Keith Emerson, The Nice and More!
3 October 2002
The Opera House, Newcastle, UK

By Bob Mulvey


A Nice Elping

Keith EmersonUnique 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.

Dave Kilminster

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.

Lee JacksonKeith 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 warmed up.

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.

Brian Davison and Peter Riley

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 surface?

Lee Jackson and Dave Kilminster Keith Emerson

Setlist:

America
Little Arabella
She Belongs to Me
The Cry of Eugene
Hang on to a Dream
Daddy Where Did I Come From
Country Pie
Intermezzo from "Karelia Suite"
Keith Emerson - Acoustic Piano Interlude
Tarkus
Hoedown
Fanfare for the Common Man

Encore:
Honky Tonk Train Blues



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