Talking Music: Graham Nash Discusses Career and Forthcoming Cardiff Show

Legendary singer-songwriter Graham Nash brings his UK tour to Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre on July 20 in support of his new release, Over the Years…, a 2-disc collection of his best-known songs.

Blackpool-born Nash will be accompanied by long-time collaborator, Shane Fontayne on guitars and vocals, and former CSN keyboard player and vocalist, Todd Caldwell. They will perform songs from Nash’s early days in Manchester with The Hollies with hits such as King Midas in Reverse  through his years Stateside with Crosby, Stills & Nash performing Marrakesh Express and Our House through to his latest solo recordings, weaving anecdotes and tales from his 50 plus-year career throughout the evening. 

Andy Howells recently spoke to Graham Nash, now based in Los Angeles, about the show:

Looking back on over five decades of music must be quite a thing?

It was an interesting process. I’m not really a man that looks backwards much, I’m much more interested in the song I’m writing now and the shows I do when I come to Europe. But “it’s been a long strange trip!” as my friend  (Jerry) Garcia said.

Did you come from a music background at all?

Not at all. My father used to whistle, and I would whistle in harmony with him when he was walking me down to the local cinema. But No, I got turned on to American rock ‘n’ roll very early in my life from Radio Luxembourg and my life changed completely. I had a passion to make music and fortunately my mother and father encouraged my passion to make music instead of (you know) forcing me to get a real job.

How did you come together with Allan Clarke to form The Hollies?

I was six years old, in school, the door opened a grandmother came in with a 6-year-old boy. Mr Burke our teacher said “Students, this young boy, Harold (Allan) Clarke is moving into this area and is coming to be at this school where is he sitting? I had a vacant seat next to me and I put my hand up and Allan Clarke and I became friends in the early days at 6 years old.

We would do things like singing The Lords Prayer at school in the morning and hymns on Sunday and it was always him who took the lead melody and for some reason I always sang harmony. So, Allan and I formed a duo, kind of like The Everly Brothers, the rest is history!

Graham Nash brings his UK tour to Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre on July 20.Graham Nash brings his UK tour to Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre on July 20.

Graham Nash brings his UK tour to Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre on July 20.

When did you realise you could write songs?

When you put a single out, there’s a B-side to it and the music on those B-sides made as much publishing money as the A-sides. We realised you could make extra money if you wrote the B-side and that’s what we started to do.

Was there a rivalry between The Hollies and The Beatles?

We were pretty good friends. You couldn’t rival them because they were incredibly talented. At least you could admire them and want to make your music more forward looking and more interesting. They were a shining example of what you could do, particularly when it came to making albums.

The Hollies success rate was phenomenal

Oh Yes, Me and Clarkie had started The Hollies in December of ’62 and by the time I left in December of ’68 which was 6 years, we had already had (I think) 15 top 10 records.

There was quite a lot of development in those records during that time from the early pop sounds to the more experimental overtones by 1967. One of my favourites must be I Can’t Let Go, for many years I believed you had a horn section on there, but it was you singing in the background?

That’s right and that’s what David Crosby loved when I introduced myself, but he had no idea who I was and then after I left and Cass Elliott told him I was the high harmony singer in The Hollies he flipped out because he still thought it was a trumpet!

Had you intended to create that sound at the time?

I was harmonising Allan had the melody; Tony Hicks had the harmony above Allan so there was nowhere for me to go but on top of all of them!

The music developed even further, there was King Midas in Reverse which is deemed a bit of a Psychedelia classic now even though it didn’t chart very high at the time.

Absolutely and that was the beginning of me leaving The Hollies. I felt we’d cut a great record with King Midas but as you said, it only got into the Top 30 and not the Top 5 which is what we expected and after that point they started not to trust my musical direction. As a matter of fact, they even recorded Marrakesh Express and somewhere in the EMI tape vault at Abbey Road is The Hollies doing Marrakesh Express. It’s not very good!

Graham Nash brings his UK tour to Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre on July 20.Graham Nash brings his UK tour to Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre on July 20.

Graham Nash brings his UK tour to Cardiff’s Wales Millennium Centre on July 20.

How did it feel when you broke away from The Hollies?

It was an enormous wrench of freedom. The first time I heard Myself, David and Stephen sing in Joni’s (Mitchell) living room, I knew my life had changed!

I’m a musician. Springfield, The Byrds and The Hollies were pretty decent harmony bands but the sound that me, David and Stephen had created by putting our three voices into one, I realised that I would have to go back to England, leave The Hollies, leave my equipment, leave my money, leave my family and go and follow this sound and that’s what I did.

Where do you get your inspiration from?

Life itself, its so  crazy out here kid!

A lot of my songs come from ordinary moments, like me taking Joni to breakfast on a shitty late winter day in Los Angeles. It was rainy, it was cold, it was miserable. As we were walking from breakfast to her car, Joni saw a vase in an antique store window. It was beautiful, she bought it, it was pretty cheap, and we got back to the house in Laurel Canyon and I said “Hey Joan! Why don’t I light a fire and you put some flowers in that vase you bought today, and that’s the opening verse of Our House.”

What can you tell me about your latest album, Through The Years…?

It’s a compilation album and it went like this, I had realised that there was no, for use of a better term, Greatest Hits album of my music, Yes, we’ve done The Hollies, CSN (Crosby, Stills & Nash) and CSNY (Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) Greatest Hits but not of my music. Been a solo performer for the last three years I figured out there are 15 of my songs my audiences love I want to put them on a record.

Then I realised a lot of people had bought those songs probably in different formats from vinyl records to CD’s and so I wanted to know how I could make this more interesting. So, I went back into my archives and found 15 demos of those songs and that’s what people are finding interesting, it’s the actual genesis of songs that they love. Those initial ideas, I love demos.

Are you looking forward to returning to the UK to play?

I’m really looking forward to it, I’ve got a lot of energy and I want people to know that I want to be there, making music for them. I’m not going to phone it in or sing it half-assed, I’m going to sing it with as much passion as I can.

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