Blackpool-born Graham Nash found fame with The Hollies during the early 1960s before relocating to California at the end of the decade and becoming part of Crosby, Stills & Nash (and later Young). On the road for Now, his seventh solo album, he talks about vocal harmonies, reconciliation and bucket-list wishes.
You described Now, your first solo album of new material in seven years, as the most personal record of a lengthy career. What prompted you to make it?
I had four or five songs finished and ready to go, and that’s when I usually know that the time is right for an album.
The song Golden Idols, which references ‘MAGA tourists’ taking Capitol Hill, suggests that the current state of the world makes you very angry.
I’m disturbed by several things. Firstly, the rise of right-wing extremists in America, and the rise of autocrats throughout the rest of the world. And secondly, climate change. I’ve lived in New York City for nine years. That first year there was a foot and a half of snow. Five years later just a foot. This year there was no snow whatsoever. Things are changing, that’s pretty obvious.
There’s a wonderful clip of the isolated vocals from the Crosby, Stills And Nash track Helplessly Hoping that really showcases the crystalline beauty of that collaboration. Tell us about its impact upon your life?
When David, Stephen and I sang together for the first time, things were never the same again. The Hollies, Buffalo Springfield and The Byrds were good harmony bands, but nothing sounded like our three voices becoming one voice. I knew I would have to go back to England and leave The Hollies. I had to follow that sound.
Now that you are in your eighties, is touring just a promotional tool, or much more than that?
I am eighty-one years old and they only pay me for the two and a half hours on stage. The rest of it all is just a drag, but it’s real easy: I’m a musician, I’ve got songs to sing and I’m gonna do that. It’s all about the connection [with the audience].
The venues on this tour are largely mid-sized provincial theatres. They seem somewhat on the small side for you?
I’ve played in front of hundreds of thousands of people in my life, but what I like most is being able to see the faces. If I play a song particularly well or if I fuck up, I love to see the expressions in front of me. I want to look into their eyes.
Presumably at these shows you’re playing a career-spanning set of songs?
Oh, absolutely. I do songs from The Hollies to Crosby Stills & Nash, CSN&Y, songs by myself and David [Crosby] and also my solo songs. I’m having a great time in my life, so I express that.
Do you tell stories between songs, or just let the music speak for itself?
I tell stories when I want to and I don’t when I don’t. Songwriting is some sort of crazy magic, I don’t understand it myself. But if there’s some explanation then usually I’ll share it. It’s part of the experience.
From discovering Lonnie Donegan as a kid to leaving The Hollies and flying to a new life in California your destiny took you to the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame – twice! Could you précis that path in a sentence or two?
As I look back on it, my tale has been an amazing journey. I was there at some very important points in musical history and I’ll be forever grateful for that.
You were awarded an OBE by Queen Elizabeth in 2010. How did her death last year affect you?
It saddened me. When I met Queen Elizabeth I realised that in a way I was looking at the DNA of a thousand years of English kings and queens. To be at Buckingham Palace talking to her was an unbelievable moment. I wish my father had lived to see that.
How did the conversation go?
[Sounding amazed] She asked me how The Hollies were. I replied: “Your Majesty, I’ve been gone from this country for almost fifty years and I had no idea that people in England were still aware of what I do.’ She looked at me and said: “And now you know.”
You were in the process of reconciling with David Crosby before he died back in January.
That’s correct. We were emailing and voice-mailing each other, and had set up a Facetime for two p.m. my time in New York, eleven a.m. in California where he was. I waited and waited [for the call] and it never came, and two days later it was announced that he was dead.
Had David said the right things, do you think you’d have been inclined to accept an olive branch from him?
If it was sincere, yes. And I do believe it would have been. You know, life is full of choices, and I choose to remember only the good stuff.
What musical goals remain for you?
There is one thing. Someday I would love to sing Yesterday with McCartney, just an acoustic guitar and our two voices.
Graham Nash is currently on tour in The UK before heading to Europe and The US. For full dates and tickets, visit his website.