There is an old joke that claims “nostalgia isn’t what it used to be…”. Actually, joking apart, that’s probably true because these days nostalgia can be big business. Reunion tours by successful, but long dormant, artists and bands are selling out everywhere one looks.
The Nolan Sisters, later simply The Nolans, enjoyed great popularity in the 1980s. Their light, lively pop sound, with its tight vocal harmonies, struck a chord with audiences and record buyers. In various incarnations, made up of various configurations of sisters, The Nolans became regulars in the music charts and on UK television. They also enjoyed spectacular and enduring success in Japan. In 2009 they reformed and staged a sell-out tour of the UK. Despite continuing celebrity for the two youngest sisters, Bernadette and Coleen – both of whom had successful television careers – and steady work for other members, TheNolans per se had not really been in the public eye for some years.
“The tour was absolutely amazing,”
Coleen says. “The best thing we have ever done, I think, in respect of enjoyment.
We enjoyed it so much more this time than we did the first time around, because there was no pressure this time. We were really doing it because we wanted to have one more go at it but we all had our independent careers, so it wasn’t based on having a hit record or having a hit album. It was just a question of whether we wanted to do it. And we did arenas this time, which is something that we never did the first time around. It was done on a much bigger scale, much bigger production. We stood there thinking, Oh, my God! I never thought we would do this again. We’re not spring chickens anymore [laughs] but we were prancing about for two hours. It was brilliant.”
The recent tour was a real family affair, despite the absence of older sister Anne. Coleen’s husband, guitarist Ray Fensome, and Bernie’s husband, drummer Steve Doneathy were both part of the band.
The Nolan story has always been about family, one way or another.
“I started singing with them when I was two,” Coleen says. “As each kid came along, they joined the family group. Apparently, when I came along, the thing they were most worried about was whether or not I’d be able to sing! How embarrassing would that have been?
So we all joined, and eventually there were 10 of us. The Singing Nolans we were called and we used to do all the clubs all over Scotland, Wales and England. All my family were born in Ireland and I was born in Blackpool.
“We moved from Blackpool to London, when I was nine. A guy came to Blackpool and absolutely loved the act, so he wanted to bring it to London. My two brothers were both engaged to girls in Blackpool at the time, and they decided that they wanted to stay in Blackpool. Anyway, the guy owned a venue called the London Rooms in Drury Lane and he gave my sisters a contract there, and that’s kind of how The Nolan Sisters took off. They did about five years there, but because it was cabaret I couldn’t do it. You needed licenses for that in those days, so I just did the odd TV show with them until I joined the group professionally at 15.”
Anne, Denise, Maureen, Linda and Bernie began performing as The Nolan Sisters in 1974. In 1978 the group began to see some success in the UK record charts, but Denise decided to leave in favour of a solo career. The other girls continued as a four-piece. Although the group now had four “official” members, young Coleen appeared on their record covers in 1979, and in the video for the group’s huge hit I’m in the Mood for Dancing. Anne left in 1980, and at that point Coleen became an official member of The Nolans, as the act was now called.
Coleen performed with the group until the 1990s when she left to concentrate on her family life with her children and her first husband, actor and singer Shane Richie, to whom she was married until 1999.
“Shane was in Grease for about four years, and I’d stopped working by then. He was doing well enough that I could stop work and stay at home and be a housewife. Although obviously after that our marriage fell apart [laughs]. So then we split up and I decided that I needed to work again. Luckily, I did have the opportunity. I’d done a few regional programmes and then had the chance to do Loose Women in ‘99. Thank God for that.”
Coleen has earned quite a reputation for frankness regarding her private life and her relationships, and her autobiography, Up Front and Personal, surprised many people with its uncompromising revelations about Coleen’s own conduct.
As Paul O’Grady commented when he interviewed Coleen for his television chat show, she was really quite hard on herself.
“I’d always said that if I was going to write an autobiography it would have to be the truth,” says Coleen. “Otherwise I wouldn’t write it. You can’t leave out all the bad bits about yourself. Can’t just skip over them.”
That doesn’t mean that she is particularly comfortable with exposing the most intimate aspects of her life, but Coleen recognises the hypocrisy that would exist in writing about other people in a warts-and-all style while glossing over her own shortcomings.
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