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All Aboard Nash’s Southbound Train

Updated: Mar 3


Graham Nash launches his 2024 solo world tour

 

How does an artist cram 60 years of singing and song-writing - among some of the greats in the music business - into two and a half hours?

 

That is the challenge folk-rock legend Graham Nash has set for himself in 2024 as he embarks on his first solo headline tour of Australia and New Zealand under the banner: Graham Nash: Sixty Years of Songs and Stories. More is to come in the U.S. in August where he has 17 shows scheduled in August alone, from Colorado to Massachusetts.

 

It all kicked off in New Zealand, with concerts in Auckland and Christchurch. Nine gigs follow across Australia. “Gee 24 hours in a plane! It’s a bigger world than I thought,” Nash quipped to a smitten Auckland audience when the tour launched on March 1 .

 

The 82-year-old music legend, who was a founding member of both the Hollies and rock supergroup Crosby, Stills & Nash, wasted little time delving into his treasure chest of his most popular material, both original and covers - most from his collaboration with other big names over the years but some from his output of seven solo albums.

 

He opened and closed his vibrant two-hour-20-minute set-list with two of his most popular self-compositions – "Marrakesh Express," the hit single from the the Crosby Stills & Nash debut album in 1969 and "Chicago," his debut solo single from 1971.1971.

 

From those early days, Nash always wore his political heart firmly on his sleeve. And his 60-year set-list nicely reflected this.

 

His reputation as an anti-nuke pacifist was represented by both “Chicago” – a song inspired by the anti-Vietnam War protests at the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago - and the stirring “Military Madness,” the soul-wrenching song which portrayed the devastation of war on his own family. He was born during the Second World War while his father was in the army. It was a privilege to hear him sing the moving opening lyrics:

In an upstairs room in Blackpool

By the side of a northern sea

The army had my father

And my mother was having me

 

In recent years, Nash has become a firm advocate for the environment and ecology. And he delivered on the cause with a heart-wrenching rendition of “To the Last Whale” he wrote with David Crosby for their second duet album. It is moving song in two parts, the first is a musical overture “Critical Mass,” composed by Crosby, followed by the Nash composition  “Wind on the Water.”

 

In what proved to be a beautiful tribute to Crosby, who died last year at 81, Nash and his three multi-instrumentalist band-mates performed “Critical Mass” with dimmed lights. And there was an emphatic audience response when Nash introduced it, saying: “There is not a day that I don’t think about Dave and what him and I achieved together.”

 

Nash, a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, still allows his idealism to infiltrate into his solo work. And chose to advocate for a better world with a fitting track, “A Better Life” the single from his last solo album Now, which he released a year ago.


Though this was billed as a “song and stories” evening, the Nash banter between songs was probably less engaging than the baby-boomer audience might have been hoping for. But some of the stories still packed a punch

 

There was the fascinating.

 

Nash told of being with the Hollies, circa 1965, when their manager politely asked if they would engage with his friend’s teenage son who fancied himself as a songwriter. “Allan Clarke and I went to see the boy and he said ‘you might like this: Bus stop, bus goes, she stays, love grows, under my umbrella . And Allan says yep, we'll take that!"


This was the cue for Nash to perform the Hollies classic "Bus Stop" and as soon as he finished, there was the obvious cry from the audience: “Who was the boy?” He turned out to be Graham Gouldman, who went on to be the founder of English pop band 10cc and would write hits not only for the Hollies but the likes of the Yardbirds and Herman’s Hermits.

 

Then there was the simply weird story.

 

Nash explained that before he performed “Cathedral,” from the 1977 CSN album, he should explain what the song was all about. He then recalled driving a vintage Rolls Royce to the Stonehenge monument in Wiltshire while hallucinating on LSD and – to much audience delight - how that then developed into a psychedelic experience – “puking” – at Winchester Cathedral.

 

But it was a sentimental story which tugged the hearts of most.

 

Earlier in the show he explained how he wrote “I Used To Be A King” in the early ‘70’s after his high-profile break-up with Joni Mitchell. He later returned to the relationship with a bleedin’ obvious: “Do you know Joni Mitchell?” The audience sniffed another song.

 

And he prefaced it with the story about how one winter’s morning he and Mitchell had left their home in L.A.’s Laurel Canyon for breakfast at a nearby deli. “As we were going home, we passed an antique shop. We went in and Joni found this vase, about ten inches high, which she bought. Then soon after we got home I simply said why don’t I light the fire while you place the flowers in the vase that you bought today.”

 

The audience erupted for this was the cue to “Our House.” And this was the music these aging fans were yearning for, something straight out of their better years. And Nash certainly delivered, helped by a wonderful band led by his long-time collaborator and sometime producer Todd Caldwell. He and Nash traded organ and electric piano at times while drummer Adam Minkoff often had one hand on a bass guitar, the other on a drum-stick!

 

Nash may not hit the high notes he did in his prime, but the tenor voice is still pitch perfect and, unlike another famous octogenarian, there is nothing hesitant or slow about Willy (the nickname given to him by his CSNY buddies).

 

Paul Cutler

Editor Crossroads - Americana Music Appreciation

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