Yet more sad news in January with the passing of Birmingham musician Geoff Nicholls who was 68. Geoff was probably best known as keyboard player for the world-famous Brum band Black Sabbath for more than 20 years and was also guitarist in the hard rock band 'Quartz'. Geoff's career started in the 1960s when he played in pop group World Of Oz and then as a member of Johnny Neal's Starliners.
Geoff Nicholls was born on February 29, 1948 in Birmingham UK and grew up in Kingstanding. He had an early interest in playing guitar and piano which led to him performing in a few local bands during the 1960s including The Boll Weevils. Geoff was working as a gas fitter when he decided to "turn pro" and joined the Birmingham-based psychedelic pop group World of Oz in 1968, replacing David Kubinec on keyboards during the recording of their first and only album.
The World of Oz line-up also included guitarist Chris Evans and drummer David Reay both from Danny King's Mayfair Set and bass guitarist Tony Clarkson from The Exception. World of Oz had managed to get a recording contract on Deram Records but despite promotion and recording an album with three singles, they split in 1969 before gaining major success.
Geoff then joined well-known veteran Brum vocalist Johnny Neal in his band called The Starliners with whom he appeared on Hughie Green's popular "Opportunity Knocks" ITV television talent show. Notorious pop music manager Don Arden signed Johnny Neal and The Starliners to a contract and they recorded the song 'Put Your Hand In The Hand' in 1970 which sold well despite not making the UK charts. The single's underrated B-side titled 'Now' was an original composition by Geoff Nicholls.
Despite high-profile gigs and touring abroad with The Starliners, Geoff wanted to play heavier music so left in 1974 to help form a Brum-based hard rock band called "Bandy Legs". Along with vocalist Mike "Taffy" Taylor and bass guitarist Derek Arnold who had played in 1960s Brum band Lemon Tree, the line-up also included former Idle Race guitarist Mike Hopkins. Bandy Legs changed their name to "Quartz" after signing with Don Arden's JET Records label in 1977 and recorded their debut album produced by Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi.
Quartz with Geoff Nicholls gained a loyal following. They played as support group on Black Sabbath tours, performed at the famous Reading Festival, and recorded two more critically acclaimed albums but were unable to get that elusive "big selling record". For Geoff Nicholls though, things would change considerably when he was asked by Tony Iommi to help out with Black Sabbath in 1979.
Black Sabbath was in chaos when Geoff Nicholls came on board. Ozzy Osbourne had just been fired from the group. Geezer butler had also left and Bill Ward was going through "personal problems". The group had just started to record a new album in America so Geoff initially helped out on bass guitar and then keyboards. Former Rainbow vocalist Ronnie James Dio joined the band, Geezer Butler returned and the album was finally completed.
Issued under the title 'Heaven and Hell', Black Sabbath's new album was a big success as was their tour to promote it. It's regarded by many fans today as one of their best records. This began a more than 20 year association with Black Sabbath for Geoff Nicholls who was on all their albums and tours until 2004.
In the years following Black Sabbath, Geoff Nicholls continued to write and play music which included touring with former Sabbath vocalist Tony Martin with whom Geoff had previously recorded with legendary drummer Cozy Powell. Although he didn't smoke, Geoff was diagnosed with lung cancer two years ago and despite treatment, passed away on January 28, 2016.
My condolence goes out to the family and friends of Geoff Nicholls. Johnny Neal who was a long-time friend of Geoff's has written a few words as follows:
Geoff's partner Gloria is a good friend of my wife, Maggie and they regularly attend a spiritualist church so I have been kept up to date with Geoff's condition, but it was still an almighty shock when he finally passed.
The memories I have got of Geoff are wonderful as he joined my band and became an integral part of it at the height of "Johnny Neal and The Starliners" fame and we went on via Opportunity Knocks to get a recording contact and release "Put Your Hand In The Hand" which was released world-wide.
I recorded Geoff's song "Now" on the South African Teal label and it got to Number 10 in the charts, which number was also on the B side of Put Your Hand In The Hand.
Incidentally, Geoff only lived round the corner from where I am living now and whenever I was over here I used to visit him and help out with the vocals of songs that he was writing as he was a prolific songwriter. Before he passed I told him that I was getting the demos I had made for him onto one disc - how prophetic was that?
Roger Craythorne who was the drummer in the band in those days and who now lives in South Africa would like to be mentioned and sends his deepest condolences. Incidentally, my band during that time was myself, Geoff Nicholls, Roger Craythorne and Barrie Gray.
Johnny Neal 2017
Copyright © John R Woodhouse