Jimmie Nicol – Not Getting Better all the Time

Jimmie Nicol at the airport
Jimmie Nicol at the airport

Some photographs don’t need much of an explanation. The above photo of Jimmie Nicol says everything; 300,000 people screaming to sitting alone in a matter of days.

On their last few hours together, the five Beatles headed back inside for their next interview with the waiting journalists. As with the first interview, the banter between John, Paul, George and Ringo was as funny as ever, with Ringo prominent throughout. It was as if Nicol was the invisible Beatle; Ringo was back and all was good, except for Jimmie Nicol. At one point, a reporter asks him about his plans while the other Beatles are still being interviewed. He is quickly shut down.

On reflection, Nicol was asked about how he was treated and how he felt sitting in for Ringo in the biggest group on the planet. “After Ringo returned, they changed. It was like welcoming a close member of the family back. They treated me with nothing but respect as a musician. And I think they thought I was very good. John once told me I was better than Ringo but that I just missed the ship. When I was on the plane back to London, I felt like a bastard child being sent back home from a family that didn’t want me. When you have had the best, you can’t accept anything else.”

Interview with Jimmie Nicol
Interview with Jimmie Nicol

Under Curfew

The Beatles were under curfew, instigated by Brian, and overseen by Derek Taylor and Mal Evans. However, it was Nicol’s last night in Australia, and he wasn’t going to abide by any curfew. After all, he had sneaked out before and had fun, going mostly unrecognised. This time, it was different. He had only been out for a short time when Taylor and Evans turned up at the bar, grabbed Nicol and took him back to the hotel. After all, he was still a Beatle! Everything had changed, because not only had Ringo arrived, but Brian Epstein as well. Nicol’s short career with The Beatles ended not in a blaze of glory, but a mild whimper. 

Back Home – Hello, Goodbye

On 15th June 1964, Brian took Jimmie to the airport before he could even say goodbye to the Fab Four, who were still in bed. If ever there was a photograph that needed no caption, it was the one of Jimmie sitting all alone in a near empty airport with nobody paying any attention to him. How things had changed in just a matter of days. When asked about that photograph, and if he felt lonely, Nicol said: “That’s a beautiful picture. Well, if you look at that photograph, that answers your question.” (Evert Vermeer) No words were needed.

However, a TV reporter spotted him, and Nicol gave his final interview as a Beatle, reflecting on his exploits in Australia. He was asked, in a different way, the same question about what he would do next. “Well I hope to do something that I want to do. Now there might be a possibility that I might be able to do something….maybe earn enough money to study in America. That is what I want to do, is study drums in America and American music. And learn to arrange.” (The Beatle Who Vanished)

With Brian sitting nearby, the television interviewer brings him into shot to say an awkward ‘thank you’ on camera to Nicol. “I’d just like to say to you Jimmie that The Beatles and I are very, very grateful for everything you have done. You carried out a fine job for us and we’re very, very pleased. We hope you have a great trip back to London and every success to you in the future.” Jimmie’s response? “Thank you very much Brian.” It looked and sounded staged, broadcasting an obvious lack of emotion between the two men. In front of the camera, they were both professional, but Nicol, like so many people who featured in the story of The Beatles, had his part to play and then retired to virtual anonymity.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

In his interview with Teutsch, Nicol reflected on his time with The Beatles.

T: “Did you ever see them after the tour?”

JN: “I had a band (The Shubdubs) and Brian put us on the same bill with The Beatles and the Fourmost one night (12 July 1964 at the Hippodrome Theatre in Brighton). Backstage, we talked, but the wind had changed since we last saw each other. They were pleasant.”

T: “Why do you think you were forgotten after all this?”

JN: “When the fans forget, they forget forever. After the Beatles thing was over for me, I played around for a few years then got away from the music scene. I mean, when you’ve played with the best, the rest is just, well, the rest.”

T: “Any regrets?”

JN: “None. Oh, after the money ran low, I thought of cashing in in some way to other. But the timing wasn’t right. And I didn’t want to step on The Beatles’ toes. They had been damn good for me and to me.”  

SHUBDUBS, LIVERPOOL, SPOTNIKS, MEXICO………

When he returned home, he formed a band, The Shubdubs, who had a couple of singles, but not much success. He joined Swedish group The Spotniks, who had international hit albums and tours, when he ended up, after a disagreement, stranded in Mexico, where he stayed for a while, working on a number of projects, before coming out of hiding in 1984 in a Beatles Unlimited show in Holland. It was 20 years since Jimmie had played there with The Beatles. Nicol got up on stage with a local group, and promised a book would follow. It never did.

Jimmy Nicol in 1984
Jimmy Nicol in 1984 copyright Guus Kok

This is an excerpt from “Finding the Fourth Beatle”

How did The Beatles remember Jimmie? His phrase on tour with them, when they asked how he was doing, replied; “Getting Better”, as commemorated in the Beatles song.

And Jimmie has disappeared. Jim Berkenstadt, author of The Beatle Who Vanished, is now taking Jimmie’s story to the big screen, which is some story; looking forward to that!

However, if you know where Jimmie Nicol is, let us all know please??????

David Bedford

Get your copy of Finding the Fourth Beatle at www.thefourthbeatle.com

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The First Fifth Beatle is the Fourth Beatle for a Fortnight

The Fab Five
The Fab Five – Jimmie Nicol, George, Ringo, Paul and John

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”

David Bedford

Buy the book – www.beatlesshop.co.uk

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