George Starostin's Reviews



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Kenneth Willis <> (10.09.99)

Wonderful band: sorely missed. the marquee will never be the same without them.

Much as i like emerson (and i suspect you're not over-keen) and his subsequent work, nothing will ever touch the power and inventiveness and sheer magic of the nice. It's possible davey o'list could've been a world-class guitarist if he'd hung in there. Yes, poor old lee jackson has to be the worst vocalist EVER (well, not quite) but i still loved it. He wasn't a particularly good bassist, either, but then, who gave a damn when you were listening to the nice??! Blinky davison is a good, solid, drummer, with more talent than most, but, again, it was the overall effect that mattered. The nice were simply the best.

David <> (10.02.2001)

I saw them about 16 time between '69 -'70. Whilst they were playing America the knifes would come out to be buried in the key board. Weird ugly noises, distortion massive volume. Took this to symbolise the pinnacles of american civilisation.

The organ would grind out monotonous tones and flicker into out-off life. The organ dies Emerson walks across the stage looking pissed off. His Organ's broken - who wouldn't be. Mid stage he stomps on the floor. A low tone faltering drone is heard. Stomp again the note changes runs back to organ hits it kicks it it splutters back into then we are running again. Full bore cacophony.

Every time it always broke down at the same point and was always revived in the same way. Those were the days when one could depend on certain things. See the Nice and have a really great time.

Oh well America has come to the end now so time to send.

Gary Gomes <> (25.05.2001)

Hi guys,

Basically, from 1968 - 1969, the Nice were my favorite group! I loved the level of musicianship in the group, especially Merson and Davison (a much better drummer than Carl Palmer in my pompous swelling opinion. And don't bruch off lee Jackson too quickly. He actually tuurned in some pretty cool vocals and lyrics (I would mention "The Cry of Eugene" on the first lp (still one of my favorite songs) and "Better and Better" on the BBC sessions. Very uneven though! And his bass playing was very unique; using that Vox teardrop with a pick, he could play faster than most of his contemporaries--listen to 'America', 'Rondo' and their studie adaptation of the third movement of the "Pathetique". Jeezus, he was good!

I never saw the group with Davy O'List, but I saw them do two shows at the Boston Tea Party in 1969--opening act was the Allman Brothers. What a phenomenal concert. The Nice were amazing live, and I had no idea what to expect having only heard them a little on the underground radio station. A great group--definitely the most underrated and underappreciated group of the late 1960's, in the U.S. at least.

Kevin MacNutt <> (28.06.2001)

All in all the Nice suffered for two reasons, the first being the group had some good ideas, but limited talent to pull the ideas off  (I really do not think Emerson was so much talented as he was flashy) and all of their albums after the debut sound slapdash and quickly assembled. The debut Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack does have it's moments, although it also holds up about as well as the ice on a Florida lake. The title track and 'Flower King Of Flies' both are very good psychadelic tracks (and both appear in extended forms on the now deleted Autumn '67 to Spring '68 (1972) compilation) with not to offensive Lee Jackson vocals and some good guitar playing from David O'List. Many of the other tracks suffer from Emerson's ability to steal quotes from every piece of music in existance, the most obvious being the blatant "purple hazings" of 'Bonnie K' and 'Rondo' which is obviously Dave Brubeck's 'Blue Rondo Ala Turk' played in 4/4. Ars Longa Vita Brevis attempts to turn the classical aspirations up a notch with a plodding version of Sibelius' Karelia Suite,  a caustic (literally) version of Berstein's 'America' and the side long title epic which rips off Vivaldi and most importantly Bach with a rather pleasant, but annoyingly "Hooked On Classics" version of Brandenburg Concerto No.3. Everything else on Ars Longa is poppy filler and sounds as if it does not belong on the album. The third album (which was released in America in late 1969 with three different titles (Nice, The Nice, As Nice As Everything Mother Makes It) three different covers with three different companies distributing it) is really half an album of material with mediocre live performances filling the album's second side. Contrary to belief, The Nice broke up in early 1970 with only three new songs ('One Of Those People', 'My Back Pages', and 'Pathetique') to be scattered amongst Five Bridges (1970) and Elegy (1971) along with plenty of live material, all of which date from 1969, which mainly existed only to fulfill a new recording contract with the, then new label Charisma (what band signs a new contract and then breaks up).  Unfortunately the Nice's two best songs, 'Azrael (Angel Of Death)' and 'Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon', do not apppear on any proper album and were single b-sides.  Fortunately (or unfortunately) when the Nice's original label, Immediate, folded, most of their work became public domain (ironic, since Emerson relies so heavily on public domain music in his writing) so in the 70's every record company and their aunt was releasing a Nice budget compilation of some sort, so you can often find the non-album sides there, as well as getting some of their less annoying work for cheap.  Best album for me: The Nice Greatest Hits (Nems, 1977).

Chris Hankinson <> (25.08.2001)

Simply one of the best bands of the 60's. I was about 12 when my big brother brought The Nice album and I remember being transfixed by it. i learnt to play drums by trying to follow Davisons drumming, and was heavily influenced by Emerson's Keyboard playing, when tootling on my old mans piano.  

was devastated when they broke up but went on to be a big fan of Jackson Heights and refugee.

Mike Masterton <> (11.09.2001)

The BEST trio around at the time and since,to di -sect the music is bloody pointless,listen and learn,it was simple yet demanding the listener to take note of Emerson's brilliance.

I first saw the Nice late 60's,at the Lyceum in London what a night,never forget it Emerson blew us away with RONDO Too short lived band What do I think about the Nice,EASY THE BEST. Keith Emerson I love you as a brother,if i win the lottery i will have you play just for me.

Peter Marsh <> (12.02.2002)

I got into the Nice about the time punk was already dead and gone (1978-79). I couldn't disagree more with many of your comments...Elegy remains one of my favorite albums. The sheer balls of Jackson's odd voice as a lead vocal (not the sweetest sound in the universe, admittedly) was way ahead of it's time. The more I listen to this band, the more I think ELP happened too soon. The Nice were far more off the wall, tongue in cheek experimental, even if Jackson's voice wasn't exactly up to the job half the time. A couple more years would have seen some interesting developments.

Their treaments of Dylan songs and "classical music" were unique. Put it this way: of all the ELP and Nice albums I possess, only the latter get any play these days.

David Bentley <> (26.07.2002)

I think your critique of THE Nice is unfair. The Nice , despite Lee's vocals, where in many ways a more exciting innovative band than ELP.

I never saw them live in the 60's, but I do personally know Lee Jackson, who now resides just outside Northampton UK, regularly playing with the Ginger Pig Band at Northampton's Black Bottom club (both have web sites)

The Nice have reformed (without O'List) fro a sries of dates in UK and ?Europe starting with a gig at The Royal Festival Hall on Sunday Oct 6th. check out

Davina Ramshaw <> (09.10.2002)

I saw The Nice at the Royal Festival Hall on the 6th October 2002. It was an amazing gig. And Lee Jackson has a wonderfully interesting voice that I love. Refugee's Grand Canyon Suite is one of the finest pieces of music ever composed. The Nice and all their offshoots have given the world some wonderful music.

SIMON.BROAD <> (12.10.2002)

I little suspected, as I walked away from the Royal Festival Hall in Feb.70 that I'd be back there for my 6th Nice gig - but not for 32 years! The show was as good as I'd hoped : great to see them with a guitarist again. Some Emerson gymnastics wouldn't have gone amiss, but never mind. People moan about Lee's vocals, but personally it was Greg Lake's singing style (among other things) that put me off ELP somewhat.

One of the most interesting Nice gigs I went to was in Dec.68, at the Top Rank in Brighton. Not all of their equipment had turned up, so it was piano/bass/drums throughout.

Having bored people to death with my love of The Nice over the past 34 years, it was wonderful to see them again. I hope they stick around.

Did anyone else see Lee's short-lived post-Refugee band Stripjack ?

Nolen Otts <> (26.10.2002)

Can you imagine what it was like to be a 13 year old girl living in a small town in Alabama trying to convince her friends that The Nice were the coolest band ever? My brother brought home The Thoughts of... on an eight track and we used to drive around country backroads in a 1972 Dodge Dart blasting "America" as loud as it would go. I still love them ( huge ELP fan as well)...thank goodness for big brothers and being taught how to seek out innovative music.

<> (18.01.2004)

I've not heard all their albums by any means, though some of Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack was quite tolerable in a rather dated way and I like "America", for my sins ... but comments above by George and others about the awful vocals are spot on, though I don't remember them being THAT bad on the records. I saw the same reunion gig as Simon Broad in 2002 and frankly I thought it was so bad that I walked out after 35 minutes. I don't like Greg Lake's voice either, but he can sing after a fashion ... Lee Jackson is not only one of the worst non-singers I've ever heard, his between song patter was cringeworthy and he appeared to be a bit rusty with the bass at times too. Emerson wasn't that impressive either - his playing hasn't improved over the years - his big set pieces like America did not impress like the originals. The only blameless party in this was Brian Davison, whose drumming was perfectly respectable.

<> (04.02.2006)

I heard Nice (on records) back i 1970. I was so great.At the time i was a 12 year old boy living in a small village in the western part of Norway.I played the piano and taught myself hang on to a dream by listening to the record. This song has been with me ever since, and i still play it by occasion.


Kenneth Willis <> (17.04.2003)

You wrote:-

"Lee Jackson was probably the closest to a 'singing talent' they could get, but he still couldn't sing ..... The only tune, in fact, where he boldly steps up to the microphone, is the pompous title track, and ... you sure wish they'd bothered to recruit a professional singer."

Just to set the record straight, the vocals on this track are delivered by the much-missed David O'List. According to a recent biographer, his untimely departure from the band was caused by the fact that some complete and utter fool spiked his drink with acid. Just imagine how the Nice might have sounded otherwise ... no more accusations of organ / piano-drenched songs. I wonder what direction they would have taken if Mr O'List had stayed with them? Or was he always destined to do a 'Syd Barrett'? (with apologies to Mr Barrett)


Bill Koggenhop <> (09.01.2002)

For anyone familiar with modern Jazz and 20th Century symphonic composition, the 'Ars Longa Vita Brevis Suite' would be familiar territory and actually is quite listenable. There is alot of good music going on here. Davidson displays some pretty good drum chops on his solo piece, ala Elvin Jones/Tony Williams style, and on the pieces where Emerson solos, keeps the tempo happening and provides the right twists for soloing over. Emerson's playing is right on throughout, this isn't just flash. His solo on Brandenburger has a nice integration of classical and jazz licks. There is some good information to be had for musicians and serious modern music geeks here, which is probably why it may not be very listenable to a general audience. This isn't supposed to be beautiful music. Some expo sure to, say, Prokofiev, Stravinsky, Bartok, might put this piece into a better perspective for the listener. And if that doesn't do it, well, no problem, Ars is Longa.

Intermezzo provides another musical challenge in that the form is a bit quirky to play rythmicly with a soloist, especially at this time with rock playing (there's a few changes to play here for the bass player, this too had not really been done yet). This piece also brings to mind how this would have sounded in the places where The Nice would have played, such as the Grande Ballroom in Detroit. The technology used at the time would have filled the room nicely, and of course the crowd would be in the "mood", well, you just had to be there to know.

The US release of this album with the inclusion of America as the lead off track really makes this disk happen, much better than the English release without it.

I have always felt this was Emerson's finest moment. It was on this record he laid it all out for the first time. Certainly ELP was much better, but musically Emerson was just playing variations of the stuff he did here. The only thing he hadn't achieved yet was executing the concept for Pictures At An Exhibition. It would have really been something if The Nice would have been able to do that instead of Five Bridges. The timing of Pictures was a little late in the prog-rock era, in my opinion.

I was really big on this record when it came out. This is one of my all-time favorites, so of course I only listen to Fusion and Symphonic music now. And play bass in a Reggae band. Go figure....

Thanks for the page. Great find.


Gary Gomes <> (30.05.2001)

This was the second lp I ever hear that did not have a guitarist (The first was Brian Auger's Streetnoise).

The entire lp was, at the time, for me a revelation. Emerson's playing is top notch and I loved the arrangements of "Hang on to a Dream" and "She Belongs to Me". (although I must admit that the first few times I heard this piece, I cringed at the vocals--but I cringed at Three Dog Night and Creedence vocals too!).

At the time, it was not uncommon for groups interested in fusing different types of music to be POPULAR and ADMIRED. So these guys got very high points for that, as did the overall level of playing demonstrated.

'Rondo '69' was a buzz saw. Emerson never surpassed that level of energy again with any other group (although pieces like "Tarkus" came close), and there is not a weak track on the LP. Highly recommended.

By the way, that isn't an electric piano on "Azrael Revisited"-it's a detuned acoustic grand. Electric pianos couldn't sound like anything close to that until Yamaha came out with an electric baby grand in the mid-1970's.

And Emerson really could play. As a keyboard player myself, I can tell you it was flashy, but his technique had (and has) real meat to it! I'll defend Steve Winwood and the criminally unrecognized Brian Auger in other postings.


Ken <> (01.02.2001)

You wrote "By the time this record finally saw the light of day, the Nice were already history - and none too soon." Shame on you! The Nice were a great group and I love this album! OK, so that's entirely my opinion and I'm welcome to it, I know. I suppose I just loved Keith's keyboard work. True, the solo on "Hang On To A Dream" hardly suits the song but one can ignore that. The weird sounds, incidentally, were made by "stroking" the strings with his microphone! (easier with a Grand piano than an upright) As to "My Back Pages", yes, Lee can't sing but, tell me, who would you rather hear : Lee Jackson or Ashley Holt ??!!! Now be honest! (That's a tough choice, actually. Can I just strangle both of them? Or myself? - G.S.). But, to end on a positive note, one of the things I love about this song is the very skillful way in which Keith wove parts of the first movement of Bach's sixth Brandenburg Concerto around the Dylan tune. Clever stuff indeed.

alastair cox <> (29.06.2002)

I was one of the lucky guys in the UK that got top see the Nice live 2 times!! The noises in the Live 'Hang onto a dream' were Keith Emersons gimmick at the time which he later used on 'Take a Pebble' with ELP. He did reach inside the piano and actually strike the strings with a Microphone to get the strange noises, he also did the 'Take a Pebble' trick of plucking the strings.

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