art Garfunkel does not care for having his photograph taken. "Is this going to be one of those `ugly' shots?" he asks, suspiciously, whipping out a mirror to check his hair. Surely by this stage in his career, one single image can't make so much difference. After all, everybody knows who Art Garfunkel is and what he looks like (and, let's face it, no one's ever going to mistake him for Keanu Reeves). All the same, he eyes the camera as though it might bite. He is not keen on interviews either. "I wish," he laments, "I could just do my work and not have to sell it, but then I suppose no one would turn up or take any notice."

He is (reluctantly) publicising his latest album, released in Britain tomorrow. Art Garfunkel - Across America (complete with flattering cover shot) is his current stage show, recorded live at Ellis Island in New York harbour earlier this year. This particular performance was put together to celebrate the culmination of Garfunkel's 12-year project to walk across the United States. Mostly he travelled alone, covering 100 miles or so in each week- long stint. "It was 40 different excursions, approximately," he says proudly. "I was accompanied by a notebook, paperback, my Sony Walkman and that was all. When you set off on foot you wake up the spirit of what travelling is all about. It became part of my rhythm, my metabolism, to get out of the claustrophobia of New York City and to find the peace that comes from travelling along the road." (Though it wasn't entirely a back-to-nature experience; with the help of his AmEx card he was able to stay in hotels and motels along the way, with a helpful gofer following on behind to pick up his laundry.)

The open road proved highly therapeutic. "By the very end my feet were tired, but for 95 per cent of the time it was always a transcendental pleasure to be out there, I could feel the great rightness and timelessness of walking. I didn't get hassled as a celebrity. Everybody leaves you alone."

The idea for the walk came to him on a visit to Kobe in the early Eighties, where he decided on the spur of the moment to walk across Japan from east to west ("it's not a very wide country"). Unsurprisingly, the inscrutable, very private Japanese strike a chord in him. "I am drawn to their aesthetic and their neatness - I am a neatness freak," he says. "I love the sensitivity in their human relations - `you are you and I am me, and I dare not encroach upon your right to be here'. I love their precision."

He doesn't seem like a natural-born pop hero; it must have been hell for him in the days when his partnership with Paul Simon was at its height. "No, no, 98 per cent of it was a great time. Truly. When you're a star, what's happening is that you're having fun, you're in control, the record company's saying `here's more money, just keep playing'. We didn't chase women, we didn't party, and I won't say we didn't take drugs, but we didn't take any serious drugs. For years we'd just take all of the success we were having and just turn it into this bubble of delight and pour it into the work on the next album."

Of course, the bubble of delight eventually burst; Simon and Garfunkel, previously friends since childhood, split up in 1970; they have occasionally worked together since, but the relationship remains edgy. Are they still in touch? "Not particularly, no." How would things have been if they hadn't split? Does he ever wonder? "I know exactly how it would have been. We would have had a nice long rest in 1970 after Bridge Over Troubled Water. The two of us would have loved not seeing each other's faces for the best part of a year or two, and then the natural affection and similarity between us would have re-expressed itself and another good album would have come out. We knew we had only touched one smidgen of one per cent of all musical possibilities. We both had plenty of ideas we hadn't gotten to yet."

Back in those days, he struggled with stage-fright; now he says he's ready to take centre-stage, at the age of 54. (Though age is also a touchy subject. "I don't want to talk about my age. Me and Dylan and the Beatles are in that same elderly group now.") Stepping in front of an audience, he says, is "terrifying for the first 5,000 shows. It takes a lot of time if you're my self-conscious, cerebral-type person, to get over that terror on stage. This is why Paul Simon was the front-man. To have him out of the way is a wonderful chance for me to fill out and connect with the audience. I don't want to come over as the intense, hard-to-reach, inaccessible Art Garfunkel, I want to show the human that my friends know, kid around a little," he explains earnestly.

Somehow he doesn't come across as a kidding-around kind of guy. He mentions four or five times how perfectionist he is about his work, his attention to detail, his obsessive rehearsing and preparation. And the stage-fright is still there. "I always think, `Let's get to the encore as soon as we can' - I wish we could start with it, go off the stage and come back when the house is just spilling with warmth and affection and then do 14 songs." He is now working on an album of original material, to be finished in the spring, and is also planning a British tour for next year. His songs, all harmony and melody, he says, reflect "the surface side of me that I wish to project. I have areas of anger, quite a lot of it actually, but I try to keep it to myself. I would like to be more honest about the two sides of my nature, the peace and the anger. I keep seeing my psychiatrist and keep working on it. My wife is very helpful to me ... "

His wife Kathryn, sometime model, now a singer, whom he married in 1988, is now part of the band. He met her when a mutual photographer friend sent him her picture in the post. "I thought, `You're not supposed to call people who come into your life this way. They don't really know me. They just know the projection I put out through showbusiness'.'' But I do everything organically, it just seemed natural to call her, then call her more often ... " Though in fact Kathryn had shrewdly managed to pierce that showbiz facade. "She would say: `I'm not a fan of yours - I feel I really know you. Aren't you there in your work?'"

Their son, James, aged six, is also part of the team - he travels on tour, and sings in the encores. His father is immensely proud. "Six years old and already a singer," he exclaims affectionately. "Parents talk to other parents in a teasing way about the funny things their kids do, but what they really want to express is the deep, deep poetry of producing a living thing which is the mushing together of their two spirits. I'm determined to give my son an easy, lovely childhood full of lightness and silliness."

Though for a self-confessed neatness freak, a baby also meant an element of upheaval. "That's what will get my temper up to the edge. Many times I say to my family, `Well I've got to have just one little space, can't I have maybe this one little 12-inch by 12-inch section right here that will be respected?' It's very tough. Maybe the right family has the dad in one house, and the mom in the next house right next door, the baby lives with the mom but the dad is in and out all the time - maybe that's the way. It's very hard for artist types to live under the same roof with their child - it's a schizophrenic thing. Where there is enough love, though, it works."

So, all things considered, would he rather be a sparrow than a snail? "You bet. Though I can be a snail, too, sometimes, when I need to be."