The Nice

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. It is often considered the first progressive rock album. The Nice are also a forerunner of the much more widely known Emerson, Lake & Palmer, laying the groundwork for the entire progressive rock explosion in the process. The seeds were already sown for the Symphonic and Orchestral style of music that Keith Emerson would champion throughout the decades to come. The Nice consisted initially of keyboardist Keith Emerson, bassist/vocalist Lee Jackson, drummer Brian Davison, and guitarist David O'List, more commonly known as "Davy".


The Nice were initially conceived as a backup band for American-born soul singer P.P. Arnold, an ex-member of the Ikettes (who producer, manager, and music mogul Andrew Oldham hoped to make into the next Tina Turner). Keyboard player Keith Emerson had previously played in Gary Farr & the T-Bones, and the new group's rhythm section was filled by T-Bones alumni Lee Jackson on bass and Ian Hague on drums, while former Attack guitarist Davy O'List filled the fourth spot. They got together in May of 1967 and soon found themselves given an unexpected amount of freedom in their role as Arnold's backing band. Part of their role was to warm up the crowd for Arnold's entrance, and the singer told them to play anything they liked. As a result, slipped in between covers of various soul standards was a brace of ever more ambitious originals composed by the group members, and soon their opening sets began building a following of their own. By that summer, the quartet had earned billing on its own at the National Jazz and Blues Festival, and by the fall of 1967 the group had a recording contract of its own with Oldham's Immediate Records. Hague, however, proved a weak link in their lineup, and by the time they were ready to formally begin recording, the drummer had been replaced by O'List's onetime Attack bandmate Brian Davison.

Their debut album, The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack, was released in 1967 and managed to sound different from virtually anything else in music at the time: spooky organ solos and slashing guitar attacks ran together and clashed, and heavily veiled quotations from Dave Brubeck and Johann Sebastian Bach all seemed to trail out from in and around their songs. They were working on their second album when guitarist Davy O'List left the group in the early fall of 1968, and he wasn't replaced. Instead, the Nice became a trio comprised of keyboard, bass (with a guitar added occasionally as needed, by a guest support player), and drums. Their sound tightened and also evolved in a new direction. In 1968, the single "America (Second Amendment)" was released. It was an arrangement of Leonard Bernstein's "America" (from the american musical West Side Story), which Emerson described as the first ever instrumental protest song.

America (Second Amendment)

The centerpiece of their second album, Ars Longa Vita Brevis, was the title suite, a rock-classical amalgam for band and orchestra that took up the whole second side. That work included an arrangement of one movement of the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No.3. The other highlight was a band rendition of the Intermezzo from The Karelia Suite by composer Jean Sibelius, and both of those classically inspired works dominated the record.

Intermezzo from The Karelia Suite

They went ahead with plans for a third LP, which initially was to have been a live album recorded at the Fillmore East during their early 1969 tour of the United States. In the end, that album, variously titled Nice or Everything as Nice as Mother Makes, it was a mix of live and studio performances. The record peaked at number three on the British charts, and suddenly the Nice were ranked among the top bands in the country.

She belongs to me

It was just about at the time of the third album's release that Immediate declared bankruptcy. Fortunately, Stratton-Smith had already started positioning the group to break away from Immediate at the first opportunity, which the bankruptcy provided. Additionally, the Nice had moved into wholly new artistic territory in 1969, rising to an odd plateau of success, when they received an actual commission -a formal, classical-type commission, and a first for a rock band- to deliver a work for rock group and orchestra to the Newcastle Arts Festival, a highly prestigious affair scheduled for the fall of that year. They rose to the occasion with "The Five Bridges Suite," which was performed at the Newcastle festival and later recorded at Croydon. Between that piece, some of the live recordings being generated, and some shorter studio works that were in various stages of completion, the Nice suddenly had a little breathing room in the form of two complete LPs' worth of high-quality material coalescing around their work. The Five Bridges, released in 1970 on Stratton-Smith's new Charisma label in England and on Mercury in America, would become the group's biggest seller to date.

Country Pie Brandenburg Concerto No 6

By that time, however, Emerson felt the group had gone about as far as it was ever going to musically, especially given the limitations he'd always found on the vocal side. Meanwhile, the Nice soldiered on, playing some amazing shows that were captured on tape. By 1970, the band  broke up and Emerson formed Emerson, Lake & Palmer with Greg Lake (of King Crimson) and Carl Palmer (of Atomic Rooster). Stratton-Smith followed it up after Emerson's split with the group by putting together Elegy, a compilation of live and studio performances from the band's late-era work. 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 reunited in 2002 for a series of concerts. A three-CD set Vivacitas was released, with the third CD being an interview with Keith Emerson. The band featured also Dave Kilminster on guitar. Davison died in 2008 from a brain tumour. Davison's death put any further reunions out of reach.  O'List has recently re-emerged to play again in England. He has re-embraced the Nice's musical heritage with a new group of musicians and recordings.

(studio albums)

The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack (1967):
1. Flower King of Flies
2. The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack
3. Bonnie K
4. Rondo" (Dave Brubeck)
5. War And Peace
6. Tantalising Maggie
7. Dawn
8. The Cry of Eugene

Ars Longa Vita Brevis (1968):
1. Daddy, Where Did I Come From
2. Little Arabella
3. Happy Freuds
4. Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite (Sibelius)
5. Don Edito el Gruva
6. Ars Longa Vita Brevis
a) Prelude/1st Movement - Awakening
b) 2nd Movement - Realisation
c) 3rd Movement - Acceptance "Brandenburger"
d) 4th Movement - Denial
e) Coda - Extension to the Big Note

Nice (aka Everything As Nice As Mother Makes It, 1969):
1. Azrael Revisited
2. Hang On to a Dream (Tim Hardin)
3. Diary of an Empty Day
4. For Example
5. Rondo '69' (Dave Brubeck)
6. She Belongs to Me (Bob Dylan)

Five Bridges (1970):
1. The Five Bridges Suite
a) Fantasia 1st Bridge
b) 2nd Bridge
c) Chorale 3rd Bridge
d) High Level Fugue 4th Bridge
e) Finale 5th Bridge
2. Intermezzo 'Karelia Suite' (Sibelius)
3. Pathetique (Symphony No. 6, 3rd Movement) (Tchaikovsky)
4. Country Pie/Brandenburg Concerto No.6 (Bob Dylan, J.S. Bach)
5. One Of Those People

Elegy (1971):
1. Hang On To A Dream (Live) (Tim Hardin)
2. My Back Pages (Bob Dylan)
3. Third Movement, Pathetique (Tchaikovsky)
4. America (Live) (Bernstein)