Who Is… Billy Nicholls?

But after this album was not released, and other events occurred in the business, Billy gave up and moved over to the United States. "I was really disillusioned with the whole business, I took a job gravedigging. I did lots of jobs, I got very ill and was recuperating for about a year, I lived in Connecticut for a while, and other places as well from 1969-1973. Then I saved up and got a really good guitar," It was Billy's contact with Meher Baba which really turned his head around: "Baba says that you have something to do in life, and you just gotta go do it. For me it's music, and that's what I'm going to do". With renewed spirit and direction, Billy returned to England and teamed up with friend and mentor Pete Townsend. "Pete was always my idol when I was young. After I had known Pete, I found out that my father and his had played for years in the same band! I said to my father 'don't you know he's my idol???'. I do demos with Pete at his studio, and I had a song called "Hopeless Helpless" which was supposed to be for the Meher Baba album." (It later appeared on Billy's solo album.) Billy did contribute one song to Townsend solo album (Who Came First), a lovely tune called "Forever's No Time At All". Here Billy plays guitar and sings lead in his patently refreshing manner.

Shortly thereafter, Billy began recording his own solo album, "I started by recording and paying for it myself', In late 1973, GM Records heard some rough masters, and became interested, Caleb Quaye came in and we basically did it together, overdubbing etc. The album is a bit schizophrenic, really, because it was done over a period of about a year. "Billy relates his philosophy on album making: "When I make an album it's really got to be fresh."

"You get to know every track really well, There's so few albums like that nowadays, It's like having twelve ideas and using only one---the really good one. I work on one track until it's all finished. When I go the studio, the song is absolutely finished; there's no two ways about it. Anyone else who is there is there for a specific purpose, No mucking about---I have a finished product in mind, I can't stand people who sit around in the studio waiting for a riff to come, We recorded mainly at Olympic and Pete's Eel Pie---also Ronnie Lane's Mobile Unit. 'Kew' was done straight Iive, no overdubs at all."

The finished GM album,
Love Songs, was released about a year ago, and it certainly must rank as one of the best of the year; sadly underpromoted and unknown. Billy songs are short and melodic, 'His voice is appealingly distinctive, The musical backing is perfect. My favorites include the opening "Winter Rose", "Kew" (with a rocking Ronnie Wood on guitar), and the soft "Hopeless Helpless". The best one though is "White Lightning", Billy's three part song about a boy with a toothache, Here it all comes together, melody, lyric, vocals, and production, Caleb Quaye's electric guitar is stunning and the song is just perfect. Sadly, as a single, nothing happened.

Billy spent the end of 1974 working on the
Tommy film soundtrack: "I worked on that for three weeks straight, It was a fantastic experience, I did all sorts of vocals. I liked 'Stardust' and 'That'll Be The Day", but Tommy is a lot different than that," Billy's current favorites revolve around John Lennon ("he writes amazing tunes, and always sticks to his guns"), and the old Small Faces ("they were really influential around the time of Ogdens, and all their great singles-just writing singles for ingles,"), "Maybe I'm living too much in the Sixties. There was a lot of romanticism in the late sixties---now it's more businesslike I guess, My involvement with Meher Baba straightened everything out for me, and changed my outlook on music.' It helped me get over my disillusion. Now I know I have a job to do, and I just have to go out and do it. Besides that, Pete Townsend is probably my biggest influence."

Billy came to the United states at the end of 1974 to try to get his GM album released here. Some companies were interested, but a final decision seems not to have emerged. He is already well-through a second album, so it seems like his first one will not be issued here. This second album will have an outside producer: "I'm looking towards some sort of a concept album now---songs that I've written fitting together. I love recording, but if I could avoid going out on the road, I would. I may do a British tour soon, though." Billy Nicholls is one of the few British musicians who came through the sixties madness better than ever. Most others changed musically, went stale, or retired. Billy, judging by last years solo album, is more alive than ever, and he'd buzzing with ideas and enthusiasm. I can only urge you to pick up on his old material where possible, and keep your eyes peeled for his new material. It's sincere, and with Billy's great playing-singing-composing talents, I know it's gonna be distinctively appealing. And in this day and age, that's certainly a lot!

By Alan Betrock. From The Rock Marketplace no. 10, June 1975

Billy Nicholls Discography (1975)

Would You Believe/Daytime Girl
Immediate 063  1/68

White Lightning/Hopeless Helpless
G.M. 018   1974

Love Songs   GM 1011: Winter Rose; Gipsy; Travellers Joy; Stay Awhile; Little Lady; Sometimes; Hopeless Helpless; Overnight Train; White Lightning; Kew; (1974).

Wrote & Sings: "Forever's No Time At All" on Peter Townsend's Who Came First LP:  US MCA 7-9189
Wrote : "Led Along" and other songs on Del Shannon' s LP & Unreleased Oldham Tapes;
Appears in various capacities: on Tommy Film soundtrack; and Ronnie Lane's A&M LP.

©2001 Luis Suarez

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