In its most unobstructed and picturesque glory, Alexandra Palace sits on the top of a hill overlooking London. We sit on the grass and chat before the concert, which sets the mood perfectly for a show that presents itself as An Intimate Evening of Songs and Stories.
We sit near the front, and it just so happens that the seats in front of us are free, which allows us a perfect view of the still empty stage. 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 cosy 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. The 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 primarily for their immaculate harmoniously weaved vocals. Both Fontayne and Caldwell are blessed with beautiful voices, so any vocal harmony that any song may require is taken care of with perfection.
CSN&Y are also known for their songwriting; love songs, break up songs, political anthems, and protest songs. Nash, arguably the poppier of the four songwriting giants, has authored some of their most famous, and indeed, most easy-listening songs. I don’t care much for the twee Marrakech Express, which they play in the middle of the set. Nevertheless, it’s 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 in good form. He disappears into the songs like having an intense conversation with an old friend when he sings. 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 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 indeed the muse of his life. At least two songs played this evening are about her; an in-love song, the endearing and slightly mushy, Our House, and a break-up song, The First Time. Nash tells us this song 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 a Hollies song (the band in which it all started for Nash), King Midas in Reverse, followed by a Nash solo song, I Used to Be a King.
Towards the end, the trio sings a lush acapella of the Buddy Holly song, Everyday, Buddy Holly being one of Nash’s idols when he was a teenager (as seems to be the case for most famous English pop- and rock-stars of that era, and understandably so). This begs the question – who is our time’s Buddy Holly? I wouldn’t dare venture a guess.
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, from the quiet build-up to the silly middle eight to the chaotic ending, which somehow ends on a perfect note. 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 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)