Born in Ilford, Essex, Nichols was a child actor and an award-winning accordionist in his youth. He began by playing ragtime tunes, gaining notoriety in the 1970s in London when forming the band New Sedalia. Nichols also formed the Ragtime Orchestra in the mid-1970s along with Mo Morris, Richard Warner and Paul Nossiter. Nichols also recorded and gigged with Bing Crosby, and Dick Sudhalter during this period. Over time he moved on to Dixieland jazz, Swing, and orchestral Jazz, including the oeuvres of Paul Whiteman and Duke Ellington.
Nichols was also a frequent sideman for the EMI record label and an arranger for the New York Jazz Repertory Company, Dick Hyman and the Pasadena Roof Orchestra. In 1978 he helped lead the Midnite Follies Orchestra with Alan Cohen. Other artists Nichols has worked with include Digby Fairweather, Harry Gold, Richard Pite and Claus Jacobi.