“I need my audience to know that I want to be there making music for them. I’m not going to do it half-assed; I’m going to do it with as much passion as I can. If I see them smiling on the way out, I know I’ve done my job.”
You’re speaking to us from beautiful Italy – supposedly when you’re in all these places it must be a far cry from the Northern England you grew up in?
Absolutely. My world was totally changed when I moved to the United States in 1968 – I was 26.
It wasn’t overwhelming at all. When I first experienced turning our three voices into one (in Joni Mitchell’s living room in '67) my soul, heart and brain knew what I had to do: leave The Hollies and follow that sound – and that’s what I did. And we just knew when we finished that first record, that it was going to be a big hit.
You had great success with The Hollies – how did you then link up with Crosby and Stills?
The Hollies were being thrown a party in Los Angeles by our record company. A young Hollies fan named Rodney Bingenheimer (who became a famous DJ) asked us what we were doing after. He said, “I have these friends who are recording down the street.” He wanted to know if we wanted to go. I asked him who it was and he said it was The Mamas and the Papas. I said “sure!” I couldn’t go in that particular studio but Cass Elliot was outside – I became great friends with Cass. The very next day, she introduced me to David Crosby.
What was she like?
She was my Gertrude Stein. She would bring together people at dinner from different parts of show business: artists, movie makers, songwriters, movie stars. A great woman.
We had the pleasure of interviewing Rita Coolidge recently. Are the two of you still in touch at all?
Absolutely. My affair with Rita was 40-odd years ago – one moves along in life but I’m still very much friends with her. My wife and Rita had dinner last night in New York.
You’ll be aware of recent music biopics, Bohemian Rhapsody and Rocketman. Would you like one to be made about you or the bands?
Oh God… there’s been plenty of offers. Who knows what the future holds? That’s one of the exciting things about being a musician these days: you never know what’s going to happen. I’m not sure my life is interesting enough for a movie.
Your own show tours the UK in July, what’s it like returning to England?
It’s always a pleasure to come back and play. I feel like I’m home.
Do happenings in the States ever make you want to move back home permanently?
I never thought about moving until the Trump administration came along and took America on the road that unfortunately leads backwards. He leaves a lot to be desired as both a president and as a man. He has used fear and lies to control the public and the democracy of the United States is very much in danger right now. I certainly hope he is not re-elected in 2020.
You’ve always been something of an activist, are there any particular issues you’re passionate about at the moment?
First and foremost is climate change. It’s very difficult to get the whole world to move in a certain direction. Unfortunately, time is running out. We’ve only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of the trouble that’s coming towards us.
Your tour goes alongside your Over the Years record. It’s an assortment of hits and much-loved tracks, but there’s also a lot of unreleased material on there.
Yeah, there are 15 demos on there – I wanted to put something on that would make it more interesting. It’s been generating a lot of interest from people, they’re loving hearing the very first time I put down ‘Marrakesh Express’ or ‘Teach Your Children’ on tape.
You’re a two-time Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee and two-time Songwriter Hall of Fame inductee, a Grammy Award winner, a New York Times bestselling author, and Officer of the Order of the British Empire – but what are you most proud of?
I think I’ve brought some happiness to people with my music. I’m just glad to have been a musician and to have helped in some small way.
Graham Nash plays New Theatre Oxford 21 July.
Photography: Amy Grantham