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Story of Jimmie Nicol: The Beatles' Temporary Drummer


When Ringo Starr fell ill with tonsillitis and was hospitalised on 3 June 1964, just before the Beatles' 1964 tour of Australia, the band's manager Brian Epstein and their producer George Martin urgently discussed the possibility of using a replacement drummer instead of canceling part of the tour.


Martin recommended Jimmie Nicol, whom he had recently worked with on a recording session with Tommy Quickly. Nicol had also played drums on a budget label album as part of an uncredited session band, as well as an extended play single of Beatles cover versions marketed as 'Teenagers Choice' titled Beatlemania, which meant he was already familiar with the songs and arrangements.

Challenges Faced and Memories Shared

While John Lennon and Paul McCartney quickly agreed to the idea of using a temporary replacement, George Harrison threatened to withdraw from the tour, telling Epstein and Martin:

"If Ringo's not going, then neither am I. You can find two replacements."

Martin remembered: "They almost didn't go on the Australia tour. George is very loyal. Brian and I had to persuade George that not going would be a letdown for everyone." Tony Barrow, the Beatles' press officer at the time, later remarked: "Brian saw it as the lesser of two evils; cancel the tour and disappoint thousands of fans or proceed and upset the Beatles." Starr mentioned that "it was very odd, them going without me. They took Jimmie Nicol, and I felt unloved – all those thoughts crossed my mind."

The arrangements were made swiftly, from a phone call to Nicol at his home in West London inviting him to an audition/rehearsal at Abbey Road Studios, to packing his bags, all on the same day. During a press conference, a reporter playfully asked John Lennon why Pete Best, the Beatles' former drummer for two years who was let go by the group just before they became famous, wasn't rehired. Lennon responded: "He has his own group [Pete Best & the All Stars], and it might have seemed like we were taking him back, which wouldn't be good for him."


Life as a Temporary Beatle

Nicol's first performance with the Beatles happened only 27 hours later on 4 June at the KB Hallen in Copenhagen, Denmark. He was styled with the iconic Beatle moptop haircut, dressed in Starr's suit, and took the stage in front of 4,500 Beatles fans. McCartney remembered: "He was perched on this platform checking out all the ladies. We would start 'She Loves You': [counting in] 'one, two', nothing, 'one, two', and still nothing!" Their set was shortened from eleven songs to ten, omitting Starr's vocal part in "I Wanna Be Your Man." McCartney jokingly sent Starr a telegram saying: "Get well soon Ringo, Jimmy is wearing out all your suits."


Reflecting later on the fleeting nature of his sudden fame, Nicol remarked: "The day before I was a Beatle, girls didn't care about me at all. The day after, with the suit and the Beatle cut, riding in the limo with John and Paul, they were eager to touch me. It was very strange and quite intimidating." He also shared insights on how they spent their time between shows:

""I thought I could drink and lay women like the best of them until I got caught up with these guys."

Post-Beatles Experience and Reflections

In the Netherlands, Nicol and Lennon reportedly spent an entire night at a brothel. Lennon recalled:

"It was a wild scene on the road. Satyricon! There are photos of me crawling around Amsterdam on my knees, coming out of brothels, and people saying 'Good morning John.' The police escorted me to these places because they didn't want a scandal. When we hit town, we hit it – we weren't fooling around. We had the women. They were fantastic."

Nicol discovered that, aside from being a Beatle, he could explore like any other tourist: "I often went out alone. Hardly anyone recognised me, and I could wander freely. In Hong Kong, I visited the boat-dwellers in the harbour, saw the refugees in Kowloon, and went to a nightclub. I enjoy experiencing life. A Beatle could never truly do that."



Nicol performed a total of eight shows until Starr rejoined the group in Melbourne, Australia, on 14 June. He couldn't bid farewell to the Beatles as they were still asleep when he departed, and he didn't want to disturb them. At Melbourne Airport, Epstein gave him a £500 check (equivalent to $12,798 in 2023) and a gold Eterna-matic wristwatch engraved: "From the Beatles and Brian Epstein to Jimmy – with appreciation and gratitude." George Martin later praised Nicol while acknowledging the challenges he faced in readjusting to a normal life: "Jimmie Nicol was a very talented drummer who quickly learned Ringo's parts. He did an excellent job and then faded into obscurity right after." Paul McCartney remembered: "It wasn't easy for Jimmy to step in for Ringo and suddenly be famous. And as soon as his time was over, he wasn't famous anymore." Nicol himself expressed disillusionment years later:

"Substituting for Ringo was the worst thing that happened to me. Before that, I was content earning £30 or £40 a week. When the headlines faded, I started fading too."

He chose not to capitalise on his short-lived fame. Despite financial struggles after his time with the band, Nicol refrained from exploiting his Beatles connection. In a rare interview from 1987, he expressed his gratitude towards the band, stating that he didn't want to take advantage of their success or overshadow their contributions to his career.


During Jimmie's time with The Beatles, Paul would inquire about his well-being after every performance, to which Jimmie consistently responded, "It's getting better." Three years later, while walking Paul's dog Martha with the Beatles' official biographer, Hunter Davies, McCartney noticed the sun shining and remarked that the weather was "getting better." This moment triggered McCartney's memory of Nicol, leading him to compose the song "Getting Better," which later featured on Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

 

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