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15th November, 2021

Becoming The Beatles: Jimmie Nicol

Jimmie Nicol was the man who really became a Beatle…however his spell in the world's biggest band lasted for less than two weeks.

Beatlemania reached fever pitch in the summer of 1964 and all involved with the Fab Four were concluding preparations for their first world tour to Denmark, the Netherlands, Hong Kong, Australia, and New Zealand. But on June 3, the day before The Beatles were set to depart, Ringo Starr became ill at a photoshoot and ended up in hospital, suffering from severe tonsillitis.

With plans finalised and all concerts, hotels and halls booked and paid for, not to mention the thousands of tickets sold to excited fans, manager Brian Epstein knew cancelling the tour was simply not an option. A desperate scramble to find a replacement for Ringo commenced.

We spoke with Jim Berkenstadt, whose book The Beatle Who Vanished documents his search for Jimmie Nicol – and tracking down the one-time Beatle proved quite the challenge:

“It literally took me six or seven years before I felt that I had reached everyone, who was still alive, who could give me eyewitness accounts of Jimmie Nicol,” said Jim.

His book answers three questions about Jimmie, firstly how did he get in the position to be asked to fill in for Ringo, secondly what was it like for an ‘everyday’ person to be in The Beatles, going through Beatlemania at its height. Lastly, what happened once those 15 minutes of fame ended. 

Jim Berkenstadt

“I found that Tony Sheridan – who The Beatles recorded with in Hamburg – was on a flight with The Beatles, but they didn’t know it at first, and they were flying to Hong Kong as part of Jimmie’s tour. When they realised Tony was on the same flight, they invited him up to first class and what was interesting was that Tony had played with Jimmie Nicol too in 1959 in London and for The Beatles to know the drummer that was substituted in for them also worked with Tony made the whole thing fit together better from a social aspect.” 

George Martin suggested Jimmie Nicol as he had recently used him on a recording session with Liverpool artist Tommy Quickly and he had played several Beatles covers on independent labels. After a brief six-song audition at Abbey Road and a mop-top haircut restyle, Jimmie was given the green light and told to pack for his flight to Denmark the following day.

Photo from Jim Berkenstadt 

Although John Lennon and Paul McCartney accepted the idea of using an understudy, George Harrison threatened to pull out of the tour and told Brian Epstein and George Martin: "If Ringo's not going, then neither am I. You can find two replacements." Eventually, Brian and George were able to convince him that also pulling himself out of the tour would cause huge upset for so many excited fans.

Jimmie’s first concert with The Beatles, took place on 4 June at the KB Hallen in the Danish capital Copenhagen. Wearing Ringo’s suit, which was a couple of sizes small, he and the rest of the band performed to an audience of 4,500.

Jimmie's career as the only Beatle not to be born in Liverpool saw him play six shows:

4 June 1964: KB Hallen, Copenhagen, Denmark.

5 June 1964: Treslong, Hillegom, the Netherlands, (recording TV show, VARA).

6 June 1964: Auction Hall (Veilinghal), Blokker, the Netherlands.

9 June 1964: Princess Theatre, Kowloon, Hong Kong.

12 June 1964: Centennial Hall, Adelaide, Australia.

13 June 1964: Centennial Hall, Adelaide, Australia.

 Ringo was eventually released from hospital and the original Fab Four reunited in Melbourne, Australia where they performed on June 14.

Jimmie had performed his final duties as a Beatle and Brian drove him to the airport ahead of a lonely trip home. As the other Beatles were still asleep, he didn't even get the chance to say his goodbyes. Before he left, Brian Epstein presented him with a gold watch inscribed; From The Beatles and Brian Epstein to Jimmie – with appreciation and gratitude.

Photo from Jim Berkenstadt 

After The Beatles

“Jimmie was well documented after The Beatles for a year, because the newspapers were still interested in ‘the fifth Beatle', said Jim.

Upon his return to the UK, Jimmie had hoped that his association with The Beatles would greatly enhance his career and he reformed his bad ‘The Shubdubs’ but commercially they did not achieve huge success. At the start of 1965 he got a new manager who created a band called The Sound Of Jimmie Nicol but again, this failed to take off. By the summer of 1965 Jimmie was divorced and bankrupt, with plenty of burned bridges. 

After this, Jimmie became very difficult to get hold of.          

“He just vanished. He walked out the door, left his family, left his friends and we never saw him again! But I did out find he met a Swedish band called The Spotnicks when on tour with The Shubdubs. On a whim, they called Jimmie in 1965 and he joined their band. The Spotnicks had relative chart success, and even reached #1 in Japan in 1966 with ‘Karelia'", explained Jim.

Jimmie toured the world with The Spotnicks but during an extended stay in Mexico, Jimmie had partied a little harder than the rest of the band and fell off his drum stool! He was fired by the manager there and then. After this, Jimmie vanished once again, but this time in Mexico.

While in the country Jimmie remarried, opened a lapel button factory and played in a band that covered Beatles’ songs.

Jim’s quest to find Jimmie took him to London in 2011, where he documents his search for the ‘fifth Beatle' from a first-person perspective in the final chapter of his book. He even managed to find Jimmie’s apartment, but after arriving it turns out he had sublet it to a tenant, who didn’t know where he was. He then spoke with his cousin in Edinburgh, Scotland who although remained close, couldn’t place Jimmie after 2013.

Jim has his own theory: “My belief is that he is alive and that he has probably gone back to Mexico.”

Despite fading into obscurity after his brief taste of Beatlemania, Jimmie’s legacy lives on through the track Getting Better, which features on Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. During his time with The Beatles, Paul continually asked how he was doing. Each time, Jimmie said the same thing - it’s getting better

You can buy Jim Berkenstadt's book The Beatle Who Vanished online at Amazon or on Jim's website.

Mitch Francis

Mitch is the PR, Marketing & Social Media Executive at The Beatles Story.

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