The Nice

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Not to be confused with Nice (Australian band).
The Nice
Nice 1970.JPG
The Nice at the Ernst-Merck-Halle in Hamburg, West Germany on 29 March 1970
Background information
Origin London, England
Genres Progressive rock, psychedelic rock, jazz-rock
Years active 1967–70, 2002
Labels Immediate, Charisma, Mercury, Philips
Associated acts P. P. Arnold, Refugee
Past members Keith Emerson
Lee Jackson
David O'List
Ian Hague
Brian Davison

The Nice were an English progressive rock band from the 1960s, known for their blend of rock, jazz and classical music. Their debut album, The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack was released in 1967.

The Nice consisted initially of keyboardist Keith Emerson, bassist/vocalist Lee Jackson, guitarist David O'List, more commonly known as "Davy",[1] and drummer Ian Hague, quickly replaced by Brian Davison. The band took their name from Steve Marriott's slang term for being high, a term he used in the song "Here Come the Nice". Marriott originally wanted to give the name to a band he was producing, called The Little People. Andrew Loog Oldham took it upon himself to rename The Little People Apostolic Intervention, and dubbed the Emerson, Jackson, Davison, O'List group "The Nice". Jackson and Emerson's autobiography Pictures of an Exhibitionist suggests that the name originated with a suggestion from P. P. Arnold.[1]


Early career[edit]

The Nice evolved from Gary Farr and the T-Bones, which Emerson and Jackson were both members of before the band dissolved in early 1967.[2] Emerson then briefly played with the VIPs, who toured the Star Club in Hamburg, and his playing style became influenced by the organist Don Shinn, including standing up to play the instrument and rocking it on stage.[3] Meanwhile, P. P. Arnold, a performer who reached a higher level of popularity in the UK than her native US,[1] was unhappy with her backing band, The Blue Jays, and wanted a replacement. Her driver suggested Emerson would be able to put together such a group. Emerson agreed, but only on the condition the band could perform on their own as a warm-up act. Since it effectively meant getting two bands for the price of one, manager Andrew Loog Oldham readily agreed. Emerson recruited Jackson, drummer Ian Hague, and finally O'List, the latter by recommendation from journalist Chris Welch.[4]

The band played its first gig in May 1967, and had its first major break at the 7th National Jazz and Blues Festival in Windsor on 13 August. Oldham had managed to secure a separate set for the group in a side tent away from also accompanying Arnold on the main stage, where they gained attention. The next week, Welch wrote in the Melody Maker that "it was the first time I had seen a group actually in the act of winning its first following in quite dramatic circumstances."[5] When Arnold went back to the US to her family shortly afterwards, Oldham offered the group a contract of their own. Hague was not interested in the "progressive" direction the group wanted to go in, so he was replaced by former Mark Leeman Five and Habits drummer Davison.[6]

Now a band in their own right, The Nice expanded their gear, recruiting roadies Bazz Ward and Lemmy, the latter of whom provided Emerson with a Hitler Youth ceremonial dagger to stick into the keys on his Hammond Organ. They spent the end of 1967 on a package tour with Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd, The Move and Amen Corner. The Floyd's then leader, Syd Barrett, missed several gigs and O'List had to stand in for him. The group's first album was recorded throughout the autumn of 1967, and in October of that year they recorded their first session for John Peel's Top Gear.[7] Early work tended toward the psychedelic but more ambitious elements soon came to the fore. The classical and jazz influences manifested themselves both in short quotes from Janáček (Sinfonietta) and a rearrrangement of Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk" which The Nice called simply "Rondo", changing the time signature from the original 9/8 to 4/4 in the process.

Their stage performances were bold and violent, with Emerson incorporating feedback and distortion. He manhandled his Hammond L-100 organ, wrestling it and attacking it with daggers (which he used to hold down keys and sustain notes during these escapades). This was inspired by Jimi Hendrix, Billy Ritchie of Clouds, and Don Shinn, an English organist who played alongside Rod Stewart in The Soul Agents, as well as earlier figures such as pianist Jerry Lee Lewis.[8]

For their second single, The Nice created an arrangement of Leonard Bernstein's "America" which Emerson described as the first ever instrumental protest song. It not only uses the Bernstein piece (from West Side Story) but also includes fragments of Dvořák's New World Symphony. The single concludes with a child (who, according to Emerson's biography, is P. P. Arnold's three-year-old son) speaking the lines "America is pregnant with promise and anticipation, but is murdered by the hand of the inevitable." The new arrangement was released under the title "America (Second Amendment)" as a pointed reference to the US Bill of Rights provision for the bearing of arms. In July 1968, the British music magazine, NME, reported that the band had asked their record label, Immediate Records, to withdraw a controversial poster advertising the single. It pictured the group members with small boys on their knees, with superimposed images of the faces of John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King on the children's heads. The band's spokesperson said "Several record stores have refused to stock our current single .... the Nice feel if the posters are issued in America they will do considerable harm".[9]

During the tour that followed the release of their second album, the group spawned controversy when Emerson burned an American flag onstage during a performance of "America" at a charity event, “Come Back Africa” in London's Royal Albert Hall, on 26 June 1968, resulted in The Nice being banned from ever playing the Royal Albert Hall again, though Keith Emerson played again at the venue with Emerson, Lake and Palmer in October 1992.

By the summer of 1968, the group became concerned that O'List would turn up late for gigs.[10] He left the band following a gig in Croydon's Fairfield Hall in September. According to Ward, O'List had an altercation with him in mid-performance. Emerson subsequently called a band meeting with Jackson and Davison and stated flatly that O'List should be sacked. They agreed, and immediately after their performance at The Ritz, Bournemouth in October, he was fired by Stratton-Smith with the rest of the band present.[11] O'List, however, claims that he left the band voluntarily because he was upset at Stratton-Smith's decision to make Emerson the front man, saying "I left the band and waited for Keith to get in contact... I should have gone straight to Keith, but I didn't."[12]

Reduction to a three piece[edit]

The Nice briefly considered looking for a replacement, with Steve Howe trying out at an audition. Howe got on well with the rest of the band, but a week later had second thoughts and decided not to join.[13] Following this, they followed the example set by 1-2-3 (later Clouds), and decided to continue as a rock organ trio. With O'List gone, Emerson's control over the band's direction became greater, resulting in more complex music. The absence of a guitar in the band and Emerson's redefining of the role of keyboard instruments in rock set The Nice apart from many of its contemporaries.

The earlier work of French pianist Jacques Loussier and the more-or-less contemporary Charles Lloyd Quartet (featuring Keith Jarrett) can be seen as influences. Loussier took classical works, notably by Bach, and arranged them for jazz piano trio. The Charles Lloyd band was bridging the jazz and rock spheres and Jarrett's performances (which included playing inside the piano) received much attention. The Nice performed two pieces from the Lloyd repertoire: "Sombrero Sam" and "Sorcery". Part of the musical approach of The Nice was transferring the innovations of these jazz artists into an electric medium, one that was influenced by The Who, Jimi Hendrix, and The Beatles. Another influence was Bob Dylan, whose songs were common currency at the time; The Nice interpreted several of them, typically reducing them to three or four verses and featuring a long improvised middle section. Cover versions of other artists' songs, such as Tim Hardin's "Hang on to a Dream" were realised in similar fashion.

The band's second LP Ars Longa Vita Brevis featured an arrangement of the Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite by Jean Sibelius and the album's second side was a suite which included an arrangement of a movement from J.S. Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. The group used an orchestra for the first time on some parts of the suite.[14]

One might assume, in the face of such a visual display, that the Nice is a mediocre group that compensates for musical failings with a pop-rock version of the theater of violence. Far from it. The Nice is as musically proficient a group as one will hear anywhere on the pop scene. Their most attractive quality is the genuine spirit of improvisational invention and surging jazz rhythm which permeates their work

Don Heckman, writing in the Los Angeles Times[15]

The Nice were on the bill at the 1969 Isle of Wight Festival.[16]

The third album, titled Nice in the UK and Everything As Nice As Mother Makes It in the US, featured one side recorded live on their American tour and one side of studio material. As with previous albums, it included arrangements of classical material, in this case the Third Movement (Pathetique) of Tchaikovsky's Sixth Symphony.[14]

The Five Bridges suite, commissioned for the Newcastle Arts Festival, was premiered with a full orchestra conducted by Joseph Eger on 10 October 1969 (the recorded version is from 17 October in Croydon's Fairfield Hall). The title refers to the city's five bridges spanning the River Tyne (three more have since been built).

The Nice provided instrumental backing for the track "Hell's Angels" on Roy Harper's 1970 album Flat Baroque and Berserk.

One of the final appearances by the group was in collaboration with the Los Angeles Philharmonic led by Zubin Mehta. This was broadcast in March 1970 on American television as part of the "Switched-On Symphony" program. Following standard television procedure of the day, The Nice's contribution (a version of "America") was recorded ahead of time and the band mimed for the cameras.

Post Nice[edit]

By 1970, Emerson and the other band members were frustrated with their lack of mainstream success and they soon broke up. They played their last concert on 30 March 1970 in Berlin, Germany (Sportpalast). Emerson formed a band with Greg Lake (of King Crimson) and Carl Palmer (of Atomic Rooster) — Emerson, Lake & Palmer.[17]

A posthumous Nice release Elegy included different versions of already familiar tracks, two being studio versions and two live from the 1969 US tour.

Lee Jackson formed Jackson Heights which released five albums between 1970 and 1973. Brian Davison formed "Every Which Way" which released an album in 1970. Both Jackson and Davison formed Refugee with Patrick Moraz in 1974, but Moraz later joined Yes to replace Rick Wakeman.


After over three decades, The Nice reformed in 2002 for a series of concerts. A three-CD set Vivacitas was released, with the third CD being an interview with Emerson, Jackson and Davison. Dave Kilminster guested on guitar at the concerts.[18] Davison died on 15 April 2008 in Horns Cross, Devon from a brain tumour aged 65.[6][19]



Studio albums[edit]

Live albums[edit]

Keith Emerson with The Nice (Japan) (1972)

Compilation albums[edit]


  • "The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack" / "Azrial (Angel of Death)" (Immediate IM 059, November 1967)
  • "America" / "The Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon" (Immediate IM 068, 21 June 1968)
  • "Brandenburger" / "Happy Freuds" (Immediate IM 072, 8 November 1968)
  • "Diary of an Empty Day" / "Hang on to a Dream" (Immediate, 1969)
  • "Country Pie" / "One of Those People" (Charisma, 1969)[1]

The singles listed here are the original releases. Many of the singles were re-released throughout the 1970s with different B-sides.



  1. ^ a b c d e Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 695–6. ISBN 1841950173. 
  2. ^ Hanson 2002, p. 22.
  3. ^ Hanson 2002, p. 24.
  4. ^ Hanson 2002, pp. 22–6.
  5. ^ Hanson 2002, pp. 30–2.
  6. ^ a b Welch, Chris (22 April 2008). "Brian Davison: Drummer with The Nice". The Independent (obituary) (London). Retrieved 22 November 2012. 
  7. ^ Hanson 2002, pp. 46–7.
  8. ^ Weigel, David (14 August 2012). "Prog Spring: Before it was a joke, prog was the future of rock ‘n’ roll". Slate. Retrieved 23 November 2012. 
  9. ^ Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International. p. 186. CN 5585. 
  10. ^ Hanson 2002, p. 71.
  11. ^ Hanson 2002, pp. 72–3.
  12. ^ Hanson 2002, p. 74.
  13. ^ Hanson 2002, p. 75.
  14. ^ a b Hatch & Millward 1987, p. 151.
  15. ^ Heckman, Don (4 January 1970). Los Angeles Times.  [full citation needed]
  16. ^ Tobler 1992, p. 202.
  17. ^ Tobler 1992, p. 213.
  18. ^ Hannaleck, David (MuzikMan) (13 December 2004). "Keith Emerson and The Nice". Blogcritics. 
  19. ^ "2008 January to June". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved July 2010. 


Further reading[edit]

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