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 1960s 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 its time, but to us, it was fabulous to be recording at such a young age. We also recorded a Christmas EP. The records were sold at our gigs, although they never were commercial successes. We were working all over the north of England in working Men's Clubs. It wasn't ideal to have kids staying up so late, but to us, it was perfectly normal. We did this for about a decade. culminating in the records which were recorded in 1972 when I was 20 years old.
We had some fairly prestigious shows in that ten years, including appearing at the clubland command performance at the Opera House in Blackpool, and we had appeared on cruise liners as the cabaret artistes. We did have ambitions to make it as pop stars, and the lack of us being discovered did get us down. More than one of us wanted to quit show business on many occasions. Our Dad always said that if we had had enough we could just leave the act. There never was a contract, so we were free to go at any time. The thing was, none of us ever got close to actually leaving or getting a job outside the business. One of our biggest thrils in 1972 was recording the theme song for Blackpool Football Club. Incidentally the song still gets played now at home games, W=which is both an honour and embarrassing when you are sat on the terraces with some of your Sisters! It was our first single - Blackpool, BLackpool, see the way they play - Blackpool, Blackpool, we're with you all the way......' I can't see why it wasn't a smash hit all over the world.
As an act we toured the Working Men's Clubs around England and even a prison in Ireland. When we had one night shows to do further afield than Blackpool, we would all pile into the van, do the show and wait for Dad to get our fee and have a drink with concert 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. Consequently 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! Sometimes 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. The clubs in Blackpool has a block system of auditions. All the concert secretaries descended on a club and acts would show case thier act. The secretaries could then book weeks, months or even single appearances for the following year. We appeared for long stretches at Layton Institute and a full season at The Central Club with Freddie Starr in 1972. He was pretty much unknown then and was really lovely to us. In 1973 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 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 often say things that we overheard - 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, even as early as this in our career, we had a well rounded, professional act. 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. The law said they had to out of the venue by 9pm. That law was routinely broken. Not because we were deliberately breaking the rules, but because clubs and their patrons wanted to see the whole act. Often, we were all there the whole night. It made sense, because at the end of the act our Dad used to sing 'Thank Heaven For Little Girls' where we all came out, one by one, to take our bows.
Our Dad always made a point of not working on Christmas Day. It was always a great time for us and we enjoyed the family being together. However, in 1973 the phone rang early on Christmas Day, the Cliffs Hotel needed an artist for the next day as the one already 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 for, what for us was, an astronomical 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 came to our house the next day and repeated the offer. Dad was still reluctant and Joe left without an agreement. To our absolute astonishment he called the next day, once more, repeating the offer. As Anne, Maureen and I were old enough to sign up we were all set to go ahead without our Dad's consent. Mum was in agreement and said that she would sign for Linda and Bernie. 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. 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 were to become. How much money we could make for them or any other changes in our professional lives. Our Dad was reluctant because work was plentiful for the act already and the younger members of the family had schools and friends in the area. Dad finally agreed, I think Mum had a hand in that as well. She said she would come and stay with us initially. 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!
The London Room would be our new working home. The family had worked out how we would present the act as we did a preview show one afternoon. Joe had brought in,Stewart Morris, the head of light entertainment at the BBC 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, or our outfits. I wonder if he liked anything about us. We dropped 'The Sound Of Music'Medley' and traditional songs like 'Danny Boy' that Stewart considered to be twee and lightweight. Instead we included songs like 'Reach Out I'll Be There' and a funky 'Philidelphia Medley'. Joe Lewis the brought in choreographer Nigel Lythgoe, who you might remember as a judge in TV's 'Pop Idol'. Some of our new 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 employed the services of Robert Earl as our regular 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's salon - 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 that 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 1970s. 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 of our show, 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!.
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, although I am a massive bingo fan, I preferred not having it when I was performing. 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 this 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 comedian 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!
I'm jumpaing ahead a bit here, before we even opened the show, 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 hard 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 ten years. The company soon became 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 arrangements 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 at a time laid down by Dad. By the time Dad moved to London full time we were in a position to buy a home. We settled on a former Dr's surgery in Ilford. Of course, there was a lot more space than our house in Blackpool. Linda and Bernie shared a room, and Maureen and I had a room. Coleen had decided to stay in Blackpool with our Auntie. Dad was still firmly in charge of our home life. He did rule the house strictly. Even at Blackpool when I was in my late teens trips to the a local pub had to be timed so 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, Ceaser's Palace in Luton, The Golden Garter in Manchester, Wakefield Theatre Club, Bailey's in Watford, Club Fiesta in Stockton, Double Diamond in Caerphilly 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 into the floating yellow gowns. I had accidentally picked up Bernie's dress and she had mine on. When we realised, it was too late as the music had started. 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 felt a lot lot shorter, but I 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, by the end of the show he was cheering us along and whistling. Cliff's own BBC prime time show 'It's Cliff' had already enjoyed success on Saturday nights in previous years. 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 had recentlybeen in the studio at EMI to record the first Nolan sisters single; 'But I Do'. I don't know if I was expecting it to be a hit, but we were given the opportunity to sing both sides of it on the show. The BBC had selected the outfits, which, if anyone has seen the clip - were horrendous. They were long green dresses made of a spongy, velvet material. Anne was 24 and Coleen 9 years old. Coleen's dress was made shorter and she wore knee length socks. But the idea of them wearing basically the same dress was hysterical. The review the next day said something like 'The Nolan Sisters made their TV debut last night wearing long green curtains'. We had no say in the outfits.
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 70s version of a green screen. On more rare occasions it had an outside filming. The show then went out, as if live on Saturday night. In 1974 video recorders were not in household use 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 Secombe 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. Vince Hill was a delightful man. He was so kind and friendly to us. He has a great singing voice and we loved being on the show with him. One time Stewart Morris was in the box with producers and directors and we had to do an announcement in between the songs. It was decided that I should do it. After we had done our number I moved forward to make the announcement and said maybe one or two words beofre Stewart bellowed out "No no no - not her, I don't want her to do it. Who else will do it?" I was mortified. I was also struck dumb. Anne moved forward and I think everyone thought she was going to make the announcement. Instead she said into her microphone "How dare you speak to my Sister like that. Why are you being so rude? Well we won't put up with it." My Sisters are all wimps - myslef included, but not Anne!
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. The green dresses looked like something from the middle ages.They were nothing compared to the long blue dresses we wore with an enormous yellow bow with the loose bits down to our knees. They made an ameded version for Coleen - they were vile. The Three Degrees came on the show and they wore sensational dresses with low cut tops teeming with sequins. We looked like their Aunties.
What made it worse for us, years later, when we got out of our contract, we discovered that Hanover Grand had used the option to buy the clothes and we had paid for them! Back then if the BBC had dressed you, you could purchase the outfit. The girls often did that later on - when they wore some fabulous costumes. But these things - NEVER!!
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, so when we finished work we would head straight for the disco. 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, still being 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 20s!!!
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 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 black 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 been asked 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 before we had to start rehearsals. The tour would take us to most European Capital Cities. Paris, Berlin, Rome, 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 rehearsal space. Sinatra himself gave us permission to use his full 60 piece orchestra 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 limousine of the same standard as his was made available for us. The tour took us to these cities and these fantastic venues including the debut concert in the Palais Des Congres in Paris. By the time we reached London, Bernie had developed a tickly cough and was 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.
Above: On the Roy Castle Show & With 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 60s despite us singing them on TV. Or maybe because we sand 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 magnificent 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 that day! 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 fabulous. Stu Francis was also on that tour. He was lovely to work with. We were only young and we didn't 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.
Above: Morecambe & Wise Show and with Tom Jones.
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 each. 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 rehearsed 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 note was 'Love Bandit' I was to be the lead singer on this 1977 single. The song was actually quite contemporary 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 in the mid week chart. 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 - several months after the release!! 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 most of all, refused to play it. If Radio One 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. They always wanted to chat with us about our career, but never promoted us.. 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! Nowadays Radio Two has broadened its appeal and local radio is playing a bigger part in what people listen to - In the mid 1970s the only local stations were BBC ones - there was not a single independent station! So we were really up against 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 hindrance. '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 and 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.
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 was good fun to be left to our own devices. Eastbourne wasn't the nightclub capital of the World, but we still had a ball.
In Eastbourne with the cast of the Summer Season Show.
Denise's Career With The Nolan Sisters
By the end of 1977 I had started to seriously think about a solo career. It had crossed my mind several times over the years. I was at my happiest on stage when i was singing solo. I was torn because I also loved singing harmony and loved singing with my Sisters. I had hang ups about the way that I looked and felt dumpy next to such gorgeous sisters. It didn't matter who told me that I was just as pretty or just as slim, I didn't feel that way. I felt the same about danicng too. I love to dance! But when the choreographer started to take us through our paces I began to struggle. I did always get the routine in the end, but getting there was a problem. My own insecurities stopped me having as much fun as my Sisters were having. I have mentioned that my Sisters can me wimps - all of us can be. The thing with me though, is that I am also outspoken. If I am not happy about something, I feel it is better to say so and why. My Sisters had the tendency to just keep quiet and accept what is being said to them. So, at many meetings when we were asked if there were any problems, I would say 'Well, actually yes, I have a problem with....' Then I would say if I didn't like the song or the outfit or the routine. I would also complain about some of the ridiculous timing schedules people would impose on us. We would be sent on a series of dates around the country, then we would get back home and be expected on the stage at our residency that night. On more than one occasion we were taken to a town to record a TV show and then flown by helicopter to be back on stage an hour later. I know that show business can be hectic and demanding on your time, but I was starting to see that we were not getting any of the rewards that some other people clearly were getting. Don't get me wrong, our wages were good when you compare them to a factory worker or a nurse, but when compared to other people who were on TV as often as us then we were paid a pittance. People have asked if my partner, Tom, was instrumental in my departure from the act. I can tell you; NO!! If anything, Tom was a steadying force who left me to make my own decisions and only wanted to make sure that I was doing what was best for me. I knew that the press would pick up on me leaving the group and there would be raised eyebrows in show business circles, but I wanted to be on my own. Tom did point out that if I left the act that there would be a lot of things to do. Denise Nolan as an artiste in her own right hadn't existed until now. There would be no bookings in my diary and no record deal. I knew the songs that I wanted to sing in my act, and I knew what I wanted to do. Getting the opportunity to do it was a whole different game. I would need good management. Tom was ideally placed for that. At the time, only Tom and I knew I wanted out. I went along with my Sisters to all the appearances and gave it 100%. The recording of 20 Giant Hits was a lovely experience. The end product is something that I am very proud of. There were some really talented people involved in the music and procution of the record. We had meetings with our management and record company to see what we would record. Between them, they had carried out surveys to find what songs the public would like to hear on an album sung by an act like the Nolan Sisters. They were also kind enough to ask if there were any particular favourites of our own that we could add. The stipulation was that they would have to be hits from the last couple of years. At one meeting we were told that the studio had been booked out for a week....A WEEK! That's five days to make 20 songs! When you listen to iinterviews with David Bowie and Elton John saying that they went to Barbados or wherever for a few months to write and record their latest album it is incredible. Granted, we didn't have to write the songs, but singing to the standard on that album was a tall order in five days. That works out at four songs a day - obviously! The studio time was exhausting. One track springs to mind; Your Song, originally recorded by Elton John. The producer wanted us to sing in unison. Which, for those who don't know is without any harmonies - all the same - at the same time. For a group famous for their harmonies it was a strange request. We sang the song, and then we sang it again, and again and again. The producer kept on saying that one of us sand a word a split second before the others did. Or that one of us sand a split second after the others and he wanted it to be in total unison. In the end we managed it. But it was not without pressure. We recorded 'Bridge Over Troubled Water' in a similar way. Only in the last minute of the song did we burst into the beautiful harmonies that had been arranged for us. I made my feelings clear that I thought that the song should have been recorded with harmonines throughout. Once again though, I was told that someone else knew best. I began to think that people who magaged us would be thinking 'Oh here she goes again'. The album was a massive success and I have to say that I was so thrilled to have been a part of it and to had the excitement of visiting record shops to do signings. The Nationwide TV show followed us on one such promotional tour. Although I had officially left the act by then, I had agreed to promote the album. 20 Giant Hits made it into the top three of the album chart. It had a TV campaign and lots of promotion. We were presented a Gold Disc with details on a plaque of how much money it had grossed. As we were still signed to Hanover Grand you can guess that we made not a single penny from the album. We were salaried. It was annoying to see that lots of people had clearly made a lot of money from it, whilst we were flogging ourselves half to death promoting it accross the country. There seemed to be no end to how many promotional appearances we made to make sure it went higher up the chart. We did TV, radio, shops, newspapers and magazines. It helped with my decision to leave the act that people had become rich off our labour.
I was a lilttle upset that I wasn't given the opportunity to dip out and dip into the group. That would have been a perfect solution to me. But the powers that be stated that if I left the act then I left the act. There would be no return. Many years later with different managers and record companies Anne and Bernie were able to do just what I wanted to do. I did say to my Sisters that if they thought the act would suffer with me leaving then I would stay. My family gave me their support and blessing and I left. The act really did suffer - They went on to have hit albums and singles galore and toured the world. On the plus side, it would mean that I would be able to wear what I wanted on stage and sing what I chose. I would finally shake that feeling that I wouldn't be the one, who nine times out of ten didn't like what we were wearing or how it looked on me.
I was still living at home in Ilford when I left the act. My chap, Tom had a house at Northolt and I spent a lot of time there when I first left the act. I believe that it would have been a bit weird watching my Sisters get ready for a TV show or a concert with me sat in the house in my day clothes. To be honest, I didn't know how to start making a solo career. Up until now, everything had been done for me by other people. As Stewart Morris had been so instrumental in our initial success I thought that he might have been a good starting point. That was my first mistake. He dismissed me out of hand. Stewart was always a fan of my singing. He always said the nicest things about my voice. But with a wave of his hand he stormed that I was a fool to leave the act and that I would never make it on my own. He said he had no time for me being so silly leaving a successful act. He wouldn't book me for shows and he didn't have any ideas who would represent me either. I was very upset.
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 his 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 inpromptu gigs that were unpaid, but provided very valuable experience. I started working professionally as an uncredited singer as well in clubs. It was tough I will admit. I definitely 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 then secured the services of an Agent, Selwyn Turnbull and after seven months, he called 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 thought I was a cabin girl changing sheets. I still use John Coleman now. He is World class, world renowned and I am privilledged 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 evaporated. 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 knew I had some great achievements under my belt as one of the Nolan Sisters, and I will always treasure them, but 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.
Any success that I had a solo artist often fell on deaf ears with my family. Their own fame had rocketed. They were not being cruel. but when I said I had a record deal they were not so impressed. That is because they too had a new record deal and a single in the charts. When I said I was supporting such and such on a national tour they were saying that they were embarking on their first national headline tour of their own. I know that they totally supported me, but it's not easy to impress in a show business family! I was the first in my family to tour with Cannon and Ball though!!
For the Cannon and Ball Tour in 1978
I had only been solo for a year and I had two successful tours added to my CV. In 1979 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 regrettable 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 approached by Don Percival who was manager of Frankie Vaughan. He liked my work and I was booked for a tour with Frankie Vaughan 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 70s and 80s. 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 1981 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 went into the studio with an open mind. The tracks were really good and I was impressed with the studio set up. The backing vocalists were all really talented which made me a little bit overwhelmed. The producers would say things like 'That was great Denise, can we do it again, and if you can cut the vib...' That, in case you don't know was telling me to use less vibrato in my voice. Vibrato is fabulous technique when you are singing a big number, but it is less impressive with a pop song. The first single 'Don't Ya Say It' was written by Bryan Adams - yes THE Bryan Adams, anyhow, it sold quite well and received a fair bit of air play. The follow up single 'Girls Do It Boys Do It' was a great pop song. I loved it. It gave me a chance to sing the song on TV's Pebble Mill At One. Radio stations and the press were also very kind about it. One newspaper said it was a welcome departure from the stuff that the Nolans were churning out. I didn't like the reference, because I was so proud of their singles, but the sentiment was good. 'Girls Do It Boys Do It' and the next single 'In Love With Love' were both written by a couple of guys who at that time were unheard of, Tony Ajai-Ajagbe and George Hargreaves. They later wrote Sinitta'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! 'Girls Do It' was gaining considerable airplay and had even made it onto the Radio Two playlist. It was selling well and the record company was in full over drive. It was looking like we were going to have a hit on our hands. Although the singles were not smash hits they do 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. The mid-week chart had me somewhere in the 40-50 range. Which as amazing. The record company were all set for a hit. I was hastily arranged to appear on Pebble Mill at one the day of the chart reveal. Within the three or four days until the actual chart was revealed I had seemingly dropped out of the top 100. Even though the song had continued to sell at the same rates, if not better. Something we were told never happened. It happened to me not once, but twice. The follow up 'In Love With Love' was released and sales were goinng really well. The chart entry looked set to be number 44, which they were happy with - most of my Sisters' songs entered the chart at 50 plus. Again - I was booked for Pebble Mill, and mysteriously the song, whilst selling at the same rate, dropped more than 60 places in the chart. These inconsisere were later revealed to be a result of chart return shops. My own records were selling very well in stores that had record departments and in independent record shops. Not so well in larger record stores that concentrated their sales on big name acts. The very shops that had chart return status. If the total sales had been taken into account I would have certainly had hit singles.
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' and 'As Time Goes By' 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 nerve-wracking 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. 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 happy with my act. 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, Eastbourne, Blackpool and just about everywhere in between. Eastbourne 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. Throughout the eighties I worked on TV, theatre and cabaret club. It was an interesting decade. I supported acts as diverse as The Ink Spots and Little and Large as well as headlining my own act in the UK and overseas. What with working like that all year and squeezing in Pantomime and Summer Season shows you could say that I worked my socks off. In between that I did a constant stream of interviews on TV, radio and print. I never reached the heights of success that my Sisters had reached but I had a full diary. Towards the end of the decade when the Nolans had stopped having hits it's fair to say that I was working more than they were. I also found work on the cruise ships. In fact from the mid eighties to the late 2000s I worked on more or less every line. P&O - Fred Olsen - Princess and Royal Caribbean to name a few. The Americans were always great audiences. It enabled me to see much of the World with Argentina being a particular highlight - seeing Eva Peron's mausoleum. The work was fun too. I would fly out to join the ship and for two weeks I lived as a passenger being booked to appear once in the theatre and once in the piano room - I was paid well and seemed to be on a permanent holiday. It was all the more special if I could arrange - and I usually did - to have have Tom with me as my musical director. The entertainments director of Fred Olsen was very complimentary about me he said "Denise Nolan is by far the best female entertainer we have ever had on board our ships." I can be just as complimentary about his ships.
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 fantastic 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 was composed of twelve 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 long 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 newspaper 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 Guinness 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 Cellulitis 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 developed 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 script 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!
I don't need to revisit the painful arguement that tore my family apart in 2009. All of that is old news. What I can say now is that after all the pain we were able to reconcile with Bernie and Maureen a year after. We were able to attend Bernie's 60th birthday party. It took a little while for us to make up with Coleen and Linda, but we did manage to do so. That was welcome expecially as Bernie had reached a stage in her terminal illness where her death was closer. We were able to spend the last part of her life as a united family. I love all my sisters. I never stopped loving them, even at the height of the fall out.
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 followed 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 in 2020. We have even got as far as doing the artwork! In late 2019 I was approached to take a new version of the Garland show on tour in 2020. It all happened so quickly in the end. Shortly after Christmas I was in London signing contracts and discussing musicians and arrangements. The company behind the tour wasted no time at all. I was in charge of losing weight and chosing my wardrobe. The next thing I am on radio starions all across the country and being lined up as a guest on Loose Women. I appeared on the show and was able to get the word out about the tour. Before my feet had touched the ground it was opening night in Crewe. The theatre there was so lovely. Maureen and Adam came that day and as I was in my dressing room it dawned on me how nervous I was. They came into the dressing room and I was terrified. They left me to it while I did a sound check and rehearsed some numbers with the band. That night was incredible. The audience stood and cheered so loud I thought the theatre roof might blow off. I cam offstage and handed my microphone to Adam and mouthed "Oh My God!" before going back on to take a few more bows. I was on such a high. Afterwards people hung around the theatre to me meet me and have a selfie - I was given so many bouquets. They even waited at the stage door! All of the dates were great, one other stands out in my mind though - that of Lytham which is in my area. Most of my family and friends came. I already felt spoiled. Adam had been like a personal roadie msetting up my dressing room exacylt how I like it - and he did Tom's! The stage drinks were all set out and those in the dressing room. For this tour I had my own sound man. Often artists rely on the theatre or the artist to do the job. This man KNEW his stuff. He was able to blend the muscians and my voice to perfection. I hope that you in the audience noticed what he had done. I had seven of the best musicians in the country playing on the tour. The company behind the endeavour, Red Entertainments were fantastic. Lee, my good friend who works there really did look after me. He tells me they have plans for somethings special soon. In the Summer of 2020 whilst sat in lockdown I got a text from a guy who looks after some of the Nolans projects. He told me that a BBC record label were releasing a three album box set that would be featuring some of the songs that I recorded when I was in the act. I was beyond thrilled! The artwork logo was designed by Adam, who looks after my website. At first there was a hold up with the copyright with my photograph and I was missing from it - this would have been corrected had Amazon waited until the day they were supposed to! Of course, people saw the leaked artwork online and it was a matter of hours before my phone started pinging and emails hit my inbox. I was really upset as I didn't know what was happening. It might sound trivial, but this was the first time that I would be on an album cover with all six of us together. I know some of the Japanese albums that have been released of my early work don't feature my face and that has always been upsetting. As this box set was to be released in the UK it was important that I was on the cover. Needless to say we had to get clearance for the image to be approved. It is not as easy as you imagine. Several of the photographs that we submitted were ones that I loved. Sadly the clothes that I was wearing on them were either the wrong colour or style for the project. In the end the record company had the choice of three - I was smiling on one of them. They must have gone for the 'sultry' one because there is only Anne who is smiling. It's nice to think that we might have looked sultry from time to time though - Don't you think? The album is released on October 23rd - it's a really good price if you pre order it. I would get in there quick before they all sell out - Can you believe it - it actually went to number one on the pre order chart! It might be difficult to do any promotional stuff with the Covid restrictions, but who knows. Hopefully we will be able to do SOME. The release date makes the CDs a really nice little stocking filler - plug - plug. In November of this year we start filming for a new project that will hit TV screens before Christmas. We started filming 'At Home With The Nolans' in October and the gour part series fatures the five of us having a great time around and about Blackpool. It's on Quest Red. The show is really great and I hope you tune in. I have already completed filming for a new thing that is also due out any time. I am not sure how much they are going to use of me. This particular programme is a really big, prime time show that I am sure you will know about. Again, I will let you know as soon as I can. My manager is also in talks for a new live show which could happen in 2021, and my manager has got some things he wants me to get involved with which could mean some TV stuff for next year. The Covid Pandemic has left things a little up in the air just now. But hopefully these things will happen. You will have to keep checking in.
2021 saw the release of the 'At Home' series and I was shocked when I learned that we had been nominated for a TV Choice award! We didn't make the shortlist - but it hit me that the show had been really popular. It was even broadcast in New Zealand. I was offered Pantomime for 2021, but I hope to be in America seeing my partner, Tom's family. In March we finalised the deal for the second series of 'The Nolans Go Cruising' (Third if you count 'At Home With The Nolans) The Covid 19 restrictions meant we would only be able to sail around the UK. We signed up and eagerly awaited our trip. A tightening of lockdown rules meant that we could only disembark on English soil. That meant that the proposed itinery visiting Belfast and Scotland would now just involve sailing close to them. The ship, the MSC Virtuosa is the largest cruise liner on the planet. So luckily there were plenty of things to do whilst sailing. Just my luck that the heatwave we had been enjoying came to an abrupt end the day I boarded the ship. I was offered a chance to showcase my own voice on the cruise. I recruited my musical director to arrange a gorgeous version of 'Every Time We Say Goodbye' especially for piano accompaniment. I was filmed singing the song in the jazz cabaret lounge on the ship - What a thrill that was. I also rejoined the Nolans for the first time on TV in 43 years! We rehearsed and rehearsed 'I Will Survive'. Each one of us had a line to sing, and then Coleen sang the chorus with the four of us providing harmonies. It was a complete joy to sing harmonies with my Sisters on stage again. Anne and myself, and I suspect Linda and Maureen, felt that choreography was not entirely age appropriate. In any case, my nerves would have really been a handicap. The audience reaction was astonishing. We completed two performances before the ship's main concert presentations. We learned that queues had formed to see us. It was so heartwarming to feel that affection towards us.
In November 2021 the Variety Club of Great Britain presented us with a 'Legends of Industry' award. I made the acceptance speech to a packed house of show business contemporaries. I also released my first single in several years. I joked with my friends saying 'You can't talk to me now - I am a legend! But, seriously, I was overwhelmed with the award. It is the first time I have ever been presented with an award and it is a wonderful feeling. A couple of years ago I said that I was semi retired, but this year has been one of the busiest I have ever had. With both Anne and Linda we were all over the TV and press with the flu vaccination campaign. we have all taken part in a promotion with the Sun with their campaign to recycle face masks. The Sun even invited us to help out at a vaccination centre, which we were excited to have been asked. Then there was a huge concert that I topped the bill for, celebrating the life of Joe Longthorne. It was such good fun to meet up with the other artistes and to be up on stage after a long Covid lockdown! I was treated to a standing ovation which was such a high. When we were asked to make a second series of the cruising show I didn't know what to expect. The restrictions meant we could only cruise around the UK. I didn't mind at all because I have always said that the UK is one of the most beautiful countries on Earth. The filming was exhausting, but we had such a laugh. I hope Quest Red and the production company ask us to make another series. So, then I discovered that the single went into the iTunes tope five. I honestly couldn't believe it. It was thrilling to watch it climb the chart as the days went on. There's definately more music coming out soon, so watch this space. Back to the the award ceremony in Manchester; We all stayed at a gorgeous hotel in the city. When they annouced our names we were all shaking with nerves and no one wanted to make an off the cuff speech, so they chose me! We had a fantastic reception from all the people in the room. We also got to meet Anton Du Beke from Strictly and James Martin. They were both lovely and very complimentary about us. It rounded the year off in a perfect way. As professional singers in our own right, we have been at it for 50 years, and 2022 will mark the anniversary of me singing professionally for SIXTY years. I sang with my sisters on the latest TV series and that was the first time in 43 years that I had been on TV as one of the Nolans. Lots of nerves, but lots of fun. On that show I was even given the chance to sing my single, albeit a stripped back accoustic version. It really has been quite a year - So much for semi retirement!'
I released my first new single in year in 2021. Every Time we Say goodbye reached number four in the iTunes Jazz chart - a bone fide hit of my own! The record company have also decided to release some new music next year. The album of fourteen songs is called 'For You My Love' All the songs are all personal favourites of mine. You might have guessed that the songs aren't pop songs. Although I did sing Lady GaGa in Panto a few years ago.... These songs are all gorgeous ballads from many years ago, songs that I guess you would know as 'Standards' I look forward to its release. With the TV show airing in Autumn and the album, I hope to be able to go out on the road promoting it.
I do hope this Biography has been informative to you. I have really enjoyed telling you about my career.
Denise Nolan Solo Career Pictures