Denise Nolan has been a professional singer since she was eleven years old. Her parents, Tommy and Maureen Nolan had been successful performers as the 'Sweethearts Of Song' in Dublin, In 1962 her family relocated to Blackpool. "The Sweethearts Of Song" made a living touring the Northern club circuit. They would take one or two of their children to gigs sometimes until one evening a child minder let them 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 the sisters singing three and four part harmonies, as well as solo performances from Anne and Denise - The 'elder sisters', Plus of course, Mum and Dad. Tommy Jr played the drums.
The Nolan Family ventured into the recording studio in 1972. In two days completed they completed their debut album. "The Singing Nolans". They also recorded a Christmas EP and the theme song for Blackpool Football Club. Incidentally the song still gets played now at home games. The Singing Nolans
Toured the Working Men's Clubs around the UK. A system of block auditions was employed in Blackpool. Artists would do a spot at one club in front of all the concert secretaries who could then book them for anything from a day to a season. The Singling Nolans were selected to do a season at the Central WMC with Freddie Starr. The club held 2000 people and fans queued around the block to get in to see the Nolan Family. The Brunswick was another such club. In 1973 they were booked solid for the season. It was a rule in the Nolan family that Christmas Day was never a day to work.
A call from the Cliff Hotel asked for the Singing Nolans to appear as their booked cabaret had let them down. Tommy Nolan asked for the extortionate fee of £80. Thinking they would never get back her relaxed with his family. Shortly after the call confirmed they would pay the fee. The family felt obliged to honour the arrangement. The show went as planned. Afterwards a man from the audience approached them and offered them a residency in London. They thought it was just talk. Not knowing that the man was the owner of the hotel and one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the UK – Joe Lewis. The three eldest Sisters, Anne, Denise and Maureen were able to sign themselves but the two younger Sisters would need at least one parental consent. Coleen did not want to join the group. Mrs. Nolan agreed to sign and within days the family had relocated to London, temporarily staying at Lewis’ mansion. The residency was at a new venue – The London Room on Drury Lane in London’s west End.
The head of the Light Entertainment at the BBC, Stewart Morris was brought in to give his critique. He spared no-one’s feelings. Saying that although they could sing, their patter was weak, they moved badly, didn’t look good and the choice of song was poor. He said the harmonies needed to be sharpened too. The act dropped medleys from the Sound Of Music in favour of Reach Out, I’ll Be There by the Four Tops. Nigel Lythgoe was brought in to choreograph them and John Coleman and Alyn Ainsworth were recruited to arrange songs and harmonies. Finally, new costumes and hair styles completed the look.
In total, Hanover Grand had four night clubs. The premier one was 'The London Room'. Hanover Grand had decided that they didn’t want the Nolan Sister’s parents to be in the act anymore. Believing the act had more potential as five Sisters, rather than five Sisters and their parents. Tommy and Maureen Sr accepted this with grace. The Nolan Sisters were salaried and although that meant they were getting wages higher than they had ever earned, it would also mean that it they were booked to play anywhere else that they would still get the same wage. They were sent out as cabaret artists all over the country. In 1974 they made their TV debut on the Cliff Richard Series ‘It’s Cliff’ which they appeared to the entire series. Overnight they became household names. Other TV appearances quickly followed including ‘The Vera Lynn Show’, ‘The Harry Secombe Show’, ‘Sez Les’, ‘Wednesday At Eight’, ’Tommy Cooper Hour’ , ‘London Night Out’ ,‘Night At the Casino’ and the entire series of Vince Hill’s Musical Time Machine’.
The Nolan Sisters recorded an album to sell at their shows and several singles were released. As the published chart only consisted of the top forty the singles were considered flops. Their position would register as hits if the top 100 was shown, as it is today.
n 1975 the Sisters were selected to accompany Frank Sinatra on his European Tour. They would sing at some of the most prestigious theatres in Europe. They followed that with a series of concerts in New York with Engelbert Humperdinck. 1976 saw a tour of South Africa with Rolf Harris and Stu Francis. In 1977 they appeared in their first summer season show, in Eastbourne with Ronnie Corbett. The close of the year saw Denise appear on the number one rated TV show of the year – The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show which was watched by 22 million people.
1978 came and a season was secured at the ABC Theatre in Blackpool with the Bachelors. Denise was beginning to feel unhappy with the direction the group was taking. They went into the studio and recorded what is still their biggest selling album. 20 Giant Hits was promoted with a television advertising campaign. It quickly sailed into the top three, selling more than 350,000 copies. Despite this the group were not entitled to any royalties as they were salaried. The family decided they had built up a significant reputation and would be able to succeed without Hanover Grand. They had to pay to get out of the contract. Hanover Grand were reluctant to let them go – for very obvious reasons. Denise completed a week long run at the London Palladium with Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons before leaving the act. She was quick to point out that she was leaving the act and not the family. When they were free from the ties of Hanover Grand they found that all the costumes they had been forced to wear were being paid for by the family. They had a cutting up ceremony!
Denise waited eight months before she made her professional debut. She had been doing the odd bit of singing in London bars to gain some confidence. She was offered a tour with Matt Monro. He was one of her idols and was thrilled with the opportunity to work with him. Following that successful tour Denise joined Gene Pitney of a massive tour of the UK. The reviews were very positive within weeks she had been asked to tour again, this time with Frankie Vaughan.
Denise was signed to the Bron agency who secured her a one off single deal. The song had recently been a smash hit for Elton John – The single ‘Sorry Seems To Be The Hardest Word’ was released on the PYE label. Denise knew it was not going to be a success and was disappointed. The record label failed to promote the song. She was only given two hours to record it and her protests that the B Side would be a better choice went unheard.
Denise became the first Nolan Sister to appear in Pantomime, her debut was in 1979 at the New Theatre in Hull. The show ran for many weeks and well into 1980. None of the Nolans have racked up as many Panto as Denise who has more than 30 to her credit.
In 1981 Denise signed to new management and secured a summer season with Jimmy Tarbuck on the Isle Of White. She appeared on TV when her whole family were given a full show on the Russell Harty show, where she sang ‘In A Simple Way I Love You’
The new management company Denise had signed with did secure a record deal for Denise. They were fully behind her ambitions and a single was released on Mercury in 1981. Despite positive reviews ‘Don’t Ya Say It’ Did not chart, one of Mercury Records plungers was told at the time by a radio executive, “We are already sick of playing Nolans records.” Denise had no idea that her sisters could be considered rivals. The follow up single; ‘Girls Do It Boys Do It” was all set to become a hit. It had made the playlist on Radio Two and mid-week charts indicated that the song would enter the chart somewhere between number 40 and 50. That would be incredible. She was even booked onto Pebble Mill at one to perform the song live the day after the chart was published. Between the three days of the mid-week chart and the actual chart publish day the song seemingly dropped out of the top 100. Despite the song selling at the same pace. The exact same pattern followed with the next single – ‘In Love With Love’ which featured on Pebble Mill the day after it mysteriously dropped out of the top 100 despite a respectable showing in the mid-week chart.
Denise appeared at the 1981 Castlebar Music Festival in Ireland where she sang ‘Where The Ending Starts’ a song that went on to be recorded by Buck Fizz. The year also saw Denise starring with the BBC Concert orchestra in a series of radio broadcasts. She was able to sing a collection of songs from her repertoire. As a finale to a great year Denise appeared at celebrated Jazz club Ronnie Scott’s. The year was rounded off with an appearance on the Royal Variety Performance.
Over the next few years Denise worked flat out with summer season, pantomime, cabaret, concert tours, and radio and became a big name on the cruise ship circuit. She worked on every major cruise line and entertained audiences the world over.
She also self-financed the recording of her first album ‘Home’ a collection of beautiful love songs. Several CDs have subsequently been released.
In the eighties Denise had the original score to Judy Garland’s famous Carnegie Hall concert transposed into her own keys. She was able to take the show out across the country earning rave reviews. She went on to say that the show was not an impersonation of Garland. She felt that she couldn’t sing with anyone else’s heart. Nevertheless comparisons were made between the two artistes.
Denise made her West End debut during this period. The Phoenix Theatre had decided to have a permanent Pantomime at the venue. Dana had initially starred in the production. When she left the company Denise took on the role of Snow White and starred for the next three months with an increase in bookings. Incidentally – Denise has appeared as Snow White in a further fifteen Pantomimes, a role that became synonymous with her.
Her interest in acting became a reality in 1992 when she took part in her first straight play at the Octogen Theatre in Yeovil.
In 1997 Denise made a return to Blackpool where she starred in the ‘The Spirit Of The Dance’. The show was then extended to take in other seaside towns for the season. Following that she played Nancy in the musical ‘Oliver’.
When Denise’s sister landed a role in Brookside, Bill Kenwright, the producer of Blood Brothers was looking for someone to take on the role of Mrs. Johnstone in London’s West End. Linda had recently been moved to the UK Tour. Thus, Denise became the third Nolan Sister to don the apron and take on the role. She was given just seven days rehearsal time. Denise stayed in the West End for a little over eight months before swapping places with Linda. Denise much preferred touring with the show as she is an avid sightseer and touring gave her chance to visit major attractions during the day and perform in the evening. She stayed with the show for a further four years. Her reviews were universally positive and Denise looks back on the show with tremendous affection.
In her home town she received an award for her portrayal of Mrs. Johnstone. When Maureen also took on the role a few years later the four Sisters entered the Guinness Book Of World Records – for the most siblings to play the same role in a professional production. Denise left Blood Brothers in late 2004. She went straight to work on two cruise ship before heading back into Pantoland.
In 2005 she was able to reprise her Magic Of Judy Garland show which she took across the country on a forty date concert tour. The next few years saw her take part in several productions including The Rat Pack, The Good Old Days, and several appearances at the Sands Venue in Blackpool where she topped the bill that each time featured a celebrity from Coronation Street or Emmerdale. . She also appeared in concert in Spain and made a guest spot in cabaret in Las Vegas.
In 2012 Denise was sixty and as well as celebrating her birthday with a lavish party she was invited to become a Lady Ratling. The charitable organisation provides help to people from a show business background who have fallen on hard times or ill health. This is the female arm of the Grand Order Of Water Rats and invitation is accepted once the member has completed a gig at their rest home – Brindsley House. Something Denise is thrilled to have achieved. She has since become an active member .
In 2018 Denise appeared in a one of cabaret at a Jazz club in Soho. She starred with a seven piece orchestra. The event was recorded and plans are underway to release the live album. The same year one of her albums ‘With Live Orchestra’ was remastered and sold via her official website.
2020 started in a big way for Denise. She joined forces with Red Entertainment and went on tour with the Music Of Judy Garland. The show was given an overhaul with new songs added. The stage came with a fabulous new set Denise wore a whole new wardrobe. The shows sold very well and there are plans to take the show on the road once more.
There are talks underway for a brand new set of shows with a very different theme – We will let you know when we can.