Live Music + Gig Reviews

Graham Nash @ Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London

11 September 2023

The former Hollies and Crosby, Stills & Nash man plays a career-spanning show that confirms his special, longstanding and universal appeal

Graham Nash (Photo: Amy Grantham)

Graham Nash (Photo: Amy Grantham)

If anyone was in doubt as to Graham Nash‘s longevity and enduring appeal the title of his current UK tour should help elucidate. Presented as ‘Sixty Years Of Songs & Stories’, tonight’s show in the plush setting of Theatre Royal Drury Lane takes in all stages of his career, from his early days with The Hollies, through the Crosby, Stills & Nash years right up to this year’s Now album. Nash sounds and looks in great condition for his 81 years and is ably supported tonight by Shane Fontayne on guitar and Todd Caldwell on pedal steel guitar and keyboards.

He might be a Lancastrian relocated to America (at various points he’s lived on the West Coast and Hawaii and is now based in New York) but he’s always retained a sense of being a ‘common man’ who has, through a combination of circumstances, found himself in more illustrious surroundings. These aspects to his personality are in evidence in tonight’s show, during which he plays hits, deep cuts and covers, intertwining them with tributes and anecdotes.

He eases his way into the show with a lesser known track, Wasted On The Way, a typically mellifluous offering which sets something of a standard for what follows. It also showcases the impeccable harmonies provided by Fontayne and Cantwell. It might not quite be Crosby, Stills & Nash but isn’t far off (the duo perform a similar role to that The Wondermints do for Brian Wilson).

He soon ventures further back in his career for a version of Bus Stop by The Hollies, which is preceded by him talking about his contributions to former bandmate Allan Clarke’s recent solo album. He admits to being unsure whether he should be playing Marrakesh Express given the recent earthquake that has caused devastation in Morocco, but goes ahead anyway, it’s breezy and nimble melodies standing out. It’s soon followed by his anti-war statement Military Madness which mixes the political and personal and is accompanied by comments in support of Ukraine (he changes a lyric to reference “that madman Putin”, but his attempt to rouse the crowd into a slightly cringy “no more war” chant fails almost immediately).

“The world is burning literally and politically,” he comments ahead of Better Life, his appeal for his contemporaries to leave the world in a better condition for younger generations. He avoids going into specifics or saying anything controversial, which very much ties in with the simple, relatable messages that have appeared in his songs for decades. Lover Of Mine, another track from his current album, is performed, another example of his honest, open songwriting (which in this case addresses his relationship with his new wife, something not without controversy and which has resulted in broader repercussions).

He is generous with his covers – he plays Only Love Can Break Your Heart by Neil Young, A Case Of You by his former partner Joni Mitchell, and two songs by Stephen Stills – Love The One You’re With and a particularly exquisite 4 + 20. He addresses the recent death of longtime associate David Crosby, paying tribute to “an unbelievably unique musician who I think of every day”. Their fractious relationship has been well documented, and he plays various songs that they wrote together. Given the number of covers he plays by other artists however it feels like a missed opportunity for him not to have played any songs solely penned by Crosby. The lights are turned off for a poignant recording of To The Last Whale/Critical Mass to be played, Crosby and Nash’s pure harmonies filling the venue. Later, the showstopping and spiritual Cathedral shows how he is able to write dense, structurally ambitious songs.

Nash’s essence is partly revealed through a comparison with his contemporaries. He doesn’t have the iconic status of Bob Dylan, the enduring critical acclaim enjoyed by Neil Young, the feted, worshipped aura of Brian Wilson or the stratospheric populism of Paul McCartney (who does, admittedly). His specialism, as he shares on stage, has always been writing songs about “ordinary moments”.

Inevitably, a sublime version of Our House, his ode to domestic contentment, is played towards the end of the set (alongside some touching words on Joni Mitchell). He finishes with the crowd-pleasing Teach Your Children, putting the seal on a show which confirms his reputation as a writer of songs that hold special, longstanding and universal appeal.

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