Art conveys a picture of tranquility and travel
Art Garfunkel is reminiscing about the early 1970s when, needing to escape the suffocation of superstardom, he loved "taking the Northern line up to Golders Green and Hampstead where I would meet many friends from the Jewish community". Or go looking for a bedsitter in Bayswater - "or was it Notting Hill?" - for a month or so to soak up London's vibrant multicultural life.
When fame came for him and his musical partner PAaul Simon, Garfunkel "started to feel claustrophobic in the studio. I yearned to explore the world and though I was embroiled in all aspects of my faith, I had been curious about others. So I embarked upon long walking trips everywhere that interested me. After walking from the east to the west coast of America, I started with the Alps in Europe. When young you're so impressionable. I'd hear a voice inside saying 'don't do what they are all doing' because you'll lose some of the fun that way. I made sure I figured it all out as a young Jewish lad finding his way in the big city."
Had that "young Jewish lad" been ambitious? "I was. It seems to me that at 19 or 20, a young man is burning to be great at something. You have a vision that's beyond the neighbourhood. You want to make a mark while you're alive. You don't know exactly your future, but you want to be great at it. And greatness is an important word. And you dare not tell anybody how extreme and how burning are your visions, because you don't want anybody to mess with them."
Garkfunkel is back in Britain next month for a tour taking in Manchester, Liverpool and London's Royal Festival Hall. Clearly an Anglophile, it was covering Scarborough Fair for The Graduate soundtrack that sparked an affinity with Yorkshire. Indeed, a remaining ambition is to sing Scarborough Fair to a Scarborough audience.
You dare not tell how burning are your visions
Still a thoughtful soul at 72, he confides that emblazoned on his favourite blue sweater is a quote from Argentinian writer and poet Jorge Luis Borges: "I've always imagined that paradise would be a kind of library." And his New York "kind of library" equivalent is "a sailboat pond in Central Park about 200 metres by 50 metres wide. Kids have little remote-controlled boats on it. There's a hot chocolate stand and I've been going there for many years because I'm a constant reader and this is my quiet place. It's so picturesque. I'll sit there after renting a boat for my young boy, Beau. It's a brilliant place to spend the day. It's the core of the city. I sing to myself under the viaducts. You get a lovely echo and I'm married to echo."
Modern life remains something of a mystery and he has only recently acquired a mobile phone - and that is just to deal with emails.
With Simon, and in his solo career, Garfunkfel has been responsible for popular musical standards such as Bridge Over Troubled Water, Mrs Robinson, The Sound of Silence, The Only Living Boy in New York and Bright Eyes. There was also a diversion into movies, with key roles in Mike Nichols's Carnal Knowledge and Nicolas Roeg's Bad Timing.
"I had a very nice acting career but I didn't get the agent," he recalls. "Maybe I needed an eager Jewish one in Hollywood and I didn't pursue what comes next. I thought I had a feel for it, especially working alongside people like Jack Nicholson. We made a great acting duo. I still get sent scripts from time to time but..."
Garfunkel has a photographic memory of S&G's chart-topping years, explaining: "I have a book in the front of my mind about those days, and my Jewish upbringing, that I will one day bring out as an autobiography. To clear my mind I make sure that I walk every day in Central Park, which, of course, is such a meaningful place to me as Paul and I have performed there many times. It's the lungs of the city, it's where I go to exhale, where I breathe. I'll check on little Beau as his class pass through the park." His elder son, James, is 23, and shares his exploring instincts. When James was in Siberia, "I looked up where he was on my three foot high globe and I emailed him: 'Watch out for theft.' But he said that as it's minus 40 degrees, losing fingers and toes to frostbite is of more concern. He's like his dad, my James, he's a one-off. I love what he does.
"I have a plan to, year by year, walk diagonally across Europe. I started in Ireland at the end of the 90s in Shannon and I've now done all over France, Italy and most of Greece and the Greek islands and Turkey. I've visited Israel, too, which was magical, magical to see the places where it all began. And when I get home to Manhattan I survey that three foot high globe, which lights up inside, and plan my next adventure."
His last major CD compilation was The Singer and I ask rather nervously if the reports that Simon and Sony Records blocked the inclusion of some of the biggest S&G hits is true. "Correct, they did. Maybe The Singer will be my last ever collection, though I was glad I put some new songs on it. But, alas, there is no The Boxer, no Mrs Robinson, no Homeward Bound."
However, "I bow to Paul Simon for giving me The Sound of Silence and Bridge Over Troubled Water. They fall into my set-list beautifully and it takes the audience for a good ride."
So there's no likelihood of a follow-up CD? "That'd be great but it has to do with Paul Simon."
Finally, I ask how his voice is holding up, given that it has been, in his words, "in the garage" and that he is not currently recording. "I have to be careful, of course. And if I suffer a minor setback I have to treat it like a very fine car which needs to spend a bit more time in the garage getting mended. But there are times still where it's fully Artie Garfunkel singing again. Sometimes you must be patient though as the voice is waiting to take flight."
Art Garfunkel plays Manchester on September 5, Glasgow on September 8 and London on September 11