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Progressive Rock Book Reviews

Keith Emerson and the Nice

Hang On To a Dream: The Story of the Nice written by Martyn Hanson

Review by Steve Alspach

One of the more popular bands in progressive rock during the 1960s, at least in England anyway, was the Nice. A band that got its start providing backup for r-n-b singer Pat (P.P.) Arnold, the band then found its own ground by playing straight-ahead rock, but then eventually paying homage (in their own iconoclastic way) to such classical composers as Sibelius, Bach, and Tchaikovsky. Keith Emerson, Lee Jackson, Brian Davison, and Davy O'List could often be anything but "nice", but their music still holds its weight some 35-plus years later. Many of us prog fans learned about the Nice through Emerson Lake and Palmer, and the Nice were not all that popular in the States, so Martyn Hanson's biography is an excellent piece of work. Hanson follows the band from its "pre-history," charting the previous bands of Emerson, Davison, Jackson, and O'List, to its formation. Particularly interesting is how the band whittled itself down to a three-piece. Apparently Pink Floyd wasn't the only band at that time whose guitarist checked out of the Reality Ritz: Davy O'List became a victim of the hard drugs, and an LSD-spiked drink (courtesy of David Crosby in Los Angeles) is the event band members point to as where things started going wrong. Other band incidents, such as The Albert Hall incident of burning a spray-painted American flag are also brought up.

It's interesting to read how the band took some rather quantum leaps in its short history, from the psychedelia of "Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack" to "Five Bridges", the suite for the band with a full orchestra. ("Elegy," the last Nice release, was released after the band had broken up.) The book also does an excellent job of charting the careers of Lee Jackson and Brian Davison and their respective post-Nice bands, Jackson Heights and Every Which Way, as well as Refugee, the band that reunited Jackson and Davison and could have given ELP a run for its money had Patrick Moraz not jumped ship for Yes. The Nice reunion concert of 2002 is where the book finishes up.

If there is a drawback to "Hang On to a Dream" it's that Hanson was not able to get Keith Emerson or Andrew Oldham, then of Immediate Records, for any input. It's to Hanson's credit that he admits as such, but the input of others in the band and around the band (most notably Jack-of-all-trades Bazz Ward) make up for this drawback.

For any fans of Keith Emerson or the Nice, or prog music in its early days, "Hang On to a Dream" is a must-have.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2005 Year Book Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.

 
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