I grew up listening to Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits album. My folks may have even had a version for their 8-track player (along with The Carpenters Greatest Hits, The Best Of Glen Campbell and Slim Whitman’s Golden Greats). I know the song Homeward Bound well and like songs about longing for home (John Denver is good at them.) It’s rumoured to have been written by the 24-year-old Paul Simon as he waited for a train on the platform at Widnes Railway Station in Merseyside. I thought I’d go and have a look around. I’d been visiting Cilla Black’s new headstone in a cemetery south of Liverpool city, looked at my map while having a coffee and though I could reach Widnes before darkness fell.
I drove up a quiet street sided with houses and saw the railway station was a quiet affair - a quaint Victorian building red-brick place you’d expect to see in the countryside. There was a taxi driver sat in a car playing Space Invaders on a small machine and when I walked out onto the platform I found he was the only person around. I strolled about and took a few photos as the sun was sliding down the sky quickly.
I sat on a bench as the odd person appeared. I liked the building as it was old. I don’t seem to like many modern things except peanut butter, contact lenses, the retractable dog lead and Thermosflasks (I was going to add Battenberg cake too but that was created in 1884.) I doubt the 19th century architecture and wrought iron footbridge have changed since Paul sat on a bench there in the Spring of 1964. Though it a Sunday teatime there was an edge-of-nowhere air to the place.
Did Paul Simon actually pen the words here? From April 1964 he’d been a nightly fixture at the Railway Hotel in Brentwood, Essex. There he’d met Kathy Chitty who was working as a ticket-taker at the club. Paul had been up north to Liverpool and was heading back. Did Homeward Bound relate to getting back home to Kathy or was he pining for home in New York. Nobody seems to know for sure but there’s a plaque on wall commemorating the song. There’s probably a sloppy slab of truth to the story as Paul’s friend Geoff Speed who provided lodgings for musicians in Liverpool said, "It is probable he wrote one verse in Liverpool and the chorus in Wigan, with the song being finished in Widnes. We heard him writing the tune when he was staying at our house and then we dropped him at the station. He probably finished the song on the platform." The 2:42 minute song was recorded in December 1965 and released the following month.
The sun slid down behind the horizon and photos were rendered too dark. A train trundled in and then disappeared into the night. There was nobody around again except for a young blonde lass sat on the bench, lost in an Ipod and earphones. I thought about dabbing some chloroform on a sock, rendering her unconscious, kidnapping her and keeping her as a sex-slave in my cellar but I have an illegal Viagra factory in my cellar so I didn’t bother.
The view from the bridge…