What were your plans for this autumn? For Gary Edward Jones there was the exciting prospect of New York and a substantial off-Broadway residency.
But then Rosie, the queen of Corona intervened to throw a spanner in the works, and Jones like the rest of us was less Homeward Bound than bound to home.
New York’s loss has become Liverpool’s gain however, with the musician offering city audiences a welcome reprise of this charming, slightly homespun-feeling, song-infused biography of blues-folk troubadour Paul Simon as part of the new Liverpool Theatre Festival.
What comes shining through in Something About Simon is Jones’s genuine, and infectious, admiration for his subject – an admiration (or obsession as he puts it) that hit him later on in life, rather than in the moments a young Gary rolled his eyes as his father wore out the family stylus on Simon’s 1986 album Graceland.
Graceland – the title track – came towards the close of this slightly truncated version of the full stage show, played on electric guitar rather than the amped-up acoustic instruments which Jones had swapped back and forth throughout the preceding 80 minutes.
Simon met Garfunkel at school in the early 50s and the pair teamed up, briefly and tempestuously, as Tom and Jerry before going their separate ways and reforming in Everly Brothers’ close harmony fashion under their own surnames in 1964.
Something About Simon. Photos by David Munn
Jones’s tale opens with some gentle yo-yoing backwards and forwards through the early 60s, when Simon headed for Europe and played small gigs in unglamourous locations – he met his first muse, Kathy Chitty when she was selling tickets at the Railway Inn in Brentford – travelling between them by train.
A sly visual nod on a sparse stage populated by 2D cut-outs of TV studio camera, mixing desk and record player illustrated the apocryphal origins of the yearning Homeward Bound.
Simon once said: ‘each song means whatever I was like when I wrote it’, an autobiographical statement which was patently music to the ears of Jones as he carefully crafted this song-driven celebration.
And it’s the songs which, up to six decades on, remain the undoubted stars, played here with stripped back clarity of voice and instrument – from Sound of Silence, Mrs Robinson and America (the track which filled my ears on my own Greyhound odyssey across the States) to Mr and Julio Down by the Schoolyard, 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover and a lovely rendering of Still Crazy After All These Years.
There was a subversive moment where Jones suggested the socially distanced audience might want to join in with the ‘dye de dye’ of The Boxer – imagine, communal singing in a pandemic (very quietly and in a non-risky breathing fashion it turned out).
And the formal part of the show ended with the musical embrace (remember those?) of Bridge Over Troubled Water, an anthem for these strange times when all of us are most definitely feeling weary.