From the outset, Dan Haynes and Pete Richards (collectively known as Bookends) make it clear that their show is a tribute to the music of Simon & Garfunkel rather than the men themselves, pointing to the complete lack of physical similarity between them and the band as the primary reason for this clarification. The decision to concentrate on nailing the harmonies rather than the aesthetic of the pair reveals itself to be a wise one over the two-hour show, as the combination of their voices mingling together is absolutely pitch perfect in emulating Simon & Garfunkel’s unique sound.
With just a single acoustic guitar as their musical accompaniment for much of the performance, Haynes and Richards rely on the power of their voices and the strength of the material to win the audience over. Their flawless renditions of classics such as ‘I Am a Rock’, ‘The Sound of Silence’, ‘The Only Living Boy in New York’ and ‘America’ are interspersed with narrated video clips relating the history of Simon & Garfunkel’s career, from formation through to fledgling success, global stardom and untimely fall-out. It’s crazy to think that the duo produced five stellar albums in almost as many years, before bowing out of the music scene with their mark indelibly left on the face of folk rock.
These clips serve to add another layer to the show, differentiating Bookends from other tribute acts who focus more on rattling off a setlist of favourites and perhaps impersonating the star in question. Instead, Bookends make a concerted effort to provide some context for Simon & Garfunkel’s music which provides refreshing insight into their lives and simultaneously allows us a sneak peek into Haynes and Richards’ own musical journey. Their touching confession at the beginning of the show that tonight’s crowd is the biggest one they’ve ever played to sets the tone for a humble, heartfelt and thoroughly accomplished performance.
Together, the pair sound so much like the real thing that it’s sometimes difficult to discern who’s emulating Art and who Paul, with both having a tendency to sound more like the latter. However, when Richards is called upon to step up to the plate in an interesting, innovative arrangement of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ he smashes it out of the park. While one Fringe critic’s comments that the song is the most daring thing to grace last year’s Edinburgh Festival might be a little over the top, the pair certainly do the iconic tune justice, whilst also contributing something new to an old favourite.
The second half of the show sees the arrival of a string quartet backing band, which works with varying degrees of success. It’s instrumental to the strength of the aforementioned ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and components of it shine in other songs (in particular, the cello in ‘El Condor Pasa’ and the violin in ‘The Boxer’). However, the punchier numbers such as ‘A Hazy Shade of Winter’ would have benefited from beefier backing, with the strings lacking the vitality to communicate the tune’s sense of energy and vim.
Such complaints are minor in the extreme, however, and the show is a welcome trip down memory lane for the packed-out auditorium. This may be Bookends’ biggest audience to date, but an upcoming US tour and continued plaudits in the press should ensure they receive similar numbers in the future. They surely deserve it.