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Anne Nolan

Anne Nolan is the eldest of the Nolan Sister. Her parents Tommy and Maureen were singers in their own right in Ireland. Appearing under the name of “The Sweethearts of Song”. Her Mum visited friends in Blackpool in 1960.  Seeing the wealth of entertainment available in the town she quickly realised there was an opportunity awaiting. Ireland’s dance halls were on the decline and the country had nothing like the UK working men’s club. The whole family relocated to England in June 1962, minus Anne who, as an 11 year old, was suffering from pains in her legs and in hospital.  It was decided by Doctors that she should stay behind and continue with treatment, then join her family in England when she had recovered.

The entertainment scene in Blackpool used a system of block auditions for working men’s clubs. They would be held in one large club and concert secretaries could then select an act to use for their club for single appearances or entire seasons. The Sweethearts of Song had regular bookings. As special treats one or two of the children would be invited to see their parents sing. On one night however a babysitter could not be arranged and the whole family had to pile into the car and head for the club. That night show business history was made when all ten members of the Nolan Family appeared on stage. The audience reaction was incredible. The act was renamed The Singing Nolans and bookings were immediate. The family act was so successful that The Brunswick Club in Blackpool decided to book them for the entire season in 1972. Queues snaked onto the street just for the chance to get it. The Singing Nolans recorded an album in 1972 to be sold at the clubs they appeared at. They then released a Christmas EP and a single for Blackpool Football Club. Almost 50 years on, and the song is still played at the town’s ground on Bloomfield Road.  1973 was another good year for the act. They appeared at the Central Club in a summer show with Freddie Starr. The venue was packed every night, no small achievement with a club that could hold 2,000 people.

Biography

The entertainment scene in Blackpool used a system of block auditions for working men’s clubs. They would be held in one large club and concert secretaries could then select an act to use for their club for single appearances or entire seasons. The Sweethearts of Song had regular bookings. As special treats one or two of the children would be invited to see their parents sing. On one night however a babysitter could not be arranged and the whole family had to pile into the car and head for the club. That night show business history was made when all ten members of the Nolan Family appeared on stage. The audience reaction was incredible. The act was renamed The Singing Nolans and bookings were immediate. The family act was so successful that The Brunswick Club in Blackpool decided to book them for the entire season in 1972. Queues snaked onto the street just for the chance to get it. The Singing Nolans recorded an album in 1972 to be sold at the clubs they appeared at. They then released a Christmas EP and a single for Blackpool Football Club. Almost 50 years on, and the song is still played at the town’s ground on Bloomfield Road.  1973 was another good year for the act. They appeared at the Central Club in a summer show with Freddie Starr. The venue was packed every night, no small achievement with a club that could hold 2,000 people.

Joe Lewis is one of the most celebrated entrepreneurs in the UK. He owned a string of venues in London and hotels throughout the country. It was to one such hotel in Blackpool, The Cliffs that Joe Lewis decided to spend his Christmas holidays. The planned cabaret cancelled at the last minute. Hasty calls were made to Tommy Nolan who asked for the princely sum of £80, confident that they would reject him. Within minutes the hotel were back on the phone offering to pay the fee. Although it was a rule not to work on Christmas Day the family felt obliged to carry out the engagement. 

It was fortunate that they did. After the show Lewis offered the Nolan Sisters a residency at one of his London night spots. The family signed up and moved to London. Sadly, Joe Lewis had made the decision that he wanted the Nolan Sisters only, not the family. The parents accepted this with grace. The Nolan Sisters signed with The Hanover Grand Organisation to sing at the London Room on Drury Lane six nights a week. They would also be available to be booked by other venues. The deal was good initially as they would be salaried, earning what they never thought possible as a club land act. 

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Anne TV Interview

Morris’ persistence brought rewards. He brought Cliff Richard to the show, with a view to getting Cliff to invite the Sisters onto his new BBC One show ‘It’s Cliff’. It worked – The Nolan Sisters made their TV debut in 1974 appearing for the entire series. A single was released to coincide with their appearance. Within weeks they had guest starred on almost every entertainment show on TV. Shows like The Vera Lynn Show, Harry Secombe Show, Wednesday at Eight, Night Out At The Casino, London Night and the entire season of Vince Hill’s Musical Time Machine. As well as all these TV engagements the Nolan Sisters were still appearing every night at the London Room or on a cabaret tour. 

The BBC’s head of light entertainment, Stewart Morris was brought in to give his appraisal. He was blunt with his critique. He said he thought the act lacked polish. He didn’t doubt that the girls could sing, but he thought the song choices were poor. He didn’t like the way they looked on stage, how they moved or chatted in between numbers. Hanover Grand set to work recruiting only the very best people. Robert Earl was manager, Nigel Lythgoe was to be choreographer, and John Coleman and Alyn Ainsworth were brought in to arrange songs and harmonies. Newer material was found. Sound Of Music medleys were dropped in favour of up-tempo numbers by groups like the Four Tops. Finally new haircuts, costumes and lessons in stage patter completed the overhaul. Stewart Morris was to say to Joe Lewis – You now have an act of world class. You won’t find a better act now or in the future. 

An album was even recorded to be sold at venues the Nolan Sisters appeared in. After a year at the London Room the girls were selected to accompany Frank Sinatra on his European tour. Playing in some of the most prestigious theatres in Europe. They also went to the USA for a series of concerts with Engelbert Humperdinck and undertook a four week tour of South Africa with Rolf Harris. These are undoubted highlights of their career.  

In 1977 the Sisters took part in their first summer show, a production at Eastbourne with Ronnie Corbett and Janet Brown. The Nolan Sisters’ workload was so busy that to meet some of the TV booking schedules they had to be transferred by helicopter from the theatre to the TV studio.  


1978 saw the Sisters record an album that would reach as high as number three in the album chart, sell half a million copies and earn them their first gold disc. 20 Giant Hits was recorded in just a week which is testament to the high ability of their vocals. A heavy TV campaign helped its success. The girls were invited to star for the entire 1978 series of The Two Ronnies, one of the highest rated shows on TV with audiences of twenty million. The finale to a great year was an appearance on the Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show which was shown on Christmas Day and watched by 22 million.  The success of the year were only marred by Denise’s decision to leave the act and concentrate on a solo career. They also decided to leave the management of Hanover Grand. They had earned a great deal of money for the organisation. Yet they were still being paid a salary. The act had built up a secure reputation and it was felt that they could survive on their own with their Father back in charge.

As a quartet the act continued to tour and appear on a host of TV shows. They enjoyed a lengthy summer season at the ABC Theatre in Blackpool with the Bachelors. The Nolan Sisters appeared in that year’s Royal Variety Performance and starred at The London Palladium for a week with Frankie Valli and the four seasons.

It was the release of the 1978 album that brought the Nolan Sisters their first chart place. Eight singles had been released and none had charted. This was in part because only the top 40 was published. Several of their own singles had entered the lower chart placings. Just a few years later the top 75 was published and their singles would be considered hits. Tommy Nolan entered negotiations with record companies. His final choice was Epic/CBS. The Nolan Sisters recorded their first Epic single in 1979. Terry Bradford had written ‘Harry My Honolulu Lover’ and pinned his hopes on the song representing the UK in that year’s Eurovision Song Contest

 

A technicians strike led to the programme not being broadcast. Weeks of rehearsing had been wasted. The Nolan Sisters had a slick dance routine to accompany the song and believed the visual appeal to the song would have secured a win.

It was not to be. The Sisters were devastated. A summer Season in Cleethorpes followed with box office records that could never be broken. The Nolan Sisters recorded the vocals for their debut album at that time, in a mobile recording studio parked outside their rented home. Anne was married in spring 1979 enjoying just a few days off for a honeymoon before hurrying back to work.

The next single made the top forty leading to an appearance on Top of the Pops. They finished 1979 with appearances on the entire series of ‘Mike Yarwood in Persons’. But it was the follow up single that brought world-wide fame. ‘I’m In the Mood for Dancing’ reached number three in 1980. The single sold close to half a million copies in the UK alone. It reached number one in Japan where it eventually sold almost two million copies. Epic and Tommy Nolan hastily arranged for a two week promotional tour of Japan. The act was billed from now on as simply; The Nolans. 

In 1980 the Nolans appeared in a UK tour with Mike Yarwood before commencing a 16 week summer season at the Blackpool Opera House where they performed with Yarwood once more. Anne was pregnant and announced that the last night of the summer show would be her last night as one of the Nolans. She wanted to be a housewife and would live in Torquay where her husband Brian was now based with Torquay FC. Coleen was able to step in quickly for some gigs during the usually quiet winter months. She would turn 16 in Match and could join the group full time. 

Anne’s retirement was settled, she ran the fan club from home and gave birth to Amy in March 1980. Her sisters had several more hit records, completed headline tours of their own and appeared on numerous TV shows. Four half hour specials aired on BBC TV. It was during one of those specials that she watched her sisters sing a song especially composed for Amy that she realised that she missed being part of the act. That same day she phoned them and asked if she could return. The other girls agreed and almost two years to the day she re-joined The Nolans. Anne was promote the Altogether Album and feature in an extensive UK tour as well as visit Japan on a promotional tour. Her return to the act had been hectic, but exhilarating. 

The Nolans worked flat out with their live act for the next few years with Anne enjoying many successes in pantomime as well as her commitments to concert, cabaret and recording. TV was also plentiful. They recorded two albums; ‘Girls Just Wanna Have Fun’ and ‘Tenderly’. The latter being an album of standards that is considered to be the best work they ever recorded.

n 1986 the Nolans toured the Soviet Union for four weeks playing at 25,000 seat arenas. The shows were sold out and more than 200,000 attended the performances. 

Anne became a mother the second time in 1987 when Alexandra was born. The bulk of their live work now was summer season and pantomime. It meant that she was able to stay in one place and enjoy being a mum. The Nolans went into the studio in 1989 and re-recorded I'm In the Mood for Dancing. The girls still enjoyed regular TV appearances, most notably singing The Smiths song Panic On The Jonathan Ross Show, played themselves, with camp effect, in the Rik Mayall comedy, 'Filthy Rich and Catflap'.

In early 1990 the Nolans signed a record deal with Panasonic subsidiary label, Teichiku, to release six albums exclusively for the Japanese market. The vocals were recorded in the UK. The albums were instantly successful with the group going on to win a Japanese Grammy for the best concept album by a foreign recording artist. The albums were covers of well-known Japanese recording stars. 

Several visits to Japan followed with concerts and TV appearances. They recorded further songs to be released following the initial six CDs. Teichiku were amazed at the resurgence of their popularity and obtained to rights to release old UK albums with new artwork. These albums had so far never seen a CD release. By now the Nolans had sold more records in Japan than the Beatles; a staggering 12 million units. 

Coleen decided she wanted to leave the act in 1993. They performed as a trio for the 1994 centenary show at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre. One performance was attended by the Queen. Bernie waited until the end of the year before she announced she too was leaving the act. The Nolans had moved into a new arena of live performance over the last few years. They had been playing in gay night clubs all across the UK. It was bitter sweet. They were no longer using a live band, instead relying on backing tracks. The audiences though, were some of the best that the girls had ever had. The duo of Anne and Maureen employed two girl dancers to bolster the look on stage. In 1995 a further recording of ‘I’m in the Mood for Dancing’ was released. Coleen and Bernie were coaxed back into the group to promote the single.

In 1998 Anne’s eldest daughter joined the act with her best friend, Julia. The four enjoyed success overseas as well as in the UK. By the year 2000 the act had secured a summer show at the Grand Theatre in Blackpool. Shortly into the run Anne noticed a lump on her breast. Further investigation led to a cancer diagnosis. In a very short time doctors performed a lumpectomy, removing fourteen lumps. She endured extensive chemotherapy and radiation. Coleen offered to take her place at Blackpool if she felt too unwell to go on stage. In total Anne missed only a couple of shows. 

 In 2001 Anne and Maureen were invited as special guests on the 'Reelin and Rockin' Tour'. The girls provided backing vocals for a line-up of 1960s stars headed by and Gerry and the Pacemakers. They performed their own spot on the show, celebrating the work of Dusty Springfield. The show was a great success and the two Nolans stayed with the tour for three years. One tour included a tour of Australia, a show on the QE2 and concerts in Singapore and Hong Kong.   In 2005 Anne was offered a part as a solo performer in a new major variety show. Sadly the impresario of the show was inexperienced and after only a couple of performances an unpaid cast, including Anne Nolan and Bobby Davro, were left without a show. Meanwhile Maureen had used the gap in her diary to try her hand with some auditions. She was successful with Blood Brothers. It was to be the end of the Nolans for the foreseeable future.

Anne continued to perform as a solo artiste and took on a season of shows at The Hilton Hotel in Blackpool. Regular gigs followed including a spot at Blackpool Tower.  She performed her one woman show to a packed theatre in Spain, 2007. In 2008 Anne released her autobiography Anne's Song. An account of her life, which charts the world wide success of The Nolans, her marriage and subsequent divorce from Brian Wilson, and the sexual abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her father Tommy.

There was a bitter dispute within the Nolan ranks in 2009. Four of the sisters came together with Universal to go on a 30 date tour and release an album and DVD. The mission was to celebrate the 30th anniversary of I’m In the Mood for Dancing.  Anne was devastated at not being included. She was an original Nolan who had been in the act for all but two years. Something only Maureen could match. She went to the press to give her side of the story, saying that Coleen had not recorded the song in the first place. The split seemed irreparable. Two years later Anne made amends with Bernie and Maureen. It was a while before bridges could be built with Coleen and Linda.  


New management saw Anne have a website launched and her first foray into the recording studio as a solo performer. She released a single, quickly followed by an album. Further recordings have since been released. Her links to the theatre have not been broken and Anne has enjoyed Pantomime successes every year and even started a new trend with Summer Pantos. Now as a Grandmother Anne enjoys semi-retirement from show business.  Enjoying work that she carefully selects. One such opportunity came in 2020 when along with Coleen, Maureen and Linda she filmed an eight part reality series about the Nolans on a cruising holiday. The Sisters visited many cities across Europe and discussed life as single, middle aged women. The show premieres in June 2020. She was invited onto the hit TV show ‘All round to Mrs. Browns’ to promote the reality show and enjoyed meeting the cast.

©  April 2020 The Nolans Official Site Created and Managed by JayRae & Adam Nolan