Review: Art Garfunkel, An Evening of Songs and Stories, York Barbican, April 18

PAUL Simon played his farewell concerts last year. Coincidence or not, New York sparring partner Art Garfunkel is on the road at 77, “serving the lucky gift in my throat”.

At five, he knew his voice was special; at ten, he was moving grown men to tears when he sang in the synagogue. At 11, he met Paul, and if their music has been more harmonious than their relationship, nevertheless, Garfunkel found it in himself to tell his York Barbican audience, “it’s a shame we don’t talk more often”. Paul would be welcome to call him, he added, putting it back in Paul’s court.

Yet his respect and love of Simon’s songwriting is unabated, one reason why he is still singing at 77. “I just love singing,” he reasons.

The Art Garfunkel that walked slowly, a little stooped, on to the Barbican stage in baggy navy shirt and dark jeans was measured in movement and thought. He lost his voice in 2010, and it took until 2014 to recover to the point where, “grateful to God”, he could do a “less is more” show: the one now modified into An Evening of Songs and Stories.

How would he sound, after all these years? From the first notes of The Boxer, it was apparent the voice is inevitably thinner now, but its choirboy beauty is still there, ageless in its ability to move us.

Spread over two 40-minute sets in the amiable company of acoustic guitarist Tab Laven and British keyboards player Paul Beard, Garfunkel combined picks from the Simon & Garfunkel catalogue with selections from his solo albums, plus two duets (Devoted To You and Let It Be Me) with his son James Arthur [Garfunkle], a 28-year-old, taller, higher-voiced reminder of his younger self, who also opened the second set with Charlie Chaplin’s Smile. Yet this was only half the story. From a lifetime as a singer, actor, poet and maths teacher, he told beautifully composed, lyrical, insightful, witty stories from his unconventional autobiography, What Is It All But Luminous, published in November 2017. Subtitled Notes From An Underground Man, this book of poems, lists, scattered thoughts and pointed anecdotes elicited pleasures aplenty, typified by his fascinating recollections of making Carnal Knowledge with Jack Nicholson in 1971.

What else did he sing? His own composition Perfect Moment; Scarborough Fair, of course; Homeward Bound; For Emily, Whenever I May Find Her; Kathy's Song;“the song that changed my life”, The Sound Of Silence, and a cannily abridged version of Bridge Over Troubled Water.

He mused amusingly on his global chart topper Bright Eyes flopping in America, and how he loved dividing opinions when he put Simon, James Taylor and Randy Newman among his list of top five songwriters, but not Bob Dylan, dismissing three-quarters of his career after a good start, before covering Newman's Real Emotional Girl.

Like Glen Campbell, beset but unbeaten by dementia on his Good Times: The Final Farewell tour in October 2011, this was an unforgettable Barbican night, one where the artful Artie charmed and warmed us with his humanity, his love of family, his sage vision, his poetic eloquence and a voice that can still make grown men cry. How apt he should finish with a lullaby, Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep. It had been that blissful.

Charles Hutchinson