Keith Emerson, The Nice and More!
3 October 2002
The Opera House, Newcastle, UK
By Bob Mulvey
A Nice Elping
and rare opportunities such as these are not to be missed, so
I grasped the chance to see one of progressive rock's most endearing
stars, Keith Emerson, as he returned to the stage with one of
his earliest bands for this special concert. Following a reunion
at London's 100 Club in April of this year, speculation had surrounded
The Nice, and the possibilities of a reformation. So far this
has culminated in four UK shows during October, and one of which
I was privileged enough to attend.
The Nice, originally formed in 1967, bringing together Keith Emerson
[Keyboards], Lee Jackson [Bass & Vocals] and Brian Davison [Drums].
There was originally a fourth member Davy O'List [Guitar], however
he left the band around the release of the second album - a point
noted by Lee Jackson during the concert.
Proceedings started around 8:30 pm, with a rather lengthy and
restrained version of Fanfare for the Common Man which
gradually filled the auditorium. As the music built in intensity,
an overlaid commentary from John Peel (strange indeed - but all
would be revealed soon) added an eerie note to the walk-on. The
band emerged from the wings, to tremendous applause, launching
immediately into Bernstein/Sondheim's America. What first
struck me, was how refreshing the track sounded after all these
years, this was further heightened by the obvious delight from
the band themselves. Solo's abound from the mighty Hammond organ,
albeit without the on-stage antics of the early days. Had time
finally taken it's toll, I doubted it. With an infectious grin
across Keith's face, he moved to the back of the keyboards to
play a snippet from Toccatto and Fugue. The impishness
was still present and marked a general light-hearted element to
the whole evening.
Joining the three members of the band for this concert was Dave
Kilminster (Qango, Ken Hensley, John Young and more), adding his
unique talents to the evening. Not to be up-staged by Mr Emerson,
Dave placed his guitar on the stage and proceeded to play, in
a two handed tapping style, an excerpt from The Sabre Dance
(Katachurian) - if memory serves me correctly. The spectacle watched
by all, including the band.
As America crashed to the end, with the Stars and Stripes
still intact, Lee Jackson spoke to the audience, explaining John
Peel's commentary at the beginning of the evening. John not known
for his love of Progressive Rock had deemed ELP as "a waste
of electricity". Jackson then regaled the story of one of
his early girlfriends, who had later dated Mr Peel, giving him
the "the clap" - touche!
The band played through some of their more song-based material,
(if such a thing exists), starting with Little Arabella,
written by Emerson and Jackson. She Belongs to Me followed
and again the vocal passages were interspersed with interesting
and at times, tongue in cheek, musical anecdotes, as the end section
of She Belongs' finished with the keyboard chorus section
from Van Halen's, Jump. Time to take matters down a little
with The Cry of Eugene, a track with a distinct psychedelic,
sixties feel, but brought up to date here. Gentle Hammond organ
and Jackson's quirky but effective voice ringing through the hall.
Following up this was a version of Tim Hardin's Hang on to
a Dream, who coincidentally, had recorded with The Nice in
the late 60's, and featured Dave Kilminster on acoustic guitar
- his pleasant chord structuring adding a more laid back approach
to the song.
Emerson recounted the story of his rather strange and bizarre
meeting with Bob Dylan, by way of an introduction to Country
Pie. Jackson picks up the track with his bass guitar intro
and the track moves through some great playing again from all
concerned. The vocals, which Lee Jackson was much lambasted for
in the past, fitted well with this song and gave a very modern
R&B feel to the music. One of The Nice's most popular pieces
ensued, originally suggested by Tim Hardin(?), and a track that
was the theme tune to a popular current affairs programme, This Week. Known to Keith Emerson as the Intermezzo from the
Karelia Suite, by Sibelius. Huge applause accompanied the
opening chords as the stomping nature of their arrangement moved
the feet and caused the hands to clap.
Messrs Jackson and Davison left the stage at this point, vowing
to return later, as the road crew rolled the Grand Piano onto
the centre of the stage and to rapturous applause. As the audience
hushed, Keith Emerson, played two solo passages - apologies here
for any lack of accuracy on my part, however neither track was
introduced. I believe the tracks were Vagrant segue Out
Going Tide and the second, more familiar piece Creole Dance
- all of which are featured on the Emerson
Plays Emerson CD. The extended versions of these pieces were
played superbly and in Keith's own inimitable style. This was followed
by much shaking of the wrists, from Keith, at the end of each
piece - presumably to pump the blood back into the fingers.
The piano was removed from the stage as Keith Emerson asked for
a few moments to select a few patches on his keyboard set-up.
Enter the stage Dave Kilminster, Peter Riley [drums] and Phil
Williams [bass], and as Emerson finishes these changes he a speaks
- "we are gonna give you Tarkus". This was indeed a special
treat and gratefully appreciated by the crowd. The musicianship
was exemplary, from both Riley and Williams. Nice (forgive the
pun!) touches from Dave Kilminster as he played the vocal melodies
on the guitar, which I thought were very effective. The playing
throughout was crisp and had all the hallmarks of being well rehearsed.
Although, I did note, that Phil Williams had the score to
hand, so if he was unsure of the parts, which I doubt, my hat
goes off to him, for his reading skills. A final note of praise
would be to Dave, for his excellent vocal rendition of Epitaph,
accompanied by only an acoustic guitar. Even the delay on the
voice was correct - Greg Lake would be hard pushed not to be impressed.
The second of the ELP tracks was Aaron Copeland's, Hoedown
played at a fairly vigorous pace - the main theme being alternated
between the keyboard and the guitar. Both musicians executing
their parts with great panache, although when the parts were played
together it was slightly less convincing. But who am I to quibble! By this
juncture the band were "cooking on gas", and the audience were definitely
And now, to the show that must finally end - a return to Fanfare
for the Common Man, this time in its more familiar format.
All the musicians gathered together for the grand finale as the
keyboards start that very familiar bass riff. Both Davison and
Riley played solidly together and the middle, alternating drum
solo was magical. Not one for drum solos, in the main, however
here a rhythmic balance was sustained throughout, making it more
interesting and allowing each of the drummers the freedom to improvise.
Only one encore for the evening, but as most of the tracks touched
the ten minute plus mark, we should not be greedy. Surprisingly,
not the much hailed Rondo, but in fact Honky Tonk Train Blues
concluded the proceedings and again all the musicians were present on stage for the last number. A general air of good humour had prevailed throughout the evening, the band obviously
enjoying the whole experience.
Prior to the concert, I had purchased and borrowed the albums,
to acquaint myself with some of The Nice's music. However the
recordings on the albums, some nearly 35 years old, did not do
justice to what was played on this night. Truly a memorable evening
- my only hope is that, spurred on by the obvious delight and
enthusiasm of the capacity audience, that these all too brief
shows, be repeated. It would be a shame if the opportunity to
capture this music was only confined to those who were able to
get to one of these four concerts. Should Keith Emerson and The Nice
tour again - do not miss your chance! Finally, I did notice a
number of recording microphones strategically placed, (presumably
to capture the audience reaction), so perhaps a live album may
She Belongs to Me
The Cry of Eugene
Hang on to a Dream
Daddy Where Did I Come From
Intermezzo from "Karelia Suite"
Keith Emerson - Acoustic Piano Interlude
Fanfare for the Common Man
Honky Tonk Train Blues