KEEP CUSTOMERS SATISFIED
A Simon & Garfunkel tribute show honours the famous music duo
When people mistake him for someone else, Gregory Clarke is chuffed. Clarke, a British actor and musician, plays Paul Simon in The
Simon & Garfunkel Story, a tribute show that comes to Brisbane next month.
And after each show, Clarke, 36, remains Paul Simon to Joe Sterling’s Art Garfunkel. He says sometimes people really do believe they are the famous American musical duo.
“We will come out after every show and pose for photos and answer questions,” Clarke tells
Qweekend over the phone from England. “People treat us as if we are Simon and Garfunkel. One man said to me after one show, ‘You know I saw you in Central Park in 1981 and you were terrific’.
“I said to him, ‘you mean you saw Simon and Garfunkel’? But the fact that he thought I was Paul Simon, well, that was a compliment.” Critics have been raving about The Simon &
Garfunkel Story, a show that has been on the road in the UK and across the globe for several years. The brains behind it is co-producer Dean Elliot, who played Simon before Clarke.
“I was an actor and musician with a love of the acoustic guitar and folk music,” Elliot says. “I loved Simon and Garfunkel, all those complex harmonies and beautiful songs. I created the show and the director said I might as well play Paul Simon, as I knew all the songs. The only problem was I was a bit too tall.” Still, he did it for a year-and-a-half. The real Simon is a diminutive fellow, a bloke who, according to one journalist, may suffer from a “Napoleon complex”. There have been a few negative things said about Simon by some commentators, and Art Garfunkel hasn’t always been kind about his former partner, either.
Part of The Simon & Garfunkel story is that beyond the beautiful music and exquisite harmonies there was tension, although the show doesn’t harp on that.
The duo made it through the 1960s but broke up as the 1970s dawned. They had been together since the early 1950s after meeting as children in Queens, New York. They grew up emulating their musical heroes, the Everly Brothers, and in the late ’50s performed as Tom & Jerry.
By the early 1960s they were a more sophisticated act and went on to create some of the biggest hits of the decade: songs such as The Sound of Silence, The Boxer, I Am a Rock and many others, including the exquisitely moving Bridge Over Troubled Water. Their effect on popular culture was boosted
We do try to physically look like them as much as we can but the most important thing is that we want to sound like them. That’s the bit that really matters, capturing that classic sound
when their music (including the hit Mrs Robinson) was used on the soundtrack of 1967 film The Graduate, which starred a young Dustin Hoffman.
In fact Simon & Garfunkel became part of the soundtrack of people’s lives. But the duo eventually went their separate ways, although they have reunited several times since, including for the Concert in Central Park in 1981, which was attended by 500,000 people, and touring Australia in 2009, performing at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre.
While Simon has forged a successful solo career, Garfunkel, who has battled depression, has also made his own way and had hits without Simon (who had written all the songs for Simon & Garfunkel). He has also pursued a successful acting career, with notable roles in Catch-22 (1970) and Carnal Knowledge (1971).
Garfunkel, now 74, has been an eccentric, reclusive figure over the years, while Simon, also 74, has been more public. Earlier this month he released a new album, Stranger to
Stranger, his 12th, which has been critically acclaimed.
Playing Simon is a privilege for Gregory Clarke, who says he is closer to Simon’s actual height than Elliot was.
“We do try to physically look like them as much as we can,” Clarke says.
“But the most important thing is that we want to sound like them. That’s the bit that really matters, capturing that classic sound.
“We tell their story in chronological order, kicking off the show with a famous song, but I won’t tell you which one because I want it to be a surprise. The show is a presentation of their music with interjections from me and Joe between the songs telling you about what was going on in their lives.”
Clarke says Simon is a one of the world’s great songwriters.
“He is really a poet, like Dylan,” says Clarke, who has played in bands as well as acted onstage in London’s West End. But right now he is concentrating on this role, his greatest yet.
He says his ultimate aim is to take the show to the US and “invite the guys along”. “They wouldn’t have to buy tickets,” he promises.
Sterling, who plays Art Garfunkel, is only 24. At his age he shouldn’t really know anything about Simon & Garfunkel.
“But I am a big fan because my mum brought me up on Simon & Garfunkel,” Sterling says. “I really learnt to love their music.”
Sterling is a musician and actor who made a name for himself as Buddy Holly in the show
Buddy Holly and the Cricketers, which has toured Britain to rave reviews.
He says he and Clarke did a lot of research for their roles. “We watched a lot of clips of the duo performing and I was interested to see how Garfunkel holds himself when he performs,” Sterling says.
“I think he’s a very cool, interesting character and has done some really interesting things. I mean, the guy has walked across America (Garfunkel has also, incrementally, walked across Japan and Europe). Paul Simon wrote all the songs but Art has that beautiful voice.
“They were a wonderful team, they complemented each other so well.” Dean Elliot points out that in Simon’s song
Old Friends he wrote the line: “how terribly strange to be 70”.
The famous duo are past that milestone now, but on stage they are forever young, thanks to Clarke and Sterling.
The Simon & Garfunkel Story, Concert Hall, QPAC, South Brisbane, July 13-14, $79-$119, qpac.com.au
( This page, top, and opposite page) Gregory Clarke and Joe Sterling play the respective musicians ( above) in The Simon & Garfunkel Story.