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The Nice in Hamburg 29 March 1970
|Genres||Progressive rock, psychedelic rock|
|Years active||1967–1970, 2002|
|Labels||Immediate, Charisma, Mercury, Philips|
|Associated acts||P. P. Arnold, Refugee|
|Past members||Keith Emerson
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 to immediate acclaim. It is sometimes considered[according to whom?] the first progressive rock album. The Nice are also a forerunner of the much more widely known Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
The Nice consisted initially of keyboardist Keith Emerson, bassist/vocalist Lee Jackson, guitarist David O'List, more commonly known as "Davy", 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". Emerson's autobiography Pictures of an Exhibitionist suggests that the name originated with a suggestion from P. P. Arnold. The reference to "being high" is not mentioned, instead a routine by hipster/comic Lord Buckley is quoted.
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. Emerson then briefly played with the VIPs, and his playing style was influenced by the organist Don Shinn. Meanwhile, P. P. Arnold, a performer who reached a higher level of popularity in the UK than her native US, 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 quickly recruited Jackson, drummer Ian Hague, and finally O'List, the latter by recommendation from journalist Chris Welch.:22–26
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 quickly 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.":30–32 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.
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.:46–47 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 in more elaborate renderings of Dave Brubeck's "Blue Rondo a la Turk" which The Nice called simply "Rondo", changing the meter from the original 9/8 to 4/4 in the process.
Perhaps as a foil for the highbrow aspects of their music, the 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.
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".
During the long and wildly popular 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". Emerson burnt the American stars and stripes during the band's appearance at charity event “Come Back Africa” at London's Royal Albert Hall, on 26 June 1968, provoking a big controversy and a "lifetime ban". The Nice were 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.
During the summer of 1968, O'List's behaviour had become increasingly erratic. Jackson, Davison and roadie Bazz Ward all agree the problems started after his drink was spiked with LSD by David Crosby that February, and he became increasingly late for gigs – on their 4 July appearance at The Marquee, Ward had to telephone O'List to remind him that the gig was on.:71 Things reached a head at a gig in Croydon's Fairfield Hall on 29 September, where O'List surprised everyone by suddenly assaulting Ward 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.:72–73
Reduction to a three piece
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.:75 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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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. The band featured Dave Kilminster on guitar.
O'List has recently re-emerged to play again in England, and a substantial amount of information can be found on his website. He has re-embraced the Nice's musical heritage with a new group of musicians and recordings.
- Keith Emerson: Organ, piano, vocals — (born 2 November 1944, Todmorden, Yorkshire)
- Keith "Lee" Jackson: Bass, guitar, vocals — (born 8 January 1943, Newcastle upon Tyne)
- David "Davy" O'List: Guitar, vocals (1967–68) — (born 13 December 1948, Chiswick, London)
- Brian "Blinky" Davison: Drums, percussion — (born 25 May 1942, Leicester, Leicestershire – died 15 April 2008)
- The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack (Immediate, 1967)
- Ars Longa Vita Brevis (Immediate, 1968)
- Nice (aka Everything As Nice As Mother Makes It) (Immediate, 1969)
- Five Bridges (Charisma, 1970)
- Elegy (Charisma, 1971)
Everything As Nice As Mother Makes It is the US version of Nice after Immediate's distribution changed from Columbia to Capitol. Nice had been initially released in the US with a slightly longer version of Rondo 69 not available on the UK or on the Capitol distributed US versions. The first US version of Nice was briefly reissued in 1973 by Columbia Special Products. Both Five Bridges and Elegy were released in the US by Mercury and in Germany by Phillips. Both albums were reissued as a two record set in both the US and Germany in 1972 as Keith Emerson and The Nice (see compilations). On the US reissues of Five Bridges from the 1980s, "One of Those People" features a noticeably different mono mix in place of the stereo mix on the original issue.
- America – The BBC Sessions (Receiver, 1996)
- The Swedish Radio Sessions (late 1967) (Sanctuary, 2001)
- BBC Sessions (Sanctuary, 2002)
- Vivacitas (Sanctuary, 2003)
- Live at the Fillmore East December 1969 (Virgin, 2009)
- The Best of The Nice (EMI/Immediate, 1971)
- Keith Emerson with The Nice (Mercury, 1972)
- In Memoriam (The Nice Album) (Immediate, 1973)
- Autumn '67 - Spring '68 (Charisma, 1972, UK), released as Autumn to Spring (Charisma, 1973, USA)
- Hang on to a Dream (EMIDisc, 1974)
- The Immediate Years (2-LP set) (Sire, 1975)
- Amoeni Redivivi (NEMS/Immediate, 1976)
- Greatest Hits (The Nice Album) (NEMS/Immediate, 1977)
- Greatest Hits (The Nice Album) (Big Time, 1988)
- The Immediate Years (3-CD Boxed Set) (Charly, 1995)
- Here Come The Nice - The Immediate Anthology (3-CD Boxed Set) (Castle Communications, 2002)
- Charisma Disturbance (2-LP set) (Charisma 1973, UK), track 3 – Intermezzo "Karelia Suite", catalogue no. TSS1
- The Essential Collection (The Nice Album) (2-CD set) (Union Square Music, 2006)
- Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon (2-CD set) (Micro Werks, 2010)
Keith Emerson with The Nice was reissued on CD in 1990 as a single disc, eliminating "Country Pie/Brandenburg Conc.#6" and "One of Those People" from Five Bridges and "Pathetique" from Elegy. The Immediate Anthology contains all three albums and all the singles originally released by Immediate records along with several previously unissued live tracks, Immediate demos and alternative takes. The Essential Collection contains all tracks from the first three albums except "Bonnie K" from The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack and "She Belongs To Me" from Nice. Some of the compilations listed (namely Autumn to Spring, Hang on to a Dream and In Memoriam) feature slightly different mixes than originally released on the albums. Due to Immediate Records' dissolution in 1970, the recordings of The Nice (along with other artists on the Immediate label) were leased out to many record companies, resulting in a high number of compilation albums (many of which are not listed here) with different packaging, but similar track listings.
- "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)
The singles listed here are the original releases. Many of the singles were re-released throughout the 1970s with different B-sides.
- Strong, Martin C. (2000). The Great Rock Discography (5th ed.). Edinburgh: Mojo Books. pp. 695–696. ISBN 1-84195-017-3.
- Hanson, Martyn. Hang on to a Dream – The Story of the Nice. Helter Skelter Publishing. ISBN 1-900924-43-9.
- "Brian Davison obituary". The Independent. Retrieved 22 November 2012.
- "Slate: Prog Spring". Retrieved 23 November 2012.
- Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 186. CN 5585.
- Los Angeles Times, January 4, 1970
- Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 202. CN 5585.
- Tobler, John (1992). NME Rock 'N' Roll Years (1st ed.). London: Reed International Books Ltd. p. 213. CN 5585.
- Review of Vivacitas
- Thedeadrockstarsclub.com – accessed July 2010
- Hanson, Martyn (December 2002). Hang on to a Dream – The Story of the Nice. Helter Skelter. ISBN 978-1-900924-43-6.
- Emerson, Keith (December 2003). Pictures of an Exhibitionist. Blake Publishing. ISBN 1-904034-79-9.
- Rock Reviews
- Keith Emerson Web site
- Davy O'List Web site
- David O'List – Interview on The Marquee Club