ART GARFUNKEL AT THE CORN EXCHANGE
I used to think that Cloud Nine was a myth. But last night I not only found it but floated firmly up to recline on its wispy cushion. The cause of this joy lay in the heavenly voice of Art Garfunkel appearing in person at the Corn Exchange. A full house sat in awe as the legendary singer shuffled on to the stage. At 78, Paul Simon’s former duettist has lost that famous mop of curly hair, walks with stiff-hipped limp, needs reading glasses but has mislaid very little of that voice; that gorgeously layered voice with its dreamy flute-like timbre still intact. Though he’s down a bit on the top notes there is still that breathy tenor, like a choirboy’s smoky treble. Above all, and totally mesmerising for his audience, there was that unique sound, the underscore to my youth. It was more than nostalgia but a magical journey where time came up to meet me. The sound of my 1966 Dansette record player with my precious ‘Sounds of Silence’ LP had returned transported by a sort of audio Tardis. There were tears. Mine.
Despite worldwide fame, Garfunkel was the very antithesis of the big star – more like a favourite uncle with his voluminous blue shirt tucked out of his dark trousers. He came on slowly and acknowledged his two excellent accompanists (on guitar and keyboard). A simple lighting rig bathed the singer in a warm maroon and later the stage was suffused with a rich blue. Art told his story through recently published autobiographical poetry – honest, heartfelt and unshowy. He told us, gently and sincerely, how his voice had once gone but had now come back - a kind of miracle. He shared with us how as a five year-old in a New York synagogue he heard minor keys and fell in love with song. He realised that he had been born with a gift - but a gift meant there had to be a giver. Garfunkel maintains his Jewish faith. His soft asides, his tributes to Paul Simon, his avuncular self deprecation were utterly warm and charming.
Garfunkel’s first number was a moving ballad, ‘The Things We’ve Handed Down’. Its theme of personal legacy was appropriate as Garfunkel introduced on to the stage his own son, Art Junior. In his late 20s, and formally dressed in a grey suit, the boy has inherited his dad’s beautiful high voice (but not his hair). Two Garfunkels for the price of one, what a treat. Later they gave an exquisite rendition of the Everly Brothers’ ‘Devoted To You’ that I immediately wanted to hear again. And again. In his several duets with Art Jnr, dad sang cheek to cheek with his beloved boy (though he joked that ‘My son has the voice, but I have the hits’).
Garfunkel senior delighted his audience (mostly of a certain age like your reviewer) with many Paul Simon authored classics such as ‘The Boxer’, ‘Homeward Bound’ and ‘Sound of Silence’. There again was that voice from the 60s: soaring, full of bittersweet melancholy. His performance of ‘Bright Eyes’ and ‘Kathy’s Song’ was almost too much to bear. The same could be said of a real surprise; a gorgeous rendition of Randy Newman’s haunting ‘Real Emotional Girl’ that had the audience on the very edge of its collective seat.
Whatever the song, there was that voice. Undimmed by the years, siren-like in its intensity, floating up to the high ceiling of the Corn Exhange, floating up to…Cloud Nine.