The Nice: Tear Gas, Stones and Broken Heads…


BIG FESTIVALS are probably the very worst places to see and hear groups.

They can also be pretty dangerous, as I found out last Saturday when I travelled with the Nice to the Pop and Blues Festival in the German town of Essen. While the group were preparing for the gig in our hotel, we heard that there was trouble at the gigantic 11,000-seater Grug Halle, where the Festival had started two nights previously.

The place was almost full when 2,000 kids arrived without tickets, to be told that there was no more room.

Taking things into their own hands they smashed windows, climbed in, and fought their way into the hall past a handful of security guards. They managed to merge with the crowd, but when people with tickets arrived to find that they could not get in, the trouble started.

Police arrived, and the battle was on. Tear gas billowed, stones flew, and heads were broken, but eventually the crowd was pacified with the help of Alexis Korner and two members of the Taste, who took their instruments and amplifiers outside to play to the kids who couldn’t get in.

Deep Purple were into their set when we arrived at the hall, and they received a truly amazing reception. Every musical climax was greeted by a throaty gasp of mass delight, and half-a-dozen youths were so moved that they stripped to the waist and turned into Instant Idiot Dancers.

Jon Lord played a lot of funky organ, and the band swung very hard on things like ‘Paint It Black’ and ‘Hush’. They’re really big on the continent, and they were a very difficult act for the Nice to follow.

By the time the Nice got on stage the audience had been cooled down slightly by a German band, Amon Duul, who played rather raggedly from a second stage at the far end of the hall.

Realising that they had to work hard to get the audience on their side, the Nice smashed straight into ‘Rondo’, perhaps their best-known number. Keith Emerson was all over his Hammond, pounding the keys, jumping over the console, picking it up and swinging it round before letting it crash to the floor.

The applause at the end of the number was warm, but not deafening as it had been for Deep Purple. So Keith tried even harder, and played a finger-busting piano solo on ‘Hang On To A Dream’ which got the best response when he played the piano strings with his microphone, producing unearthly tinkles and pings.

After three or four more long numbers, they finished with the churning ‘For Example’ and split from the stage fast. It hadn’t been a really memorable gig; the audience was too remote, and the auditorium was so huge that even Keith’s huge Leslie speakers sounded thin.

It was probably the worst audience of the weekend, which started in Newcastle on Friday night. The occasion was a concert at the City Hall, featuring the group by themselves for two hours.

It was a fantastic success, which was specially pleasing for bassist Lee Jackson, whose home town it is. The crowd wouldn’t let them go, the acoustics were dead right, and the only blot came when one of Keith’s organs packed up — an incident which was to happen in Essen and in Amsterdam on Sunday night.

The highlight of the concert came when the group premiered part of Keith’s new Five Bridges Suite commissioned by the Newcastle Festival and dedicated to the bridges over the Tyne.

It was subtle and intricate, with a delicate fugal introduction followed by some really nice riffing. All three members played beautifully, and drummer Brian Davison was particularly free and swinging.

The concert in Amsterdam was, again, entirely different. That city’s beautiful old Concertgebouw hall feels haunted by the ghosts of classical composers and orchestras, and the audience behaved suitably.

They were quiet and respectful, they listened hard, and they applauded politely at the end. At first they sounded cool, but by the end there was a warm atmosphere — and ‘Hang On To A Dream’, with Keith brilliant, received what seemed like minutes of solid, sustained clapping.

All in all it was a successful weekend for the group who, providing they don’t get stale on their material, can only go from strength to strength. They’re visually excellent, and their music has substance and depth which rewards the real listener as much as the hysterical fan.

© Richard WilliamsMelody Maker, 18 October 1969

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