In the run up to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017 and their always popular show with thespaceUK@ Symposium Hall dedicated to the music of Simon & Garfunkel, Bookends aka Pete Richards and Dan Haynes were kind enough to take a break in their busy schedule to answer a few questions for us and update us on how the last year has been for them.
questions for us and update us on how the last year has been for them.
1. Fringe 2016 was another sell out year for you of all your performance dates; how is Fringe 2017 looking at the moment for “Bookends”?
We’re ahead of last year on sales which just shows how we’re really building a reputation here at the Festival.
2. Since last years Fringe, your honest and heartfelt interpretations of the music of S & G have taken you on European and American tours. Can you update us a little on these tours?
We’ve yet to tour Europe, we have a large tour booked in Germany next March but we toured the US last April and it was a wonderful experience. The concert went down extremely well with the American audiences and they had no reservations in letting us know this! It’s something we were a little nervous of because Simon & Garfunkel were of course American and we wondered if they might think “who are these two English guys coming here to sing these songs?” but we had no need to be apprehensive! We also had lots of good opportunities to “see America” too which was nice. We’re also being booked up again for another tour next April!
3. When you both started to play together as “Bookends” could either of you have imagined that this could ever have turned into you both working full time as musicians?
No, we talk about this a lot. We first started learning these songs when we were just 16 and nothing ever really came of that until ten years later. We started off in Village Halls running from door to door posting flyers to promote ourselves, literally doing the leg work! Since then we have grown and grown with tours of the US and Europe and perform in prestigious venues in the UK like the Lowry Lyric, the Minack Theatre, and the Nottingham Concert Hall. We really do spend quite a lot of time pinching ourselves!
4. The shows at The Fringe are stripped back acoustic sets from the two of you, but you have also been expanding your on stage line up and exploring further the S & G sound with a string quartet in larger venues. I was at one of those shows at The Festival Theatre in Edinburgh back in February this year. How is the expanded line up fitting into your touring schedule at the moment…there is another Festival Theatre show in February 2018.
Yes we tour the show in larger venues with a wonderful group called Leos Strings, who have become great friends. They are exceptional musicians and great people to be around. We use the strings for songs like The Dangling Conversation, A Song For The Asking and America which really complement what Dan and myself do. We wanted to get the show to concert quality and adding the strings really helped add that little extra we needed to do this, it’s really opened doors to large concert halls such as the Nottingham Concert Hall and the Festival Theatre where as you mentioned we will be returning next February with Leos Strings. Anyone who comes to see our show at the Fringe this year will be given a code to get 20% off tickets for the Festival Theatre in February as a thank you for the support here this August.
5. That Festival Theatre show saw you playing to your largest audience up to that date – over 1200 people at the show. You both looked genuinely surprised at how popular Bookends have become…have either of you started to believe this is really all happening yet?
No we can’t, we often wonder “why on Earth have all these people shown up just to see us sing a few Simon & Garfunkel songs?” We used to get nervous singing at our local pub to our friends and family and a few others so we really can’t believe we can now get up in front of 1200 people and do it!
6. From the beginning there has never been any attempt from either of you to put on the wigs and costumes and try to look anything like the original S & G. Instead you have both concentrated on the music itself, and somehow captured the essence of these songs in your performances. Do you think that becoming musicians who play the songs from your hearts rather than trying to be a tribute band has been part of your success to date?
Absolutely, the music that Simon & Garfunkel created together is so incredible that we thought dressing up and acting like them would almost make a mockery of them and their music. We sing these songs in a way that does them justice and although do perform our own take on some of the songs we still always stay within keeping on the music.
7. There are some S & G songs that you cannot leave stage without performing, and “Bridge over Troubled Water” is one of them. You have always wisely performed your own version of this song that suits your own vocal harmonies and you recently recorded a version of this. How has that been received by your fans and S & G fans?
It’s gone down well. It’s a very strange song for us, and I think it was for Simon & Garfunkel too. Paul Simon is quoted to have said how much he surprised himself when he wrote it, it seemed to come from nowhere and wasn’t like anything else he had written before. He had a different idea as to how it would sound, but Art Garfunkel and their producer Roy Halee wanted a big song with lots of production and a big ending. It worked great for them and was obviously a very popular song but we have stripped it down to something more like how we think Paul may have originally intended the song. This also as you mentioned also suits the way we perform and we always get a great response.
8. In the 50 minutes or so for a Fringe show, you are limited to the number of songs that you can play and, as noted earlier, there are some that have to be played, but can we expect a few new S & G songs in this year’s set list?
We actually have an hour this year but yes it’s still very limited. We have room for about 14 songs and we can perform over 40 so choosing what to sing is always difficult. As you say there are the major hits which are always in there but we will be doing other sometimes more obscure songs which we enjoy. In fact this year we’ve challenged ourselves to do a different set-list every night for all 22 shows so that will be interesting and means people can come and see us more than once! We’ll be posting each set list on our Facebook page.
9. There often seems to be a very traditional sounding style in the way S & G put some of their songs together. By that I mean that they can sound like they have been around for a very long time (even when they were first written)…often sounding like old folk songs rather than 1960s/1970s American songs. Do you get any sense of this timelessness when you play the songs?
Yes, I think Paul Simon had a gift in writing songs that felt like they’d been around forever, and the way they were recorded also added to this. I mentioned their long time producer Roy Halee who worked on their albums and also with Paul Simon in later years (he produced Graceland). The three of them together created this wonderful timeless music. There’s a real magic to the lyrics of the songs too which I always feel when singing live. I particularly feel this with the Dangling Conversation, a favourite of mine which when I sing transports me to a timeless moment somewhere in the past.
10 If you could each choose one great song that S & G did not write, but would fit seamlessly into their music, what could that be?
That's a tough question! For Dan his is Here Comes The Sun by the Beatles. It was actually written by George Harrison, and Paul Simon and George performed this song together on TV which is magical if anyone fancies checking it out on Youtube! For me it would be House of The Rising Sun. Simon and Garfunkel covered quite a few traditional folk songs like ‘Scarborough Fair’ and ‘Go Tell It On The Mountain’ and I think they could have done a great version of House Of The Ring Sun which would have fit on their first album Wednesday Morning 3am.
11. Paul Simon is one of music’s great lyricists and story-tellers, and S & G were masters of harmony when they played together. As you both explore in deeper layers their music and get new insights into how S & G constructed their songs, do you find the possibilities for your own words and songs maybe developing alongside these at any time in the future?
For me studying the songs of Simon and Garfunkel has the opposite effect, I could never even dream of writing something of this quality and this kind of makes songwriting difficult because I can’t help but compare it to the great artists like S&G. Dan does write his own music, in fact he has an album of his he recently re-recorded on sale after our shows, a selection of songs he’s written over the years which are really great and actually very much in keeping with the style of Simon & Garfunkel. People do keep saying Dan and myself should write together so we’ll see, maybe we will!
12. After the Fringe this year, what is the remaining 2017 musical schedule like for Bookends?
After the Fringe we have a few concerts in September and October, one of these as I mentioned before is the Nottingham Concert Hall which we’re also very excited about as we did our very first theatre show in Nottingham at the Bonington Theatre back in 2013 so it’s very special for us to be back to where it all started really but this time in a much larger venue! Then in November we’re touring with a new project we have created, ‘Jagged Little Pill - Live’ is a show which recreates the classic album by Alanis Morissette which since its release in 1995 has sold over 33 million copies worldwide making it the 13th best selling album of all time. We have a great singer Sophie and our long time S&G engineer Mark playing guitar as well as myself also playing guitar and Dan playing drums. It’s certainly a little different from Simon & Garfunkel!
Interview by Tom King
BOOKENDS EDINBURGH FESTIVAL FRINGE 2017 SHOW REVIEW