Eighteen years since his last solo release, Davy O’List, former guitarist for The Nice, has returned with his new album Second Thoughts. The wayward prog genius talks Keith Emerson, Pink Floyd, Yes – and why he was once dubbed Dave The Rave.
It sounds like you’re going back to your roots with Second Thoughts.
Exactly. It’s based on [The Nice’s 1967 debut] The Thoughts Of Emerlist Davjack. I wanted to do a sequel. I revisited one of The Nice’s tracks, Bonnie K, and I really enjoyed it. It was good to redo it because I could get a better guitar sound.
What was it like, being at the genesis of progressive rock in the late 60s?
We didn’t even know what progressive rock was. The Nice was supposed to be a commercial outfit playing unusual material which was different to everyone else’s. From being at the Royal College Of Music, my idea was to bring in classical influences and see how they would fit into a rock format. So we came up with the likes of Rondo and our cover of Bernstein’s America.
What inspired you to become a musician?
My parents were involved in the London theatre scene. My dad, Reg, was a comedian and a guitar player. That’s why I took up the guitar. Reg was the straight man for Jimmy Edwards, with the big handlebar moustache. Jimmy would bring Reg on stage and slap a great big wet fish on his belly. Then he’d pour a bucket of water over his head. For his solo act, Reg used to have a gun that fired sausages.
Your bandmate in The Nice, Keith Emerson, went on to form Emerson Lake And Palmer. What did you make of them?
Keith was really doing the Keith Emerson trio with ELP. I put a lot of ideas his way, including Mussorgsky’s Pictures At An Exhibition. I played that for my entrance exam at the Royal College Of Music. While Keith is a fantastic entertainer and performer, the musical ideas were originally mine.
Is it true that Lemmy used to roadie for The Nice?
No, he roadied for Hendrix. People say that Lemmy gave Keith Emerson a pair of Hitlerjugend knives but that isn’t true. We were already using knives in The Nice’s stage act.
You famously deputised for Syd Barrett in Pink Floyd.
This was on a tour of Britain with the Floyd, The Nice and Jimi Hendrix. Syd went AWOL for a few shows and they asked me to step in. I’d watch the Floyd every night, so I knew all their music. I had it all in my head. If Syd hadn’t come back later on in the tour I could’ve been permanent. I was only 19, maybe I was too young. And of course they knew David Gilmour, who used to hand out with Syd in Cambridge.
The Melody Maker used to have a gossip column called The Raver that featured a recurring character, Dave The Rave. That was you, apparently?
Correct. The Raver was written by the journalist Chris Welch and we used to hang around together. Chris had his press pass and he’d take me all over the place to see people like Hendrix, Georgie Fame, Eric Clapton and The Who. We were like brothers. Those were magical times.
Tell us how you persuaded The Syn to change their name to Yes.
It was at the Speakeasy in London. The Nice had just broken the box-office record for the Marquee and I was out celebrating. I met [bassist] Chris Squire and I said: “Maybe I can get you a support gig at the Marquee. But you’re going to have to change your name, because I don’t think The Syn is very good.” We both said “yes” at the same time – and that was it.