The Story of Jimmy Nicol, Ex-Drummer of The Beatles

Posted May 23rd, 2011 under Music

Ok, Paul and John on the left, George on the right, but who is the grinning guy in the white coat? It’s 1964 and where in the world is Ringo? Believe it or not, dear reader, that little rascal is one Jimmy Nichol (born August 3rd, 1939, Barnes, South West London) and he played drums in “The Beatles” on their first World Tour in 1964. Well, he played the first 8 gigs in Copenhagen, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia. This was the height of Beatlemania and Jimmy Nicol got an overdose of his 15 minutes of fame before the world and even diehard fans of the Fab Four forgot about him. Of course everyone knows about the original drummer Pete Best, also known as the Fifth Beatle, but who is Jimmy Nicol then and what happened to Ringo?

Jimmy Nicol started playing the drums in 1957 at theinfamous 2Is Coffee_Bar in London where he was in a band with Colin Hicks, the younger brother of English entertainer Tommy Steele. he played with a lot of well known musicians over the years and ended up in a relatively unknown band called The Shubdubs. it was after lunch on a lazy day in June 1964 when the phone rang and Jimmy’s life should change forever: “I was having a bit of a lie down after lunch when the phone rang.” It was George Martin, producer of The Beatles.

Ringo Starr had collapsed and was brought to a hospital on June 3rd 1964. He suffered from tonsillitis. It was the eve of The Beatles’ 1964 Australasian tour, the beginning of their first world tour and manager Brian Epstein needed a replacement fast. George Martin suggested Jimmie Nicol as he had recently used him on a Tommy Quickly recording session. Nicol had also drummed on a Top Six budget label album of Beatle covers entitled Beatlemania as part of a session band called The Koppykats, and already knew the songs.

John Lennon and Paul McCartney didn’t mind the replacement, but George Harrison was not happy at all. He told his producer and manager: “If Ringo’s not going, then neither am I. You can find two replacements”. Jimmy Nicol went to an audition-cum-rehearsal at Abbey Road Studios right away and a few hours later he had to pack his bags.
Nicol recalls: “When Brian talked of money in front of them I got very, very nervous. They paid me £2,500 per gig and a £2,500 signing bonus. Now, that floored me. When John spoke up in a protest by saying ‘Good God, Brian, you’ll make the chap crazy!’, I thought it was over. But no sooner had he said that when he said, ‘Give him ten thousand!’ Everyone laughed and I felt a hell of a lot better. That night I couldn’t sleep a wink. I was a fucking Beatle!”

June 3, 1964: The Beatles rehearsed with Jimmy Nicol at Abbey Road Studios
and Jimmy in Australia

27 hours later, on 4 June 1964, Nicol played his first show with the beatles at the KB Hallen in Copenhagen, Denmark. His next stop with the Beatles was at a brothel in Amsterdam. Lennon said about this night: “When we hit town, we hit it. There was no pissing about. There’s photographs of me crawling about in Amsterdam on my knees, coming out of whore houses and things like that. The police escorted me to the places, because they never wanted a scandal.”

Rare 1964 documentary about the Beatles Australia Tour

Ringo returned in Melbourne, Australia, on 14 June. The Beatles were still asleep when Nicol left the hotel. He never got to say goodbye. At the Melbourne airport, Brian Epstein gave him a cheque for £500 and a golden watch saying: “From The Beatles and Brian Epstein to Jimmy – with appreciation and gratitude.” Whether this was all the money Jimmy Nicol got ot not is unknown.

The Beatles – Interview with Jimmy Nicol (1964)

Nicol later said: “Standing in for Ringo was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Until then I was quite happy earning thirty or forty pounds a week. After the headlines died, I began dying too.” He didn’t talk about his time with the Beatles until 1987 when he said in a obscure interview: “After the money ran low, I thought of cashing in in some way or other. But the timing wasn’t right. And I didn’t want to step on The Beatles’ toes.”

Wikipedia: “During Nicol’s brief spell with The Beatles Lennon and McCartney would often ask him how he felt he was coping, to which his reply would always be: “It’s getting better.” Three years later, McCartney was walking his dog, Martha, with Hunter Davies, The Beatles official biographer, when the sun came out. McCartney remarked that the weather was “getting better,” and began to laugh, remembering Nicol. This event inspired the song “Getting Better” on 1967′s Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

Nicol later reformed Jimmy Nicol and the Shubdubs. They released a single “Husky”/”Don’t Come Back”, followed by “Humpty Dumpty”/”Night Train”; neither of which were a commercial success. Nicol was called upon once again to stand in for an ailing drummer when Dave Clark of The Dave Clark Five fell ill, replacing him in the band for a season in Blackpool, Lancashire. Whilst there Nicol was reminded of just how popular, albeit briefly, he had been as a Beatle when he received via the postal system a bundle of 5,000 fan letters passed on to him from an Australian radio disc jockey. Nicol sent a message back thanking the fans, and promising that he would one day return to Australia permanently. He was later reunited with The Beatles when his band was set down on the same bill as them and The Fourmost on 12 July 1964 at the Hippodrome in Brighton. In 1965 Nicol declared bankruptcy with debts of £4,066, just nine months after being a temporary Beatle. Later that year he joined the successful Swedish group The Spotnicks, recording with them and twice touring the world. He left them in 1967, spending time in Mexico studying samba and bossa nova rhythms, whilst also going into business setting up a factory that manufactured buttons. In 1975 he returned to England. Other work at this time included housing renovations and carpentry. In 1988 it was rumoured that Nicol had died, but an article in 2005 by the Daily Mail confirmed that he was still alive and living as a recluse in London.”

The Beatles in Hong Kong with Jimmy Nicol (1964)

Nicol discovered that beyond acting as a Beatle, he could behave much as any tourist could: “I often went out alone. Hardly anybody recognised me and I was able to wander around. In Hong Kong I went to see the thousands of people who live on little boats in the harbour. I saw the refugees in Kowloon, and I visited a nightclub. I like to see life. A Beatle could never really do that.”

The Beatles Flying to Hong Kong 1964

Beatles- Melbourne Live TV Coverage part 1

Chaotic scenes outside the Southern Cross Hotel in Swanston Street
John said in an interview in the 70′s that this was the biggest ever!

Beatles-Melbourne Press Conference 1964 with 5 Beatles

Part 2-5 and more at Beatles Australia on Youtube plus plenty more at other places on Youtube. Oh, the joy of Youtube!

The Beatles and Jimmy Nicol (rare Interview)

More at

Ok, kids, one more before we have to go.

The Beatles – Twist and Shout (with Jimmy Nicol)