...the band discovered a talent for stage craft and theatre which, when married to...
Chris Jones 2002
The name of Keith Emerson has forever been sullied by the activities of behemoth classical-rock monsters ELP, but as with so many artists of his generation, if you scratch the surface and do a little delving, you come across a very different beast indeed. No one who buys this album will be unaware of Mr Moog-mauler's pedigree, but for those unschooled in prog history it may come as some surprise to hear that this, his sophomore outfit, started as a support band for sixties soul diva PP Arnold. While performing warm-up sets prior to her arrival onstage, the band discovered a talent for stage craft and theatre which, when married to Emerson's Jimmy Smith licks and Davy O'List's psychedelic guitar strangling, resulted in a sound that was very much flavour du jour in early 1967.
This slice of pop archaeology comes at us from the mists of time when the band were just starting to road test the songs from their first album, the ingeniously titled The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack. The title track and their freaked-out mangling of Dave Brubeck's "Rondo" (12 minutes plus!) are present and correct as is "Flower King Of Flies", the psychedelic stomper which demonstrates that The Nice could easily match contemporaries such as the Pink Floyd and Soft Machine for lysergic weirdness. Completists will love the inclusion of three non-originals including the almost mandatory (for the time) Dylan number and a lumpen version of "You Keep Me Hanging On" which may even pre-date Vanilla Fudge's useless rendition.
The version of "Sombrero Sam", however, really allows Emerson's funky keyboard chops to come to the fore. He truly was a precocious master of the Hammond and in a light jazz setting such nimble-fingered wizardry shines out. Overall you sense a band stretching each other to the limit, reaching out to invent a new format which would eventually become their downfall. At this point, however, the quartet was wandering in a perfumed garden of psychedelic modishness, and all the better for it. Caught forever in Swedish broadcast quality aspic, this is a slice of history worth repeating.