The Nice (Keith Emerson, keyboards; David O'List (formerly of The Attack, guitar and vocals; Lee Jackson, bass and vocals; Brian Davison, drums) came together in 1967 as a backing group for American soul singer P.P. Arnold, whose version of Cat Stevens' song "The First Cut Is The Deepest" was a hit in that year for Andrew Loog Oldham's label Immediate Records. Ironically, while Arnold proved to be a one-hit wonder, The Nice were to be a more long-term success for the label, issuing three successful albums (before switching to Charisma Records for their two final LPs). As their career progressed, the group became a vehicle for the showmanship of Keith Emerson, especially after the departure of O'List. Emerson became the keyboard equivalent of Jimi Hendrix and Pete Townshend, mixing flamboyant musicianship with violent assaults on his instrument.
The Nice peaked commercially in 1968, with their second LP Ars Longa, Vita Brevis and a six-minute long instrumental single version of Leonard Bernstein's "America", from his West Side Story, both gaining good sales. "America" also brought them notoriety due to a publicity campaign, probably thought up by their record company boss Oldham, with controversial press posters and a burning of the Stars and Stripes during an Albert Hall performance in June 1968. Reportedly this caused Bernstein to veto the release of "America" in the United States  and may also explain why The Nice were one of the few major British groups of their era not to tour the U.S. and gain a following there.
The Nice split up in 1970, with Emerson, by then the dominant member of the group, continuing to perform long, classically-inspired pieces with still more flamboyance and showmanship in his new group, Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Davison and Jackson also formed groups of their own but received far less attention than their former band-mate.
Links to Peel
In late 1967, Peel was sufficiently impressed by The Nice's first LP, The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack, to record a promotional single for the record, which he unearthed and played on his show more than thirty years later (the 45 later turned up in John Peel's Record Box), and to recommend it to his International Times readership:
Lurch down to your nearest fave rave record shoppe and hear/buy "The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack" by The Nice. It contains "Rondo" which is the best thing of its kind I've heard - whatever that means.
He seemed to maintain this enthusiasm for the band during 1968, when they appeared in session on Top Gear three times and subsequently recorded a theme tune for the show which was used until its run ended in 1975. However in 1969 and 1970 they were featured less frequently. Peel was less keen on their later, classically-influenced work  - a dislike which was extended to Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
Peel defended The Nice's "America" in his column in International Times, describing it as "the first political instrumental in some years" and remarking that despite the advertising for the record being "perhaps a mistake but not one that was made by the group themselves", it expresses what they "had to say about a tragic situation". This refers, of course, to the assassinations of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King, which, together with the Vietnam War, student demonstrations and race riots, gave an impression of the U.S. as a violent and deeply troubled society. Yet The Nice were not known for political activism; indeed, their successors Emerson, Lake & Palmer were disliked by the underground because they appeared to be on a "star trip", motivated by conventional standards of commercial and material success.
Peel liked and respected The Nice's bassist and vocalist Lee Jackson, and in the early 1970s played tracks by Jackson Heights, the band he formed after the Nice split up. But despite his name, Jackson had nothing to do with Python Lee Jackson, a band who recorded for Dandelion and eventually gained chart success with the single "In A Broken Dream", featuring Rod Stewart as guest vocalist.
Festive Fifty Entries
Seven sessions. Tracks from sessions 1,3,4,5 & 6 available on BBC Sessions Castle CMFCD 457
1. Recorded 1967-10-19. First broadcast: 22 October 1967 (Peel not presenter). Repeated:
- Flower King Of Flies / Azrael / Sombrero Sam / Tantalising Maggie / Rondo / The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack
2. Recorded 1968-01-17. First broadcast: 28 January 1968. Repeated:
- Daddy Where Did I Come From / For No-One / La Aresa D Conte / She Belongs To Me
- Get To You / The Diamond Hard Blue Apples Of The Moon / The Brandenburger / Little Anabella / Scorcery (first broadcast 14 July 1968)
- America / Lumpy Gravy / Aries / Ars Longa Vita Brevis
- Happy Friends, Brandenburger, Hang On To A Dream, Intermezzo From The Korelia Suite (& Walter’s Handel Music, first broadcast 12 January 1969).
6. Recorded 1969-03-04. First broadcast: 20 April 1969. Repeated:
- I'm One Of Those People My Father Tells My Sister Not To Go Out With / Azrial Revisited /Blues For The Prairies / Diary Of An Empty Day / Top Gear Sig. (first broadcast 16 March 1969)
7. Recorded 1969-06-02. First broadcast: 08 June 1969. Repeated:
- Get To You / Country Pie / For Example / St. Thomas
Other Shows Played
The list below is far complete and was compiled only from the database of this site. Please add further details if known.
- 29 October 1967: The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack (7") Immediate
- 26 November 1967: The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack (7") Immediate
- Nice 1967 1968: The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack (7") Immediate may be one of the two plays above
- 21 January 1968: The Cry Of Eugene (LP - The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack) Immediate
- Nice 1967 1968: Tantalising Maggie
- Nice 1967 1968: America (2nd Amendment) (single) Immediate
- 30 June 1968: America (2nd Amendment) (single) Immediate
- (JP (before playing the record): Now, both the Nice and myself, actually, during the past few weeks, have been in a certain amount of trouble with various unhappy and bewildered people for having the effrontery to have opinions of our own, you see, and actually having the temerity to mention them in front of other people, which is a very daring concept. So, here's the Nice's current single, which I think is a very very important record, and I'd like to see it in the charts, obviously. This appears to be the only programme that's playing it at the moment, because it is a bit long: six minutes and fifteen seconds.)
- 21 January 1972: Bonnie K (LP - The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack) Immediate
- 07 January 2001 (BFBS): 'The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack (promo 7")' (Immediate) (JP: 'Proof, as if you needed it, that I was a complete knob even in 1967.')
- 01 May 2003: The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack (7" Promo) Immediate
Peeling Back The Years: Intermezzo from “Karelia Suite” (LP – Ars Longa Vita Brevis)
- A snippet is available of John ending a show with a tribute to Bernie Andrews followed by the Top Gear theme, on Sugarmegs
- (JP: The Nice, their first LP showed as far as I recall no sign of this classics stuff, an LP called The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack. And it was an LP for which I actually recorded a single with extracts from that record with me doing little punchy commentaries in between, which is probably a bit of a collector’s item these days – I think I’ve got the only copy! But and when they came along and they recorded that session and they did that, and I remember somebody at the time, and I said, “Really this isn’t such a good idea” – somebody did say that they were improving - they actually used the word improving – on the work of Sibelius. It is Sibelius, isn’t it?
- JW: Well, that particular one was, yes.
- JP: And I remember thinking, “Well, actually no, you’re not at all.” And obviously a lot of people went chasing up this alley and it ultimately resulted in a band I still regard as probably being the most awful ever, of all time – which is Emerson, Lake & Palmer, whose stuff was just transcendental in its awfulness.)
- ↑ Nor was producer John Walters. Glen Colson, who was a record plugger for The Nice's label Charisma Records, recalled:
I had to plug an album by The Nice called The Five Bridges Suite which they'd recorded with an orchestra and was all about Newcastle. We were sure they'd want to play it on the John Peel show. After all the Top Gear show used a piece by The Nice for their theme tune. I knocked on the door and said "Mr Walters, I've got the new Nice album for you." And he looked at the LP and said "If I want any classical music on my show I'll have Mantovani." And he gave me the album back!