This interview was done only a few months before they released their second album. In all, they released four studio albums before calling it a day in 1970. As most people know, Keith Emerson later had even greater success with ELP (Emerson, Lake and Palmer).
Richard Green goes afloat with Nice
And nearly goes down with them!
THE sun came shining through as the Thames riverboat chugged to a halt, then swung round in mid-stream and began to drift backwards, causing much panic among Keith Emerson, Lee Jackson and myself.
Being a nice day, we had decided to take the round trip to Greenwich and talk about music while afloat. But things don`t always work out the way they are planned – as we found to our cost.
Just after the boat pulled away from Westminster Pier, the captain told us that the bar had run dry.
“Oh, we’ll have to sit up here and listen to the commentary and get some culture then,” sighed Keith. “The sun’s playing hell with my bins,” Lee complained.
After forty minutes of being told where pirates used to be hanged and shown Wren’s house with a little red door and other such delights, we landed at Greenwich where Lee decided to take us round the Cutty Sark.
“It must have been terrible sailing all the way from China on one of these,” Lee observed. “Look at these beds, they’re made of straw.”
I asked him about “America,” thinking that it was about time we got down to business and he laughed: “I thought it was sold out five weeks ago. It’s amazing the way it keeps going in and out of the chart. Over a period, it’s sold about as many as a record that gets to about number ten in one go.”
Keith explained that the record had not been released in America as Leonard Bernstein, had allegedly objected to it.
Not heard it
“He was supposed to have been asked in an interview what he thought of it and we heard that he said he hadn’t heard it,” Keith pointed out.
“When he was in Switzerland he said the same thing,” Lee added. “There must be somebody who doesn’t want it released.”
We talked about classical music and I told Keith that I liked Bach’s Prelude and ‘Fugue in D Minor which is the piece that the character Captain Nemo played on the organ in “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea.”
“There’s a bit of that in ‘Rondo’- on the LP,” he replied. “I’ve just bought the music of Sibelius’s `Chorelia Suite’ and I’m working on adapting that for us.”
A few days earlier, Keith had showed me the music and very complicated it looked too. In fact, there was only one bar on each page because it was fully orchestrated.
Lee had picked it up and sat studying it. Then he said: “I don’t know what I’m looking at this for, I can’t read a note!”
As anyone who has heard the Nice already knows, much of their music is based on the classics. I asked Keith how this came about.
“I was given a classical piano training,” he stated “and I found later that my jazz improvisations were very similar to classical music. I began to explore and found that many classics lend themselves to a pop treatment.”
Lee and I spoke about the Burt Lancaster – Tony Curtis film “Sweet Smell Of Success” which featured the Chico Hamilton Quartet, whose music is very classic-influenced.
“Most jazz has its root in classics, particularly West Coast,” Keith agreed.
We walked back to the boat, passing Alec Rose’s Gypsy Moth on the way, and boarded. To our horror, we were told that only soft drinks were available so we settled in with Cokes and orangeade.
Lee said that the Nice’s fans cover quite a wide range and included a lot of boys, but he couldn’t be sure what category the group fell into.
“I don’t think we’re a pop group,” he mused. “Not really jazz either. I don’t think we’re in any special category.
“Really there are only Dave Dee groups and the rest. You know, the straightest pop groups and all the others, which includes us. I think people get used to a particular sound from a group and expect to hear it every time.
“I was speaking to Graham Nash who said he had wanted to record something different, but they had a whole string Hollie songs they had to release. There’s about a dozen all ready.
At the moment, we’re working on the Brandenbergers. We’re adapting the Allegro from the Brandenburg Concerto No.5 in G Major and we want to put it on one side of the album, to cover the entire side.”
Getting back to the group’s classification, Lee said he didn’t think they were Underground.
“The only real Underground group is the Social Deviants,” he commented. “I don’t call the Doors and people like that underground. Its just people getting on an anti-social kick, they all go through it.”
We felt a shuddering, then the engine coughed and spluttered and died altogether. The boat veered round and began to drift back downstream. Not unnaturally, a certain amount of apprehension set in.
The crew tied the boat to a barge and began poking around underneath with a pole. Several minutes later, large sheets of plastic emerged. It seems they had fouled a propeller and, after all, we weren’t being sucked into a whirlpool to vanish forever.
Sighs of relief having been heaved, we resumed our talk and I asked about the possibility of the Nice doing a tour.
“If we did one, it’d have to be one where we could have some say,” Keith affirmed. “We did one last year with Jimi Hendrix and it wasn’t worth it. Most of the time, you sit round for seven hours, go on and do eight minutes then sit around again doing nothing.
Back at Big Ben, Keith caught a tube home and Lee and I walked into Whitehall in a fruitless search for a taxi. Eventually, we got a bus and Lee had to be given specific instructions about how to get to Cambridge Circus.
“I’ve only been on a bus a dozen times since I came down to London,” he explained. “I don’t even know what the fares are. I usually get driven about.”