An Anglophile and Then Some
From London life and Grenfell to his travels across Europe and the US, Art Garfunkel gets reminiscing
Article by Andrew Threlfall
“This is what 76 looks like…” he says, bounding onto Royal Albert Hall stage like he just got lost on a Hyde Park hike; except Art Garfunkel doesn’t get lost on hikes. Not the one covering America coast-to-coast and top to bottom or the European slog he completed two years ago in Turkey. A lot of time then – without headphones on he tells me during one of our one 45 minute phone calls – to reminisce about the early 1970s when he and Paul Simon ruled the world’s airwaves.
Ah, Paul Simon. Who used to sing “still crazy after all those years,” who has decided, definitively and with great sincerity, to retire from touring and hang up his guitar after playing Hyde Park himself this summer.
Art isn’t ready for that moment himself. Not just yet. “These days I’m just an ageing American entertainer with a phoney British accent. After I finished walking all of Europe two years I’m a certified nutcase,” he jokes explaining away his own craziness. One on one he is a joy to chat to: “Thank you, girls, for giving birth to the entire human race.” but as the one year anniversary to the Grenfell Tower tragedy passes he is sombre too about a place he knew so well. Garfunkel indeed was in London to play a one off show at the Royal Albert Hall on May 31st just two weeks before the first anniversary of the Grenfell tower tragedy was commemorated in a number of British cities nationwide.
He told me how he was living close to Grenfell and on how difficult he found it to find accommodation in such an eclectic place. “My heart goes out to the victims and families affected by the fire. If the song Bridge over troubled water touches people, and MORE importantly, raises money to help the situation, then it has real power. Let us all be moved to help.
This neighbourhood I know very well, I remember spending days looking for a bedsitter in Bayswater – or was it Notting Hill? A month or so it took me. I wanted to soak up London’s unique and vibrant multi-faith and multi-cultural life.”
“London really is like a second home,” he tells the Albert Hall audience who burst into spontaneous applause, “And this, the Royal Albert Hall is my favourite place in the world to sing.” He looks out and upwards to the dramatic ceiling. This is a performer who loves spaces.
“I started to feel claustrophobic in the studio,” Art ponders. “I yearned to explore the world and though I was embroiled in all aspects of my faith, I had been curious about others. So I embarked upon long walking trips everywhere that interested me. After walking from the east to the west coast of America, I started, where else, with the Alps in Europe. When young you’re so impressionable. I’d hear a voice inside saying ‘don’t do what they’re all doing.’ You want to make a mark while you’re alive. You don’t know exactly your future, but you want to be great at it. And greatness is an important word. And you dare not tell anybody how extreme and how burning your visions are, because you don’t want anybody to mess with them.”
Art remains an Anglophile and then some. “It’s so picturesque. I do miss those days I lived here taking the Northern line up to Hampstead. And one last remaining ambition would be to actually see Scarborough fair.” Although he’s going to have to learn to pronounce it Scarborough not Scar-bro…
His last major CD compilation was The Singer but that was five years ago now. “Maybe The Singer will be my last ever collection, though there was no The Boxer, no Mrs Robinson, no Homeward Bound.” However, “I bow to Paul Simon for giving me The Sound of Silence and Bridge Over Troubled Water. They fall into my set-list beautifully and it takes the audience for a good ride.”