‘David Crosby and I were finally making peace. And then he was gone’


There’s a song on Now, Graham Nash’s new album, that looks back on his days in Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young. “I Watched It All Come Down” celebrates the glorious music and the heavenly harmonies of the folk-rock supergroup, but it mainly addresses the hostility, bitterness and rivalry that consistently tore a schism in the band. “I watched it all come down/ To a paper-weight at the business end of town,” he sings. “Loaded up and loaded down/ It’s a mess, a mess.” You can hear the hurt through the speakers.

I wonder why, at 81, Nash was moved to write that at this moment? “Because I’m on my own right now,” he says immediately, meaning he was missing his old mates, musically as much as anything.

He formed the group in 1968 with David Crosby and Stephen Stills, and they were later and sporadically joined by Neil Young. All four were fantastic songwriters, though Nash’s contributions on songs like “Our House”, perhaps the most beautiful song about domestic bliss ever written, were unequalled. But the band soon became a soap opera, fighting over everything from music to drugs to women as egos spiralled out of control. “Trying to deal with David wasn’t easy,” Nash says. “I tried not doing any drugs. That didn’t work. I tried doing as many drugs as he did. That didn’t work either.”

He wrote “I Watched It All Come Down” before the death of Crosby in January, an event that puts the song into even sharper relief. Today on video call mid-tour from Phoenix, Arizona, Nash calls Crosby “one of my best friends” and says that his passing is “insanely sad for me. And quite honestly, I’ll miss David for the rest of my life.”

Long-time CSNY watchers will be pleased to hear Nash speak so warmly. Estranged since the band’s final tour in 2015, with constant backbiting in the media, Crosby and Nash were still at it with each other into their 80s (in contrast, Nash tells me he “has contact every week” with Stills and Young). But Nash says one of the tragedies of Crosby’s death was that they had, finally, started to reconcile.

“At the end there, we were getting together. We were emailing each other and voicemailing each other.” Crosby said he needed to apologise for “shooting off my mouth”. They set up a FaceTime “where we could see each other’s faces”, but Crosby didn’t show. “I waited and waited, and he never called. And then he was gone.”

What did he want to say to Crosby? “That we made a lot of beautiful music. We had a lot of great times. Why don’t we get back to that?”

How much does he regret the acrimony, especially over the last few years? “I don’t regret anything, actually,” he says, widening the question out to mean his entire life (not such a surprising answer: Graham Nash has always had a tendency to make decisions in the best interests of Graham Nash). “David and I, our animosity towards each other was very genuine. There are reasons that I’ll never tell. But he is – sorry, he was – one of the great musicians in the world. Completely unique. I have to admit that.”

NEW YORK - OCTOBER 1975: Stephen Stills (left) David Crosby (centre) and Graham Nash (right) perform as Crosby, Stills and Nash (CSN) live on stage at Madison Square Garden, New York in October 1975 (Photo by Richard E. Aaron/Redferns)
From left, Stephen Stills, David Crosby and Graham Nash at Madison Square Gardens in 1975 (Photo: Richard E Aaron/Redferns)

Nash has enjoyed a remarkable life. Born in Blackpool in 1942, he grew up in working-class Salford – you can hear a Mancunian twang to his transatlantic accent – where he formed The Hollies, one of the Sixties’ most successful pop groups, with his best f riend from school, Allan Clarke. From 1964, with songs like “Carrie Anne” and “Bus Stop”, The Hollies scored 12 top-10 hits, including a number one with “I’m Alive” (Nash has been inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame with both The Hollies and CSN).

But he left The Hollies in 1968, sensing an opportunity after meeting Crosby and Stills at the house of his then-girlfriend, Joni Mitchell. Nash had flown over from England to LA to see Mitchell, only to find Crosby and Stills there. “That didn’t please me. I wanted to just spend time with Joni.” But after they played him a song they were working on, “You Don’t Have to Cry”, he asked to join in: a three-part harmony was created, and the rest was history.

Knowing he had to “follow that sound”, Nash went back to England, packed his bags – his first marriage had recently ended – and moved to America without really explaining to anyone what he was doing: not his mother, who thought he was still married and in The Hollies, nor Allan Clarke, who found out Nash had left the band via a third party. That sounds pretty ruthless?

“It was a difficult move,” he admits, adding that he and Clarke have long since made up and remain friends. “People thought I was crazy, leaving the Hollies with all those hits and all that money and all that fame. But they had not heard what I had heard.”

1962: (L-R) Graham Nash, Don Rathbone, Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks and Bernie Calvert of the rock group 'The Hollies' pose for a portrait in 1962. (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Graham Nash, Don Rathbone, Allan Clarke, Tony Hicks and Bernie Calvert of The Hollies pose for a portrait in 1962 (Photo: Michael Ochs Archives/Getty)

Nash fitted seamlessly into the famously bohemian Laurel Canyon scene in Los Angeles in the late 60s and early 70s: a hedonistic, creative melange of music, drugs and sex, with its countercultural optimism set in opposition to political events such as the Vietnam War. Nash says The Hollies had “no power” in the London-based music industry; here, he was free to do whatever he pleased. “It was definitely incredible. It was full of sunshine. It was full of music. It was full of beautiful women with hardly any clothes on. I mean, seriously, it was. It was an unbelievable time.”   

Nash’s relationship with Mitchell – detailed in “Our House” – is the stuff of folk legend, even 50 years on. They’ve remained friends since. “I’ve sent her flowers on her birthday every single year since we’ve been apart.” That’s very nice to keep that up all these years. “Yeah. But you know, once you love Joni Mitchell, it’s hard to not love her.”

They split in 1970; legend has it that Mitchell thought Nash wanted her to quit music and become a housewife. “It was the furthest thing from my mind. I’m gonna tell Joni Mitchell just to cook dinner? F*** you. No way. Nobody in their right mind would do that.”

BIG SUR, CA - SEPTEMBER 14-15: Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell clap during an act at the Big Sur Folk Festival at the Esalen Institue on September 14-15, 1969 in Big Sur, California. (Photo by Robert Altman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)
Graham Nash and Joni Mitchell at Big Sur Folk Festival in 1969 (Photo: Robert Altman/Michael Ochs Archives/Getty)

He remembers the exact moment he got a telegram from Mitchell telling him their relationship was over – “I was actually redoing the kitchen floor with wood” – and says the heartbreak fuelled the songs on Songs for Beginners and Wild Tales, his superb first solo records. It does sound like Joni Mitchell was the most significant relationship of his life? “In many ways, yes. With Joni, you have to realise just what an incredible woman she was. But my life with Amy Grantham is phenomenal. And I’m very happy about our relationship.”

Amy Grantham is Nash’s third wife, an artist 37 years his junior. They met at a CSN concert in New York in 2014; he eventually left his wife of 38 years, actress Susan Sennett (he has insisted the relationship had run its course). He’s not concerned how it might look. “I never considered her age. She’s an incredibly bright and incredibly intelligent woman.” Grantham, he says, has given him “a new lease of life” that influenced the songs on Now, which he says is “the most personal album I have ever made”.

Its first track, “Right Now”, starts with the lyric “I used to think that I could never live again”. Nash says: “I thought it was really brave opening up with that line. I wrote that in my late 70s, and I really didn’t think I would. And then I met this woman and my life changed”. The lovely “It Feels Like Home” comes over like an updated “Our House”, swapping the West Coast for New York, where the couple live. “Almost,” he says, not entirely convinced. “It has that kind of homey feeling, yes.”

Musician Graham Nash holds his son Jackson so he can feel the stomach of his pregnant wife Susan. (Photo by Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)
Nash with his son Jackson and his second wife Susan Sennett in 1979 (Photo: Lynn Goldsmith/Corbis/VCG via Getty)

But elsewhere, the album takes aim at America’s social ills – “there’s an incredible divide between the rich and the poor and an incredible divide between the smart and the stupid,” he tells me – particularly the Donald Trump-supporting right wing. “Even Republicans that supposedly have a brain are following Trump to the very end. Democracy itself is in great danger,” he says. He’s deeply concerned about another Trump presidency. If Trump wins, “I wonder, do I stay and fight? Do I leave and go and find a house in Scotland? What do I do?”

Move back to Salford? “Aye,” he says, sounding truly Mancunian for the only time. “I’ll go to Salford Lad’s Club.”

There is a certain wistfulness to Nash in our conversation. But there is also focus on the here and now: he’s clearly revived not just by his personal circumstances, but by music again. “Holy shit, I’m 81 and doing this with the same passion as years ago.” He’s enthused by the reaction he’s getting at recent shows. “They’re not just clapping for ‘Our House’. They’re really listening to every word. It’s great.”

Does he consider how much longer he can keep going? “I think about it every day, really,” he says. “Particularly when David died. I’m 81, you know? And now that I don’t have David and Stephen or Neil in my life, musically, I know what I want to do. I’m gonna do with my life, however long it is, the very best that I can.”

Graham Nash begins his UK tour on Tuesday


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