SINGER and actor Dean Elliott has always been a big fan of Paul Simon and his former partner Art Garfunkel, but it was a magical moment while watching him perform live at the Liverpool Echo Arena a little over three years ago that sparked a new appreciation of the singer/songwriter’s talent.
He said: “The thing that really got me was when the band left, it all went black and there was just a spotlight on him. He sang The Sound Of Silence by himself and it was incredible. We were in an arena and it had been such a noisy, rowdy Liverpudlian welcome, but when he sang that you could have heard a pin drop.
“That song is now 50 years old but it had that profound effect — and it had me mesmerised.”
Elliott’s most memorable role up until that point was playing Buddy Holly in a two-year run of Buddy The Musical at the Duchess Theatre in London’s West End. Now he is part of a team that has written a new musical The Simon And Garfunkel Story which opens a 70-date national tour at the Wycombe Swan on January 15.
The show is not just a tribute act, but tells the story of how two young Jewish lads from the Queens district of New York met while schoolboys, started a rock ‘n’ roll band, split up, then re-formed in the Sixties as a folk rock duo that were to become one of most successful musical acts of their era.
A pilot version of the show played at a number of smaller venues in the UK last year but it has now been revamped and re-designed, and includes video clips, voice-overs and as a finale, a 15- to 20-minute recreation of Simon and Garfunkel’s most famous concert ever, the 1981 Concert In Central Park which attracted a then record crowd of 500,000 people.
Elliott, who plays Simon in the show, said: “I have always been a massive fan and listened to a lot of folk music, such as Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie. And I have been doing music and theatre for so long. We wanted to put together something that no one had done before and something we cared about and had deep respect for the music, and I think that comes across. I had all the Simon and Garfunkel albums and had been listening to them for many years, and knew all the lyrics off by heart.
“It’s a story that a lot of people don’t really know. People know a lot about Abba and The Beatles, but a lot of people don’t know the story of Simon and Garfunkel. They were the biggest-selling music duo of all time, they were best friends — but there were also so many fall-outs.
“Also, I wanted to push myself musically, and Paul Simon’s music is quite difficult and complex for the Sixties. It’s not just three-chord songs. I have spent over a year studying how Paul Simon writes and how he plays guitar. He’s an exceptional talent.
“But the most interesting thing about the story is how they were just two best friends that were only a month or two apart in age, who grew up literally round the corner from each other. They were just two Jewish lads from Queens who were not from wealthy families, and they became huge superstars. I think that’s quite a rags-to-riches story.”
The pair started a rock ‘n’ roll duo, Tom and Jerry, when they were teenagers and had a modicum of success, releasing a single Hey Schoolgirl, and playing on American Bandstand after Jerry Lee Lewis. Elliott said: “Paul Simon said he wanted to be Elvis Presley which, as he was a five foot four Jewish boy, was unlikely.”
The pair went their separate ways, and Simon, always the creative genius of the pair, came to live in England.
“A radio DJ in Florida started playing a recording they had made of The Sound Of Silence and it gained a massive following,” said Elliott. “So Paul went back to America, they re-recorded it and within a couple of weeks it was number one in the American charts.”
The pair released a string of chart-topping singles, including I Am A Rock, Homeward Bound, Scarborough Fair/Canticle, Mrs Robinson, The Boxer and Cecilia. However, it was artistic differences over their 1969 album, Bridge Over Troubled Water, that sounded the death knell for their working relationship, and they split in 1970.
Elliott said: “The main reason for the split was that they were together so much, touring all the time, continually writing and performing. Paul Simon had relased a solo album before they got together, so he always wanted to do his own stuff. Art Garfunkel had the voice of an angel, but it was Paul Simon who wrote all the songs and lyrics. Bridge Over Troubled Water is remembered because of Art’s singing, but it was Paul who wrote it and that put a massive obstacle between them.”
In the show, Garfunkel is played by 23-year-old Jonny Smart, who was chosen for the part not only because of his singing talent but also because he has the blond, wiry hair that was Garfunkel’s signature look. However, looks and musical talent aside, Elliott said the key to Simon and Garfunkel’s enduring popularity was the fact that back in the Sixties they moved popular music on to a new level.
“When they were recordnig a lot of people were singing songs about love, I wanna hold your hand and that kind of thing. But they were writing about racial segregation. They were ahead of their time. Everyone goes on about Bob Dylan being the social commentator of the Sixties, but I would go so far as to say that Paul Simon surpasses him.”
* The Simon And Garfunkel Story is at the Wycombe Swan on Wednesday, January 15. For tickets call 01494 512000 or visit www.wycombeswan.co.uk