The Nice were completely way ahead of their time since after their break-up and the formation of Emerson, Lake, and Palmer, the first progressive rock supergroup. But for the Nice who were a backing band for P.P. Arnold’s soulful vocal arrangements, and featuring some magnificent keyboard compositions done by a young Keith Emerson, again they were the first symphonic rock band in the late ‘60s. They gave the basis of ELP’s bombastic arranging and composition and, the perfect examples, are the four albums which have been carefully re-mastered with extra bonus tracks that have never been heard before. If you really admire the pompous sounds of the Nice, I suggest you take a closer listen to Five Bridges.
This live album was recorded on October 17, 1969 at the Fairfield Hall at Croydon at the time when the Nice were a trio now after guitarist David O’List left the band in 1968 probably because Keith was the center of attention and giving full control of the band during that time period. A breathtaking classical rock live album, it was granted by Newcastle Arts Festival as it was given its huge premiere at the Hall for the Concerto. The concept behind Five Bridges, it actually refers the River Tyne in Central Great Britain. It was originally formed from the two rivers between the North and the South Tyne. As the two come together, it is known as “The Meeting of the Waters”. Sounds like a geographical concept album to me. The autobiographical Five Bridges Suite, fitted so well with bassist and lead vocalist Lee Jackson, sings passionately about his childhood years in his hometown in Newcastle upon the Tyne itself. Keith would do a classical piano arrangement while the orchestra does a mesmerizing beauty in Fantasia as the band comes in during the Second Bridge by singing about the River Tyne ala pre-ELP style while in Chorale, Keith does an homage to Thelonious Monk and Bill Evans on the piano to make it more of a Bebop Jazz sound and closing it up with a climatic beauty with the orchestra and the band by giving it an atomic explosion that makes the audiences crazy.
Even though the Five Bridges Suite is the centerpiece, there are a couple of surprises throughout the album. During the Classical militant march rocker of Jean Sibelius’ Intermezzo: Karelia Suite, Keith creating a shrieking sound on the Organ that makes it sound that it was about to be destructed. When you hear this, you can definitely tell that the band, orchestra, and the audience were enjoying and were mind-boggled to see Keith destroying the Organ using Knives and thrashing to pay homage to Pete Townshend and Jimi Hendrix. The blues fusion rocker of Bob Dylan’s Country Pie combining with Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 is shattering while Tchaikovsky’s Pathetique Sixth Symphony in the 3rd Movement brings it to a pomp and circumstance standstill. If you believe that you want more, the bonus tracks are the ones you need to hear. It includes a studio version of Country Pie, the BBC version of the Five Bridges Suite recorded for Sounds of the Seventies, and the never-before-heard encore finale at the Fairfield Hall performance of Lieutenant Kijo/Rondo/She Belongs To Me, which is right-on and could have been a part of the Five Bridges live album. Here you have the orchestra doing a tribute to Prokofiev’s Lieutenant Kijo in a Russian march style to the band doing a heart-stopping tribute to Dave Brubeck’s Rondo and Dylan’s She Belongs To Me that brought the Hall bowing to their knees while you can hear the crowd clapping along to the orchestra and the band which is very emotional. Also, when you hear this suite, listen very carefully to the Bonanza theme as the band goes straight-on like a Train chugging very fast that it won’t stop as the band including a sax solo that brings the Fairfield Hall down and goes completely apeshit. It’s very lukewarm and very symphonic crazy up a notch.
Elegy was after the Nice’s breakup which was released in 1971. The band had moved on with Keith Emerson doing his supergroup while Lee Jackson formed Jackson Heights and the late Brian Davison forming Brian Davison’s Every Which Way. Even though the band went their separate ways, it’s a worth listening to this. The centerpiece is the live version of their performance at the Fillmore of the 10-minute climax of Bernstein’s America (Second Amendment), which starts off as a funeral mourning, then turning into a bright upbeat tempo exercise done by the band to give it a Olympic march as it ends with Keith again destructing the organ which would later be the end of The Nice’s career. The second track of Dylan’s acoustic folk cover of My Back Pages, begins with a Scott Joplin meets McCoy Tyner style on the piano composition done by Mr. Emerson before going into a blues rock sound from the Hammond Organ. I bet Bob Dylan was so proud of the Nice’s cover of his lukewarm beauty. During the number, the tension between Emerson’s solo on the keyboards and Jackson’s vocal arrangements which would be heard here on this heavy take. Notice some segments of the Old Castle which was later used on a live version on ELP’s Pictures at an Exhibition. The 12-minute ballad gives it a 15th century tribute to Folk legend Tim Hardin’s Hang on to a Dream, it is in a calm atmosphere live and eerie at the same time then becoming dramatic with the band coming in to give it a heart-stopping finale. The bonus tracks include two BBC Performances for Sound of the Seventies, which are Pathetique Symphony 6: 3rd Movement and Country Pie.
Then comes the early days in the late ‘60s with a compilation called, Autumn 1967 & Spring 1968. This compilation was done by Charisma boss and the Nice’s manager, Tony Stratton-Smith. It features their B-Sides in alternate versions never heard before when it was released in 1972. These recordings of material done by the Nice, which was done in those two dates, you have the pleasure and opportunity to hear guitarist David O’List before leaving to do other music projects. Alongside America and The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack, The Nice did some quirky funny songs that were a tribute to the Syd Barrett-era of the Pink Floyd scene with the Comedic Hard Rocker of Daddy, Where Did I Come From?, the eerie ambient Avant-Garde darkness with Dawn, the psychedelic pop beauty featuring the mellotron with Diamond Hard Blue Apples of the Moon while they gave birth to Prog Metal with Bonnie K and Azirial.
Then we get to the unheard full performance at the Fillmore East in December, 1969. This double CD set, captures the Nice in their Symphonic Pomp and Circumstance nonstop beauty that will make your heart beat faster.
The faster opening introduction of Rondo gets the crowd excited for their performance and the excitement that will lead them for more; there are three 13-minute numbers of different versions of the compositions that are emotionally overwhelming. The tribute to the poetry of greek physician, Hippocrates, Ars Longa Vita Brevis, is a eerie disturbing number. In the middle part, you hear the band almost giving a tribute to Frank Zappa after doing their classical rendezvous and then going into the full throttle of heavy rocking throw down between Keith Emerson doing his keyboard swirl, Lee Jackson’s walking bass lines, and Brian Davison’s heavy drum pounding to make your jaw dropped. She Belongs To Me and the Five Bridges Suite are brilliant grandeur’s of glorious classical rock showdown to come on the symphonic train station; Little Arabella is very quirky and hand-to-down boogie jazz while the Fillmore version of Hang on to a Dream is a very sensational number, very trembling at the same time along with the closer jazz blues rocker anti-war protest instrumental, War and Peace. Brilliant, and finding out where the puzzle piece might land to throughout their magnificent career.