly Paul was plucking out a gentle introduction on his guitar to that majestic classic. The crowd divided into groups that erupted into cheers first upon recognition of the music and second upon recognition of the first line. Simon and Garfunkel harmonised throughout the song, although on the second line they almost stumbled for the first time, their voices seeming to clash for a split second, but soon that was forgotten and the strength of their vocal talents, particularly when melting together, overwhelmed the park yet again.
My friend was compelled to share this aural equivalent of a Kodak moment with her absent husband, so the joy of modern technology let him hear a bit of Simon and Garfunkel as she held up her mobile phone to capture some of the build-up of beauty. It occurred to me then to use my mobile to ring my answerphone so that I might relive a bit of this incredible experience when I returned home. I did try it but when I got home, I basically heard a roar of a crowd singing ‘Lie-la-lie’ with an almost eerily distorted wave of distant music behind it. Perhaps the performance was copy protected!
Indeed, we were all singing, stretching out the refrain after Rob Schwimmer played what sounded like a Wurlitzer and then a Theremin, that instrument that looks a bit like a metal pole sticking out of a box and sounds like a preferable version of a lap steel or like the unusual whining sound in the Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations, although I have read a suggestion that that was actually a Tannerin. Schwimmer’s talents for keyboards, Theremin and arranging have seen him working on numerous film soundtracks as had several of his colleagues on stage, including an Oscar winning short. He had performed with Paul before as well as Paul’s wife Edie Brickell, and worked with Stevie Wonder, Muddy Waters, Laurie Anderson, Steve Buscemi, Sammy Davis Jr, John Cale, Liza Minnelli, Burt Bacharach and his own band, Jay Black and the Americans—though not all at the same time. One would expect no less than musicians with this sort of impressive experience to join Simon and Garfunkel on stage.
Whilst the audience continued swirling in our Lie-la-lies, the legends on stage and their band deserted us. It was 10.10pm and they had been engaging us tonight for almost two hours with hardly a break. We now put all our energy into shouting at the top of our lungs to create a clamour that might tempt them back, stomping our feet although pounding them on grass does not have the same effect as pounding them on an auditorium floor.
Thankfully, they came back to us anyway. A mere two minutes later, our beloved Simon and Garfunkel took to the stage again. Paul stepped up to the mike and said, "Well, I guess we won’t have to take the Tube home tonight!" After our mass chuckle, he said "Here’s an early song" and then interrupted himself with a rare snicker of his own, adding "Well, they’re all early songs!"
Paul began singing quietly, "I was 21 years when I wrote this song," which we could accept as true, although Leaves That Are Green wasn’t released until he was 24. He continued, "I’m twenty-two now" give or take 40 years, "but I won’t be for long. / Time hurries on / And the leaves that are green turn to brown, / And they wither with the wind, / And they crumble in your hand." With those words and the semi-tribute to the Beatles’ Hello Goodbye at the end of the song, it was a truly fitting and peaceful commentary on the passage of time.
Art, his legs crossed whilst seated on a stool that had magically appeared again by his mike, intertwined luxurious harmonies throughout the song and took the lead on the second verse.
Despite that song’s perfect suitability for the circumstances and its declaration of "good-bye, that’s all there is", it simply wasn’t the sort of song one would choose to close a show of this magnitude. Simon and Garfunkel knew that, and as soon as they finished, Art stood up as did we, and the band returned to the stage and launched into The 59th Bridge Street Song (Feelin’ Groovy). That song was recorded a week before my birth, and here I was a 38-year-old woman lapping it up live for the first time after knowing it so well all my life. We were still dancing in our little individual spaces of park, singing along to a slightly more rocking version of this gentle number, absorbing its fitting declaration of our mood after this blissful evening.
The "Commitments guy", Mark Stewart, again proved he was a multi-instrumentalist by playing something that looked like a combination between a Didgeridoo and a wooden trombone, in that its body could extend and slide to increase its potential—a bit like a giant slide whistle. I understand Mark invented the instrument himself, which he calls the Trombidoo. Like his fellow musicians on stage, multi-instrumentalist, vocalist and composer Stewart has performed with many noble artists, including Simon solo, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and jazz pianist/composer Cecil Taylor, and is a member of numerous madcap groups.
Now on stage with Simon and Garfunkel, Stewart moved front and centre with keyboardist Schwimmer who was playing a melodica, I believe, and those two took over a bit, entertaining us circus-style along with the unusual sounds they were making, as Paul and Art stood quietly and watched after Paul had announced these players’ names. Schwimmer and Stewart ended up creating an almost oompah sound like something from Willie Wonka; I feel like I caught a glimpse of a tuba somewhere in there but my memory is surely confused. Considering we were there to see the two men who were now silent, we still delighted in this bit of fun, evidence of Stewart and Schwimmer’s musical comedy vaudeville-style cabaret act called Polygraph Lounge.
Sadly, the song was then brought to an end, a dreaded horror we were hoping never to see, but of course it was inevitable. The finish was tremendous, and we were all having too terrific a time to resign ourselves to acknowledge the sadness of the moment. Art shouted, "Thank you, London!" with a wave, and Paul added his most cheerful contribution all night, quipping, "We’ll see you when we’re 80!" Promises, promises. I’d buy a ticket to that, though.
At 20 minutes past 10pm, the magicians disappeared but the magic did not dissolve for days. We did turn back into a pumpkin, though, and had to find our way, like Hansel and Gretel, out of Hyde Park in the darkness. The fantastic organisation of the event full of helpful stewards had not extended to this hour; we were left to fend for ourselves and no one had thought to bring a compass. We stepped out of the compound to find that everyone official had abandoned us and, were it not for the tens of thousands of others, we would have been alone in a dark park. The weather began slightly spitting at us then, the type of insignificant rain where you’re unsure whether it’s just the person next to you speaking too enthusiastically; in this case there was much enthusiasm bubbling from us all.
The Park is normally closed at that time of night and the only signs pointed us towards now useless things such as the bandstand and the lake, when we wanted more relevant information such as Green Park station, since I only knew my way back to the nearby Hyde Park Corner station, which had been closed in a misguided attempt at crowd control. We all wandered off into the darkness, our masses spilling onto various busy streets, causing taxi drivers in the stopped traffic to enquire what on earth had created such a mass exodus. We eventually found ourselves at random locations far from where we had hoped to be, but no one really minded, as we were, as Katrina would say, walking on sunshine, still humming Simon and Garfunkel songs that, remarkably, we had just had the honour of hearing live.
Waving them off with our cheers as they left the stage had been like saying good-bye at the end of a visit with a beloved elderly relative who you knew, in the back of your mind, you might never get to see again, but the sadness of that possibility was too great to bear, so you kidded yourself that you’d visit again soon and focused on the fun you had had during your recent time together.
The event had been an emotional, merry, joyous phenomenon that kept me walking on a high for weeks. I even have a sizeable commemorative programme to pour through when I find the time to absorb so much information, and in the spirit of the wondrous event, the programme was affordable and did not leave me feeling conned as had the programme for the Paul McCartney concert I attended the previous year. Jubilation!
As a bit of an epilogue, I feel I must address the possibility that I perhaps seemed to have favoured Art in my interpretation of the machinations of the evening. Actually, I have never really had an opinion about their relationship nor have I had a favourite of the two. I merely report what I saw with the impression I was given, but the truth is, we all know they don’t get along, and even people who love each other don’t want to spend every second in each other’s company, particularly when travelling together for any length of time. So Paul wandered off to play elsewhere on the stage, big deal. He did, I must say, give the air of having a bit of arrogance, but this man has arguably written more brilliant, accessible songs than any living non-Beatle, given us the amazing Graceland album, and brought the priceless Ladysmith Black Mambazo to the attention of the world at a time when they were hidden behind the walls of Apartheid. He dallied in the genres of folk, rock, pop, world music and reinvented himself without having to wear conical corsets on stage. He managed to marry Carrie Fisher (briefly) and young Edie Brickell, so there’s clearly a lot more to him than meets the across-the-concert-crowd eye. I would say that he deserves to have a bit of arrogance draped around his shoulders.
He may resent people’s appreciation of Garfunkel, who did not write but produced many of their songs, but I think he has enough sense to acknowledge that our need for Simon is greater when Garfunkel is by his side. We’re all adults though; we can’t turn back time and that isn’t always a good thing, anyway. They have parted, and we must now just appreciate our memories and their solo contributions to the world. I do. But that doesn’t detract from the highly charged, fainting feeling I get whenever I relive the concert I was privileged enough to view that night in Hyde Park. Fingers crossed that a DVD will help me relive it more vividly one day….
Copyright © 2004 by TC. All rights reserved.
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have since 23 March 2005 visited this review of the Simon and Garfunkel reunion,
live in concert in Hyde Park, London, in July 2004 with guests the Everly Brothers.