The Nice
(The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack /  Ars Longa Vita Brevis/ The Nice)

These CD's two double sets and one single CD contain the complete recorded works of progressive rock pioneers The Nice recorded in their brief lifetime between 1967 and 1969.

The Nice were assembled in May 1967 by Rolling Stones manager Andrew Loog Oldham to act as a backing band for his protégé, the American singer PP Arnold then resident in England who at that time was having a hit with her impassioned version of the Cat Stevens song "The First Cut Is The Deepest". First to be recruited were organist Keith Emerson and bass player Lee Jackson who had been playing together in rhythm and blues Gary Farr and The T-Bones. The drummer Ian Hague had been backing another of Oldhams acts Chris Farlowe. The guitarist Davey O'List was a teenage whizz kid who had been playing in psychedelic pop hopefuls The Attack. It soon became apparent that the band were too good to be consigned to back up duties and after performing in their own right at the Annual National Jazz and Blues Festival in Windsor and going down a storm with a show climaxing with smoke bombs, rockets and thunder flashes, Oldham thought that the band had massive potential and signed them in their own right to his Immediate label. The band soon garnered a reputation as an exciting live act and acquired a cult following which led to the band recording their debut session for John Peels Top Gear on the then new Radio One. By this stage drummer Ian Hague had fallen by the wayside and was replaced by Brian 'Blinky' Davison, formerly a colleague of O'Lists in the Attack.

In the Autumn of 1967 the Nice broke off from their frantic touring schedule to go in to Olympic Studios to record. Their first single was issued in November entitled "The Thought Of Emerlist Davjack (I Think About It)" featuring a rare lead vocal from the songs main writer Dave O'List. The song was a poppy harmony effort which attracted good reviews but little in the way of sales. The bands debut album, names after the single was released in 1968 after a year of delay cause by Immediate's financial problems. The album is regarded on the one hand as being the one which kick started the Progressive Rock Movement and on the other as being a contender for the title of one of the best albums of the British psychedelic era. Either of those titles doesn't do justice to the bands musical style. Emerson was the undisputed star of the group playing organ, piano and harpsichord and bringing a myriad of influences to his playing jazz, boogie, and of course classical. The eight minute long "Rondo" fused Dave Bribecks jazz standard "Blue Rondo A La Turke" with Bachs "Toccata & Fugue". Whilst waiting for the delayed album to be released the band recorded an instrumental version of "America by Leonard Barnstein from the musical West Side Story for single release which was the bands sole hit single and is included as one of the bonus tracks on this 2 CD version of the album. Another classically influenced track is the band composed "War And Peace, White Bonnie K" sounds influenced by Jimi Hendrix's "Purple Haze". The second disc of the first album includes alternative versions of some of the album tracks and several tracks recorded for BBC Sessions. Also included is a promo 7" sampler for the album with snippets of tracks and commentary by John Peel urging everybody to go and buy the record. Unfortunately the album failed to become a big seller.

During the time of the recording sessions for the second album which started end of July in 1968, Emerson, Jackson and Davison were finding it hard to tolerate the erratic behaviour of guitarist O'List who had become unpredictable since allegedly having his drink spiked in Los Angeles by David Crosby and it was announced that he left the band due to "pressures of work". After auditioning several other guitarists the band decided to carry on without a guitarist allowing Keith Emerson to take full control. The second albums title was "Ars Longa Vita Brevis" roughly translated as "life is short art is long". The albums title  track is a 19 minute piece and the classical theme was also carried by the tracks Intermezzo from the Karelia Suite by Finnish composer Sibeluis, which at the time was used as the theme for a popular current affairs TV programme "This Week" and an adaptation of Bach's "Brandenberg Concerto" entitled "Brandenburger" which was released as a single but failed to chart.

By early 1969 they had acquired a reputation as an exciting and innovative band in their concert performances and seeing as the first two albums had failed to seal in huge numbers it was decided the third album would be one half studio and one half live. The live side consisted of an updated version of Rondo entitled "Rondo 69" and an eleven minute rendition of Bob Dylan's "She Belongs To Me" which had been part of the bands show since their formation in mid 1967. The studio side includes a version of Tim Hardins "Hang On To A Dream" which has a choral backing and the piano solo breaks out into a boogie and is certainly a highlight of the bands career. "For Example" includes a brass section comprised of some of the rising stars of the then jazz rock scene. The album was unqualified success and reached the Top 3 of the UK Album charts. By then though, the writing was on the wall. Emerson was becoming dissatisfied with the band particularly feeling the needed a stronger vocalist and would subsequently disband the Nice to form Emerson Lake And Palmer.

These three reissues are excellently packages with The Nice Story told by David Wells spaced out over the three CDs.

Derek McCann

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