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Blinky Davison 4/2008

blinkie davisonApril 15, 2008 – Brian “Blinky”Davison (The Nice) was born on May 25, 1942 in Leicester, England, where his mother had been evacuated from London during the Blitz.

His early interest in drumming was encouraged by his Uncle George, a jazz drummer who gave him his first kit. Brian also received help from his older brother Terry, who played him records by Max Roach. Brian played in a youth club skiffle group before leaving school to work as a delivery-van driver for the London Evening Standard. He carried on drumming in his spare time and joined his friend Terry Goldberg in his group The Rocker Shakes. In the late fifties and early sixties he played drums in various Skiffle groups in and around the youth clubs and pubs in North-west London, especially around Baker Street.

His bubbling personality endeared him to his fellow musicians and his quick-witted responses would disarm even those in the firing line for criticism. Eyes twinkling, he’d laugh his way out of most situations, although he would endure some pain and despair as well as joy during a turbulent career

In 1962, Davison joined the Mark Leeman Five, managed by David Bowie’s mentor Ken Pitt. The band was impressed by Brian’s left-hand independence, which led to him being compared to Art Blakey – “on the blink”. As a result, he earned the nickname “Blinky”, which he disliked.

The Mark Leeman Five released one single, “Portland Town” produced by Manfred Mann, before Leeman died in a car crash in June 1965. Vocalist Roger Peacock replaced him but the group broke up in July the following year.

Davison joined The Habits and later the Mike Cotton Sound. He also played with The Attack soul group fronted by singer Richard Shirman with Davy O’List on guitar.

Shortly afterwards in 1967, Davy O’List left to form The Nice with Keith Emerson and bassist/vocalist Lee Jackson. The group was signed by Andrew Oldham to Immediate Records and was scheduled to support soul singer P.P. Arnold. However, The Nice soon parted company with Arnold as they began to experiment with extended arrangements. Davison replaced their regular drummer Ian Hague on O’List’s recommendation and The Nice began to develop such numbers as “Rondo”, “America” and “Hang on to a Dream”.

A passionate and gifted player, Blinky as he was now baptized, saw his role in any group as a fellow musician and creative percussionist. He was inspired by jazz drummers Jack DeJohnette and Art Blakey and brought a dynamic approach to rock when he joined keyboard virtuoso Keith Emerson in The Nice. Davison was part of the progressive rock movement that boldly blended elements of rock, jazz and the classics. Although he had previously played in pop and soul groups, he was happiest being given free rein for expression and The Nice proved a perfect home for his talents.

Davison played on all the band’s albums including The Thoughts of EmerlistDavJack (1967), Ars Longa Vita Brevis (1968), Five Bridge (1970) and Elegy (1971).

The Nice became a trio with the departure of Davy O’List and increasing demands were placed on the drummer. Emerson not only performed rhapsodic solos, but also executed a dangerous stage act. This included stabbing his Hammond organ with a pair of German army daggers, donated by Lemmy Kilmister (of Hawkwind and Motorhead fame). The knife-throwing became a bone of contention. Emerson recalled:

I practised hurling the daggers into a dartboard but had a low hit rate. I threw the knives on stage at the organ anyway and after the show was confronted by a very angry drummer sporting a large cut across his forehead. “Who the hell do you think you are . . . Errol Flynn?” At the next gig Brian surrounded himself with a protective screen of gongs.

Lee Jackson remembers a night in Sheffield when both band and audience became helpless with laughter.

“We were playing “Hang on to a Dream”. Brian usually added a Doppler effect using a triangle spun above his head on a piece of string. Only the string broke. The triangle flew up in the air and crashed back onto the drum kit. We tried four times to restart the number but “corpsed” and gave up.”

When relations became strained between the band members, mostly due to heavy touring, Emerson subsequently split from The Nice and formed Emerson, Lake & Palmer in 1970. This shocked his old colleagues but Jackson formed his own group, Jackson Heights, while Davison set up Every Which Way, fronted by the singer Graham Bell. They recorded one eponymously titled album, in 1970.

In 1973 Jackson and Davison were reunited as Refugee with the Swiss keyboard virtuoso Patrick Moraz. They released one well-received album but Moraz left shortly after to join Yes.

Davison began to drink, resulting in the breakdown of his marriage. For some time he was out of the music scene but received counselling and recovered from a period of alcoholism, vowing never to drink again. Life improved greatly when he moved from London to north Devon with his partner Teri West. He began teaching percussion at Bideford College and also played regularly in a local blues band.

On 9 April 2002 the three members of The Nice, Emerson, Davison and Jackson, performed at a reception at the 100 Club in London, the first time they’d played together in 32 years. It was the precursor to a full UK tour by the band which included a concert recorded for a CD, Vivacitas: live at Glasgow 2002. Although Davison suffered ill health in recent years he and Teri celebrated his 60th birthday at his cottage by the sea in 2002 with a party that reunited old friends, including Lee and Keith, when there was more laughter than tears as they remembered the heyday of The Nice.

Davison was 65, when he died from a non-operable brain tumor on April 15, 2008.

Keith Emerson committed suicide in 2016, when he shot himself in despair over not being able to continue playing keyboards.

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