Saturday August 3, 2019
Alexandra Palace is located on the top of a hill overlooking London in its most unobstructed and picturesque glory. We sit on the grass and chat, before tonight’s concert with Graham Nash. This sets the mood perfectly for a gig that presents itself as ‘An Intimate Evening of Songs and Stories with Graham Nash’.
We sit near the front and it just so happens that the seats in front of us have not been taken which allows us a perfect view of the stage which is still empty. Actually that’s not true. Though the musicians haven’t arrived yet, their instruments are there waiting, as are several lit candles, flickering in unison with the sombre stage lights, setting a cozy mood before the concert has even begun.
Graham Nash and his two fellow musicians, Shayne Fontayne (guitar) and Todd Caldwell (Hammond keyboard) join their instruments on stage. First song is Pre-Road Downs, a Crosby, Stills & Nash song. It’s not a song I’ve heard before. I’m not familiar with most of Nash’s songs, I know about a dozen of them, and I know enough to know that the majority of the songs played tonight are from the various Crosby & Nash, Crosby, Stills & Nash and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young constellations. This band/these bands are known especially for their immaculate harmoniously weaved vocals. Like Nash, both Fontayne and Caldwell are blessed with beautiful voices, so any vocal harmony that any song may require is taken care of with perfection.
C&N/CS&N/CSN&Y are of course also known for their songwriting; love songs, break up songs, political anthems, protest songs. Nash, arguably the poppier of the four song writing giants, has authored some of their most famous and most radio friendly songs. I don’t care much for the twee Marrakech Express – which is played in the middle of the set – but it’s nevertheless nice to hear it played live by the guy who wrote this classic song that’s been part of the fabric of popular music over the last five decades, and has been around for longer than I’ve been alive. Nash, 77, looks a bit tired at times but otherwise he seems in good shape and is on good form. When he sings he disappears into the songs like having an intense conversation with an old friend. Between the songs he’s personable and extroverted. He’s good at anecdotes, whether rehearsed or improvised. Halfway through the concert, he quips, ‘We’re having an interval. I’m 77 and I don’t know about you but I need a pee’.
Another one of the several anecdotes scattered throughout the set includes the story of when he hired a chauffeured Rolls Royce (as you do) which took him from London to Stonehenge and Winchester cathedral. Tripping on LSD, Nash wrote Cathedral, a song about the corruption and abuse that takes place in the guise of religion.
Nash of course also mentions Joni Mitchell (‘Joan’) who still after all these years, seems to be, if not the love of his life, then certainly the muse of his life. At least two songs played this evening are about her, an in-love song, the endearing but slightly mushy, Our House, and a break-up song, The First Time, which Nash tells us was written as a direct result of and immediately after he and Mitchell broke up.
Back to the beginning of the set, after Wasted on the Way (another CSN&Y song) Nash and band play King Midas in Reverse, followed by I Used to Be a King. The former song written when Nash was still in the The Hollies (the band in which it all started for Nash), and the latter a solo song. The two songs may only be about five years apart, but considering the change Nash went through after leaving The Hollies and exchanging England for California, beers for weed, and teenybopper-pop for grown up folk-rock, the two songs played after one another feels like Nash is making a point of how much he grew and expanded in such a short time. King Midas in Reverse signified the end of Nash’s time with The Hollies, whereas I Used to Be a King marks the beginning of Nash as a solo artist, though only periodically in between stints with Crosby, Stills and Young.
Towards the end, the trio sing a lush accapella of the Buddy Holly song, Everyday, Buddy Holly being one of Nash’s idols when he was a teenager (as understandably seems to be the case for most famous English pop and rock stars of that era). I wonder who our time’s Buddy Holly is. Maybe there are no Buddy Hollies anymore.
Highlights for me are a rendition of Love the One You’re With (by former bandmate Stephen Stills) and Southbound Train (a song by Nash and his former partner in crime and songwriting, David Crosby). The band also boldly covers A Day in the Life by The Beatles. Not an easy song to do, but they do it well. Having said that, to my ears, no one can ever sing that song better than John Lennon did.
The last song of the evening is appropriately Teach Your Children. The song is an ode to the shifting relationship between parents and children, and though circumstances change over the years and you may not always understand or get on with each other, you might as well let it go, knowing you are loved. And what a perfect note to end a concert on.
Graham Nash setlist
1. Pre-Road Downs (Crosby, Stills & Nash song)
2. Wasted on the Way (Crosby, Stills & Nash song)
3. King Midas in Reverse (The Hollies song)
4. I Used to Be a King
5. Right Between the Eyes (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song)
6. Southbound Train (Crosby & Nash song)
7. 4 + 20 (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song)
8. Military Madness
9. Wind on the Water (Crosby & Nash song)
10. A Day in the Life (The Beatles cover)
11. Marrakesh Express (Crosby, Stills & Nash song)
12. Simple Man
13. Marguerita (Crosby & Nash song)
14. Taken at All (Crosby & Nash song)
15. Back Home
16. Love the One You’re With (Stephen Stills cover)
17. Just a Song Before I Go (Crosby, Stills & Nash song)
18. Cathedral (Crosby, Stills & Nash song)
19. Our House (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song)
20. Chicago (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song)
21. Everyday (Buddy Holly cover)
22. Teach Your Children (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young song)