Saturday, 10 January 2009

The Nice-Davey O'List Interview 1992

That long-lost London scene of 1967 increasingly seems, from this gloomy and distant vantage point, to have been a magical, almost mythical, place to have been part of. The Beatles were ensconced in Abbey Road conjuring up Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds and the Stones were at Trident with Her Satanic Majesty. At the Midnight Court and at Blaises you could watch the likes of Tomorrow, the Move, Traffic and the Pink Floyd doing their psychedelic thing whilst rubbing shoulders with Brian Jones, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and John Lennon.For a few short years everything seemed possible and probable, and indeed in musical terms everything was. It's very easy when walking around present day London to believe that those golden days are built on myth more than memories. And yet, when you get the chance to talk to someone that was actually there in Swinging London during the late Sixties, you can see the excitement in their eyes and hear the magic in their voices as they look back with joy and sometimes longing for a time that they can hardly believe actually happened. Davey O'List is one such person. The guitarist in the original Nice, his brilliant axe-work is spattered all over their first (and best) album, and his untimely departure from the band was a mistake from which that fine combo never really recovered as they spiralled down into the dead end of pomp-rock and circumstantially classic overkill. The damage done to the Nice was only equalled by the damage done to the confidence of the young and self-effacing guitarist and songwriter O'List, and he was never again to fulfil the potential shown on 'Everlist Davjack'. A few years later O'List had another chance to shine when he became a fundamental component of the formation of Roxy Music. His influence on the music and form of that fine progressive outfit has long been underestimated; yet anyone who heard the John Peel sessions he did with them will vouch that his part 'in shaping Roxy Music is an important one. Again, Davey was at a genuine loss to understand why he was dropped by Roxy Music just prior to their recording debut. The following interview was the result of a very pleasant evening in the company of O'List, who now devotes much of his time to art and multi-media exhibitions. Whilst his musical outings during the Eighties might not be of much interest to the average Terrascope reader, there's always the possibility that he will again move back into the musical fields of our taste, for he's still playing guitar in private and keeping a weather eye upon the scene in general. This then is his story...

Let's go back to the start of your career.

Right, in 1964 I was in an R&B band called Little Boy Blues. The other guitarist's father owned a pub and he would let us rehearse upstairs, eventually allowing us to play a couple of times in the pub itself on a small stage. It went down quite well, and led to a gig at a South Kensington youth club called The Crypt Club. The whole club turned out to see us, it was a huge audience and it was from their reaction to us that we started to develop and improve. A band definitely needs feedback from an audience to gauge how good it is. I was more or less forced to leave them by my old man though because he wanted me to go to the Royal College of Music and study properly, so I did that for a year. I had a Saturday job in Sainsburys, and I met a bass player there who was in a group. He invited me down to see them and to take my trumpet along. I didn't say anything about being a guitarist to him, I thought they'd already have guitarist but probably not a trumpet player. The band were called The Soul System and they played quite good soul music, but with a rock guitar base to it. So I started playing trumpet with them. One night though I started playing guitar and they could immediately see that I was a better guitarist than the guy who was already with the band.

The lead singer, Richard Shirman (who looked a bit like Mick Jagger), really wanted to go places - he took me to one side and said that the guitarist wasn't really interested in taking things further and eventually talked me round into being the lead guitarist, although I really didn't want to usurp the other guy's position in the band. Soon after we signed to Don Arden's agency and we were working two or three times a week from that point. The management got us a deal with Decca, and we went into a studio with a new name - The Attack -and knocked out our first single `Try It', which got a few radio plays and was quite popular for a while.

Really though, we were best playing live, we just got better and better. Decca put us into the studio to do another record, we were given this song `Hi Ho Silver Lining to do and we really thought we had a potential hit record. Unfortunately though, Jeff Beck had also picked up on the song. His version came out just before ours and he had the hit.

Although people appreciated our version, it was totally overshadowed by Jeffs. Then John Peel started playing the B-side, 'Any More Than I Do', which I had written with Richard Shirman. John Peel used it as the signature tune for his pirate radio show, which was the biggest break I've ever had - a lot of established musicians would listen to John Peel. One day John Mayall 'phoned me up and offered me a job with The Bluesbreakers - I was stunned, at that time the Bluesbreakers were one of my favourite groups. I told him I would need a few days to think it over, it was an unbelievable offer for me to take in.

The very next day, Keith Emerson 'phoned and offered me a job backing this girl singer P.P. Arnold, who had been in the Ike & Tina Turner revue, in this new band he was putting together. I met up with Keith and found that the ideas he had for the band were very close to my own. I realised that if I joined John Mayall, we would he playing his music and the idea of my own band, with Keith doing the music I would be playing, appealed far more. I had all these ideas about fusing classical and rock music, changing the rhythms, coming at the audience from'a completely different angle - and Keith was such a good organist, a very rare thing in those days. So I stuck with Keith Emerson and let the Mayall offer go; whether I made the right decision or not I shall never know. I felt guilty about leaving The Attack, I thought I'd really let them down, but what could I do? The band split up and Richard Shirman had to put a whole new band together using the same name. Anyway, we were put on a weekly wage which made things easier, and we set out backing P.P. Arnold.

The first thing people tend to recall about the Nice is when you played the Plumpton Festival, you were playing in a side tent which got filled to capacity with people getting blown away at what you were doing.
We didn't think we'd be doing our own spot, but P.P. came up and said we could do this set in one of the side tents. We knew we'd have to come up with some way of pulling the audience away from the main stage and into our tent. Keith and I were both into being theatrical with the band so we brought some doves along, let smoke bombs off all around the tent, set the doves off and started playing. People came over to see what all the commotion was about and before long the place was packed. We had Sandy Sargeant who was a really good dancer and well known from 'Ready Steady Go' up on stage doing her stuff, , so even though we were unknown there was someone people could recognise. Keith was doing all the stuff we'd talked about doing, using knives and whips on the keyboards, and the whole thing went down very well. We got a review in the Melody Maker and the day was a real success!

So, what songs were you doing at the time?
Most of the tracks that appeared on the first LP, plus stuff like Vanilla Fudge's 'You Keep Me Hanging On'. We also did a version of 'A Day In The Life' which people said couldn't be done live; we did it, and I think we did it really well.

This would have been with the original drummer?

The drummer with the P.P. Arnold band wasn't really good enough to do the things we wanted to do, he was alright to play on P.P. Arnold's stuff but it was obvious he wasn't good enough for us. Brian Davidson had played with The Attack and the Mark Leeman Five, and Chris Welch suggested we use him - and he was just perfect.

Where did the name of the band come from?
P.P. Arnold came up with the name 'The Nazz' for us, it's an American term for God and we liked the sound of it but were a bit uneasy about being called'God', so `The Nice' was derived that. P.P. Arnold was managed by Andrew Loog Oldham and he put us into a studio to do some demos. We did the whole of album in demo form, it was all done live, recorded through one
microphone. We plugged two 8-track desks together and recorded in 16 track from, which was unheard of in those days. It took us three weeks to record. We did one side in a week at Olympic Studios and then did the other side the next week at Pye Records' studios.

You didn't record any extra tracks?
The only other thing we did was'Azrial' which turned up on a B-side.
And that then was The Thoughts of Emerlist Davjack', which most people consider to be the best Nice album.

I don't like the later Nice stuff. It's not that I'm personally biased against it, I just didn't like the direction it went in - the production was crap. I couldn't stand it. After a while I went to see them live and I couldn't understand how they were still popular, the quality had dropped so. It was all Emerson on the middle and high keyboard going all over the place, Brian just following him, and Lee merely standing there going 'ding ding ding'!

It was just gone, all the spirit and ideas and essence of what was originally envisaged for the band; Keith had carried it off into his own direction.

So, let's talk about the famous tour with Hendrix and the Floyd.
This was the most exciting period of my life, 1967/68. I'm always thinking about it. Things would happen out of the blue, and everything seemed to be working out really smoothly. Straight after the album we set out on this tour with the Floyd and Jimi Hendrix. Hendrix used to stand at the side of the stage and watch me play - I was so daunted by it and shy, all the girls would be screaming and I'd have to hold it all together with the mind-blowing prospect of Hendrix watching me play!

I used to watch the Floyd every night, I was really interested in them - technically they weren't so great, but what they were doing meant so much - they were incredible. Every night I'd get out into the audience and watch them. I learned their set off by heart doing this. One night, I think it was in Liverpool or Manchester, the band came in and asked me to play with them because Syd had thrown a wobbly and not turned up. I don't know how they knew I knew their set. I was a bit daunted by the idea because all the girls in the audience would be there waiting for Syd to do'See Emily Play', whereupon they would scream the house down. The Floyd said not to worry, if you wear Syd's hat and keep your face- down nobody will notice! And that's what happened. It was amazing playing with Roger and Nick, I would have loved to have joined the Floyd but I was too shy to say anything to them. I was still very young in those days and not very good at putting my point across. Anyway, the next night Syd had heard that the band had played without him anyway, and he got out of his sulk and turned up. That was that.

We went to America after that for our first US tour. That was incredible. like being in a film or something. I have so many vivid memories of it - every second was exciting. We played in The Scene club in New York and Andy Warhol and the Velvet Underground turned up to watch us; one night we met Judy. Garland, both she and Keith were wearing hats so they swapped - for the rest of that tour and for about three years afterwards Keith wore Judy Garland's hat, a black thing with metal rings around it. We played the Fillmore West in San Francisco with Big Brother & The Holding Company as well.

I wish I'd stayed in America but we had an outstanding contract to play the Marquee, so we came back for that. We recorded 'America' as a single when we got back and played that live a lot. Soon afterwards Tony Stratton Smith became involved, he started following me around the clubs pretending to be friendly but as it turned out he was trying to elbow me out of the band. He'd seen us play quite a lot and saw the attention Keith was getting with his onstage antics, and mistakenly thought that Keith was the centre of the band. What he didn't understand was that -a lot of the theatrical ideas came from me, I was the one whose parents were from a theatrical background. I suggested right at the start that Keith shouldn't sit down at the keyboards but stay standing. Stratton-Smith started accusing me of taking drugs all the time which was ludicrous - I wasn't taking LSD, I'd never even seen Cocaine and I didn't know what Heroin was -honestly, I was really green about it all. He was still trying to pull that one on me though. Two or three times he took me out to dinner and started needling me, 'we don't like what you're playing, we don't like what you're doing on stage, we don't like how you behave, don't you think you should see a psychiatrist and perhaps leave the band. Who was this bastard? For two years I'd put my whole life into this band, invested everything. It really upset me, because he said he represented the views of the whole band.

If I'd been older I'd have been able to see that this wasn't really the case, but at the time I thought it was and I was too upset to go to Keith and ask if all this nonsense was real. So that was it, I left the band and waited for Keith to get in contact. I shouldn't have, I should have gone straight to Keith, but I didn't.

Steve Howe joined in my stead - I was friends with him from Tomorrow days and I later foundo ut that one of the reasons he quit the Nice after only one day was that he couldn't see how a guitarist could feel safe in a band that had fired me - I thought that was a very nice thing of him to say. Actually, I got the original Yes a residence at the Marquee, which was instrumental in making them successful. I really enjoyed being part of the London scene, knowing people like Jimi Hendrix and Noel Redding. I think a lot of people were taken aback when I was pushed out of the Nice by Stratton-Smith.

Jethro Tull immediately got in contact, they'd supported us quite a bit so I knew them. Mick Abrahams had just left, so I rehearsed with them, but I couldn't get the Nice out of my system - I was emotionally strung out on their music, it was the Nice I wanted to be playing with and not Jethro Tull. I couldn't get my head into it. I tried to form my own band and that didn't really work out so I joined an outfit called Opal Butterfly for a while. They had a black singer, Ray Owen, who was very influenced by Jimi Hendrix. Then Ray and I and the drummer joined the Misunderstood. We did this film called, I think, 'Super Group Session' with Led Zeppelin, Roland Kirk and The Cream. I recorded a couple of tracks with them, `Little Red Rooster' and 'Tough Enuff.

So what happened to the band, did they split soon after?
Certain members got very big-headed about the group, they really thought the Misunderstood were going to be huge, the name was going to be changed to Juicy Lucy - but in the end Glen Campbell left England to get married and the band folded, leaving me high and dry.

I put an advert in 'Melody Maker', and one of the calls I got was from this singer Bryan Ferry, he had a band called Roxy Music who were at the time totally unknown. Ferry had had the band going fora while, and. wanted to turn professional.
When they played live at the time, I believe they were billed as `Davy O'List's Roxy Music

Well yes, I was still famous, a hot property, and my standing was seen as a definite asset to the band. I was able to get us things like a John Peel session, which in those days was a big thing - any band that did a Peel session became a known band overnight. We did lots of great gigs, we were toying with the idea of a girl drummer and we did get one for a while but it didn't work out. So then Bryan suggested we get in Brian Davidson, which I didn't think was a good idea - but we went round to see him and sat in his flat playing the Roxy tape and he didn't like it at all - so that was that. We put an advert in 'Melody Maker' and ended up with Paul Thompson. I didn't particularly rate him as a drummer, he was very basic, although he did get better in time. After we did the radio session we took it to E.G. Management, who offered us a deal. We spent weeks rehearsing the album and just before we went into the studio to record it, the original guitarist Phil Manzanera decided he wanted to rejoin. So they dropped me.
You must have been pretty unhappy about that turn of events?
I was stunned. I listen to that first album now and because Phil joined just before the recording, he had to copy a lot of my guitar work note for note. About a third of the arrangements on the album are mine! I've never had any credit or recompense for it, either. I did play on a couple of Bryan Ferry solo albums later on which was great, I have a lot of respect for Bryan and what he does. We did have a couple of Top Ten hits; 'Me In Crowd' and 'Let's Stick Together'.

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