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The Nice - Keith Emerson And The Nice: Vivacitas CD (album) cover


The Nice

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Easy Livin
Honorary Collaborator / Retired Admin
4 stars Hanging on to the dream

The first gig I ever went to was Emerson Lake and Palmer playing at the legendary Green's Playhouse in Glasgow in the early 1970's. It is fitting (for me) then that Emerson should choose to record this live album within a Tarkus breath from that venue at the superb Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow. The RCH is actually more used to gigs of a more up-market nature, such as classical recitals and the annual "Celtic connections" festival, with rock bands usually playing venues such as the Clyde Auditorium, SECC, Barrowlands, Carling Academy etc.

This of course is not ELP, but a reunion of Keith Emerson with Lee Jackson and Brian Davison, his erstwhile colleagues from The Nice. Dave Kilmister joins this line up and the four toured together in 2001/2 as Keith Emerson and The Nice, the gigs being neatly split into two distinct sections. Disc one here covers the first half of the performance, which is dedicated to reviving songs which originally appeared on albums by that band.

As Lee Jackson says after the opening run through of "America" and "Rondo" plus sundry other familiar melodies, "not bad for a 32 year gap". Jackson's distinctive tones have altered little over the years, his signing on a rather subdued "Little Arabella" being as throaty and distinctive as ever. The wonderful "Hang on to a dream" sounds as fresh as it ever did, this rendition including a soft shuffling jazz interlude.

The version of "The Karelia suite" here sounds a little too like one of those awful tributes with Emerson simply rattling out the melody on a prosaic sounding synth. It certainly lacks the majesty and power of the "Five Bridge" version.

Disc 2 sees the Nice departing the stage, and Emerson returning to perform a couple of tracks taken from his solo albums, alone on piano. He is then rejoined by a Dave Kilmister and two new musicians. Phil Williams and Pete Riley take on the roles of Lake and Palmer for a run through of four ELP favourites, including a complete rendition of "Tarkus". Listening to this version for the first time is rather disconcerting as there are initially no vocals, the vocals refrains being replaced by the lead guitar of Kilmister (a Karaoke version indeed!). Vocals do eventually appear for the "Battlefield" section which includes the diversion into an extract from King Crimson's "Epitaph" that first appeared on the "Welcome back my friends.." album.

Jackson and Davidson actually return to the stage for a spirited run through of "Fanfare for the common man". Here we have an enjoyable duel between Emerson on keyboards and Kilmister on guitar, even if it does at times seem like something of a battle!

I find the title of the third disc ("Interview with Chris Welch") misleading, but it could just be me. It is in fact Chris Welch interviewing the three members of the Nice involved in the reunion gig. The guys spend over 20 minutes reminiscing and swapping anecdotes about their time together.

"Vivicacas" is first and foremost an exercise in nostalgia. For those who have enjoyed the music of the Nice and ELP in the past, this is through a worthwhile investment.

Report this review (#163354)
Posted Friday, March 7, 2008 | Review Permalink
3 stars Glass Jaw in Glasgow Foils Comeback Bout

Scene One - the offices of Sanctuary Records late 2003

CEO: Right boys, how about we release a live album from the last tour?

LEE JACKSON: Right on bonny lad!

BRIAN DAVISON: Great idea! make it a double with us and Keith's band as well

KEITH EMERSON: (looking round at his bandmates) Ok, what show should we use?

LEE JACKSON: Well, ya know bonny lads, it takes a few performances for everyone to get the numbers played in ya know, so one of the later gigs right, when we was loosened up proper an' all?

BRIAN DAVISON: Fab and groovy! Why not throw in that interview we did with Chris Welch too?

KEITH EMERSON: Yeah nice one Blinky, there were a few FOH mixing issues early on but these were fixed on subsequent shows, and I had gotten a few 'baby clangers' out of my fingers by then...

BRIAN DAVISON: Right on!, I was sh*tting bricks on the first one cos I hadn't played a rock gig for years, and we was all a but stiff on that opening night man!

CEO: Thank you gentlemen, we are all agreed then? We will use the very first show recorded in Glasgow.

LEE JACKSON: Am I facing the right way here?

And so it came to pass that the reformed Nice plus Emerson's hand-picked touring band were captured in all their nerve wracked glory on the opening gig of a British tour.

God knows why Sanctuary went ahead and decided to release this performance to the waiting world, as it suffers from some glaring deficiencies that would have been ironed out further along the scheduled itinerary.

Emerson's playing is particularly sloppy on great portions of this, with rushed timing, late entries and 'baby clangers' spoiling the performances. The organ, piano and synth sounds are all spot on, but he must now, looking back, have wished his record company had let the band get warmed up properly before going anywhere near the 'record' button.

Even under perfect conditions, Jackson's vocals would be described as 'gritty' but are reduced here on Hang on to a Dream to something approaching 'sandpaper on the soul' and despite Lee's passionate and sincere delivery of this great song, Hardin's lyrics sound like they are delivered via the digestive tract of a small furry mammal.

The riff to Van Halen's Jump is shoehorned into She Belongs to Me and not surprisingly, sticks out like a porcupine hiding in a sock.


Similarly, there is a completely inappropriate sampled dance loop triggered during the (shambolic) intro to Karelia Suite where to add insult to injury, Keith misses his entry cue entirely.


The inclusion of The Cry of Eugene is a real treasure, as it has always been one of my favourite tracks from the 1st album, and receives a full and sympathetic arrangement befitting the original. Dave Kilmister really shines here, and he displays a real insight and empathy with what is required to replicate the original spirit of the Nice for a modern audience.

This guitarist appears to be one of the very few (along with Marc Bonilla) that Emerson deems worthy of sharing time with. During the course of the concert, Kilmister turns his hand to blues, jazz, rock and classical with seamless ease and it is no wonder that Roger Waters plucked him for his touring band from Emerson recently.

Little Arabella also gets a new lick of paint here and the band sound like they are having loads of fun on this enduring pastiche of tongue in cheek jazz. The organ sound here is spine tinglingly good and despite not replicating the intentionally cheesy 'Errol Garner' strains of the original, showcases one of Emo's better contributions.

Rather incongruous 'flanging' effect is applied on the vocal though....

America has long outstayed its welcome in the Nice/ELP repertoire but to their credit, they have at least attempted to veer away from a previously predictable live formula with the inclusion of the original pipe organ intro and an extended jazzy piano middle section.

Like so much of this record, the music is really good once they get going, (and the 'butterflies in the tummy' are safely ensnared in the net.)

There are also some mix related anomalies encountered, with Kilmister's inspired Sabre Dance being practically inaudible and various other instances when instruments either disappear entirely in 'mid lick' or blare out at inopportune moments when refinement is what is desired etc

As I noted in my review of Five Bridges the song Country Pie still remains a firm fave in my Nice pantheon of greats and Lee, Blinky and Keith still exude plenty of excitement and fire more than 30 years hence. (At sufficient volume you can't hear creaking bones)

It should be noted that these concerts started off as a promotional exercise for Emerson's solo piano album Emerson plays Emerson and the inclusion of Davison and Jackson was Keith's solution to the problem of replicating the 'bass and drums' pieces on that particular record. From that point on, the entourage just seemed to snowball to include his young hand picked charges now called 'the Keith Emerson band'

Williams and Riley are both very accomplished young players who have studied their chosen discipline at various educational establishments in the UK. However, despite their flawless credentials and having 'ticked all the right boxes' strike me as being 'proggers by numbers' i.e. they can play the notes perfectly as they appear in front of them, but cannot even begin to guess 'how' they got there.

The band rendition of Tarkus is very well played but does not veer much from the album version and just like America I personally could live without ever hearing another version of this creaking classic again. Full marks for the energy and enthusiasm though, on what is, even 30 years on, a fiendishly difficult piece to play.

The remaining tracks are all enjoyable, but certainly don't constitute anything you have heard before played any better.

Hoedown gets dusted down again and like a pensioner after one facelift too many is starting to resemble the 'Burt Reynolds' of classical adaptations.

Fanfare for the Common Man - see 'Burt Reynolds'

Honky Tonk - Featuring 'Dick Emery' on harmonica. Keith, you are a bona fide rock star, you know damn fine from backstage debauches what a 'mouth organ' should be used for.

Blade of Grass/A Cajun Ally - beautifully played solo piano performances from Keith showcasing his aforementioned piano album. Even if you have the studio versions these are worth hearing as Emo live always provides a few delightful twists and turns to his original conceptions.

The interview with music journalist Chris Welch is good fun and Emerson, Jackson and Davison all sound relaxed and in high spirits but once you have heard this once it is unlikely you will wish to repeat the experience.

I think if you are wanting to 'get into' the Nice for the first time this is not the best place to start. You would be better getting hold of one of the plethora of compilations that are around containing their most accessible work as a starting point.

I was so looking forward to this album and the fact that the venue was Glasgow (my home town) just added to the anticipation. Therefore this is a great disappointment, not an unequivocal turkey to be sure, but I can only repeat my wish that the 'great and the good' at Sanctuary visit a gun shop in their local mall and do the decent thing.

Ars Longa Vita Brevis

RIP Brian Davison

Report this review (#169374)
Posted Thursday, May 1, 2008 | Review Permalink
Honorary Collaborator
4 stars Ok, two very detailed reviews here, so nothing too much to add.

I came to this album because of interest to Emerson fresh works: in fact it's new concert/recording based on classic compositions. And big part of them are ELP.

As with ELP discography, starting from some point in time we received endless list of collections/ even more live releases with very limited list of songs, mainly from very early time of their career. Similar situation happens with ex-ELP members ( for example, Carl Palmer's Band few albums).

I listened to two huge Emerson boxed sets of last years, happily there were songs and compositions from all possible styles,but no old ELP materials.

When I found this release, I realise, that Emerson turned to play some clessics as well, but with old The Nice guys! So, I purchased thi Glasgow show - and wasn't disappointed.

OK, it's no "new music",for sure. Whenever The Nice name is more from music history, than from some songs you still remember, most interest was Emerson. But I can confirm, that the band are not just some support musicians, but real Emerson partners in this show.

The repertoir is classic,with very pompastic grand orchestral style ( as in good old ELP times),but sound in common and arrangements are quite different from originals ( at least ,originals I am familiar with). Album in overall makes good impression, interesting refresh of classic songs from professional team of musicians. Just don't wait for any news there - it's classical nostalgy.

Report this review (#238766)
Posted Saturday, September 12, 2009 | Review Permalink
3 stars I am not so sure if this album should be filed under "Nice, The" or "Emerson, Keith". I think the latter one.

This album comes with three CDs. The third CD is an interview and as interesting as....... well, make that boring. We are all familiar with the story about Lemmy and the knife. So let's go straigth to the music.

The first CD is with The Nice and versions of their songs. The word "cosy" springs to mind because the versions is neither earth-shattering, challenging or even innovative. Lee Jackson sings like a buffalo in heat and the band is very much on it. I pretty much like these songs so I like this CD.

CD 2........ The Nice is being chased of the scene and into the dangerous streets of Barras, Glasgow so Keith Emerson & Band can do a set. Their version of Tarkus is untraditional, to say at least. I prefer both the studio version and the Welcome To The Show..... version. Hoe Down and Fanfare For The Common Man is OK. The Keith Emerson solo stuff is boring and it only proves that he is not ready to hang up his boots yet. Hire him as your pianist for your bar mitzvah, wedding, fox hunt or funeral for example.

This double album is a good, cosy album. It is pretty much low on the list of the best live albums from ELP or The Nice. Five Bridges is far, far better than this album. But this is not an offensive bad album so I guess three stars is OK.

3 stars

Report this review (#257876)
Posted Saturday, December 26, 2009 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
Honorary Reviewer
4 stars Who would have thought that The Nice would be playing together again in the 21st Century? Certainly not me, and although I came to The Nice through ELP, it was a band that I had been interested in for a long time. When I was given the opportunity of seeing them in concert I grabbed it with both hands and had a great time. This triple CD set is taken from the concert that was recorded in 2002 in Glasgow. The first CD is The Nice, with Dave Kilminster, and he certainly fits in well with the old blokes! Keith Emerson played the concert with his normal abandon, and I seem to remember that both Lee Jackson and Brian Davison played with huge grins on their faces.

The Nice were one of the most important bands in the progressive rock vanguard, bringing more than a hint of classical music into proceedings which gave rock an air of respectability, while at the same time managing to upset everyone by setting fire to a version of the Stars & Stripes during a performance of "America". No fire this time, but "America" (combined with "Rondo") is the opening number ? proving as if it were needed that they don't need vocals to make an impact. Of course there are 'proper' songs as well, and special mention should be made of "Cry Of Eugene" which all these years on is still a powerful song.

The second CD finds Keith alone, as he performs "A Blade Of Grass" and "A Cajun Alley" then a new line-up takes centre stage. Dave is back on guitar, but they are now joined by Pete Riley on drums and Phil Williams on bass. To cheers from the crowd, Keith announces that they are going to play "Tarkus", all 21 minutes of it! It has been adapted from the ELP version so that it is an instrumental, with Dave playing Greg's vocal lines on the guitar. To hear this was one of the highlights of the concert for me, and on CD it comes across with great power. A raucous "Hoe Down" (which Aaron Copland could never have conceived of) completes this section of the concert.

There is just time for the old boys to come back on and all six (yes, two drum kits) blast their way through "Fanfare". There is just enough time for "Honky Tonk Blues" and it is all over. Well, nearly. The third CD contains an interview with Keith, Brian and Lee talking about the glory days. One of the joys of this album is that it is possible to hear the bum notes, the fluffs, as this is a band on stage that are having a ball. There is no need to go back and adjust all the errors as that takes out the soul of the performance. If you had been there on that night this is what you would have heard, and what a fantastic time you would have had.

Report this review (#942101)
Posted Thursday, April 11, 2013 | Review Permalink
1 stars Som many bands call it a day, retire, form new bands, become carpenters. So why not the Nice? Several reasons. Lee Jacksons vocals always were dodgy, now they have no power or semblance of music about them, truly bad. Keith Emerson ditched Blinky and Lee years ago to perform with Lake and Palmer as The New no ELP, but as Emerson said..he really wanted a new Nice. So umpteen years later and after Greg and Keith fall out again, Keith summons his buddies from obscurity to use them as part of a Keith Emerson Show. What riles me about this release is not just that it isn't very good, but that keith ditches his old pals and uses the next disc to retread some ELP stuff, but without the L or P. Talk about cynical and manipulative!!! He ditched Lee and Blinky before, now he doesn't even give them the benefit of a double cd...oh the ego. Anyway, this release is a long way from the Nice and ELP. Why get this when their other cds are available? No reason, like Prodigal Stranger by Procul Harum, this is the sound of old guys pension funds
Report this review (#1343023)
Posted Saturday, January 10, 2015 | Review Permalink

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