Legendary singer/songwriter Graham Nash is a freakin’ god of song – he is a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee – with Crosby, Stills, and Nash, and with the Hollies. He was also inducted into the Songwriters’ Hall of Fame twice, as a solo artist and with CSN, and he is a Grammy award winner, AND… he’s coming to Bluesfest.
Eve Jeffery, filling in for Mandy Nolan, almost (maybe she did!) wet herself when she found out she was going to interview one of her all-time favourite songwriters. Here’s what happened:
Where are you and what time is it?
10.30 in the evening in Florida – Ponte Vedra, which is a couple hours from Orlando.
I have to say I am a huge fan and have been over 30 years. Are you finding that your fanbase is ageing or are you reaching a younger audience?
It’s really strange and I check this constantly – the demographics of people who come to see us are across 14–70. It’s fantastic and I think what is happening is brothers and sisters are turning their younger siblings on to the music, having been turned on by their parents, so that’s the age spread of people who come to see us.
I was 16 when No Nukes (MUSE) came out – it changed my life. Do you feel it’s important for artists with a high profile to go out in support of social and environmental issues?
Here’s what basically happens: We’re always being asked to help, and thank goodness. You have to prioritise your time, because you can’t do everything. I mean if you try to do everything, you can only do it to a certain shallow degree because there is so much to do, so when I prioritise my time in my world, it is our children and their education and upbringing, the health of planet itself, and the nuclear power problem; I concentrate on those three main problems.
Do you think that’s a sensibility or responsibility that naturally grew alongside your career which began at the dawn of a modern protest era?
I think it’s the responsibility of every artist to reflect the very time in which they exist and paint a picture of every aspect of what’s going on, from love to war.
Will there be more Musicians United for Safe Energy (MUSE) concerts?
I believe so, especially later this year – we are planning something rather large. I need some more details to fall into place but I can assure if it’s anything to do with me, it will be wonderful!
Do you think releasing an autobiography Wild Tales: A Rock & Roll Life won or lost you any friends?
I hope so. The truth is all of my friends whom I talked about in the book… I showed them all the galleys before publishing and told them they could change anything and no-one wanted anything changed. So I put it out.
Creatively and emotionally, how big was the leap from the Hollies to Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young?
Both minute and gigantic at the same time.
Once I had heard David and Stephen sing, and once I had realised that whatever the sound of Crosby, Stills and Nash is vocally, that it was born in a minute, that was the gigantic thing.
The minute thing is I love the universe and think the universe loves me, and I’m following my heart and my soul as I’ve always done.
It was a giant leap but small and huge at the same time.
Do you find that people are very open to you as a photographic artist because of your work as a performance artist?
I’m not sure. I don’t want them to even be aware that I am taking their photograph. I wanna be invisible. I don’t want them to know I am taking their picture. They will put on their ‘good’ face or their right look.
I am not interested in that. I am interested in moments when they don’t know I’m there.
Was it hard being an ‘Englishman in New York’ as it were?
You know it’s difficult being Englishman anywhere in this world, especially England! [laughs]
Creatively and emotionally, how big was the leap from the C, S & N to going solo?
It’s all music to me, love. I don’t care how I’m doing it, whether it’s guitar, piano or harmonica or with the two of us, or the three of us or the four of us, I don’t care. I’m just here to make music the best way I can every day of my life.
Can you tell me a bit about your new album This Path Tonight?
Well it’s a journey, isn’t it. My life is in a certain turmoil right now to be quite honest. I’d been married to my wife Susan for 38 years, and we are in the process, for about a year now, of divorcing. And at that same time, I met and fell in love with a beautiful artist from New York and my life changed dramatically and I think that This Path Tonight is the journey, the emotional journey that I am on right now.
I am so thrilled with this record.
This Path Tonight will be released 15 April just after Bluesfest. Will your set be mostly tracks from the album or are we going to ride on the Marrakesh Express?
You know what? I’m going to give them everything from Hollies all the way through.
Teach Your Children was pretty much looped in my head from the age of eight onwards. Is the sentiment behind it still relevant to you personally today as it was then?
One of the things I really enjoy about my music, which is pissing me off at the same time, is with a song like Military Madness. I am so pleased that people still respond to that song, but holy shit! – have we not learned anything in 45 years?
Are you a grandpa yet? Do you play to your grand-babies? What do they think?
Of course. They are a bit young to appreciate it yet.
How do you feel about the idea that you influenced at least one generation of humans?
I think I’ve done reasonably well in my life to follow what I’m supposed to be doing. I think what I am supposed to be doing is communicating ideas to people, while talking to myself of course. I have absolutely no desire to stop; I’ve still got incredible passion and creativity.
I’m a lucky boy!
If I am that annoying 50-something fan in the front row who always yells out ‘play Teach Your Children’, will you?
You will get Teach Your Children at Bluesfest.
Cathedral is pretty much my favourite song ever next to Kashmir. Can you tell me about the process of writing it and how it felt to perform such an epic song live?
I’ll tell you exactly.
I decided one morning in the early 70s to rent myself a 1930s Rolls-Royce and a driver and go to a drug dealer’s house, score some acid, drop it and go to visit Stonehenge. And then went to Winchester Cathedral, which was very close.
I felt this incredible sensation in my legs and looked down and I was standing on grave of soldier who died on my birthday in 1799. And so everything, every word of Cathedral, is completely true, and in terms of playing it live, I had just finished creating it and in I think 73 or 74; Crosby and I were playing at the Hammersmith Odeon in London, and we played it for the first time and the audience went crazy. When the applause died down a guy from the back said, ‘Play it again!’ and we played it again, so the very first time I played Cathedral it was twice!
Do you get paid in cheques with GNash written on them?
Ha ha ha you’re funny…
All on board the train…
Graham Nash plays Bluesfest this Easter long weekend.
For tickets and program info go to bluesfest.com.au.