Anne's Song by Anne Nolan

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Anne's Song by Anne Nolan

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A memoir by the eldest of the Nolan Sisters of a career in showbiz but also a life sullied since childhood by sexual abuse at the hands of her father, told with honesty, directness and an admirable lack of self-pity.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: March 2008
Publisher: Century
ISBN: 978-1846053474

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To most of us, the Nolans probably conjure up wholesome cheesy visions of TV light entertainment shows, 'I'm In The Mood for Dancing' (top three early in 1980), and the wholesome image of a squeaky-clean family act – rather like an Irish female version of the Osmonds, perhaps. But scratch almost every showbiz legend and somewhere there's going to be darkness.

There were eight Nolan children, two boys and six girls, of whom Anne was the eldest, born in 1950. From this memoir, it was a relatively normal, happy childhood until she was seven, when she spent a year in hospital with aches and pains immediately below her knees – a condition which was never diagnosed or completely cured. Far worse, when she reached the age of eleven, was the sexual abuse which she had to endure from her father. It was clearly not an isolated episode, and the description of her mixed reactions to something she was obviously not in a position to understand, beyond the fact that it gradually dawned on her that this was something we shouldn't be doing, shows. Tommy Nolan was also a hypocrite, a serial womaniser and a drunk, but needless to say the first of these vices was the one which affected his eldest daughter the worst of all. It was evidently exacerbated by the fact that for years she could not bring herself to tell anyone else about it.

Thankfully there were happy times to compensate. She and her siblings had an excellent relationship, and although I can't pretend I was a massive fan of their music (though I did play their records regularly in my previous incarnation as a resident club and then mobile DJ), I found her account of the Nolans' showbiz career very entertaining reading. There were the usual humble beginnings in gruelling little venues and exhausting summer seasons, to lucky breaks supporting the likes of Frank Sinatra, Cliff Richard, Tom Jones and Engelbert Humperdinck, successful singles and albums, and megastardom (to say nothing of one or two over-obsessive fans) in Japan.

Family life of course intruded, to the extent where Anne left the group early on when she became pregnant for the first time – eventually to end up as one of the last two performing Nolan Sisters (plus two unrelated girl singers and dancers to make up the numbers) once all the others had left. After that came hard times, Jobseekers' Allowance, and taking whatever clerical work was available for a while, simply in order to put food on the table.

Throughout the story runs that dark thread – that she could never completely draw a line under her childhood experiences. Towards the end of the book, she admits candidly that her relationships with the opposite sex in general and her husband in particular were sullied by the memory of what she endured at her father's hands. It contributed to the end of her marriage and threatened to cost her the unquestioning love of her two own daughters.

It's a very good read. With what I'd like to think is a fairly wide-ranging, all-embracing interest in pop and rock acts from the 1950s onwards, I found the music biz details interesting – but I couldn't fail to be moved by the harrowing personal material either. Moreover I found the story well (dare I use the word 'beautifully'?) told, with honesty, directness and an admirable lack of self-pity. Finally, most showbiz memoirs often have the taint of smug self-congratulation somewhere along the line. While Anne doesn't seek to play down their achievements, she manages to tell the story without falling into that trap.

Our thanks to Century for sending a review copy to Bookbag.

For further reading you might enjoy Poptastic! My Life in Radio by Tony Blackburn and If You Don't Know Me by Now: A Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton by Sathnam Sanghera.

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