Maureen Nolan told David Hennessy about the Nolans’ new compilation album, their recent reality TV hit The Nolans go Cruising, how the family haven’t been able to rally around their sick sisters like they normally would due to Covid and that she couldn’t believe Bernie wasn’t there for what would have been her 60th birthday recently.
Often referred to as Ireland’s First Family of Music, The Nolans (or The Nolan Sisters as they were originally called) are remembered for hits such as Gotta Pull Myself Together, Attention To Me, Who’s Gonna Rock You, Don’t Make Waves, Chemistry and Don’t Love Me Too Hard and of course the track that will be forever associated with them, I’m In The Mood For Dancing.
Following on from the success of their primetime TV show The Nolans Go Cruising, the enduringly popular Irish group of singing sisters the Nolans have just released The Nolans: Gold, a 3 CD complication package with 45 tracks celebrating their 40 years of hits as well as their covers.
The album went straight to No.1 on Amazon, in pre-orders alone.
Maureen Nolan told The Irish World she has enjoyed the chance to relive the memories: “It’s exciting.
“In fact it’s so weird when you hear some of them, especially some of the covers that we did. I thought, ‘We didn’t record that, did we?’ I didn’t remember because it was 40 years ago or more. It’s quite incredible really.
“I listened back to some of them and thought, ‘Did we do a cover of that?’ And the girls said, ‘Well, obviously because there we are’.”
Of course Maureen and the other ladies have been forgotten that they sang I’m in the Mood for Dancing as people constantly remind them of their best known tune.
“We were at the Pleasure Beach the other day actually and the guy went, ‘Oh, are you in the mood for this?’ I get that all the time. ‘Are you in the mood for dancing?’
“But it’s kind of nice, I suppose. It’s incredible. We never thought after 40 years that people would still be playing that song and enjoying it. You can never knock it, never get blase about it.
“It’s quite moving for us that people really think of us with affection. We have so many nice people saying, ‘I grew up with you girls’ and ‘My whole life revolved around whatever song you had coming out’. So it’s really nice and i never like to take that for granted really.”
The group were first introduced back in 1974 by Sir Cliff Richard, on his BBC series. From then on they were regulars on some of the BBC’s biggest shows such as Morecambe & Wise, The Two Ronnies and Les Dawson, before hosting their own BBC Saturday night TV specials.
“For about six years before we had a hit we did TV. We were on everybody’s show so that’s where we got our wide range of audience really age-wise. Then we had the hits so it allowed us when the wane came, when the downhill came that comes with everything really we were able to pick up on that family audience that we had so it’s been a fantastic career really. We do appreciate the public for being with us through it all.”
It was in 1980 that the group became a became a global phenomenon with their iconic single I’m In The Mood For Dancing topping the charts, subsequently selling over 30 million records worldwide, cementing them as one of the most successful girl groups of all time.
“When you’re on that rollercoaster it’s just mad and you almost don’t have time to take it all in. People say to us now when they see LIttle Mix, Spice Girls and Girls Aloud, ‘Oh fantastic life, bet you wish you were still there..’
“But we don’t actually because now we can have a normal life, spend time with our grandkids, we have time for ourselves. It’s just so mad. Especially when we went to Japan. It was so mad. It’s such hard work really.”
The group were particularly successful in Japan, becoming the first European act to win the Tokyo Music Festival with “Sexy Music” in 1981, and won a Japanese Grammy in 1992. They would tour with big names like Engelbert Humperdinck but Maureen tells us the highlight has to be touring Europe with Frank Sinatra in 1975.
“The highlight has to be that tour of Europe because my dad was a crooner. He brought us up on Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, all the great crooners of that era. So Sinatra was almost like another dad to us. We knew so much about him, we were obsessed with him.
“So to get that tour will always be the biggest dream. It was just a ridiculous thing to happen. It was an amazing thing. I think we would all probably agree that was the highlight of many fantastic times.
“Our time in Japan was just mad but fantastic. It was a bigger market for us than anywhere else in the world including England.
“They’re very family orientated there so they just loved the idea of these five sisters. Coleen was 15 when we first toured there so they adored Bernie, Coleen and Linda because they were so young.
“They really took I’m in the Mood for Dancing to heart. That was number one in the national and international charts, it was more astounding in the national charts because it’s all Japanese music in the national charts. We were one of the first ever non-Japanese groups to get in those charts.
“At that particular time we had apparently outsold the Beatles which is just ridiculous,” Maureen laughs.
“Just great times.”
After moving from Raheny, Dublin to Blackpool, the girls’ parents Tommy and Maureen launched a family singing group. Although first known as The Singing Nolans, the line-up also comprised their brothers Tommy and Brian as well as the parents and would sing in working men’s clubs all over the country.
“The hits certainly didn’t happen overnight. We did a massive apprenticeship. We did all the northern workmen’s clubs.
“I was nine when I started. I missed so much schooling going around the clubs. You would never get away with it nowadays. People watching would be saying, ‘Why aren’t they in school?’
“I think when I got to being a teenager I would have rather just been normal. I loved netball. I was netball captain but there was lots of times, ‘I’m singing, I can’t come to the match’.
“It was very hard work. We were singing until the early hours of the morning and this was before the motorways were built so journeys were long and then up for school. Exhausting. It was hard but at the same time you kind of feel blessed that you’re doing it. I love music obviously so it was a good laugh as well, great fun as well.”
Maureen describes what it was like for this big and young family to relocate from Dublin to Blackpool.
“Mum and dad were singing in Ireland. They were quite well known at the time and they had just got their own TV show and TV had only just come out and a friend, I don’t know where the connection came from, but this guy came over to Ireland from Blackpool, Fred Davey he was called and he said, ‘Wow, you could make so much money in the Northern workmen’s clubs’. And that’s how the whole thing came about.
“We all moved over and actually lived in this guy’s house, what a fantastic guy. He was a bachelor and ten of us moved into his house for two years. How amazing is that? What a change that must have been for him.
“As children you don’t realise but looking back now you realise, ‘Wow, amazing guy’. That’s how the workmen’s clubs things came about.
“I was eight. I remember coming over and thinking that in Ireland there was 100 children on the streets and no dogs and in England it was the complete reverse. Of course, they had much smaller families in England than in Ireland at the time and they loved pets.
“It was an exciting thing. We all came over on the boat. In fact, the whole family threw up all the way, terrible sea sickness.
“It was just exciting. ‘What will it bring?’ Luckily we were all young enough. It wasn’t, ‘Oh God, we’re leaving all our friends’. If we had been older teenagers, it might have been more difficult. We didn’t really think about it too much.
“I think in his heart my dad never left Ireland. Of course we’re all very, very Irish in our hearts still. I think when you’re Irish, it is ingrained in you so much that no matter where you go in the world you’ll always be Irish. We all consider ourselves Irish. If people say, ‘You’re kind of English then’, we all go, ‘No’.
“Obviously our whole career was born in England but we consider ourselves very Irish. We’re very proud of being Irish all of us. I think Irish people generally are, aren’t they?”
It was while they were filming the recent reality TV hit The Nolans Go Cruising that Maureen got a shamrock tattoo to celebrate her Irishness.
“It was my 60th, I was going to get a tattoo and it was always going to be a shamrock. I thought, ‘What better thing really?’ A little shamrock somewhere to show everyone who I am.
“We just had a ball on the cruise. What’s not to love really? We were on the most amazing ship. We were seeing beautiful places and we just sat around all day eating and talking about ourselves.
“Apparently it’s their third biggest audience ever behind two American imports. We were absolutely amazed. We really hoped that it would go down well but I don’t think we would have imagined it would have been so successful actually. They’re already talking about the next series so hopefully that will happen although the virus will make it difficult of course.”
The good times preceded some horrible times as not only did the country go into lockdown but the family also received a double dose of bad news.
“We only got back from the cruise on 12 March. We just made it back. We had finished filming a couple of days earlier than planned and got off the boat in Barcelona. We were meant to get off in Genoa but all the ports were closing.
“We had to isolate and then on 23 we all went into lockdown.
“I think what made us all weary of lockdown is not being able to see family properly. Because we’re Irish, we’re always very big on parties and big gatherings so that’s had to stop obviously.
“My grandkids came to the window. We got our little dose of them like everybody else did. I just feel horribly sorry for people who are on their own. I think everybody now is very, very weary of going into another one.
“Of course Anne and Linda both got cancer together so they went through their whole chemo through all this virus. It just made it much worse. Anne had a terrible time with the chemo but then she got terrible anxiety because of the virus. She wouldn’t have survived getting the virus really with her system being so low. All of that was very hard to deal with but everybody had a hard time in one way or another. They’re through the other side of their chemo so hopefully onwards and upwards.
“We’re hoping for the best and just getting on with things. We’ve always just got on with things so it will be okay hopefully.
“As in any big family something happens to one of you, or in this case two of you, the whole family is, ‘Okay let’s all meet at Maureen’s’. And we’ll make jokes and we support them.
“I moved in with Anne and Linda moved in with Denise so that we could look after them while they were going through it all. Anne has three grandchildren as well and she would have got great comfort from them and been able to maybe go out with them and take her mind off things but of course she couldn’t and that just added to it all.
“We are a very big family. Linda always calls it this sort of ‘army’. If something happens in your life that’s dramatic, this big ‘army’ closes in around you. It’s the best thing about being a big family. But of course we couldn’t really do much of that.”
There was a sad milestone for the family recently when they marked what would have been Bernie’s 60th birthday.
Bernie died on 4 July 2013, aged 52.
“The 17th October would have been her 60th birthday. It was a big milestone so we managed to get together socially distanced in a restaurant on different tables with all our masks on just to celebrate it a little bit.
“Normally we would have had a big celebration of her on that day. We always do something but couldn’t quite believe she wasn’t here for her 60th. She was so full of life.
“Every milestone, everything that happens in our lives, we constantly say, ‘Bernie would have loved this’. She would have loved the cruise. She would have loved this album coming out. She has a daughter who was 21 in April. Bernie would have been so proud of her as well.”
It was just after their reunion tour of 2009 that Bernie was first diagnosed and although she beat it in the first instance it would return just a couple of years later.
“She got cancer 2010, I think, the first time. We had just done our reunion tour and not a bother on her and then I think late 2010 she got breast cancer and managed to get through all that. Her birthday’s in October and in January she had a ‘I’ve turned 50 and I’ve beaten cancer’ party.
“Then it all came back in 2012 and then it was everywhere. It had spread everywhere. She died 2013. It was obviously torturous really but she was upbeat and fantastic right until the end and didn’t talk too much about it because I think she always had hope in her heart. That’s how she kept going so long. She had hope in her heart that something would happen and they would find some miracle cure. I think that’s what kept her going and what kept her going for so long. Amazing person.”
A farewell tour had been announced in 2012 but this would be called off due to Bernie’s unfortunate illness.
“We were going to go out and do another tour but she became too ill. Then after she died we were planning to do a tribute tour to her and have her up on screen. We would have loved that but I think it was too soon really so it never happened.”
The Nolans: Gold is out now in ASDA, Tesco, Morrison’s, Sainsbury’s and HMV.