The NICE was a pivotal band in the progressive rock fold, but they never were particularly well-recorded. Their albums for Immediate Records didn't represent the band's powers at their fullest, and only 1969's self-titled "Nice" would qualify as a classic.
Micro-Werks "Diamond Hard Blue Apples..." is a compilation of bootleg recordings, personally endorsed for release by Nice keyboardist Keith Emerson. There are some choice rarities here which should delight fans to no end, but on the downside, there are a number of poorly recorded BBC takes. (Why is it that big name bands like the Beatles, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix get sparkling BBC treatment, and lesser bands have to settle for bootlegs?)
Well, to concentrate on the good: the selections open strongly with startlingly good live recordings taken from Stockholm in late 1967, when the Nice was on tour promoting its first album. In particular, the cover of Charles Lloyd's "Sombrero Sam" is incendiary. With underrated guitarist Davy O'List leading the way and the band on fire, this cut is fantastic, and goes a ways toward explaining why Jimi Hendrix toyed with the idea of joining the fledgling Emerson, Lake and Palmer in 1970.
There is a snappy band salute to Frank Zappa, the "Lumpy Gravy" theme with Keith Emerson on celeste.
A lyrical, well-arranged version of the Byrds' "Get to You" offers a preview of Emerson's later, Romantic styled piano with Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
There's a nice, straightforward take on Oscar Peterson's "Blues of the Prairie", which shows that the Nice could easily have played jazz festivals as well as rock venues.
A side-slapping, but musically astute version of Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas" includes some droll and off-the-wall lyrics courtesy of guest vocalist Roy Harper.
All of these go to show that the Nice was without a doubt one of the most adventurous and accomplished bands of the late Sixties. If they had committed these tracks to vinyl on an official release, who knows what would have happened. As it was, they never had their "Procol Harum moment", although they easily could have issued a concert album with a classical orchestra. There are some good outtakes from the Nice's experiments with a full symphony orchestra in this collection, too.
With about 13 of 27 tracks drawn from the BBC, be aware that there is variable sound quality.... but only about three are what I would characterize as "nearly unlistenable". Most of them stand up okay, which makes this collection essential for any fans of Keith Emerson and this wonderfully eclectic band of prog-rock pioneers.