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.
Above: Our costumes were made by our Auntie Teresa! The boys were much more lucky!
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.
Photos from our early career. These can be enlarged
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. However my Parents always used to make sure we never worked on Christmas Day. Then one year the phone rang on Christmas Eve, the Cliffs Hotel needed an artist as the one booked had cancelled. My Dad asked a very and astronomical high fee of £80. Confident they wouldn't want to pay such a large fee. Dad was horrified, moments later when the phone rang once more offering us the money. Dad still didn't want to do the gig, but Mum felt obliged to fulfil the booking. So 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 success and afterwards one of the hotel's guests 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..
Above: Relaxing during a Crusie Ship Job
My Dad was used to people offering us unbelievable work and they always turned out to be just that - unbelieveable! This job 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 London. The Company concerned was called Hanover Grand, and not only were they offering great money but the chance to go on TV. My Dad gave Joe our telephone number and to our surprise he called the next day repeating the offer. Eventually my Dad agreed to sing for a two night booking to see if it was going to be as good as it seemed. After the two nights Joe turned up at our house once more, this time accompanied by a solicitor and a contract. We practically bullied Dad into signing. Our parents were reluctant in some ways because work was plentiful for us and the younger members of the family had schools and friends in the area. Still, four months after signing the contract we were on our way. Our Brothers decided not to join us, instead they dicided 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.
For myself and my Sisters the club 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 band too and a great sound system. most of the time we would never have such luxuries. Hanover Grand had four night clubs 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" but we were headlining in the London Room. Sharing the bill with us were dancers who wore Busby hats and Grenadier Guards playing drums. 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 a Bassey Number! that usually got the crowd in a better mood. Spanish and Italians loved big ballads! The London Room was pretty daunting for us, more so when we were told before we started, that our act needed a complete makeover. Joe Lewis brought in Stewart Morris, who, at that time was the BBC's head of light entertainment. 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, but Joe Lewis 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 from a 13 year old Bernie to a 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 here now.
Above: The London Room Costumes - they can all be enlarged.
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 giving us our biggest breaks. He was able to work with our music to further improve the act. He encouraged us drop 'Sound Of Music' Medleys and songs that could be interpreted as twee or immature and replace them with more contemporary and up beat songs such as 'Reach Out, I'll Be There' and a Philadelphia medley. The original contract with Hanover Grand was for five years. The company became then our sole management too. This was difficult for our Parents to accept, even more so 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 just retired. Dad hadn't come to London with us initially and Mum became 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. Initially we were living in Joe's mansion which was incredible. He had his own swimming pool and tennis court! We could come as go as we liked. So, for the first time in our lives we felt like grown ups. As the resident artistes at the London Room we were scheduled to play at The London Room six nights a week. but we also worked extensively elsewhere. In fact, we were booked for gigs around the country and as we are in the process of making a definitive biography I can see that, at that time, 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, Wakefiled Theatre Club, 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 a little shorter, but thought the audience wouldn't notice. Then I saw them pointing and 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!
Above: Part of the TV Times feature from Christmas 1975 Pictures can be enlarged
We recorded an album too that was for 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 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. As well as working hard to get our sound and look how he thought it needed to be, he also helped us to improve our chat with audiences. His direction then helped us with song choices and better arrangements to sharpen our harmonies. After less than a year of working in the London Room, with the show much improved, Stewart brought his friend - Cliff Richard - to see the show! That was to lead to our first TV date...
These dresses were actually beautiful - Click to see them full size
Early 1070's gallery - Some are low resolution due to date
Cliff was and is, a super star and 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. Incredibly for us, the BBC offered us, via our management, a six week run. The format of the show was different to most shows. 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 time he would have other regular artists too. Hank Marvin and Bruce Welsh from the Shadows, Pearly Gates 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 troup. 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!! 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 for Radio Times complete with pctures, which are have included here. One thing my Sisters and I have always agreed on - the dreadful costumes we were to more or less forced to wear. As I was just saying. We hated most of the clothes we wore on the Cliff Richard show and the scores of other TV shows we did. Shows like 'Basil Briush' '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 small amount of the TV appearances we made. Each time we were told by the BBC that "They knew best" and 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." Eash time we backed down and wore them. Sadly for us, after a long time of working for the BBC and Hanover Grand , we were presented 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. 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. 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, a day of rehearsing, 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 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. 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.
Above: TV work was very plentiful - L-R 'It's Cliff - Sez Les - Morecambe And Wise I'm not sure of what were doing dressed up in the carriage.
Meeting entertainment legends has also been such a reward, Stevie Wonder, Tom Jones and Englebert Humperdink to name but three. During a sound check before Sinatra started singing he said to us "You won't know any of these song, you kids" but we knew every word. We didn't dare tell him though, in case he thought we were just fawning. After each show he would come to us and say "How did it go tonight girls?" and I would just mumble" Harrumph humph hurrumph" I was totally struck dumb. He was very kind and used to say to the audience after we had exited the stage that "The kids sound good". 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. 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. We even appeared on Vera Lynn's TV show.
Above: Two pictures from the Engelbert Humperdink Tour in 1977, The Les Dawson Show, and below, Vince Hill and Vera Lynn's shows.
We also recorded loads of singles! 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 other single I note was "Love Bandit" I was to be the lead singer on the 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 contemporary 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 you didn't stand a chance. Millions of people listened to Radio One. 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, by the time it was aired the record had long been distributed and 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!
In 1978 the record company came and told us that they had done market research into what was the Nation's favourite songs. The theory was that if a fairly well known artist put them on one album, then it would be a hit. We had been selected as that artist. The record company who were behind our singles was part of the Warner Brothers umbrella. In typical Nolan fashion the album was done quickly. We had a week to record the vocals. 20 songs in a week was pretty full on. We had songs that had five partlo harmonies, solo songs and songs that had to be sung in unison. I have always enjoyed singing harmonies the most. The producers on some of the tracks insisted on us singing in unison. It sounds great. But I would have preferred harmony. One song in particular - 'Your Song' was to be sung in unison. The producer was insistant that we get it exactly right. We sang it again and again to make sure we were EXACTLY in time. Although this made the product perfect in a technical sence it can take away some of the natural quality. But on the whole the album is very well produced and the vocals are excellent. Another song which had an interesting take was "God Only Knows" originally recorded by the Beach Boys. Towards the end of the song there is what seems a complicated refrain. Where voices are singing "God only knows what I'd be without you" In fact we only sang our individual line once. There's three deliveries. Then the stuidio u"Withosed multi layering to make the song sound as though there's about 25 voices singing together - Very technical, and very clever. I recorded lead vocals on 'Sailing' The 'Way We Were' and 'Without You". I enjoyed the process even though it was hard work. In record time the album was recorded and produced, then very quickly released. To secure availability for the Christmas market. Almost immediately, the album was a massive success. It was TV advertised and sold more than 350,000 in the UK alone on it's first print run. It went on to become the biggest selling Nolans Album ever, and achievement that still stands today. It reached number three during the Christmas period. One interesting feature about the front cover of this album is that Linda is not on it! She was ill with diarrhoea on the day the pictures were taken and was unable to make the photo shoot. A look alike was sourced and used. In close up pictures it's obviously not her! It was not noticable on the front cover as the pictures is a long shot with us all sat on or around a GIANT plastic number 20 on a plinthe. The photographer had also used a soft filter. Despite no one noticing the absent Linda at the time, when the album was given a makeover and released in Japan in 1981 the pictures used were a lot clearer and feature close ups. It can clearly be seen that the person who is purporting to be Linda is a fake! Sadly for us, the contract that we were so eager to sign with Hanover Grand was not a fake - '20 Giant Hits' success did not work in our favour financially. Any profits it made as well as those generated from TV, other records, tours, Summer seasons and the like went to them. We were paid the same salary regardless of what we made. That said, In late 1978 my Dad had decided the contract we had with Hanover Grand was not working. Although he was still our manager he was noticably out of his depth. He did not have the ruthless streak that some of the big sharks in the record industry had. Still, he led negotiations for an early release from the contract. The original deal was for five years and we had only completed four. They carved us up really. Once again, financially, we lost out and the family kitty was almost wiped out. I have always been outspoken and I found it very difficult to keep quiet about management decisions. I would lock horns with them over song choice, choreography and almost everything else. My Sisters were able to go along with what was being done, but I couldn't. I am sure management and perhaps my Sisters were thinking "Oh, here she goes again" every time I spoke out. I was never confident with many things. My looks in particular and sometimes choreography was hard work. But I was confident with my voice. We were booked to appear BBC show, singing two songs. We would sing the first, then I had been chosen by the girls to say thank you and to introduce the follow up song. We sang the first song and it was a one take song. We had got it perfect first time. The camera angles were then set and I started to introduce the song as arranged. Just then a voice boomed out from the gallery "No not her. Get someone else to do it. I don't want her." I was scarlet. My lip trembled and Anne saw I was upset. She marched to the front of the set and shouted up to Stewart Morris in the gallery (Who had made the comment) "Don't you dare speak like that about my Sister - how dare you!" I have always said, since we were kids, no one messes with Anne. Stewart actually apologised, I was still devastated, but it was good to hear it - I had an encounter with him some time after, but I will tell you about that later. Because the act was free from the binding five year contract, I realised that the time was now right to leave. I had finished the promotion of the album '20 Giant Hits' and a promotional tour that culminated with a week in London as support act to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons at the Palladium, then I left quietly. The story did make all the newspapers, but I was able to say truthfully that I was leaving the act not the family. For quite a while I had not been enjoying my time as one of the Nolan Sisters. The pop sound that the group was aiming at was certainly not to my liking. I like pop music don't get me wrong. But I don't like to sing it. I enjoy standards, love songs and swing jazz. I also enjoy dancing, but I don't enjoy dance routines. I discussed first with Anne that I wanted to leave the act. Obviously it wasn't a popular decision and there were lots of meetings to decide what to tell the press and fans. I don't think I could have gone back to the group had it not worked how it has, but I was prepared for that at the time and I still am. Anne was pretty much the boss of the act and I think she felt my leaving the most. We are close in age and we had been in the business together for a long time, even in 1978. Anne did say to me that if I left the act, that I couldn't come back! I think that was just her way though of making me think twice about leaving. I am sure if I did go back if I had failed as a solo artist that she would have welcomed me back into the fold!!
1978 Promotional Pictures
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 did spend a lot of the time lazing around as well. I stayed at Tom's place and spent time with my Sisters when they were at home. I spent the evenings with him not being paid, so money was tight. I had only meagre savings and I was not entitled to a pay out when I left the Nolans. After seven months, My then manager, Selwyn Turnbull offered me a UK tour with Matt Monro. I went into in a state of panic. 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'd already 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 offered to do the arrangements quickly, and more to the point, cheaply. He really is an amazing composer. I joined the ship and locked myself into 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. At the end of my seat the crowd were really enthusiastic. 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. I know I had some great achievements under my belt as one of the Nolan Sisters,and I will always treasure them. Now though, everything I was achieving was 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 these two musical giants are no longer with us.
Pictures Of My Solo Career
I had only been solo for a year and I had two successful tours added to my CV. 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 hardly no airplay at all and there was to be not a single bit of promotion at all, anywhere! I was sad of course. But I didn't dwell on it. Partly because I knew it would flop and there was still a lot of work to do.
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 tought 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. I was 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 did I. 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' 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. 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 radio chows in the early 1980s and that was a such a joy. One other thrill was appearing in the Royal Variety Performance as a solo artist and meeting HRH Princess Alexandra afterwards!!
Rubbing shoulders with Royalty and The Russell Harty Show.
To work with people who are so at the top of their profession is a magical experience. I was beginning to feel more secure about myself as a solo performer and act now. 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. I decided that I would like to do a tour that would pay tribute to Judy Garland. This was never going to be a look a like show. I had recreated the score from Garland's Carnegie Hall concert and sang it as myself. It was hard 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 recruited a Rainbow Orchestra of seven musicians which works best for me because I adore live music. That show went out in 1991 and I was very busy that year with a Summer show in Ayr 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 time for you! But I have been fortunate with them, I have done them in Hull, Liverpool, Eastbourne. Southend, Buxton, Reading, Mansfield, London, Gravesend, Bradford, Phwehelli, Shrewsbury, Telford, Porthcawl, Wimbledon and York - to name 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. Turns out, 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. I never quite knew how my bit was going to sit in between all that dancing but it seemed to go well enough. The icing on the cake for me was to be given the number one dressing room. The funny thing was that before I got that gig I moved out of Blackpool to London. I then had a five month gig in Blackpool - typical! 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! If the opportunity comes up for more musicals I am certainly up for that.
My Sister Bernie had been playing Mrs. Johnstone in Willy Russell's 'Blood Brothers' for a long time when she was offered a part in Channel 4's 'Brookside'. The producers allowed Bernie to get out of her contract. My other Sister Linda had auditioned for the touring production and was offered the role. On hearing that Bernie was leaving, the company Producer, Bill Kenwright aske 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 to go 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. 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! Altogether I was in the West End for 9 months and 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 recieve the gong for my role. Blood Brothers saw many happy times, but difficult times. One sadness was that I didn't play Liverpool. He usually brought a Liverpool born actress in. On one occasion 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 Rebecca Storm. Other than that, I worked everywhere, from the Isle of Man, to Scotland, Wlaes, 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.
The Guinness World Record (we recieved a copy each) / Blood Brothers
I can't see me going back to Blood Brothers, but in showbiz - you can 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. Privately I said "No". Then Tom reminded me that I said I wanted to go back to the show one more time to conclude the part I had abruptly left a few years before. Friends and family, in particular Adam, who is a big fan of the show startedtexting 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 beatiful 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 were not sell outs which is annoying when I would have gone on local radio or press to let everyone know about the show.
More cruise ship work 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 Llod 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 a 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 suuport act that went on for an hour before the interval. That left me with my 190 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 mental! 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 - 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! In 2013 I was asked to starr 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, ironically at the Sands in Blackpool which we hired out for a huge party. 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. So far this year I have visited America again and I have Ratlings functions penned in too. 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 am appearing in London's Soho in March this year with the Garland show - Hope to see you there! There's also a short tour that I have been asked to take part in. Should this work out - I will let you know
I do hope this Biography has been informative to you. I have really