Before Graham Nash visits Birmingham on 22 May for his 2016 ‘This Path Tonight’ album tour, I am granted a fifteen minute interview to talk about the path that led him back to the Midlands. As another ambassador for Salford eloquently put it: “Fifteen minutes with you. Well, I wouldn’t say no.”
Brumlive: You’re only in the UK for one week and thankfully you have chosen to come to Birmingham again. I have been privileged to have reviewed your last two visits and will be reviewing again on Sunday night: a sell out show. Have you returned to Birmingham this time because of special memories here?
Graham Nash: The best memory I have of Birmingham is an incredible meal I had last time at a restaurant called Lost and Found. But no, the truth is that the fans in Birmingham really love music. You know. I’ve been playing Birmingham.. holy Toledo.. the first time I played there must be 50 years ago! But yeah, they really love music and always a great crowd.
Brumlive: Have you had to rearrange your songs much to fit in with this 2 guitars and 2 voices tour?
Graham Nash: No, we stripped every song down to the very essence of how we wrote them. This new record, ‘This Path Tonight’, Shane and I wrote all the songs together, so now it’s just me and Shane. Me on my acoustic guitar and piano, and Shane on his acoustic guitar and his electric guitar. Just the two of us. But I’ve made so much music in my life, I’ve got to pay tribute to the Hollies of course, and a bunch of songs that I haven’t had a chance to play ever because with David and Stephen and Neil, I’m the democratic one, I’ve always wanted four of my songs, four of David’s, four of Stephen’s, four of Neil’s. But we write much more than that.. so what do you do with all the songs..? It’s enjoyable singing songs on stage that I haven’t sung in years.
Brumlive: Your new album ‘This Path Tonight’ holds back the more political songs for the special edition. Whilst I understand those songs did not fit in with the overall concept of the album, were you also sensitive to the fact protest songs are not held in the same esteem as perhaps they once were?
Graham Nash: It’s not that Alan. Here’s what’s going on: the people that own the world’s media, you could probably count on two hands – and they don’t want protest songs on their airwaves, they don’t them on their radio, they don’t want them on their television. But it doesn’t mean they’re not being written; if you go to Living With War website (Neil Young’s), there’s 3000 protest songs up there. But they don’t want people rocking the boat, they don’t want people disturbing the status quo… and of course that’s our job! I’ve got to keep doing it – the song ‘Watch Out For the Wind’ was written about Michael Brown, the black teenager in Ferguson who was killed by the police, and also ‘Mississippi Burning’ about the three college students who were murdered in the 60’s trying to help black people get the vote. But these songs didn’t fit emotionally with the journey of the album that Shane and I planned.
Brumlive: When in your career have you felt the most artistically fulfilled, as a band member (Hollies, CSN, CSNY, Nash & Crosby), or as Graham Nash, solo artist, or is your photography and artwork more important to you especially as your Photography Exhibition is also on tour and currently in your home town, Salford?
Graham Nash: I feel fulfilled by just creating. I don’t care how it is, whether it is writing songs, or painting, or taking photographs, or a number of other things I do. It’s just energy to me… where do I want to plug in today? It’s a very strange feeling writing songs, I don’t think many musicians know exactly how that process works. And it probably works differently with each musician of course. But it’s such a mysterious thing. One of the things I’ve noticed in the shows on this tour is that I’m telling people what my head-space was, what I was thinking when I wrote this song. I tell them the story about writing and they seem to enjoy that tremendously. It’s different from previous shows with David and Stephen though; it’s just me now.
Brumlive: Can I ask you about the artwork for your new album ‘This Path Tonight?
Graham Nash: Yes the images were taken by a photographer from New York City and she’s actually my girlfriend. The cover shot was taken on the first day I was in Woodstock.
Brumlive: Apart from a couple of images on the album’s artwork (by Amy Grantham), the majority are you turned away or walking away with your back to camera. Was that a conscious artistic decision, suggesting this may be your last album, particularly as you already include the encore as the final track?
Graham Nash: I’m facing away because I’m facing my future. And I have the courage to do it. Cos you never know when death is gonna come. Look at how many people we’ve lost this year – it’s insane. So ‘Encore’ is basically a song about when the show’s over and the last song is sung and all the lights are fading, who are you? Are you a decent person or are you this star?
Brumlive: The remasters of your albums ‘Songs For Beginners’ and ‘Songs For Survivors’ were mixed in 5.1 and are incredibly immersive. How much input did you have in that process?
Graham Nash: Well, I got the first surround mix Grammy, before it was even a category. I got the very first one. I love 5.1. I’m also so happy about the increase in sales of vinyl. Is it coming back in the UK?
Brumlive: Yes, would you believe they’re even selling vinyl in Sainsbury’s now!
Graham Nash: But 5.1, yes it puts you right in the place they were recording – puts you closer to the flame.
Brumlive: Are there plans for more 5.1 reissues?
Graham Nash: Maybe in the future, but I’m really concentrating on my music this year. For the last 12 years I’ve been totally immersed in David and Stephen and Neil’s music and I need a break.
Brumlive: Does that mean you’ll tour more as a solo artist and will there be more new songs?
Graham Nash: Absolutely. Next year I want to come out with the band that played on the record. That’d be great.
Brumlive: There’s an image of a cockroach on your album ‘Songs For Survivors’. Is that because they are the only creature to survive a nuclear blast?
Graham Nash: The ultimate survivor! That’s exactly what it meant. And do you know, you’re the very first person to ever ask me about it. I found that cockroach in my backyard, as a matter of fact, and I scanned it myself.
Brumlive: Is there anything you miss about England?
Graham Nash: I miss the countryside and the people. It’s very different in America. People seem to be a little calmer here, a little more friendly. And the countryside of course is stunningly beautiful.
Brumlive: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me today; I can’t wait to see the show at Birmingham Town Hall on 22 May.
Graham Nash: You’re welcome.
Interview by Alan Neilson