Meet Jimmy Nicol, the forgotten Beatle, stand-in drummer for Ringo
JUNE 11, 2014
Musician Jimmy Nicol waits at Essendon Airport on June 15, 1964, for his plane. The standMusician Jimmy Nicol waits at Essendon Airport on June 15, 1964, for his plane. The stand-in drummer for The Beatles took the place of Ringo/Starr was he was ill during ‘64 tour. Source: News Limited
IT is one of the most poignant rock and roll photos of all time
Jimmy Nicol, the stand-in drummer for Ringo Starr at the start of The Beatles’ 1964 world tour, sitting all alone at the departure lounge at Essendon Airport, waiting for his flight home to England.
Packed in his luggage is a copy of The Advertiser newspaper from two days earlier.
Splashed across the front page is a picture of Jimmy, born in London, three Lads from Liverpool and DJ Bob Francis, standing on the Adelaide Town Hall balcony in front of an ecstatic mob of adoring fans.
Even the three “official” Beatles were amazed by the fanatical reception they received in Adelaide at the start of their Australian tour that saw 300,000 on the streets — so just imagine how mind-blowing it was for the newest band member?
Complaining he could no longer cope with the “mediocrity of life”, Nicol, walked out of his London flat three years after that remarkable winter’s day in Adelaide and effectively disappeared for the next four decades.
John Lennon smiles as Jimmy Nicol speaks to the media. Source: News Corp Australia
Born James George Nicol in 1939, a month before the start of World War II, Jimmy, sometimes spelt Jimmie, is older than any of the six people to officially play in the Beatles.
Married with a son Howie, who later became an award-winning sound recordist, Nicol had a solid reputation as a percussionist having played with Joe Brown, Billy Fury and Georgie Fame.
But when tonsillitis laid Ringo Starr low on June 3, on the eve of the Fab Four’s world tour, he wouldn’t have been top of many lists to replace him.
If George Harrison had got his way, Nicol wouldn’t even have had two weeks at a Beatle.
Jimmy Nicol pictured in 1996 . Source : News Limited
Feeling a strong loyalty to Ringo, George told Beatles manager Brian Epstein and producer George Martin he wasn’t going on stage with anyone else and they would have to replace him for the imminent tour as well.
They had to beg him to accept Nicol who had been chosen by Martin as he was familiar with most Beatles songs.
He played as an uncredited session musician on an album of Beatles cover versions, marketed as “Teenagers Choice” and called Beatlemania, one of the first uses of the term.
Even Ringo was unsettled by developments.
Jimmy Nicol as he appears now, a recluse living in London. Source: News Limited
“It was very strange, them going off without me. They’d taken Jimmy Nicol and I thought they didn’t love me any more — all that stuff went through my head,” he said later.
Nicol’s first concert with The Beatles took place the very next day on June 4 in Copenhagen, Denmark.
He was given the distinctive Beatle moptop hairstyle but was unkindly described as looking like “Frankenstein without the bolt,” by a scribe.
He even had to wear Ringo’s suit which was far too short in the legs.
Paul McCartney remembered being extremely nervous about Jimmy’s performance as he seemed besotted with the screaming girls in the front row.
Nicol reflected: “The day before I was a Beatle, girls weren’t interested in me at all. The day after, with the suit and the Beatle cut, riding in the back of the limo with John and Paul, they were dying to get a touch of me. It was very strange and quite scary.”
A week later, after concerts in the Netherlands and Hong Kong, the band arrived in Sydney and headed on to Adelaide where the remarkable madness of Beatlemania hit everyone.
Nicol was still doing well with the ladies and sneaked a girlfriend into the band’s accommodation at the South Australian Hotel.
And then it was over.
The Beatles with Bob Francis in Adelaide. Jimmy is on the left. Source: News Corp Australia
Nicol flew with John, Paul, and George to Melbourne to catch up with Ringo but was soon out at Essendon Airport contemplating the rest of his life.
He left with a gold watch and a bank balance enhanced by £22,500 — a small fortune at the time — if Nicol’s own recount is to be believed.
Not that it did him any good.
Just nine months later he declared bankruptcy with debts of £4,066.
“Standing in for Ringo was the worst thing that ever happened to me,” he said later.
“Until then I was quite happy earning £30 or £40 a week. After the headlines died, I began dying too.”
Nicol reformed his old band the Shubdubs, renaming them Jimmy Nicol and the Shubdubs but two singles found no commercial success.
Jimmy Nicol’s old flat in London. Source: News Corp Australia
He caught up with The Beatles when his band was on the same bill at the Brighton Hipperdrome on July 12, 1964.
Later he joined the successful Swedish group The Spotnicks and toured the world.
He received a shocking reminder of his life as a Beatle when a bundle of 5,000 fan letters, passed on by an Australian DJ was delivered to him.
Nicol sent back a thank you message declaring he would one day return to Australia — permanently.
He never did.
THE BEATLES ARRIVE IN ADELAIDE
Always regarded as an “independent spirit” he left for Mexico to study Latin rhythms before returning to England in 1975 and starting a business in house renovations.
Nothing was heard of him until rumours swept the music world in 1988 that he had died.
An article in 2005 by The Daily Mail newspaper confirmed that he was still alive and living a reclusive life in London.
Jimmy Nichol has one further legacy.
During his brief time as a Beatle, John and Paul would often ask him how he felt he was coping, to which his reply would always be “It’s getting better.”
The phrase inspired the song Getting Better on the classic 1967 Beatles album, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.
Jimmy Nicol speaks to the media at the Brisbane Airport press conference. Source : News Corp Australia