Photo by Mark McNulty

There is something about the music of Paul Simon.  It was the sound of my generation. When I hung up the bass guitar that had accompanied my teenage journey through the clubs and pubs of the north-west, I bought myself a vintage EKO and a couple of songbooks. After six or seven years of thumbing out basslines to the  sound of the Mersey beat, I was ready for something a little more folkie and so it was the Paul Simon Song Book and later, Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits, that helped me realise that one man’s ceiling really can be another man’s floor.

I didn’t get very far off that floor though, my efforts to learn fingerstyle guitar were thwarted by day-job, marriage and family, but I always loved those Paul Simon songs and am still crazy about them after all these years.

Gary, Skeet and Christian at Ruthin AllStyles

Fast forward several decades to the Spring of 2014 when a Liverpool lad, by the name of Gary Edward Jones, came to perform a showcase at my local folk club. I was knocked out by his music and we became good friends.

Soon after we met, I told him how much he looked, and sounded, like Paul Simon.  It appears I wasn’t the first, and in fact, it had become something of an annoyance to Gary that people kept pointing out these similarities. He was and still is, a brilliant songwriter in his own right, so why would he be interested in going down the route of covering another artists songs?

Photo by Victor Pennington

The Cabinet Maker
Gary’s first album “The Cabinet Maker” is a testament to just how good this man is. The album launch at Liverpool’s magnificent St George’s Hall that November was hands down one of the most beautiful musical events I have had the honour of being present at. The album was met with a huge amount of critical acclaim and enjoyed 17 weeks in the upper reaches of the Radio Caroline charts.

But as pretty much any unsigned musician will tell you, such success may well spawn recognition, CD sales and a lot more gigs but rarely does it go far enough to be able to give up the day job.

The Journey Begins
Then in the latter part of 2016, Gary sent me this clip of him singing Kathy’s Song. Testing the water maybe, and whether he really wanted encouragement or not, encouragement he got, from me and from most of his close musical contemporaries.

Having succumbed to all the encouragement, Gary was not going to “just sing and play Paul Simon songs”, he spent hours every day living and breathing Paul Simon. Formerly a “thumb and one finger” Travis-picker, he studied the unique style of the man himself, perfecting every sound and nuance. If he was going to do this, he was going to do it properly.

Over the years, I have seen and heard hundreds of people covering those same songs. Most far better than my own early strumbling efforts, but none who could actually play them in exactly the same style as the songwriter himself.

Photo by Anthony Robling. 

The Epstein Concert
And because Gary’s voice has a similar dynamic range and tone, he made a conscious decision not to attempt to copy Paul Simon’s accent, phrasing and diction. He would just sing the songs naturally in his own voice. The result is amazing. I have found it very easy to close my eyes and convince myself I was actually listening to the man himself.

The success of a ‘tester’ gig in July 2017 in front of 100 people was the thruster rocket that spurred him on and led up to this week’s concerts at Liverpool’s Epstein Theatre. Sitting in the auditorium on the first night, listening to the faultless performance, watching the audience’s reaction and joining them, every single one of them, in the enthusiastic standing ovation at the end, I knew It was the end of the first part of his journey and the beginning of what will surely be a much bigger one.

Photo by Anthony Robling. 

Something About Simon is absolutely not a tribute act. It is so much more. It is a show combining the music with a narrative that takes the audience on a journey tracing Paul Simon’s footsteps, from his first visit to Britain, playing folk clubs for beers, through his return to his homeland and subsequent rise to fame.

It is no accident that Gary’s repertoire leans heavily on Simons’ early songs, as many of them were written in England, some on Merseyside’s very doorstep.

A nice touch was the way he weaved into the show, during a narrative on how songwriters get their inspiration, two of his own songs. “Oceans” and “Walk You Home” were written way before Gary began flirting with the Paul Simon Songbook. Yet the similarities in the writing style are very apparent.

If like me, you never got to see Paul Simon perform live, you really have got to look out for the “Something About Simon” tour that will inevitably follow.

Gary Edward Jones is an endearing performer, an immaculate guitarist, and a beautiful singer. And the only other person who sounds more like Paul Simon is Paul Simon himself.

Photos are respectively ©Chris Birchall, Victor Pennington, Mark McNulty and Anthony Robling