Nash live at The Edge. Photo by Gary Topp
His music was a joltingly forward-thinking mishmash of garage rock and spooky new-wave. An audio equivalent to an early Twilight Zone episode or a 50s sci-fi pulp novel that imagined a future where we cruise around Mars on hoverboards, sucking Big Macs out of toothpaste tubes. He toured with Gary Numan and was the opening act of choice for a who's who of 70s luminaries including the likes of Iggy Pop and Magazine. His distorted violin leads made most rock guitarists look like wimps. The man known as Nash the Slash was even nominated for, of all things, a Juno.
Clad in a stage outfit that consisted of sunglasses, a top hat, tux with tails and facial bandages, Nash—formerly of 70s prog outfit FM—cut an imposing and unique shape in the fabric of Canadian music in the 70s and 80s, easily out-weirding the punks and releasing a string of classic, offbeat yet approachable records. And for his relative obscurity managed to remain a touchstone for Canadian indie artists who would rather cram themselves into a tour van and eat beef jerky for months on end than jump a musical bandwagon.
Gary Numan with Nash together onstage, 1981
An irreverent but canny oddball who was as liable to throw a Grand Funk Railroad cover in his set as a re-imagined Prokofiev melody for the hell of it, or even sarcastically cover Deep Purple with the 1980s track “Dopes on the Water.” Nash was proud of his ability to wrench the sounds he needed from analog drum machines and electrified acoustic instruments (i.e. mandolins), the album sleeve of 1980's classic LP Children of the Night plainly stating “there are no guitars”.
Outside of some late 70s/early 80s production touches his music remains contemporary, and his irreverence towards, yet firm embrace of rock tradition is echoed by current Canadian musicians like Mac Demarco and his plangent indie dad-rock. In a way Nash was the consummate opening act: he couldn't pull the crowd of a band like The Who, but he could sure make them work their asses off living up to his intense live show, through which he always played solo and incorporated a great deal of theatricality, stage lighting, and eerie projections. His 1975 performance of his original score for Luis Bunuel’s surreal masterpiece “Un Chien Andalou” being a well-regarded highlight. If Nash had been starting today, his mummified orchestra conductor antics would have made him meme royalty.
Listen to a stream of rare live record 'Hammersmith Holocaust'
Unfortunately, Nash real name Jeff Plewman passed away in 2014, and we're left to consider his legacy on record, as he was a somewhat reclusive figure—albeit to the benefit of the mystery surrounding his craft. Stepping up to the plate, Toronto's Artoffact label is re-issuing a slew of heretofore out of print Nash the Slash records on vinyl, CD and digital formats. The Dreams and Nightmares and Children of the Night full lengths, Bedside Companion EP, and the rare Hammersmith Holocaust live record are on offer with extra tracks and restored artwork in deluxe gatefold format. The latter of which includes heartfelt liner notes from Gary Numan himself, who offered Nash the opening slot on his 1980 tour after having his mind blown by Nash’s live show at a Toronto club.
This rare record has been reprinted on “square-splatter” vinyl and is available for purchase along with the rest of the re-issues February 5. Pre-orders for the entire collection as a box set went fast, so jumping on these re-issues should be a priority for anyone with a Nash-shaped hole in their record wall. Long live the mummy.
Patrick Short is a writer. Follow him on Twitter.