Growing up as teenagers in the early ‘70s, Graham Nash first seeped into our collective consciousness around that time. And we always had something of a soft spot for him. He was, after all, the only British member of the transatlantic supergroup Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. He had appeared with them at Woodstock but was still writing songs of peace and love long after that hippie dream had died. He was politically active. He was an environmentalist and he had been in a relationship with Joni Mitchell. What was there not to like about him? Hell, he even knew the value of a denim shirt (check out the cover of his 1972 debut album with David Crosby).
Out on tour to support the release of This Path Tonight – his first solo record of new music in 14 years – Graham Nash has symbolically chosen to start his UK dates at the Albert Hall in Manchester. The former Methodist Central Hall lies just across the River Irwell from the city of Salford where Nash grew up as a boy. He steps out onto stage a little after the scheduled 8 o’clock start time, presumably delayed by having watched the end of extra-time in the FA Cup Final. Reassuringly he is still wearing a Wrangler denim shirt.
Graham Nash is accompanied by Shane Fontayne, producer of, and collaborator on This Path Tonight, but it is to the nascence of his musical career with The Hollies that he first heads tonight. Nash co-founded this highly successful British pop group with Allan Clarke in 1962 and he launches his set with a euphoric blast of their early hit single, the Graham Gouldman-penned ‘Bus Stop’. He follows this with ‘King Midas In Reverse’, a song that not only heralded his departure from The Hollies but also marked a shift in his songwriting from the merely popular to the much more psychedelic.
Rather pointedly, ‘Marrakesh Express’ ensues. A song seemingly rejected by The Hollies, it finally found a home on Crosby, Stills and Nash’s self-titled debut album and cemented the direction in which Graham Nash was now heading both creatively and ideologically. In one fell swoop he had been transported from the British Beat boom to the American post-Beat generation. With the move to California and influence of the Laurel Canyon location in which he now found himself, Nash’s songwriting developed accordingly.
‘I Used To Be A King’, ‘Immigration Man’ and ‘Military Madness’ all attest to the then surge in Graham Nash’s creativity and growing maturity as a songwriter. Supplemented by some supreme guitar from Fontayne, the first of these songs – taken from his debut solo album Songs for Beginners – retains all of its original poignancy and majesty, whilst the latter two still brim with righteous indignation and political intent.
Graham Nash’s solo career has hardly been marked by prolificacy. This Path Tonight is only the sixth album he has released under his own name in 45 years. But Nash has not just been spending the rest of his time lounging around in the Californian sun, something that his lifelong passion for photography as a collector, photographer and pioneer of digital imaging will affirm. Running tandem to this tour is a brand new collection of Graham Nash’s photographs entitled My Life Through My Lens which is now showing at Salford Museum & Art Gallery until the 3rd of July 2016.
The second half of this evening’s show begins with ‘Cold Rain’ – a song Graham Nash wrote on the steps of Manchester’s Midland Hotel, just a couple of hundred yards down the road from the Albert Hall – and which finally saw the recorded light of day on CSN, the trio’s 1977 album, a record that he later returns to with his third and final encore ‘Just A Song Before I Go’.
The greatest cheers of the night – and perhaps understandably given their universal appeal – are reserved for ‘Our House’ (which he dedicates here to the song’s inspiration, Joni Mitchell) and the second encore, ‘Teach Your Children’, both of which are recreated as cheerful community sing-alongs. But mention must also be made of the newer material of which ‘Back Home’ is the undoubted highlight. Penned in tribute to Levon Helm – the late, great singer and drummer with The Band – it is a heartfelt and moving reflection upon everyone’s mortality.
And his interpretation of The Beatles’ ‘Blackbird’ – a song that Crosby, Stills and Nash performed at the Woodstock festival in 1969 (before they were joined onstage by Neil Young) – is an absolute delight. It also serves as a joyful reminder of Graham Nash’s longevity. Now 74 years of age, his artistry spans six decades and tonight is a wonderful testament to his life and times.
Photo credit: Simon Godley
More photos from this show can be found HERE