The Marquee Club - A tribute site dedicated to the history of the legendary Marquee club at London's 90 Wardour street.

Interview with David O'List from The Nice

David O'List

David O'List is known as one of the most reputed and innovative British guitarists in the history of rock music during the late 60's. He was protagonist of unforgettable gigs at The Marquee Club with The Nice and The Attack, including the infamous evening supporting Jimi Hendrix Experience.

During the early 70s, David O'List worked with other renowned artists, including Roxy Music, John Cale and The Velvet Underground. He has been a founding member of numerous projects during these last 20 years, involving some of the most notable musicians in rock music, including David O List From The Nice, The Attack, Super Nice Group, and Second Thoughts.

I had the great pleasure of hearing David O'List remember about the old Marquee days as well as getting some of my questions answered.

What is the first image that springs to your mind when you hear the words Marquee Club?

The great packed crowds, the heat, Roger Daltrey swinging his mike around, Pete Townshend swinging his arm round and smashing his guitar into his amp and smashing it completely up on the stage, Keith Moon kicking his drum kit over, the incredible cheering. When The Nice and I broke the box office record held by The Who.

Do you remember the very first time you ever visited the club and as a member of the audience was there any band that you specially remember?

I first visited the club to see The Who when I was 14. I'd seen The Who posters near my school, their symbol drew me to The Marquee, I knew there was going to be something different about The Who and it was the most incredible experience I had ever seen! I took a schoolmate along next Tuesday to see them, I was so impressed! I attended every Tuesday night to see them after that. I also saw Stevie Winwood with Spencer Davis Group, who I later toured with, John Mayall with Eric Clapton and Peter Green, who offered me a job, and The Yardbirds with Jeff Beck, who came to see me play at the Albert Hall. I went there to see Townshend, Clapton, Green, Winwood and Beck, my heroes.

The Attack

David O'List with The Attack

Can you remember how you got your residency at the club?

A major factor inspiring me to get a solo deal with Andrew Oldham was the incredible audience responses The Nice were getting from their solo spots before P. P. Arnold came on. I had a record deal started. I opened The Nice booking agency and then obtained residencies for The Nice at The Speakeasy Club and The Marquee Club. I had played The Marquee with The Attack before and knew Jack Barrie and John Gee very well, they liked my playing and welcomed my new group on. The first night was about 50 people, which was good for a first night at The Marquee. The Marquee gave The Nice a follow up date to make it worthwhile and thankfully a larger audience of 100 turned up next time because of my hard publicity work. I stepped up the publicity again and the audience kept on expanding, so we were given a residency. We had become a top Marquee draw because of publicity; we didn't even have a record out yet. One fan turned up every week to sit in front of the stage and shake his head and long hair about non-stop to the music, the beginnings of a new rave seen later in heavy metal. I called him Rondo. On the big night it would go through my head: 'Is Rondo here?'. Of course he was and it was going to be another incredible night at The Marquee.

Before The Nice, Keith Emerson and Lee Jackson had played at The Marquee with the T-Bones. Did you ever see them play at the club?

Yes, to be truthful they had a weak sound were unimaginative and had a boring set. They had never been produced. Keith seemed to be stuck in a quagmire not knowing what to play. It was good when they finished and the top group came on. It was seeing support groups like this that inspired me to put my band The Attack on at The Marquee, we had better quality, were more exciting and memorable and the sound was far tighter and superior. The Attack also had record successes. You wouldn't have thought some months later Keith and I would be playing together.

The Nice had the privilege of supporting Jimi Hendrix at The Marquee on October 24th 1967, which was his second show at the club. How did you get the privilege of supporting him?

The Nice had impressed The Marquee Club very much with its music, stage show, and audience attendance and fan base. The Nice was the newest thing around so The Marquee gave us a special guest spot with The Jimi Hendrix Experience and we went on to play the best we ever had. Jimi was incredibly impressed and as we came off with the crowd roaring for more, very bizarre for a support group at The Marquee. Jimi took me aside to tell me how incredible he thought it was and would I like to be on his tour? I was astounded.

I never looked back from that night because everything snow balled with success; the single and album I produced came out to coincide with the tour; it was just the reason I needed to persuade Andrew Oldham to release it.

In November 1967, during The Nice's UK Tour, you replaced Syd Barret of Pink Floyd on stage several times because he started having serious problems performing live. Do you remember seeing Pink Floyd at The Marquee before that?

I had only seen them playing their hits on television. I really liked them.

It seems that The Marquee Club's manager Jack Barrie was also an important supporter of The Nice during the first days of your career. What do you remember about him?

Jack had become a great friend of mine at La Chasse club, a few doors away from The Marquee. I'd brought people like Chris Welch to his club, which he greatly appreciated. He loved rock music and what I was doing for it. Jack became so popular at La Chasse club and knew all about the scene he was the natural choice to manage The Marquee club after John Gee retired. He could bring audiences in. During his time at The Marquee he was a staunch supporter of The Nice and supported everything I wanted to do, he was such a great guy! Those sorts of people do not exist in the industry today. I met him on a tube train going up West to Piccadilly a few years ago, he's doing fine.

Do you remember drinking at Jack's club, La Chasse?

It used to be a meeting place for reporters and me, and sometimes I met fans there before going on to play at The Marquee, they would wish me luck for the performance. "America 2nd Amendment" was on La Chasse jukebox, too, which was a good reason to be there and many of the people who went there new of my rising success. It was very special and had an incredible atmosphere.

What about John Gee, the manager of the club before Barrie. Do you remember him?

He originally booked me, The Attack and The Nice. He was a very, very nice person and used to give wonderful introductions to the groups before they came on. You looked forward to him announcing on stage. "Who will he discover next?" was the question. John did discover me so he is very special.

The Nice

David O'List with The Nice

Chris Welch was also an important supporter of The Nice, he used to write often in the Melody Maker about your Marquee appearances, right?

He was my best friend and supporter and really wanted me to make it. He liked my guitar playing and how I went from blues to my own original style. I used to write lines for him to print about me each week. I was humorously known as 'Dave the Rave' in his Raver column. I was featured in every week's issue: "and what has Dave the Rave been up to this week?" was the question. Chris took me out to meet Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Georgie Fame, Steve Cropper (look him up) and others on his press pass. He'd print things like: Dave the Rave seen watching Jimi Hendrix at the Black Sheep club, as a waiter took his unfinished drink away he complained and got a full replacement, This week don't forget to catch Dave the Rave at the Marquee club with The Nice. A lot of people came. But all the publicity for The Nice was down to me, I was their publicist. I had brought the audience to The Marquee with publicity from the Melody Maker, I had a record deal but did not have a record out yet. This is what I had to do next. And Chris and I laughed Yaboo! our must do next slogan. I was definitely getting there.

The Nice also played at the National Jazz & Blues Festival in 1967, which was organized by The Marquee. I've read about the problems that you had with the volume of the PA system. Can you remember this?

It was the largest out door PA system to be assembled at that time any where in the world. It had teething problems with microphone feedback and the stage sound had to be relatively quite. It was made by WEM who also supplied the main amplification on the main stage. (Not Cream's, they had the best Marshall sound.) The WEM guitar amp sound was hard and cold, not pretty to listen to, and hard to manage with no sustain. We got through but we used our own gear on the other stage in the marquee tent for our own spot, the performance that spread the news of The Nice like wild fire round the world.

Did you ever visit The Marquee club or keep in touch with people from the club after you quit playing there?

I did not quit playing there. I appeared there twice more with my own band Cody's Glider in the 70s. I used to go there in the 80's to see Jack and people from the same scene until it closed.

In 1986, The Nice was supposed to play a special concert back at The Marquee. What happened?

I bumped into Lee Jackson walking down Wardour Street, near The Marquee. I told him l would like to set up a reunion: "let's go and talk to Jack Barrie. I have Blinky (Brian Davison) interested to appear". Jack said it would be a very big occasion for the quartet to play together again and he would get Capital Radio to record the show live and have it filmed and a live album could come out of it! Jack rang Keith to tell him, but annoyingly Keith declined saying he was contracted only to appear with Emerson Lake and Palmer, but I believe it was down to an ego thing with him not accepting me. He had not communicated with me for years, shame. If only I had bumped into him with Lee things should have been different.

What did you think when you heard about the demolishing of the original building at 90 Wardour street in the 90's?

It was a sin, a terrible idea to demolish the one club in the world that brought British rock to the forefront of the world, some mistake. But the new owners could not see how to run it as well as the originals, that's why it was failing why it had to be sold. The new owners of the building were sitting on an office space gold mine worth more than the club audiences now coming in. There wasn't a big public protest about its closure perhaps there should have been a giant demonstration to keep the space. Can't really see this happening but it did.

Now you have a new group called Second Thoughts featuring yourself and Andy Tillison of The Tangent. Would you like to appear back at the new version of The Marquee club opening its doors this month?

I don't think so at the moment I am promoting Second Thoughts for large international festivals. But it might be nice if several groups were brought together to make a Marquee festival, don't you think? But it would have to be profitable for Second Thoughts as it is not cheap for me to put it on. So, why not interest the new owners? You never know, you have the site and the insight.

If you had to define the effect that the Marquee club had in your life or in your musical career, how would you put it into words?

It was an historic occurrence in my life. I had first seen The Who there, went on to appear there and then broke The Who's box office record at The Marquee, incredible. Many audiences outside London I met were inspired by the reputation of The Marquee in London and wished they had something similar near where they lived. The Marquee was a magnet, people travelled from all round the world to be there. Some Americans came in one night and asked if The Nice would burn their draft cards during "America". We did it before burning the flag. You need a Marquee Club.

Interview by K. Barroso, September 2007.
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