In Loving Memory
Bernie Nolan Official
Bernadette – Bernie Nolan was formerly the lead singer with the Nolans. She also had massive success as an actress on stage and TV. Most notably Channel 4’s ‘Brookside’ and ITV’s ‘The Bill’
Bernie was born in Dublin and moved to Blackpool aged two. She made her singing debut aged two. Initially the family act performed on the Norther working men’s club circuit. Their parents had been perfuming as “The Sweethearts of Song” for several years. As a treat one or two of the children would be allowed to go with their parents to watch them sing. From time to time they would be allowed to sing themselves. On one particular night a babysitter could not be found and the entire family piled into a car and drove to the club. That night show business history was made. From then on all of the family performed under the new name. ‘The Singing Nolans. She later said “Funny that isn’t it? We were Nolans and we sang.” It was probably not strictly legal for children to be performing so many nights a week. The children were in no doubt later on that they did not approve. Many nights the children slept during the next day’s lessons at school. Their success in Blackpool was well known. Clubs such as the Central WMC and the Brunswick WMC booked them for the whole season. Crowds flocked to see them perform. One such year saw them booked alongside Freddie Starr at the Central WMC, a club that held 2,000 people. The family had recorded an album for sale at their shows. They followed that with a Christmas EP and a single for Blackpool Football Club.
The family had always enjoyed one sacred day a year free from work Christmas Day. In 1973 as the family prepared to eat lunch Tommy Nolan received a call asking the act to appear at a local hotel. He asked the exorbitant fee of £80! When the hotel agreed to the fee the family felt obliged to honour it. Fortunately they did – Joe Lewis, The hotel owner was staying in Blackpool for the holidays and so impressed was he at their performance, he offered them a residency in London’s West End. Their Father was reluctant to relocate. Whilst the eldest sisters could sign contracts themselves, Bernie and Linda could not. Their Mother stepped in and said she would sign if their Father wouldn’t.
Bernie & Linda Interview
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Within days some of the family had moved to London and set up home in Joe Lewis’ house. Their father and two sons stayed at home initially. Coleen was also to stay at home as she was only nine years old. The younger members of the act would perform four nights a week each whilst the elder members would perform six. That would enable at least four members of the group to be on stage every night.
The residency was at the prestigious London Room on Drury Lane. A new venture for the Hanover Grand Organisation. The first decision Hanover Grand made was to retire the Sisters’ parents from the act. Hanover Grand had figured the act would have more potential with five Sisters than five Sisters and their parents. The BBC’s head of light entertainment, Stewart Morris was brought in to give advice on how the act should develop. His critique spared no-one’s feelings. He said whilst there was no doubt they could sing he thought they looked bad, didn’t move well and their chat was not good. He sought out the services of the very best in the business. John Coleman and Alyn Ainsworth were recruited to arrange vocal harmonies and musical scores. Nigel Lythgoe was brought on board to choreograph slick dance routines, with new costumes and hair styles the act was ready. Stewart Morris commented to Joe Lewis that the act was “as good as any girl group will ever be, now or in the future.”
Old fashioned medleys were dropped in favour of up-tempo songs by the likes of the Four Tops. Gutsy ballads were delivered with intensity. Making the London Room the place to go to.
Morris had been commissioned to produce the upcoming series of Cliff Richard’s new light entertainment show, ‘It’s Cliff’. He arranged for Richard to see the Nolans in their show with a view to having the Nolan Sisters appear.
It worked and the Sisters were booked for the entire series. Overnight they became household names. A single was released to coincide with their debut. Within a very short time the Nolans had appeared on a host of TV shows including The Vera Lynn Show, The Harry Secombe Show, Sez Les, Wednesday at Eight, Night At The Casino and the whole series of Vince Hill’s Musical Time Machine.
In 1975 they were selected as the support act for Frank Sinatra on his European Tour, playing at some of the most prestigious theatres in Europe. That was followed by a tour of South Africa with Rolf Harris and a series of shows in New York with Engelbert Humperdick. In 1977 they completed their first summer season in Eastbourne with Ronnie Corbett.
Chart success had continued to elude them. An independent album featuring their stage act had been released and several singles had been released. The charts only published the top forty and therefore the modest chart entries the Nolan Sisters had did not register. Just a few years later they included the top 75 and their singles would be considered hits. The Nolan Sisters recorded the album 20 Giant Hits in early 1978. They were special guests on the entire 1978 series of the Two Ronnies, viewed by an audience of 20 million. After a season at the London Palladium with Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons Denise announced she was leaving the act. Denise would help promote the album which was a smash hit. Reaching number three in the charts and earning them a gold disc.
Denise had sung melody on most of their songs so her leaving the act was a big blow. Much emphasis was placed on Bernie, who was only 17 years old. She rose to the occasion and quickly emerged as lead singer.
At the end of 1978 The Nolan Sisters decided to break away from Hanover Grand. The organisation had given them a massive opportunity. However they were never entitled to any royalties from records or any extra payments from cabaret, concert or TV appearances. They were simply salaried. As their fame grew, so did booking fees. The Nolan Sisters had increased salaries, but the balance was not in their favour. Knowing that the album had sold as well as it did helped make the final decision. To stop any legal dispute the Nolan family had to pay to get out of their contract. It meant though that with a much raised profile and significant reputation that they would be able to succeed.
They needed a record deal first. Several companies wanted to sign them up. Tommy Nolan, as manager narrowed the choices down to CBS/Epic and WEA. Epic were victorious as they wanted to market the sisters as pop artists. Their first Epic recording ‘Harry My Honolulu Lover’ was written by Terry Bradford. He had pinned his hopes on the song representing the United Kingdom in that year’s Eurovision Song Contest. A behind the scenes strike led to a blackout of the contest. Regional juries had to award their votes on listening to audio tapes. The Nolan Sisters were placed fourth. The BBC were convinced that the Nolan Sisters would win and had even booked them to appear in the Montreux Song Festival as that year’s entry. Weeks of rehearsal were wasted. The song had a very slick routine and great costumes. The Sisters believed that as a package the song was strong.
Their second Epic release was a hit. ‘Spirit Body and Soul’ Was written by Ben Findon, Mike Myers and Bob Puzey who had enjoyed lots of chart success with the Dooleys. The single entered the charts and enable the group to achieve another ambition, an appearance on ‘Top of the Pops’ That year they also had a record breaking season in Cleethorpes and appeared on the entire series of ‘Mike Yarwood in Persons’ Whilst in Cleethorpes they were able to record the vocals for their upcoming alum ‘The Nolan Sisters’ their hectic schedule left no time to travel to a studio and as a result mobile studios were brought to the house they rented for the summer season. Upon its release the girls became the toast of the label with a great chart placing. They were not prepared for the success of the follow up single that was released late in 1979.
‘I’m In the Mood For Dancing’ sold almost half a million copies in the UK alone and climbed as high as number three in the charts. The song was a massive hit in Japan where it went on to sell almost two million copies. A hasty promotional tour of Japan was arranged for 1980. The girls also by now had shortened their name to “The Nolans”
Summer season 1980 was in Blackpool at the Opera House, a vast 3,000 seat theatre, they were to share the stage with Mike Yarwood who they had recently toured with. It was also the year that they headlined their first major UK tour. At the end of the Blackpool season Anne, who was almost five months pregnant decided she wanted to retire to be a full time mum. She would run the fan club from home. In her absence the group went on to have hit singles with ‘Don’t Make Waves’, ‘Gotta Pull Myself Together’, ‘Who’s Gonna Rock You’, ‘Attention To Me’, ‘Chemistry’, ‘Don’t Love Me Too Hard’ and ‘Crashing Down’. More hit albums came with ‘Making Waves’ and ‘Portrait’
Another visit to Japan saw the Nolans enter and win the Tokyo Music Festival with their composition ‘Sexy Music’ Following the release of a greatest hits album ‘altogether’ in 1982 and a major UK tour, the Nolans and Epic parted company. It was an unhappy time for the Nolans to be without a proper record deal. Anne re-joined the act almost two years after she left and Linda left the act in 1983. They came back with a new single and album in 1984. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun earned a gold disc and the girls went on tour once again. The Nolans release Tenderly in the UK in 1986 a fine album of standards. The lack of promotion ensured it’s failure. A re-release of I’m In the Mood For Dancing in 1989 saw a flop as the distribution company in charge of it went bankrupt.
In 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. The Nolans took part in summer season shows and Bernie became a stalwart of pantomimes from the mid-1980s onwards.
She had appeared as guest presenter in 1982 on Cheggars Plays Pop before landing the role of main presenter on Saturday morning children’s programme On The Waterfront, which ran for two seasons.
In 1990 The Nolans signed to Panasonic subsidiary label, Teichiku. To record six album exclusively for the Japanese market. The albums were covers of songs by well-known Japanese singers. All of the albums were big sellers. So much so that the label bought rights to UK albums that had hitherto not been released on CD anywhere. Several compilations were released and the Japanese bought them with relish. One of the albums was awarded a Japanese Grammy as the best concept album by a foreign recording artiste.
After singing with the Nolans for 20 years Bernie decided to leave the act in 1994. She was not happy with some of the venues that they were now performing in. They toured holiday camps, bingo halls and gay clubs. Some of the dates the group had to use backing tracks rather than a band. After taking part in the 1994 summer season at Blackpool’s Grand Theatre as a trio with Anne and Maureen, Bernie announced to the press she was leaving. She had recently appeared in the musical ‘The Devil Rides Out’ at Liverpool. Having enjoyed the experience she was keen to try more musical theatre.
The Nolans recorded an album that was never released. Several of the tracks have since appeared on compilations. What was released was another re-recording of ‘I’m In The Mood For Dancing’ The single was a minor hit and Bernie and Coleen were coaxed back into the group to promote it.
Bernie’s first job as an ex Nolan Sister was to be in Billy Liar where she would star alongside Jason Donovan playing Billy’s girlfriend. Before the show even rehearsed the company producing the show went bankrupt. Undaunted, Bernie starred in low visibility productions of The Sound of Music, Godspell and Oliver. But her breakthrough came in 1997 when she successfully auditioned for the part of Mrs. Johnstone in Will Russell’s Blood Brothers. She starred briefly in the West End and on the UK National Tour. It was whilst she was on tour that she was spotted by the casting director of the hit Channel Four soap Brookside that Bernie was invited to screen test. Following her successful test, Blood Brothers’ producer Bill Kenwright allowed her to break her contact without penalty to join the soap. Four of the Sisters entered the Guinness Book Of World Records as the most siblings to play the same role in a professional production.
Bernie married drummer Steve Doneathy in 1996. She revealed that she had miscarried a baby and that she had a still born daughter. She gave birth to her daughter, Erin in 1999.
Songwriter Martin Bayliss wrote a song for Bernie in 2002. She recorded ‘Come Back’ and the song was submitted to the BBC for selection in that year’s Eurovision. Bernie found out that the song had made it to the final six. She would need time off from Brookside to rehearse for the Song For Europe contest. If the song won, she would need two weeks away to enter the actual contest in Tallinn. Brookside bosses refused to allow her the time off. Bernie was so upset she began looking for alternative work which she found in 2002 landing the role of Sgt Shelagh Murphy in ITV’s The Bill. She released a single Macushla in 2004 with proceeds going to charity. The song reached number 28 in the charts. Bernie stayed with the show until 2005. Upon leaving the show she released her solo album ‘All By Myself’ an album consisting mainly of power ballads,
Bernie took part in Channel 4’s reality show The Games in 2006 she then completed a series of shows at Blackpool Opera House with Debra Stephenson called Soap Queens. In 2007, she starred in the play Mum's the Word, playing the character 'Robin' which she reprised in the 2008 tour (alongside her sister, Maureen who played Jill) and once again in 2010. During the summer season of 2007, she appeared at the North Pier Theatre in her own production of Soap Queens and Kings! With Richard Shelton. The show was not a success and was axed after a few performances.
In 2008 Bernie appeared in the UK touring production of Flashdance the Musical where she played Hannnah Owens for more than a year, before taking part in the ITV competition Popstar to Operastar. Having had the most votes for every episode of the series she eventually placed second with less than 1% fewer votes than the winner Darius Danesh.
In 2009 four of the Nolans reformed for a tour. Maureen, Linda, Bernie and Coleen played arenas and theatres for a month. They also released a CD featuring songs from the show and remakes of their hits. It reached number 22 in the charts. A live DVD was also released.
It was revealed on 23 April 2010 that Nolan was suffering from breast cancer. The third in her family to be diagnosed In October 2010, she stated that she was cancer-free after having undergone chemotherapy and a mastectomy. She was taking Herceptin medication as well. At this time Bernie took on the role of Mama Morten in the musical Chicago.
A Nolans farewell tour was announced but subsequently cancelled as Bernie’s health was not good. At the end of October 2012, Bernie announced that the cancer had returned and had metastasised to her brain, lungs, liver and bones.
Bernie died in her sleep, at her home in Surrey, on 4 July 2013, aged 52. Her funeral service was held on 17 July 2013 at the Grand Theatre, Blackpool. The theatre was full of family and friends. Outside the theatre thousands of fans lined the street to pay their respects and say goodbye.