fri 27/01/2023

Graham Nash, Alexandra Palace review - from Salford to Woodstock and back | reviews, news & interviews

Graham Nash, Alexandra Palace review - from Salford to Woodstock and back

Graham Nash, Alexandra Palace review - from Salford to Woodstock and back

Intimate songs and stories from the versatile supergroup survivor

Graham Nash, songwriter, campaigner and eco-activistAmy Grantham

It was one of the great moments of Woodstock as Stephen Stills, amid the applause for “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, tells 400,000 muddy people: “This is the second time we’ve ever played in front of people, man. We’re scared shitless!”

Crosby , Stills, Nash & Young, in all their shape-shifting configurations, remain one of the great supergroups. A few bars of their peerless harmonies on such classics as “Teach Your Children”, “Our House” and “Helpless”, not to mention Joni Mitchell’s “Woodstock”, and you’re transported back instantly to another time, another place. If only we could all “turn on, tune in, drop out” right now! Those “three days of peace love and music”, 50 years ago this month, have come to represent the high-point of the Sixties dream – a moment of promise and hope, not of Nirvana but of a life that would be better for everyone. And for a while it was – though Woodstock also marked the point at which businessmen stepped in and made the counterculture commercial.

But how bittersweet to be marking Woodstock 50 at a point when things are immeasurably worse than in August ’69. Now more than ever we need the balm of good music and we need to turn off rather than on, to escape the wired world and allow ourselves, for at least a short time every day, to be spirited “back to the garden”, there to cleanse our minds of the truly evil and depressing shit that threatens to overwhelm us.

And for a couple of hours or so on Saturday at Alexandra Palace – venue for the 1967 Technicolor Dream festival organised by International Times – escape was possible as Graham Nash enthralled us with “An Intimate Evening of Songs and Stories”. He took us from Blackpool, where his family sought escape from the Nazi bombing of Salford, to Laurel Canyon, where he lived with Joni Mitchell and where Cass Elliott introduced him to Stephen Stills. It included a wonderful Beatles medley and a tribute to Buddy Holly, after whom his first band was named. On stage with him were guitarist Shayne Fontayne, a local boy, and, on the distinctive Hammond B3, Todd Caldwell, from Lubbock, Texas. Both men have notched up years and miles with Nash and the blend of their voices with his was as true and beautiful as anything from the Hollies or CSNY.

Throughout it all, the spirit of Joni Mitchell hovered

Nash is 77 now and in great shape physically and vocally. He cuts a distinctive figure, his thick white hair brushed back from his oh-so-English face. He’s a dual citizen with an OBE who turns out for Occupy and Bernie Sanders, and who is supporting the Parkland survivors with an animated version of “Teach Your Children”, a song that provided the final encore. He’s a born storyteller whose speech remains identifiably Mancunian (“You all right lad?” he can be heard asking on the Woodstock soundtrack) and whose easy way with the audience (“We’re having an interval. I’m 77 and I don’t know about you but I need a pee!") does indeed make for an intimate evening.

As he noted, the acoustics of Ally Pally’s recently re-opened theatre are something of a wonder so it’s to be hoped it becomes a regular concert venue. Nash’s spectacular back catalogue shone anew, the show opening with “Pre-Road Downs”, a song that’s a clear reminder that rock'n'roll life has its downsides. It also has many an upside, such as the occasion Nash arose early after the final gig of some long-ago tour, hired a Rolls and driver and set off on his own psychedelic journey via Stonehenge to Winchester, where he wrote “Cathedral”.

Early on in the set came “King Midas in Reverse”, a song that led to his break from the Hollies, and the haunting and majestic “The Last Whale”, inspired by the sighting of a vast blue whale on a sailing trip from Fort Lauderdale to San Francisco with his old friend David Crosby. Indeed, there were lots of journeys: on a “Southbound Train” and of course that most magical of rides to spiritual enlightenment aboard the “Marrakesh Express”, landscape, speed and whistle all somehow evoked by the combination of three voices and three instruments.

Throughout it all, the spirit of Joni Mitchell hovered – Joan, as Nash calls her still – and all these years on she feels like unfinished business. There was “The First Time”, the song he wrote the morning they broke up, and of course “Our House”, his portrait of domestic bless that began in a Ventura Boulevard deli and which ended up being used in an ad by the Halifax. Nash sang it last winter at Danny Kapilian’s star-studded Joni 75 celebration of Mitchell at LA's Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. “Joni’s starting to sing again,” he told the audience. Everyone cheered. One day perhaps we will all be back in the garden.

Liz Thomson's website

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