Graham Nash, the iconic Blackpool-born singer/songwriter of Crosby, Stills & Nash and The Hollies fame is accompanied this evening by guitarist Shane Fontayne and the co-producer of his latest album ‘Now’, Todd Caldwell on keyboards and hammond organ.
The trio open with ‘Wasted On The Way’, lamenting misspent youth with time and love lost, a sense of letting go apparent: “It’s all so much water under the bridge”. Next up is ‘Bus Stop’ about an umbrella paving the way for a romantic encounter to develop into a relationship. Despite the rain, it ends with both parties sharing the same name and a vow; chivalry in the face of the elements indeed. Then the charming Sixties classic ‘Marrakesh Express’ which revels in escapist adventure with that someone special, disappearing into the sunset.
A more somber prayer, ‘Find The Cost Of Freedom’ follows, N ash’s lyrics touching upon mortality. “Mother Earth will swallow you / Lay your body down”. At 81 years-old this concert is age defying due to Graham Nash’s vibrancy and intense clarity in both his voice and timeless message.
Before playing ‘Military Madness’ he speaks about “the madman Putin”. The song itself is autobiographical and about his Northern upbringing, and also references the Vietnam War. He sings “No more war” on the outro, referencing that even the Sixties had a darkside.
One of Graham’s solo tracks ‘A Better Life’ is next, the performance portraying a sense of sadness in the context of the current times. This is also palpable in ‘Golden Days’ – “Let’s make it a better life / One we can be proud of” – his attempt to pass the baton to the young. Later in the evening, Nash sighs in between songs that “the world is in a bad state”. Nevertheless, the idealism that made his era so special resonates through these songs.
Nostalgia then comes to the rescue in the form of ‘Buddy’s Back’ a homage to Buddy Holly, the legendary rocker that the Hollies were named after. A catchy re-energised jolt.
Further inspiration is found in the form of fond remembrance of Nash’s recently departed bandmate David Crosby, playing his song ’To The Last Whale/Critical Mass/Wind on The Water’. The lights dim beforehand and in the candlelit atmosphere, Nash begins playing the piano and shows his versatile talent. The honesty about humanity and our relationship with other creatures is touchingly evident in the lines “In the long run we will kill you / It’s a shame you have to die”.
A classic hit follows in the form of ‘Love The One You’re With’ and it lifts spirits once more. The balanced act of the song choices, the sadder ones about being out of harmony, balanced by those other kinds of harmonies that Crosby, Stills and Nash were famous for – magical triple harmonies. Fontayne and Caldwell step into legendary shoes, doing these songs justice on vocals alongside Graham.
After the intermission, set two begins with ‘Cold Rain’ which is a bit like if the situation in ‘Bus Stop’ hadn’t worked out yet. Then ‘Simple Man’ is reminiscent of John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’ in its tone.
Nash’s track ‘4 + 20’ is more country rock elegance, with soul searching lyrics about dawn being a “Many Coloured Beast”, before psychedelia in the form of “Cathedral” with the progressive rock lyrics “I’m Flying in Winchester Cathedral, every religion has to have it’s day”, questioning firm beliefs.
The mood is lightened again as Graham mentions that “Just A Song Before I Go’ was written as a bet. It’s about a special journey. A rousing rendition of ‘Our House’ closes the second set – an idealistic vision of the nuclear family rather than the nuclear madness alluded to in the first part of the night – followed by rapturous applause as the trio leaves the stage.
Returning with a Buddy Holly cover ‘Every Day’, optimism reigns supreme once more. The final song of this immaculate musical night is Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s ‘Teach Your Children’, passing on the hippy spirit to future generations with a simplicity both sweet and sincere.
The audience are mostly older folk tonight, but those newer listeners would do well to heed the humanity and beauty by the likes of Graham Nash and his 1960s contemporaries. It was a force for change back then and we need that kind of harmony now, more than ever.
By Dan Heathcote
Graham Nash’s European Tour continues this week in Paris, France (26/9), Antwerp, Belgium (28/9), Eindhoven, Holland (29/9) and Groningen, Holland (1/10).