Paul Simon review – emotional farewell to one of pop's true giants

Manchester Arena
Performing in the UK for the last time, Simon could have a future career as a raconteur, given the way he brings his vast back catalogue to vivid life

Paul Simon adopts a comical Mancunian accent as he remembers how promoters in the working men’s clubs would introduce him in the 1960s, telling audiences: “Shut up! You’ve ’ad yer bingo. Now give the turn a go.”

Thus, in 1964, frustrated by going on after the bingo and a struggling musician’s life in general, he sat on nearby Widnes station and penned Homeward Bound, a song about yearning to be off the road, which, ironically, is among the many that have kept him on it ever since. Fifty-four years on, he performs it with spooky emotional intensity for the last time in the region. When his Homeward Bound farewell tour reaches a grand finale in his childhood New York borough of Queens on 22 September, he will bring the curtain down on six decades as a touring artist.

In the intervening years, this tiny man – all of 5ft 3in – has become a giant of popular music: half of Simon and Garfunkel, a mega-selling solo artist and a world-music pioneer. Now 76, he looks slightly frail as he walks on and there is a slight tremor in his voice, but he soon finds his vocal range and even some enviably natty dance steps, as if performing these songs again have revitalised his life force. He sings 27 of them in 140 minutes, careering through decades and around the globe, from Widnes, Cheshire, to Kingston, Jamaica (where he recorded the sublime Mother and Child Reunion, possibly the first white reggae track), to Salvador, Brazil (the percussive and brassy The Obvious Child), to five selections from 1986’s Graceland, which brought African rhythms to western pop.

Simon reveals that after initial anxiety about stopping touring, he was finding the thought of various possibilities liberating, and he could do worse than become an educator or raconteur. Stories come thick and fast: how he wrote songs aged 13 amid the rock’n’roll explosion; how things started to happen when he traded his electric guitar for an acoustic, moved to England and met influential folkies such as Martin Carthy. He reveals that the title of Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War was inspired by a photo caption, and that the kid who got on the bus in America pops up again in Rewrite, working in a gas station: a metaphor for the American dream delivered as an aside. He speaks of “repossessing” his song Bridge Over Troubled Water from “Artie” (the golden-tonsilled Garfunkel, who sang the 1970 original to such devastating effect) as one might a car. Simon’s delivers this pop colossus in his slightly more conversational style, merely song number 11 in this set.

He has never rested unduly on his laurels, though, and with his 14-strong band, he reinvents old songs and peppers the set with new ones – references include global warming, inequality, sub-bass and Jay-Z. Still, the final 10 songs form a breathtaking rummage in his top drawer, from a lithe and funky Late in the Evening to a celebratory, celestial segue of Graceland’s Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes into You Can Call Me Al that has the arena dancing. But emotion wells as the crowd act as an impromptu choir for a magical The Boxer. The line “I am leaving, I am leaving, but the fighter still remains” could be Simon’s musical epitaph, but he departs with The Sound of Silence, Simon and Garfunkel’s first hit from 1965. But there is no hush, only rapture, as the crowd rise to honour one of the very best.

  • At SSE Hydro, Glasgow, 11 July; RDS Arena, Dublin, 13 July; Hyde Park, London, 15 July.

• This article was updated on 11 July 2018 to amend a misquoted lyric: Simon sings “fighter” rather than “fire” in The Boxer.


Dave Simpson

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Paul Simon announces farewell shows
The 76-year-old musician will retire from live performance with a Homeward Bound tour that takes in Europe and the US

Rachel Aroesti

05, Feb, 2018 @4:36 PM

Paul Simon – review
Backed by a relentlessly proficient band, the legendary singer-songwriter was weirdly short on charisma, writes Dorian Lynskey

Dorian Lynskey

30, Jun, 2011 @5:15 PM

Article image
Paul Simon: Stranger to Stranger review – a five-star tour through new sounds

Jon Dennis

02, Jun, 2016 @8:45 PM

Article image
CD: Paul Simon, Paul Simon


Adam Sweeting

06, Aug, 2004 @10:09 AM

Article image
The 10 best Paul Simon albums – ranked!
As the singer plays his last ever UK shows this week, we rank his greatest albums, from 1965’s Paul Simon Songbook to 2016’s Stranger to Stranger

Alexandra Pollard

13, Jul, 2018 @6:30 AM

Article image
Paul Simon – review
Now 69, the elegant singer-songwriter is as classy as ever, says Kitty Empire

Kitty Empire

25, Jun, 2011 @11:06 PM

Article image
Paul Simon: In the Blue Light review – wistful new treatments of old gems
The septuagenarian singer-songwriter is joined by Wynton Marsalis and Bill Frissell on these reworkings of overlooked gems from his back catelogue

Dave Simpson

07, Sep, 2018 @7:00 AM

Article image
Paul Simon and Sting review – well-worn classics from two songwriting giants
There was much to love from the archives of Simon and Sting’s musical careers, but duets came off sounding muddled and out of sync

Heather Kitchener

17, Feb, 2015 @4:58 AM

Article image
CD: Paul Simon, Surprise

(Warner Borthers)

Alexis Petridis

02, Jun, 2006 @12:31 AM

Article image
Paul Simon sells song catalogue to Sony for undisclosed sum
Singer-songwriter joins Bob Dylan, Neil Young and more by cashing in on their intellectual property

Ben Beaumont-Thomas

01, Apr, 2021 @7:58 AM