It seems strange to think, but I have been a professional entertainer since I was eleven years old. My parents, Tommy and Maureen Nolan had been successful performers as the 'Sweethearts Of Song' in Dublin, Ireland in the post war heyday of the big band. One by one a total of eight children were born, I was the second eldest daughter. In the early 1960's my family relocated to Blackpool on the UK's North West coast where "The Sweethearts Of Song" made a living touring the Northern club circuit. They used to take one or two of us to gigs sometimes - I always made the biggest fuss when it wasn't my turn! That continued for a while, until one evening a child minder let my parents down and the entire Nolan family had to accompany Mum and Dad to a gig. Each of the family appeared on stage that night and The Singing Nolans were born. That line up featured an early version of the Nolans with my sisters singing three and four part harmonies, as well as solo performances from Anne and myself - The 'elder sisters', Plus of course, Mum and Dad....
We even ventured into the recording studio and in two days completed our debut album. "The Singing Nolans" It's pretty basic, even for it's time, but to us it was fabulous to be recording at such a young age. We also recorded a Christmas EP. Our biggest thrill at that time was recording the theme song for Blackpool Football Club! Incidentally the song still gets played now at home games. Which is both an honour and embarassing when you are sat on the terraces with some of your Sisters! As an act we toured the Working Men's Clubs around England and even a prison in Ireland, and we were fortunate enough to see many parts of the World on cruise ships as guest artists. None of us ever felt pressured to go into show business, in fact we pressured our parents to let us sing. When we had shows to do further afield than Blackpool that would only last one night we would all pile into the van, do the show and wait for Dad to get our fee and have a drink with convert secretaries. Sometimes the younger ones would pull chairs together and go to sleep because he stayed too long chatting. We would never challenge him by saying we were tired or had school the next day. It was always difficult at school as we were usually shattered from the night before. It was not uncommon for any of us to fall asleep in class. One of my teachers once said "Ah here's Denise my favourite malingerer." I was actually thrilled to be given such a title - until I found out what it meant! Some times the clubs were grubby and the dressing rooms were often the pits - especially when there are eight kids and two parents crammed into the room. We had a Season at Blackpool's Central Club with Freddie Starr in 1972. He was unknown then and was really lovely to us. After that we were booked for the full Summer at a Blackpool Club called the Brunswick Club. This was a big deal for us. It was one of the biggest clubs in England with seats in the concert room for nearly 2000 people. It's hard to imagine these days with so many pubs and clubs closing that a club like that could exist, but it did. Our reputation had grown by then (1973) and club goers would start to queue up at the Brunswick from about 5pm even though the doors didn't open until 6-30. We would go on stage two times through the night with bingo in between our sets! It was amazing walking up to the club and hearing people mutter under their breath how fabulous we were. They would say things that didn't mean to hurt - but they did...Things like "Here she is, this one is not so pretty but she is an incredible singer." which was about me! Or about Maureen, "She's the pretty one with not much of a voice." Of course, we all had good voices! In any case our show used to feature Coleen and Bernie in the first half, so they could go home as they were too young to stay all night. But before long we were all there the whole night. Our Dad always made a point of not agreeing for us to sing on Christmas Day though. It was always a great time for us and we enjoyed the family being together. Then in 1973 the phone rang early on Christmas Day, the Cliffs Hotel needed an artist for the next day as the one booked had cancelled. My Dad refused at first, but before long they were back on the phone asking him to "name his price". Dad asked what for us was an astronomical high fee of £80. Confident they wouldn't want to pay such a large fee we settled down to enjoying our Christmas. Dad was horrified, moments later when the phone rang, this time the hotel were offering us the money. Dad still didn't want to do the gig, but Mum felt obliged to fulfil the booking. She started to get ready and Dad carried on with his festivities! One by one we all joined Mum and before we knew it, off we went in a taxi - Christmas Day at the Cliffs Hotel, Blackpool - Working ! The booking was a big success and afterwards one of the audience approached us and started chatting about show business. The man was called Joe Lewis and he claimed to work as a music impresario and nightclub owner. He said he wanted to offer our family work in London. When we got home we told Dad. He was not so impressed..
Dad was a big fish in Blackpool and I think the thought of us being taken away to London was a scary one for him. He wouldn't be so well known there and he wouldn't have control over the act. I think in his own way he was scared of the risk for himself as well. He had plenty of work in Blackpool, he was a popular person, so why go to London?
Another thing on my Dad's mind was that he was used to people offering us unbelievable work and they always turned out to be just that - unbelieveable! This job offer in particular was incredible. He wanted the five Sisters and our Parents to headline six nights a week at a new club on Drury Lane in the West End of London. The Company concerned was called Hanover Grand, and not only were they offering us great money but the chance to go on TV. Joe had come to our house and repeated the offer, Dad was still reluctant and Joe left without an agreement. To our absolute astonishment he called the next day repeating the offer. Eventually my Dad agreed to appear at the club and sing for a two night booking to see if it was going to be as good as it seemed. After the two nights Joe travelled back up to Blackpool and appeared at our house once more, this time he was accompanied by a solicitor and a contract. We were so excited. We practically bullied Dad into signing. Anne was 23 now and I was 21 Maureen was 19 and in the eyes of the law - They were adults, and we were free to sign up. The contract was for ten years. Thinking back now - that was a long long time, and although the money was good, it didn't account for how popular we became. How much money we could make for them or any other changes in our professional lives. Our parents were reluctant because work was plentiful for the act and the younger members of the family had schools and friends in the area. We were all set to sign as a trio when Dad finally agreed. I think Mum had a hand in that as well. She said she would come with us initially. Dad was at that stage undecided. Four months after signing the contract we were on our way to London. Our Brothers had decided not to join us, instead they chose to stay in Blackpool and look after our house. They were seeing local girls as well. They later said in an interview that is was the biggest mistake of their lives. Initially my Sisters, my Mum and me went to London on a train! Joe Lewis had arranged for us to stay at his home and that was incredible. His home had a tennis court, grounds with ornamental gardens and a swimming pool. There was us - from a council house in Dublin to a Terraced House in Blackpool and now this! We were pretty much set to work out or show for the London Room. The head of Light Entertainment from the BBC, Stewart Morris was brought in to give his critique. He spared none of us his thoughts. He said our patter was weak as was our dancing and presentation. He also said our harmonies needed sharpening. He didn't like our choice of songs either. So we dropped 'The Sound Of Music' medley and traditional songs like 'Danny Boy' that were considered to be twee and lightweight. They were replaced with songs like 'Reach Out I'll Be There' and a funky Philidelphia Medley. We were choreographed by Nigel Lythgoe, who went on to be a judge in TV's 'Pop Idol' and some of our songs were arranged by John Coleman who was also a huge name in the BBC. Others were worked on by the BBC's Alyn Ainsworth who also worked out our vocal harmonies. He was one of the World's most famous conductors. Our manager was still officially our Dad, who had now moved to London as well. Joe Lewis had employed the services of Robert Earl for our management. He was very dashing, and had had hits of his own as a singer. His wife was called Daphne and she was very posh. She took us to have new hair styles at John Frieda - I hated mine! Then she took us to really smart dress shops to buy us new outfits - Jaeger ones. They were very expensive. The problem was we ranged in age from 13 year old Bernie to 23 old Anne. The outfits she chose for us to wear would have suited our Mum more! They were AWFUL. Then they wanted us to wear the same clothes off stage and onstage, which was a nightmare. I think he wanted us to be like the next generation Beverley Sisters. Which is fine - but that was in the fifties and here we were, young girls in the 1970's. Our stage wear came next. We weren't too upset with the first ones. They were red cat suits with the letters "N S" Stitched on the shoulder. they had red sequinned jackets. The trousers had huge flares and red platforms. I'll tell you a story about the platforms in a while. We wore the red suit for the start then we changed into a yellow floaty dress that was vile - it had a butterfly on the chest! A later outfit was a white trouser suit with flowers on it! All are shown in the next set of pictures.
For myself and my Sisters the London Room was a real eye opener. It was very luxurious, especially when you consider the Working Men's clubs with tiny dressing rooms that had to be shared by the ten of us. There was the added bonus that there wasn't any bingo in between to cope with either! There was a resident 5 piece band too, and a great sound system. Most of the time we would never have such luxuries. Clubs usually had a keyboard player and occasionally a drummer. We did have our own keyboard player and my Brother Tommy played the drums. We simply were not used to a richer sound. In total, Hanover Grand had four night clubs. The premier one was 'The London Room'. Another was 'The Cockney' which, as the name suggest had a London feel to it with Fish 'n' Chips, Pearly Kings and Queens and so on. there was also 'The Caledonian' which had a Scottish theme with bagpipes and the like. I think there was also one called 'The Hanover' and 'The Beefeater'. We were headlining in the 'London Room'. Sharing the bill with us were dancers who wore Busby hats and there was usually a commedian as a support act. It was so fabulous for us. Often celebrities were in the audience and that concentrated the mind I can tell you! The club was 'In the round' which meant that the audience were on two levels and were able to sit all around the venue, almost behind us as well as in front of us. Someone from the band (Usually Tom Anderson, my partner and our drummer) would have to pull the stage out from under the band. It was a large stage and so it covered much of the dancefloor. After our act they would push the stage away leaving club goers space to dance again. We had to remember lines in varous languages to greet guests. I was always keen on singing solo and so each night I was featured singing a solo song. The one on the London Room album 'The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face' was a favourite, as was 'Never Never Never'. If ever we were having a bad night, hasty arrangements were made by my Sisters for me to go out and deliver a big ballad such the Bassey Number! That usually got the crowd in a better mood. Being in the heart of Theatreland in the West End meant we had many foreign visitors in the audience the Spanish and Italians loved big ballads!
After a few months of very hard work Stewart was able to tell the bosses at the London Room that the group was now World class and that "They are as good now, if not better than any girl vocal group that you have ever heard or will ever hear". Stewart was the one who felt we were good
enough to accompany Frank Sinatra on his European tour. More about that later! Although Stewart was a very very difficult task master, (Check him out on You Tube), he was also responsible for making us the act we became and for giving us our biggest breaks. He was able to work with our music to further improve the act. We didn't mind any of the work it was exciting that we were being moulded into a pop group with a long term goal of making us stars. The original contract with Hanover Grand was for five years. The company then became then our sole management. This was difficult for our Parents to accept, especially my Dad. This was made even harder when the first decision they made was to ask Mum and Dad to leave the act! They thought that the group would have more scope with five Sisters rather than five Sisters and their Mum and Dad. They took the retirement hard, I think, but they never complained. It was as if they said "Yeah ok." and then just retired. As I say, Dad hadn't come to London with us initially and Mum acted as a chaperone to the younger Sisters and saw to our every day arrangemetns such as cooking and laundry. This was a shame because both my Mum and Dad had tremendous voices and were very talented. Whilst we were staying at Joe's mansion we had a freedom that we had never experienced before. We could come as go as we liked. If we went to a nightclub and came home at breakfast time no one complained. Our Dad would never allow that at home. Even though Anne and myself were in our 20s we were expected to be home as a time aid down by Dad. Trips to the a local pub had to be timed that we would be home before Dad got home from his own trip to a pub. Boys were totally off limits for us - Dad didn't approve of fashion or make up. We were treated like children even though Maureen was 20 when we started work in London. It seems hard to believe but that's how it was. In london, for the first time in our lives we felt like grown ups. As the resident artistes at the London Room we were scheduled to perform six nights a week. As well as that, we also worked extensively everywhere else. We were booked for gigs around the country and overseas. Adam, my webmaster has been working on my biography, and as we fill in the dates I can see that in 1975 we played in just about every major cabaret club in the UK. Venues such as The Birmingham Night Out, The Fiesta in Sheffield, Batley Variety Club, The Willows in Salford, Cearer's Palace in Luton, The Golden Garter in Manchester, Wakefield Theatre Club, Bailey's in Watford, Club Fiesta in Stockton, and a thousand other clubs in between. I remember one night at the London Room We opened in the red catsuit and then we had a change. I had accidentally picked up Bernie's dress and she had mine on. When we realised, we said it would be ok - there's only a couple of inch difference in our height and we didn't have long enough to change. As I walked on stage I began to notice that the dress was certainly shorter, but thought the audience wouldn't notice. Then I saw them pointing and laughing. I started to get a bit upset. It was then that I realised, instead of the dainty shoes we wore with the yellow dresses - I had left on my red six inch heel platform shoes from the catsuit! I must have looked frightful clomping around the stage!
We recorded an album featuring songs from the show that went on sale at the venue. It's very rare so I am told now, and collectors pay a fortune for it. The album was basically the whole of our set from 1975, recorded in the right running order. In fact, not many people know this but it was recorded 'Live' We simply went in to the studio with the band and a couple of session musicians and recorded it. Obviously we had breaks for drinks and so on. but it's more or less live! That's for anyone who likes a bit of trivia!! Stewart Morris was still involved with us in the early London Room days. He was such a good mentor to us. Although he was a very hard task master. Our act was getting good reviews in the press and the show had proved to be a success. Less than a year of working in the London Room, Stewart brought a showbusiness friend to see the show. He had decided that we would be ideal for a show that he was working on.
Cliff Richard was, and is, a super star. When we were told that Stewart Morris had arranged for Cliff to come and see our show we were so excited. On the actual night we were completely frozen with nerves in the dressing room. But at the end of the show he was cheering us along and whistling. Cliff had already had his own BBC prime time show that aired on Saturday nights. He was to return to the screens in Winter 1974 with a brand new series. after seeing us Cliff had agreed with Stewart that we were suited to the show and the BBC offered us, via our management, a six week run. The format of the show was different to most shows of the period. Usually guest artists go on, sing their song, take their bows and leave. This was not the case with Cliff's show. Of course, he was singing, but this show would have other regular artists too. Hank Marvin and Bruce Welsh from the Shadows, Pearly Gates, Roy Kineer and us! Other artists who came on the show as one off "Guest Stars" sang with Cliff, or with us, and at the end the whole company would sing a full production number along with a dance troupe. This was different for us. One minute we could be singing an Abba song the next, a soul number like "Love Train" or "Be My Baby". We were also able to perform both sides of our debut single 'But I Do' as the Nolan Sisters. Coleen was not a full time member of the act by any means then. She much preferred being at home with friends and her pony. But for us - This was huge! It was even more exciting for us now that we would get recognised in the streets. We were even asked to do a four page spread interview and photo shoot for the Radio Times. The Cliff Richard Show may have been glamourous prime time TV for the public. For the Nolan Sisters it meant us getting up at 6am and travelling on the tube from our new found home at Ilford on two tubes to the the BBC rehearsal rooms at Acton. We would rehearse Monday to Thursday and then the show was recorded live Friday. The show featured comedy routines that may have been filmed in studios or on a 70's version of a green screen. On more rare ccasions it had an outside filming. The show then went out, as if live on Saturday night. In 1974 video recorders were not in household in the UK so we had to settle with our entire family being huddled around the TV watching it. Sadly, some of the shows we actualy missed because we were away working. One thing my Sisters and I have always agreed on - the costumes we were told to wear were dreadful! We hated most of the clothes we wore on the Cliff Richard show and all the other TV shows we did. Shows like 'Basil Brush' 'Wednesday at Eight' 'The Harry Seacombe Show' 'Mike Yarwood in Person' two series of 'Vince Hill's Musical Time Machine' and latterly 'The Two Ronnies' which we guest starred on for two full series and a Christmas Special. Those shows are just a fraction of the TV appearances we made. Each time we were presented with these gowns we were told by the BBC that "They knew best". That it didn't matter that Bernie was 15 and Anne was 25 and wearing the same outfit! Bernie protested very loudly that her school friends would laugh at her. When she said "I'm not wearing that" Daphne said "Now now - we'll have no Sarah Bernardts from you dear." Each time we backed down and wore them. On the Cliff Show we wore these hideous pink Romper Suits and worst of all the long green dresses that we wore for our TV debut. They were heavy and made of a velvet like curtain material. They looked like something from the middle ages. It had been suggested that because we were Irish that it would be approriate to wear green. It didn't matter that Coleen was 9 and Anne 24 - they just made Coleen's shorter and made her wear knee length socks. It was awful. What made it worse for us was after a long time of working for the BBC and Hanover Grand, when we got out of our contract we were presented with bills for the very outfits we had complained so loudly about. The BBC and our management had made a huge mistake in our opinion. We didn't even think the clothes were made well, we wouldn't be wearing them when we went out on our own. After we knew we owned the outfits we ceremoniously tore them up. When we asked how come we were paying we were told that it was in our contract - It was! All items that were used to promote the Nolan Sisters were to be paid for by the Nolan Sisters! Much later in our career we gained more control of what we wore. But more about leaving Hanover Grand later. In 1975 to be working in London's West End was amazing for the elder Nolan girls. Myself, Anne and Maureen would finish work by 11 and then we were free to hit the town. Dad was still in Blackpool most of the time in the early days. So when we finished work we would hit the night spots. Our favourites were Samantha's and the Valbonne. We then went for a breakfast in a cafe called Mike's Diner before going home at 6am. A couple of hours sleep and we were up again. On the tube to Acton to the BBC rehearsal rooms. Then onto the London Room - We were burning the candle at both ends. Mum was pretty laid back about things and then Dad decided as things were going well in London that he would pack his day job in and move to London permanently. He managed us on a personal level. He had sorted our salary out at £175 a week. The younger girls slightly less. Because of strict laws Bernie and Linda were only allowed to do two or three shows a week, as well as all the TV's. In February 1975 Linda turned sixteen and she could be a full time member. I think many rules were at least bent with the amount of shows she and Bernie did. Rules were certainly bent with her night clubbing. Linda came with us all the time and stayed out as late as us. She was very rebellious and would tell Dad that she was going out with us on a phone call to Dad from the London Rooms. He would say "You are not...." But she would say "See you later" and hang up.There was never any repercussions for her when she got home. I think by that time he had realised that we had grown up and there was not a lot he could do about it. After all - we were on TV as stars in our own right and earning the money. So it would seem absurd that our Dad would be telling us what time to come home.Certainly for Anne, Maureen and me, we would never have got away with that and we were in our 20's!!!
In 1977 we were invited to appear in Summer Season at Eastbourne with Ronnie Corbett and Janet Brown. It was a fairly short, eight week season, but we enjoyed it enormously. Ronnie was a lovely man, but very quiet and he tended to keep himself to himself. Janet was also really sweet with us. The Tiller Girls provided the dancing. We had a great time living in rented digs. Our parents had stayed at home, so it ws good fun to be left to our own devices. Eastbourne wasn't the nightclub capital of the World, but we still had a ball.
It was during the day early in 1975 when Anne, Maureen and I were at home with our parents. Coleen, Linda and Bernie were at school. That day our lives changed forever. Our whole family are Frank Sinatra addicts - we were reared on him. Our Dad played him almost none stop. Our house had always rang out with music from that era. Peggy Lee, Ella Fitzgerald, Sinatra, Andy Williams, Jack Jones and Judy Garland. Dad knew Sinatra was going on tour and had paid a ridiculous balck market price for two tickets to see him at the Albert Hall. The normal priced tickets had sold out before even we could get hold of any. Dad was going to go with his acquired tickets and he was going to raffle the other between us Sisters. On this particular, fateful day we had a phone call from our management telling us that we had been selected as the support act for Sinatra's tour! Stewart Morris had beendasked for suggestions. He had sent tapes of (So we believe) The Brotherhood Of Man, The Three Degrees and Us! Sinatra had listened first hand and chose us personally. When the news came - we were wild with excitement. We had only short time beofre we had to start rehearsals. The tour would take us to most European Capital Cities. Paris, Berlin, Rome, Madris, Stockholm, London, Vienna, Madrid and so on. We had our regular five piece band with us and at the appointed time we all went to the first venue. Sinatra himself gave us permission to use his full 60 piece orhcestra and when he found out that we were travelling from the venue to the airport or the hotel in a coach he stepped in and made sure a limosine of the same standard as his was made available for us. The tour took us to these cities and these fantastic venues including the Palais Des Congres in Paris. That is where the tour opened. By the time we reached London,Bernie had developed a tickly cough and wa able to supress it for most of our opening set. However, when we sang the song 'Scarlet Ribbons' we ran into problems. The song is sung a capella. For those of you who don't know, that means there is no musical accompaniment. We were singing the song, with Anne on lead vocal. All the way through Bernie coughed and coughed. If that wasn't bad enough, people in the audience started to laugh. Bernie was very upset and tears were shead backstage. Sinatra walked towards us and said "Which of your girls has a nasty cough?" Bernie confessed it was her and the great man put his arm around her and comforted her, telling her that it happened to everyone and not to worry. Although Sinatra wasn't in and out of our dressing rooms he did chat to us backstage. He would say things like "How did it go tonight girls?" - I was so star struck that I could hardly get any words out. I mumbled all the time to him. He said to us during a sound check once that "You kids are too young to know these songs." Of course, we knew every word but we didn't dare say so in case he thought we were just fawning over him. He was so complimentary about our set each night that he went on stage he would say to the audience "Don't the kids sound great?" Which got us an additional round of applause. We would watch every night from the wings. After the tour he presented each of us with a key Bracelet that was inscribed 'Peace and love - Frank Sinatra' A few years later I was devastated when we were in a recording studio and the sound engineer said the bracelet made a noise against some other jewellery. He said I should take it off. I placed it on the side and as soon as I was outside the studio I realised I had left it. I ran inside the studio and it was missing. I still have my backstage laminated access all areas pass. It might sound sad but I carry it almost everywhere. Only Maureen still has her bracelet, which is such a shame. To be so close was the biggest thrill in my entire career. I have often been asked if I was jealous that I left the Nolan Sisters act when I did and then seeing them go on to have Worldwide fame. I always reply honestly that I don't resent any of their successes, I am proud of them. If I had left before the Sinatra tour then I would never have got over it. Such is my admiration to Frank Sinatra. 1975 also saw us appear, amongst others on Roy Castle's Record Breakers where we sang a Eurovision medley from our live show. We had already released the single 'But I Do' on the EMI label and it was followed up with a song composed by Cook and Greenway called '(Won't You) Make A Little Sunshine Shine' which we sang on The Basil Brush Show and sadly those two singles never made it into the top 40. To be considered for Top Of The Pops your song had to make it to the top 40. Our first two singles only made it into the lower 60's despite singing them on TV.
From 1976 onwards I worked non stop with my Sisters and more TV work followed. Highlights for me included a Christmas special with Morecambe and Wise, a South African tour with Rolf Harris and a tour of America with Englebert Humperdink. The tour of South Africa took us away from home for six weeks. Once again we stayed in magnificant accomodation. Our hotel, the President was very plush One day when we decided to take a sauna. We entered the sauna and through the steam mist we could make out a handsome man. The man turned out to be Tom Jones wearing nothing more than a small towel. That was the only steam in there then. He was also appearing at the 3 Point Theatre and he went on to comment that he thought we were great singers and that our harmonies were great. Stu Francis was also on that tour. He was great. We were only young and didnt really know what Apartheid was all about. I think if I was offered the tour now I would say no. Apartheid was a terrible thing, but to us South Africa was nothing more than a beautiful country and the tour seemed like a marvellous opportunity.
1976 saw the release of more singles that also didn't do particularly well. 'Rain' ,'Thanks For Calling' and 'When You Are A King' were all shown on TV with the latter even featuring on both 'The Two Ronnies' and on 'Morecambe & Wise' over the Christmas Period with an audience of 20 million. Altogether nine singles were released while I was with the group. Robert Earl had sent A&R people from record companies to see us and we were signed to the EMI subsidiary 'Target Records' The promotion of each song was not very good and although some of the records were good they all sank with hardly a trace. We even had talented writers such as Roger Cook and Roger Greenaway who had scored masses of hits, and Bruce Welsh producing them. Two singles stand out for me. Firstly 'Love Transformation' which was recorded, firstly, as an anonymous soundtrack for a TV commercial. The product being Dulux paint. While we recorded it the producers wanted me to sing the soprano notes. Each time we reheared the song he kept asking if I could sing a bit higher. It was an almost impossible feat. Eventually, needless to say, both he and I were happy with the result. The advert was on TV all the time and people began asking writing in to ask who had recorded it. It was given a poster campaign, but there was no promotional video and no TV appearances to support it. The other single I noted was "Love Bandit" I was to be the lead singer on this 1977 single. The song was actually quite contemporary for the time and we were mildly confident of a hit. The single almost entered the charts and managed to sell just short of 60,000 copies which would put the song at number one for six months in today's market. It had entered the charts at number 54 and rose to 50. But at the time only the top 40 was published to the public. We we able to sing "Love Bandit" on an episode of the Two Ronnies. It was a great song. The choreography was good and it had a modern feel to it. On the live version on the Two Ronnies it was sung to an orchestra so it didn't quite have the same funky sound. Perhaps that hampered it. That and Radio 1... the one radio station that mattered. If they didn't have you on at least their B list then your song didn't stand a chance. Millions of people listened to Radio One at that time. Songs on their A list were sometimes played on the hour. A team of about six people chose what the country listened to. Even when the act did make the charts a few years ater, Radio One only played our singles once a week - On the chart show! By that time Radio Two had broadened it's appeal and local radio was playing more of a part. In the mid 1970's the only local stations were BBC ones - there was not a single independant station! So we were really up againist it. Most TV shows were recorded weeks in advance, so by the time it was aired the record had long been distributed and unsold copies were returned to the record company. It was depressing that an act that was a household name couldn't get a hit. Naturally we were devastated that it didn't have the impact we had hoped for. Most of the singles made it somewhere into the top 100 chart. Sadly, not once were we were not allowed to appear on Top Of The Pops to promote them, as only records that were actually in the top 40 could appear, which was another hindrence. 'Top Of The Pops' would have been incredible promotion, and I am sure it would have helped "Love Bandit" if not some of the other singles. In today's chart the top 200 singles are visible to the public. With Youtube, spotify and suchlike a record can be promoted Worldwide without the backing of any radio stations. Back then we had very little. Love Bandit didn't even have a picture cover! When I look back at watch the 'Top Of the Pops' Re runs I am often shocked at what rubbish did actually make it into the charts. Sometimes songs that were barely even songs had praise heaped on them by DJs, mainly I think, because of who they were, not what they sang. It also seemed that being able to sing was not that important to them either.
Although it had been announced that I was leacving the act I still took time out to promote the '20 Giant Hits' album. I recorded the TV adverts and went on the record shop promotional tour in late 1978. The BBC made a special show of their early evening programme 'Nationwide' that showed what a hectic life we were living.
Denise's Career With The Nolan Sisters
To be honest, it was eight months before I was able to make my professional debut. I had been doing the odd bit of singing in London bars to gain some confidence. I was badly affected by nerves. My Partner, Tom is a drummer and he was often booked to work in clubs around London. I would accompany him and sit with friends and family while he worked. Often the band would invite me up to sing and I was on one hand so eager to get up and sing and the other petrified with nerves. At times I was given to sing with my back to the audience and look at Tom for reassurance. His face always showed encouragement with a wink or he would shout "Go on girl". Eventually my confidence grew and I was able to face the audience for these gigs that were unpaid, but very valuable experience. I started working professionally as an uncredited singer as well in clubs. It was tough I will admit. I definately knew I did not want to go back to the days of working men's clubs, but no one was coming to me offering me huge shows and big financial offers. I spent a lot of the time lazing around as well. I stayed at Tom's place and enjoyed being with my Sisters when they were at home. Money was very tight as I had only meagre savings and I was not entitled to a pay out when I left the Nolans.I had secured the services of an Agent, Selwyn Turnbull. After seven months, My then manager, call with the offer of a UK tour with Matt Monro. I went into in a state of panic. I had no music prepared and no act! Tom was booked to play drums on a Mediterranean cruise so I went along with him. Thinking I could be quiet in the cabin, learn songs and rehearse an act that I didn't have. I quickly found a musical director with John Coleman. We had used John for years as the Nolan Sisters, so he was an obvious and natural choice. He said he would do the arrangements quickly, and more to the point, cheaply. I joined the ship and locked myself in the cabin with a tape recorder! What the other passengers must have thought going past our cabin with a woman inside singing her lungs out is anyone's guess. Perhaps they thouht I was a cabin girl changing sheets. I still use John Coleman now. He is World class, world renowned and I am privelledged to call him a friend. My opening night with Matt Monro was terrifying. I had to open the show for him and I was sick with nerves. Once the overture started and I went on the nerves evapourated. The applause was very warm and the audience seemed to enjoy what I was doing. More importantly, the applause was just for me. I came off stage elated and from that first night I knew I had made the right decision. Working with Matt was a dream. He was such a gifted singer. He was also just as kind backstage as he was with his audience. He joked to me on opening night as I came off stage "Do you realise I've got to go on and follow that now?". He loved a drink and when I retired to bed he stayed up with the band quietly partying. Matt Monro even introduced me at a hotel one night as his co-star. I then went on tour with Gene Pitney which was another dream come true. Gene was a lovely singer and a delightful man. The end of that tour saw me singing at the London Palladium. My Mum and Dad managed to come to see the shows but sadly my Sisters were away working. I was so upset that they couldn't make it. They were now signed to a new label and were preparing to represent the UK in the Eurovision Song Contest. They sent flowers and cards, but it was sad I know I had some great achievements under my belt as one of the Nolan Sisters, and I will always treasure them. From now on, everything I would achieve would be as Denise Nolan. To appear at the London Palladium as a solo performer gave me such a high. . Even more so when I was sharing the bill with Gene Pitney. It is a sad loss to show business that Matt Monro and Gene Pitney, two musical giants are no longer with us. I had only been solo for a year and I had two successful tours added to my CV. In 199 I was then introduced by Selwyn to a company called Bron. Who signed me up very quickly. That was where I met Brian Hudson, who,later on I introduced to Linda. Brian and Linda fell for each other and married after a couple of years, anyway, I digress!! As an agency Bron specialised in heavy metal, which is as far away from me as it gets. But they wanted to manage me and I gave them a go. To be fair they got me a record deal with PYE Records and before I knew it I was in the studio recording my first single. The song 'Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word' was destined to fail really. It had not long since been a major hit for Elton John. I had spent two hours recording it, so I don't think any effort was put in by the record company. The record was given virtually no airplay at all and there was to be not a single bit of promotion either; anywhere! I was sad of course. But I didn't dwell on it. Partly because I knew it would flop and partly because I still a lot of work coming in Looking back, the B Side of the single 'Holding You' would have been a better choice as a single. It was a lightweight pop song with a decent radio style melody. But the record company had decided what was going where. The sad thing was that PYE were a big label and they had the tools to make the song a hit should they have wanted to. They had The Brotherhood Of Man and The Real Thing on their label as well as a big stable of hits to their credit. It might have been that Radio Stations would not show any interest as my Sisters were getting a lot of attention on TV. In any case, the record sank without a trace. I started off 1980 with a new agent, Howard T'Lootsy. I was working quite a lot when I was apprached by Don Percival who was manager of Frankie Vaughan. He liked my work and I was booked for a tour with Frankie Vaughn and I had loads of one night cabaret spots in similar venues to my Sisters. I did my first panto too in 1980 at Hull. Pantomimes could last 3 months in the 70's and 80's. They had a twelve piece orchestra!! TWELVE - They are lucky to have two now. I played Cinderella with Terry Hall and Lenny The Lion. Looking back on the video of it I see how inexperienced I was. Altogether I have done more than 30 pantomimes, but more of them later! Don Percival wanted to sign me to his new management agency and I agreed. This was a tough decision as it meant me leaving Howard T'Lootsy. Howard had attempted to keep me and would let me work with Don if he could keep his agency fees. Don wasn't up for that. This was thought because Don wanted to put me in bigger shows and promised to get me a record deal. Eventually Howard agreed to letting me go and we remained friends. In 1981 Coleen joined the Nolans full time. She broke her arm and on one week I was free. I was able to quickly learn the vocals. Some of the songs I knew well so I rejoined the act for a weeks worth of engagements at Luton's Ceaser's Palace. I didn't learn the choreography. I stood at the side! I was also reunited with my Sisters for a TV show in 1982 when the whole family including Mum and Dad and Brian and Tommy appeared and sang. Brian sang 'You To Me Are Everything' while Tommy played drums. Mum and Dad had a solo song as well. Anne had left the act briefly to have a baby, but now she had returned with her first daughter,Amy, wearing a specially made Nolans costume. I appeared in the line up for Russell Harty's TV show singing "In a Simple Way, I Love You" which is a lovely, gentle song. The last song that night was 'I write the songs' which we all sang together. This was a happy time for me. I was able to rejoin the Nolans for a few minutes! I never saw myself as a pop star though, I always preferred big ballads and standards. My new manager Don Percival, like others had wanted me to record pop songs. I was unsure, but I am very proud of the songs I recorded for Mercury. They were written by a couple of guys who at that time were unheard of, Tony Ajai-Ajagbe and George Hargreaves. They later wrote Sinita's "So Macho" which was a number one all over the World. The Gay audience went nuts for it - that was a shock for the writers Tony and Goerge. George went on to become a full time cleric and is now the leader of an anti gay political party! Although the singles were not smash hits they mean a lot to me. It seems that when my people were approaching radio stations they were refusing to play stuff I had recorded because they felt the airwaves were already over saturated by Nolans songs!! It appeared that my Sisters were now in competition with me. Still, the three singles 'Don't you say it' 'Girls Do It Boys Do It' and 'In Love With Love' are great memories. 'Girls Do It Boys Do It' did manage to get onto the Radio Two playlist though. Which today carries a lot more weight than it did in the early 1980's. I was able to appear on shows like Pebble Mill At One, where I performed 'In Love With Love'. I also appeared singing 'Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word' on Les Dawson's Prime Time TV show. But that was a couple of years after the song was released as a single! In 1982 I took part in the Castlebar Music Festival in Ireland. I sang the Andy Hill song 'Where The Ending Starts' It was a great experience and the song went on to be recorded by Bucks Fizz. I was runner up I think. I can tell you I was a complete nervous wreck during the show. I had to get Tom to arrange for me to sit down as I sang the song. I just couldn't handle the pressure. These kind of shows, like the Eurovision and the X factor, are so nervewracking that I admire people who can go out under all that pressure. That said, Live music is especially thrilling for me. I was lucky to work with the BBC orchestra during a series of radiao chows in the early 1980s and that was a such a joy. Gladys Knight took part in those shows. She sang a song called ' We Don't Make Each Laugh Anymore' which I simply adored. I later recorded it myself on one of my 'I Love To Sing' albums. One other thrill was appearing in the Royal Variety Performance as a solo artist and meeting HRH Princess Alexandra afterwards!! Brian Aris is one of the UK's most celebrated photographers. I had a shoot with him in 1982 which was a dream. What a way to end the year!
To work with people who are at the top of their profession is a magical experience. I was beginning to feel more secure about myself as a solo performer and was hapy with my act. I was the one who decided what I was going to wear on stage and to an extent what I was going to sing as well. Not many artists can be totally self indulgent as to sing what they like all the time. Summer seasons are usually a great way to ensure regular earnings and to have the same address for a while. I have worked in Ayr, Scarborough, Blackpool and just about everywhere in between. Bournemouth stands out for me. There was an Andrews Sisters medley which was great. I had done that many times with my Sisters in the act. Two of the dancers would take part in the medley with me and mime to vocals. My partner Tom has a huge family and many of them are professional entertainers. Two of his Sisters came into the studio with me and they did the other two voices, that way we had a three part harmony for the Andrews Sisters medley. The audience didn't know that I was the only one singing live. It didn't spoil the effect though and I loved the medley. I have always admired Judy Garland. I have never thought she had the best female voice - but no one can perform like her. She could sing or sure, and I loved the way she put a song across to an audience. So, I decided that I would like to do a tour that would pay tribute to this incredible lady. This was never going to be a look a like show or a sound alike one either. First, I took the score from Garland's Carnegie Hall concert. I had the music transposed into my own keys and I recruited some fantstic musicians. It was difficult vocally and the show is two and a half hours long so it's physically draining as well. The first time I took the show out on the road saw me going to places as diverse as Dartford, Northampton and Sutton. I called my band 'The Rainbow Orchestra' it composed of seven musicians. This works best for me mainly because I adore live music. That show went out in 1991 and lasted a couple of months. I was to be very busy that year with a Summer show in Ayr that went on from July until September. I then did an Edgar Wallace play in Yeovil, Bournemouth Aberdare and Bognor. That was the first time I had acted in a straight play. Terrifying, yes, but exciting as well. I ended 1991 in Kent, again Playing Snow White. You know. altogether, I have played Snow White 15 times in my career. Including a long run in the Phoenix Theatre in London and a Summer Pantomime in Scarborough. The Phoenix in London, as you may know, was to feature very heavily in my life later on. Talking of Panto - I have now started playing the wicked Queen or the Fairy Godmother - That's age for you!I can't complain - I have been fortunate with them. I have done Panto in Hull, Liverpool, Eastbourne. Southend, Buxton, Reading, Mansfield, London, Gravesend, Bradford, Phwehelli, Shrewsbury, Telford, Porthcawl, Wimbledon and York - to name but a few. It took my Sisters a long time to join the panto game. But they certainly have now! So the next few years were spent with the January and February finishing panto, then one night bookings or week lomg engagements in cabaret. Then I would start Summer Season that would hopefully last until Ocober, ready for the next Panto. I could take the Judy Garland shows out early in the year. It was regular work and I was content.
In 1997 I came home to Blackpool for a Summer Season. I had just moved away from Blackpool, to London. Then the first big job I got was for six months in Blackpool! the production was not really my cup of tea - the show was one of those River Dance type shows. This one was called 'Spirit of the Dance' They were all really talented of course, but I never quite knew how my bit was going to sit in between all that dancing and Irish music but it seemed to go well enough. The icing on the cake for me was to be given the number one dressing room. Following on from that I began working on the cruise ships again. It's a fairly easy way to make a living, but it means I am away from home with only limited facilities, and the audiences can be difficult. When you are in one place you can rent a house and see all the local sights. But there is the bonus on cruises that you are seeing loads of beautiful places for a day at a time. Capri is one of my favourite destinations. When I win the lottery I will buy a place there. In between all of this I played Nancy in 'Oliver' too. It was scheduled for a run only in Northampton, but I was later able to reprise the show in Leicester. I loved it!
My Sister Bernie had been playing Mrs. Johnstone in Willy Russell's 'Blood Brothers' for a while. She was in the touring production and appeared at Liverpool. The casting team of the soap 'Brookside' saw the show and reported back that they had to screen test Bernie. She went for an audition and was immediately offered a part in the show. The producers of Blood Brothers allowed Bernie to get out of her contract. My other Sister Linda had auditioned for the touring production of it and was offered the role. On hearing that Bernie was leaving, the company Producer, Bill Kenwright asked her if I had any Sisters who could do the job. She suggested me! I sent a CD to them and they asked me to audition, I got the job and I was sent to the West End in London. I was to be the first in the family to have a leading role in the West End! I was to be a luvvie..... The irony was that it would be in the Phoenix theatre where I had played Snow White a few years earlier. I even learned a "Scouse" accent. But Bill said he wanted me to use my own Irish accent. He said it was a lovely speaking voice and that lots of Irish people had emigrated to Liverpool. I only had 7 days of rehearsals to learn nine songs and all of the speaking and placing parts. I was terrified on opening night. Apparently Bill never goes to see the show - of course the night I opened, who do you think came to see the show? - That's right, Bill!! I was told while I was in make up. I also almost missed my cue as I was stuck in the loo! I adored the show, altogether I was in the West End for 9 months. Then I swapped with Linda who fancied the West End, I was more suited to the tour. I stayed on the tour for four years, visiting almost every major town in the UK. One particular highlight was playing the massive Opera House in Blackpool. The review was amazing. At the same time the local newpaper was running it's annual theatre awards. I was thrillled to receive the gong for my role. Blood Brothers saw many happy times, but difficult times. One sadness was that I didn't play Liverpool. Bill usually brought a Liverpool born actress in, Bernie was one exception. another was when he brought in the show's first Mrs Johnstone, Barbara Dickson. When the show visited my home country, Ireland, Bill chose to use Ireland based and phenomenally successful singer Rebecca Storm. Other than that, I worked everywhere, from the Isle of Man, to Scotland, Wales, and the whole of England. The icing on the cake came a few years later when we were entered into the Guinnes Book Of World Records, as the most siblings to have played the same role in a professional production.
I couldn't ever see me going back to Blood Brothers, but in showbiz - you should never say never. In 2008 Linda had just lost her Husband Brian and was ill herself with Celulitis following her cancer treatment. For obvious reasons she was unable to take part in the tour. Maureen was in the West End in Blood Brothers. Unexpectedly I got a call from Kenwright's office asking me to join the show in Dunstable immediately before going on to Glasgow and finishing in Edinburgh. I said I would think about it. At first I said "No" to Tom and Adam. Then Tom reminded me that I said I wanted to go back to the show one more time to conclude the story of when I had abruptly left a few years before. Friends and family, in particular Adam, who is a big fan of the show started texting and calling saying I had to do it. So when Kenwright's called back I said I would do it. They said they would send a script though the post and that was that. Straight away I felt nervous. At the latter end if my stint on the show I had develped a chronic case of stage fright and I now that my voice had suffered as a consequence of being in the show so long. The next thing, I called them to ask about rehearsal time. I knew a lot of the songs, and of course I knew the story. But I would have needed time to remember the lines and to familiarise myself again with marking. The office said they didn't have the facility to do such a thing as everyone involved was already either on tour or in the West End. I did ask for a day or two during the day to rehearse with the London cast during the day when the theatre was closed. Somehow Kenwright's thought that wasn't necessary as it was all in the script and I had done the show before. I sat and thought about it, and thought about it. Tom and Adam were offering support and saying I could do it. Adam even offered to go through the cript with me as often as I needed. I did have a video tech recording of the show, but my nerves and my quest for perfection wouldn't let me. I have always strived to get things right. Everyone understood, but I know they were disappointed. Somehow I wasn't as disappointed as they were. In any case, there was a Pantomime coming up in a month or two.
After the Panto, I went straight on tour with the Magic Of Judy Garland show again. This time, a very busy one of about 40 dates. I enjoyed that tour. One of the dates was at the beautiful Grand Theatre at Blackpool. It was the first time I had played there in my own show. I had been there with the Platters and with the 'Spirit Of The Dance', but this was my show. As always with shows that other people put on the artist doesn't have a great deal of control of how the show is promoted and put together. On this occasion some of the towns we played had not had any promotion for the show. The support act, I hadn't chosen was not really suited to this kind of show either. Consequently some of the shows did not sell well which was annoying when I would have gone on local radio or press to let everyone know about the show. More cruise ship work soon followed. It was during this time that I think I appeared on every ship in the World. I like cruising and I enjoy working on the ships. The Theatres on board are beautiful. Audiences vary from country to country. It's always a challenge to get the Americans to take note. But once I was on stage and started belting out numbers it was good fun to see them suddenly stop chatting and start listening! I have spent the last couple of years doing one night gigs and of course pantomime. I took part in a Rat Pack show then I have travelled to Spain for work and recently visited America, where I actually got to sing Garland songs in Hollywood! I decided in 2010 that I would slow down a little. Instead of chasing work, rushing for auditions and living out of a suitcase I thought that I would be more selective about work that I would do. It suits me because I love to sing what I love to sing. That's not to say if Andrew Lloyd Webber called and said he was doing a show and wanted me that I would say no, because I probably would say yes in a heartbeat!
Now there's one little thing that has been on many people's minds and lips. The family rift that has been in the papers and internet. Yes there has been a family upset and I have always kept silent about this. Coleen has decided to name myself and Anne and to give her version of events. I believe she has mentioned it in her book. I will not read it for that reason. I don't want to get into a public slanging match. I love ALL my Sisters. I doubted at the time that we would ever make up. The argument is distressing and I hate to see my family torn apart. I made a statement on my website saying what I thought. I didn't want to do press interviews as I wasn't guaranteed that the words would be mine. I also didn't want to make matter more public and worse.
After all the public furore I went into Panto. This time, 2010 I was topping the bill in Bridlington. I went over to Yorkshire and had the best time with the best cast and company that there is. I took a few of the Garland shows out in 2011. Tom had put these together and we were responsible for the publicity, band and who was in the show. As it was two and half hours long I didn't think I needed a support act. One time, I had a support act that went on for an hour before the interval. That left me with my 150 minute show on my own without a break for a costume change. This time I split the show into two parts. I could have a break and change my outfit. More of the same follwed the next year. 2011/12 saw me in Leeds at the Carriageworks Theatre for Panto. We broke box office records there and I had a fantastic season. I actually sang a Lady Ga Ga number which was hysterical! I have been popping up at the Sands Venue in Blackpool quite regularly - it is a fanstaic venue with beautiful decor and an incredible ambience. The place works with a seven piece swing band and is probably the finest cabaret venue in the UK. The venue is so intimate and actually allows me to mingle with the audience after the show. More Garland shows, and one nighters followed that year and in 2012/13 I was back at Broxbourne for Panto - They asked me and I was delighted to accept. Talking about the Sands in Blackpool- I worked with tons of Soap stars there - Shobna Gulaty (Sunita: Coronation Street) Andrew Lancell (Coronation Street, The Bill) Richard Shelton (Emmerdale) Natalie Anderson (Emmerdale) Graham Hawley (John Stape in Coronation Street) as well as many others from the Soap World - I achieved a real dream that year when I topped the bill on a charity variety show - starring next to Gareth Gates and Rose Marie. That night I doubled up by going straight to the Sands where I sang to more than a hundred soap stars - Weird! The Sands has since gone into the Lookalike genre and the show 'Legends' goes out through the Summer months. It has lost some of it's exclusive feel, but I am aware that in showbusiness, it's bums on seats that matter, so they had to get the numbers in. In 2013 I was asked to star in a "Good Old Days" revival show which I agreed to. It was great fun, and there is talk of more shows. I do want to take the Garland show out one more time - we will see if it can happen. I was also approached that year by two gents who are busy writing a musical. I recorded some tracks with them. It has lots of potential, and I hope it can come together. They had written it with me in mind. These things take time though, to get the financial backing and the staging.
I celebrated my 60th birthday in 2012, the big bash was at the Sands in Blackpool which we hired out. Incidentally I have been singing professionally for more than 50 years! I guess it's time to slow down, but there is still life in me yet! I was here and there in 2013 in variety style shows and even went to the Hippodrome theatre in London to take part in one such show with the incredible Roy Hudd. I was invited to join the Grand Order Of The Lady Ratlings too, which was a complete honour. The Lady Ratlings came into being as a female arm to the Grand Order Of Water Rats. The order is a charity that aims to help people from a show business background. Many famous names are members and I am delighted to be part of the organisation. Pantomime in 2014/15 saw me in Lowestoft. It was a fantastic, incredibly talented cast. They all treated me so well. It is great when it works out like that. The audiences in Lowestoft were cetainly up for some fun too. I then visited America again and I had several Ratlings functions. I was offered a play and a musical in 2015 but it was not right for me! I decided not to do Panto in 2015. I wanted to be with my family and friends. Christmas day saw the majority of us together at my house. We had a great time and ended the night singing 'Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas' Which was lovely. I appeared in London's Soho in March that year with the Garland show - it was INCREDIBLE. The venue was packed to the rafters and if I say so myself - I stormed it. The ceiling was so low. The stage too. You are staring in the eyes of the audience in front of you. My SIster Anne came down and joined me for a version of 'Happy Days Are Here Again / Get Happy' which is a counter melody song originally performed on TV by Garland and Streisand. Adam came all the way down for the show as did his partner Carl and my friend Lee. I had a few gigs up and down the country in and a short tour that I have took part in. I starred in the Christmas with the Rat Pack show at the end of the year which was incredible. This year we were rocked with the news that Linda's cancer has returned and is not curable. The Doctors have told us that it is treatable. Linda moved in with me after she was discharged from hospital. I am able to spend all my time looking after her. I did however manage to film a piece for Loose Women recently and after that an entire film crew turned up to record for the same show when Lnda broke her news to the World. I was filming for a TV show to come out later this year - August or September I believe. It is about Linda's life and I filmed for it on several occasions. Later this year I have a tour with the Rat Pack that is scheduled. Sign up for the updates and as soon as I have them - you will be the first to know. I hope to see you at some of the shows. We can all meet up afterwards for pictures and a chat. Having my website means I can keep in touch with all the amazing people who write in to me. 2018 saw me popping up here and there, I was fortunate enough to sing at private events throughout the year and I have been involved in the remixing process of my album "With Live Orchestra". That album meant such a lot to me. We have remastered the tracks and this year we have released it as a physical album as a digital download Order Here. We also recorded, as live, the Judy Garland Concert in front of a live audience in London. The project has been mastered and we hope to release it n 2019. We have even got as far as doing the artwork! I have been asked to appear on several cruise ships in 2019 and these have to be considered as they are very interesting and promising!
I do hope this Biography has been informative to you. I have really enjoyed telling you about my career.
Denise Nolan Solo Career Pictures