Jimmie Nicol was the first Beatle to be called the “Fifth Beatle”, when he joined The Beatles at short notice, after Ringo fell ill on the eve of their world tour. George wanted to call it all off; that wasn’t possible. After a recommendation by Bobby Graham (the first drummer to turn Brian down as replacement for Pete Best), Jimmie soon joined up with John, Paul and George.
Until a few years ago, there was not much known about Nicol, until Jim Berkenstadt’s book, “The Beatle Who Vanished“, was published. An incredible piece of research by the Rock ‘n’ Roll Detective.
How Jimmie Nicol joined The Beatles
The Daily Mail covered the story on 4th June 1964. Under the banner “Ringo Is Replaced”, they revealed the truth behind the headline. Nicol “told reporter Robert Bickford, ‘I’m knocked out man. It’s quite a laugh being one of The Beatles. I can handle the job okay. Ringo can swing all right, but I’ve got more range.” The newspaper was keen to support Nicol’s addition to the tour: “An expert drummer, he is highly regarded by the record industry and was at home in Barnes, Middlesex, when The Beatles’ recording manager George Martin phoned and asked him to go straight to the EMI studios where the other three band members were recording.
After a two-hour rehearsal, John Lennon told him: ‘You’re in. This should be worth a couple of quid to you.’” The journalist also spoke to Ringo in the hospital to see how he was feeling. ”I’m not too bad really”, he said. “I feel pretty groggy but I am sure I’ll be well enough to go with the boys on Sunday to Hong Kong. It’s pretty nice in here. I’m surrounded by hot water bottles but I am still shivering. It’s a terrible drag not being able to go with the boys to Europe.”
This enigmatic drummer hit the heights that only the Fab Four had experienced, but it was over quickly. With exclusive photographs from the tour, and interviews with fans who attended the concerts and members of the support groups in Denmark and the Netherlands, and promoters too.
Top Six Records
With his battered Trixon drum set feeling its age, Nicol felt it was time for another upgrade: a shiny blue Trixon Luxus kit with a crocodile-style design. Nicol worked closely with Johnny Harris, trumpet player with the band, and the two became good friends. Their relationship would be especially important to Jimmie’s career when Harris was offered the position of Producer/Arranger at Pye Records, where he developed a great reputation and came to the attention of an Australian executive from Top Six Records.
Bill Wellings had this idea to put out an EP of cover versions of the top six chart hits, offered at a cheap price so those music fans who wanted the latest songs, but couldn’t afford the real artists, could have a version of six songs for the price of one. When Wellings approached Johnny Harris to arrange the songs, he knew which drummer was experienced and versatile enough to do the job: Jimmie Nicol. As well as being a great drummer, Nicol could also read music, which was a tremendous advantage to Harris who had to record lots of songs on a tight budget, and with a quick turnaround time. This was 1964, and which band was on top of the charts? The Beatles, of course. It was this twist of fate that would, within a few months, help to earn Nicol the biggest job on the planet.
Jimmie Nicol and Beatle Mania
In January 1964, Top Six released an EP entitled “Beatle Mania Special” using the phrase coined in October 1963 to describe the fans’ love of The Beatles. This record, which featured “She Loves You”, “Twist and Shout”, “Please Please Me”, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”, “From Me To You” and “Love Me Do”. Incredibly, this record sold 100,000 copies. Nicol was now a successful recording artist and session drummer whose skills would be required very soon. In February 1964, as The Beatles were heading off to conquer America on The Ed Sullivan Show, Nicol was asked to form his own band and release a single, arranged by Johnny Harris. Jimmie Nicol and the Shubdubs released a ska version of the old nursery rhyme “Humpty Dumpty” on Pye Records.
DENMARK – COPING IN COPENHAGEN: 4th June 1964
On Thursday, 4th June 1964, John, Paul, George and Jimmie headed to London Heathrow Airport with their chauffeur Bill at the wheel of their Austin Princess car. They were allowed to board the aircraft before the other passengers and, of course, were asked for autographs by the crew. The co-pilot, who had probably been asked by his daughter to get their autographs, mistook Paul for Ringo – who wasn’t even on the plane! George, spotting the chance for a laugh, urged Paul to sign. “Go on, Ringo”, he told Paul, “Give him your signature”.
With exclusive photographs from the tour, and interviews with fans who attended the concerts and members of the support groups in Denmark and the Netherlands, and promoters like DJ Ray Cordeiro in Hong Kong.
But Australia was where Ringo caught up with his fellow Beatles.
On 13th June, DJ Bob Rodgers interviewed The Beatles and quizzed Nicol about his adventures with the band and the fact that his final appearance with them was that very evening.
BR: “Jimmie, you’ve got your final performances tonight and then Ringo arrives tomorrow.”
JN: “Yes, that’s right. I’m looking forward to meeting him.”
BR: “And then it’s all over for you. What’s going to happen? I hear you may not be going back to England?”
JN: “Not for a little while, no. I fancy going back to Sydney.”
That didn’t happen.
Sunday 14th June 1964 was a strange day, because, with a recovered Ringo now in Australia, there were five Beatles to be interviewed in Sydney Airport. However, the focus was now on Ringo, not Jimmie, as the interview bounced back and forth among the four of them. Eventually, Nicol was predictably asked about life after The Beatles. He confirmed that he wanted to remain in Australia, but with no firm offer, nothing was certain. As the questioning returned to the reunited quartet, the limelight was beginning to fade on Jimmie.
How the story ended – tomorrow…………..
Excerpts taken from “Finding the Fourth Beatle”