sun 14/07/2024

Art Garfunkel, Royal Festival Hall | reviews, news & interviews

Art Garfunkel, Royal Festival Hall

Art Garfunkel, Royal Festival Hall

Audience goodwill for a patchy evening of acoustic song and reminiscences

Art Garfunkel: back on the road

The voice no longer soars with easeful power, nor does it possess that tingling, honey-coated purity that gave hits such as “Bridge Over Troubled Water” such emotional force. This should hardly come as a surprise, since Art Garfunkel is now 72. Away from Paul Simon, from whom he split in 1970, Garfunkel has had a long, stop-and-start solo career, occasionally writing and recording his own songs but mainly singing other people’s, including those unforgettable Simon hits.

But it’s not just age that has affected his vocal cords. The last three and a half years saw Garfunkel suffering vocal cord paresis, and last night, at the culmination of his short UK comeback tour, he described his voice as still a “work in progress”. The audience didn’t seem to mind one bit, however, since whoops and cheers punctuated his whole set, underscored by a couple of standing ovations. There was plenty of love and goodwill among this mature, near-capacity crowd. 

'Kathy's Song' provided one of the few highlights, the other a Jewish prayer Garfunkel used to sing at his synagogue

The set was simple, pared down to the bone, just Garfunkel and Nashville guitarist Tab Laven on acoustic guitar. And on this black, spot-lit stage Garfunkel opened with a song I didn’t recognise but which might have been a traditional Scottish ballad (no programme notes had been printed to accompany the five-gig tour). Then the Simon and Garfunkel hits started coming – “April Come She Will”, “The Boxer”, “Scarborough Fair”, "Homeward Bound". The voice was a mere husk, unsteady and occasionally rasping. There were no sustained high notes, and no attempt at phrasing or conveying a story. The meaning and emotion of “The Boxer” was all but lost, but the crowd were forgiving. It was definitely a night to support and to forgive an idol whose singing and whose partnership with one of the great American songwriters had meant so much.  

Then there were the anecdotes in between each song, which were delivered as sing-songy prose poems read studiously from pieces of paper. These were stories about fame, his childhood, Simon, of course, his film career and his “bud” Jack Nicholson with whom he co-starred in Carnal Knowledge, his wife, his youngest son Beau Daniel, born in 2005, his long walking treks across the globe. If his delivery hadn’t been so mannered, had he engaged with his audience a little more directly, these interludes may have been, for me at least, just a little less grating. 

After a 20-minute interval, it was back to the Simon hits with a sprinkling of other songs, including a reasonably credible “Quiet Nights of Quiet Stars”, Antonio Carlos Jobim’s smooth bossa nova classic. The second half was better, the voice sufficiently warmed up and flexible. This segment also delivered “Emily, Wherever I May Find Her” and “Kathy's Song”, with Garfunkel telling us that he’d talked to the real-life Kathy, Simon’s girlfriend when the pair had lived in London in the early Sixties and about whom the song was written, just a few days ago on the phone. “Kathy's Song” provided one of the show's few genuine highlights, the other a Jewish prayer Garfunkel used to sing at his local synagogue in Queens when he was a kid. This, you felt, was the point where real emotion crept in.

As the evening closed, you felt that it wasn’t just a loss of vocal power that had proved difficult, but a disengagement with the S&G back catalogue. The penultimate song was “Bridge Over Troubled Water”, whose rendition, he told us, would be given more in the spirit of a vocal workshop than an attempt at note-perfect delivery. It was undoubtedly a brave attempt, perhaps a slightly foolish one, too. We were rooting for him, but he pulled it short before the big crescendo. Surely a little musical rearrangement might have been fitting under the circumstances – Simon had originally written the song as a quiet little hymn, after all (and I've always thought it over-produced as a record). But no interesting new arrangements were forthcoming on any of the songs. But still, what can you say? Just by being here he seemed to make a lot of people happy.

Fisun Guner on Twitter

Overleaf: watch Art Garfunkel sing Kathy's Song live, Atlanta, February 2014

The set was pared down to the bone, just Garfunkel and Nashville guitarist Tab Laven on acoustic guitar


Editor Rating: 
Average: 2 (1 vote)

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Hi Fisun, the first song was a Billy Joel number called "And so it goes"

Thanks, Steve...where an earth I got 'traditional Scottish ballad' from I have no idea - I suppose it can sound like one, if you give it some bagpipes...

Fairly mean review actually. I don't think it 'just by being here he seemed to make a lot of people happy' - that to me seems a rather condescending and derogatory view of the audience. Yes his voice is not what it was for the reasons you report, but the melody was total, the guitar playing exceptional, the poetry, Yiddish recitals and anecdotes absolutely charming and the pace wonderful. I'm not a huge fan of his, I am a very critical concert-goer - this was a special and soulful evening but perhaps not suited for the 'tick box' criteria you require.

His vocal problems were well documented in advance , so the audience knew what they were coming to see. The song is called 'April come she will '.

Thank you very much - title duly corrected - though I've surely listened to it enough not to have muddled it. 

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