The one I would love to have caught, of course, would have been that very first one when, during the 60s, the then unknown singer songwriter toured the folk clubs of Britain, allegedly writing “Homeward Bound” on the platform of Widnes Train Station after appearing at Chester Folk Club just 30 minutes down the road from my home town.
Although I never met him, a friend of mine did. John Finnan was a regular at that club back then, and had let the visitor use his guitar. During that impromptu floor spot, Simon hit a chord a little too enthusiastically, causing the bridge to detach from the body. During the apologies that ensued, and the promises to send money to pay for the repair (which never actually materialised), Paul Simon ended up missing his connection at Chester Railway Station. Another club member, Geoff Speed, drove the singer to Widnes, arriving just in time for him to jump onto his train. So whatever station the song “Homeward Bound” refers to, it was never written sitting on the platform at Widnes.
When I taught myself to play guitar, my bible was the Paul Simon Songbook. All I ever did was strum. Back then, I considered finger-picking to be one of the dark arts.
During the years since, I have seen and heard hundreds of people covering those same songs. Most far better than my early strumming efforts, but none who could actually play them in exactly the same style as the songwriter himself. Until now…
During his many years as a singer/songwriter in his own right, Gary Edward Jones has oft been compared to Paul Simon, due to his stature, his appearance, and his singing voice. And over the years, this had the effect of causing him to avoid covering Paul Simon songs, like the plague.
With a successful debut album “The Cabinet Maker” under his belt, Gary decided it was time to see what all the fuss was about, and explore the music of Paul Simon. He immersed himself in it and very soon came to love those early songs.
Now, Gary is no strummer but is the first to admit he was a thumb-and-one-finger player,Travis Picking at its most basic, which is how Paul Simon himself started out.
For over a year, Gary lived and breathed Paul Simon. He carefully learned all the intricacies and subtleties of his new-found hero’s advanced finger style technique, to the extent you can close your eyes and convince yourself you are listening to those riffs trickling off the fingers of the man himself.
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. And the result is amazing.
With eighteen early Paul Simon songs in his repertoire, Gary felt the time was right to put them in front of an audience.
With a billing of “Gary Edward Jones sings Paul Simon“, the pressure was on. The bar was set high. After all, a huge proportion of the one hundred people packed into the Burton-on-Trent’s Brewhouse Cafe Bar, were there because they were Paul Simon fans.
He opened with “The Sound of Silence”. From the moment he began that unmistakable opening riff, you could have heard a pin drop. And as the last note was played it was met with rapturous applause. Any doubts had been dispelled. No one was going to leave that night saying “it wasn’t bad”.
The songs kept coming and the audience was transfixed. “I Am a Rock” was next, followed by “Kathy’s Song”, the first that Gary had attempted in earnest over twelve months earlier.
The performance was in the form of a concert with a narrative, with Gary imparting snippets of information that he had gleaned during his journey, about the background to each of the songs. After “April Come She May”, Gary introduced “Homeward Bound” with that very tale that I eluded to at the start of this review.
Just before finishing off this first ten-song set with “America” and “The Boxer”, Gary treated the audience to a taste of his own compositions, which sat with surprising ease alongside Paul Simon’s 60s and 70’s classics. Entitled “Free Falling”, it is a song he wrote as a tribute to a friend who’d been a fan of the Tom Petty song of the same name, who’d tragically taken his own life during a bout of depression.
“The Only Living Boy in New York” was the opener for the second half of the evening, and half way through the set of seven, Gary sang another of his own, the beautiful and poignant “Oceans”.
“Fifty Ways…”, Slip Sliding…” and “Hearts and Bones” took is to that point where everybody bays for more.
Gary obliged with an encore of “Walk you Home”, a song he’d written for his friends Alan and Dawn Rutherford (who were actually instrumental in setting up this first “Gary Edward Jones sings Paul Simon” gig).
And to round off the evening, he made what I considered to be a risky choice by singing “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” – not one of the best known Paul Simon songs, yet one that required a fair degree of audience participation. My fears were unfounded. The ladies obliged with the repetitive chant and the gents kept the hand-clap going right up to the end, when it exploded into a full blown enthusiastic applause.