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Posted by on May 13, 2023 in Blog, Essays | 2 comments

Nowhere Man


This is a fascinating, yet little-known photograph.

Anyone care to venture a guess as to who this is, where it’s from, what year it was taken, and what it means?

To read the story, scroll down.

In late 1964-early 1965, the Beatles were on top of the world. They were about to embark on an international tour across four continents. However, only a few days before their first gig in Holland, drummer Ringo Starr suddenly came down with tonsillitis and had to be hospitalized for nearly two weeks. So, Brian Epstein, the group’s manager, decided to hire a stand-in drummer for Starr, a little known session drummer from London named Jimmie Nicol.

Nicol quickly learned Starr’s drumming parts (note that Ringo is left-handed, which created some distinctive playing qualities). He played nine concerts as the drummer for The Fab Four. Wow, talk about getting your “15 minutes of fame.” Imagine being plucked from anonymity and thrust into the drummer’s seat of the most famous musical group in the world and making sense of it all. They cut Nicol’s hair into a mop top shape, dressed him in one of the customary Beatle outfits that were a staple of their earlier tours, and many screaming fans in the audience didn’t know the difference. But biggest challenge was to Nicol himself, who suddenly had to deal with astronomical fame, like getting struck by a bolt of lightning. Nicol later gave only a few interviews about his short tenure as a Beatle, but jokingly remarked that he went from not being able to find a girl to having 5,000 screaming teenagers ready to tear his clothes off in the blink of an instant.

So, what makes this photograph so interesting?

Once Starr returned to the group while on tour in Australia, that ended Nicol’s most unlikely gig. Early in the morning, he was quietly chauffeured to the Melbourne Airport, awaiting his long international flight back to England. Here he is, alone, bags packed, assignment ended, no screaming fans around, destined to return to utter obscurity. There’s a poignant sadness to this tale. Knowing that….all things must pass.

Nicol later remarked that he thought the experience would jump start his musical career, when in reality it ended it. Within two years, Nicol would leave the music business, declare bankruptcy, and eventually go on to live at quite normal life, working in housing renovation. He’s still alive today at 84, and it’s doubtful that anyone who sees him knows his name or is aware of his remarkable experience. Heh, just imagine being out with your buddies drinking one night and asking “so, what did you used to do?” and one of your mates replies, “not much, other than I used to be a member of The Beatles.”

Nicol had the chance to cash in at various points in his life and was tempted, but never did. He said he never wanted to dishonor the unique opportunity he was given. So, for his nearly two weeks of work and touring, he was paid the princely sum of 500 pounds.

There’s a certain desolation to this image. Loneliness even. I suspect many of us can identify with realizing that something extraordinary has just ended and we must accept our common fate in the world of ordinary.

If there are any screenwriters out there, I think this would make a remarkable story — and movie.


  1. Nice, really nice — one of your best pieces ever.

  2. But major ick — if you use your link to share it on FB, it comes with an intro header that gives away the story and destroys the tension of the piece. “Ever wonder what happened to Jimmy Nicol…”

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