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NICKI FRENCH AT THE WHITE SWAN
Sat, 29 Apr 2017, 20:00 – Sun, 30 Apr 2017, 05:00 BST
Nicki was born in Carlisle, Cumbria to Mum Eileen and Dad Joe. Music was destined to be in the family – dad played the drums when he was younger, and mum the violin. Nicki’s brother, Tim, is very musical too – a guitarist and singer who is a fabulous song-writer. However, her two sisters, Allison and Carolyn, stayed away from music – probably plenty to listen to already in the household!
The family moved down to Tenterden in Kent when Nicki was four years old. Always a keen singer, one of her early memories was sitting next to the radio, listening to the new chart rundown and singing along to all the songs, when Auntie Sally, her Godmother, came in and said to mum and dad, ‘She’ll be a singer when she grows up’!
The first ‘gig’ came at the age of seven, when Nicki was chosen to sing a solo - the first verse of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ at the Infants’ School Christmas Concert! From then on there was no turning back! A few years later she won the local talent contest, and within the year had joined her first band, Krisp, run by Tim and his friend Kelvin. They worked the most salubrious places – working mens’ clubs and holiday camps – wooh!
From the age of 16, Nicki studied Music and Drama at West Kent College in Tonbridge, Kent, passing her ‘A’ Levels two years later. At the annual college musical, she played the lead role of Laurey in ‘Oklahoma!’, earning rave reviews for her performance. She then moved up to London and started auditioning for bands and theatre shows.
Not many know that Nicki actually was part of a duo in the early 1980s – name of Whisky and Sofa! They released a song called ‘Dirty Den’, about the Eastenders character! It was played on the Radio One Breakfast Show ……… and that was about it! Amazing though, it was written by an extremely well-known writer, Barry Mason. He wrote ‘The Last Waltz’ for Engelbert Humperdinck and ‘Delilah’ for Tom Jones. Credibility sadly was NOT in existence on ‘Dirty Den’.
Nicki started working the pubs and clubs, moving onto gay pubs and clubs a short while later – The Spread Eagle in Shoreditch was her first! However the most exciting show for Nicki was at the Player of the Season annual dinner/dance at Tottenham Hotspur FC – her team! They had just signed a new player and were introducing him to the fans – a player by the name of Paul Gascoigne, and Gazza and all the other players got up on stage with her to perform a couple of songs – a special moment.
Nicki had been working on the gay scene for some time, when she made one of her regular visits to perform in a club in Cardiff, which was also the fateful night she met a certain Mr John Springate, who was to have quite an influence on her career from then on! John and Nicki hit it off straight away, and started what was to become a long association with his recording studio.
In 1991 Nicki was booked as the leading lady in a series of revue shows on a cruise ship, touring Europe and beyond and covering shows such as ‘Mack and Mabel’, ‘Oklahoma!’, ‘Paint Your Wagon’, ‘Calamity Jane’, along with more general tributes to Stage and Screen. Nicki has always loved Musical Theatre, and even now would relish the opportunity to take part in a big production, particularly in the West End.
Also in 1991, Nicki met Gavin, a trumpet player – they met on stage at the London Palladium, where they were both working in the band for the Irish songstress Rose-Marie! Eighteen months later they married in Nicki’s parish church in Tenterden, St Mildred’s, where she had been in the Church choir as a teenager, and a teacher at the Sunday School for over two years – she even ran it at one point!
Early in 1994 Nicki and John recorded a dance version of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’. A few months later Mike Stock took it on, re-jigged it and made it into the massive worldwide hit it was – the first release, and success, of his new record company, Love This Records.
‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, produced by Mike Stock and Matt Aitken, became the first big hit of 1995 by a new artist, reaching number five in the UK charts. It went to number two on the Billboard Hot 100, the highest placing in the UK by a UK artist since the 1980s, and spent six months in the chart there. It also reached number one in Australia, Japan, Brazil, Israel, Spain, Holland and Canada. Although she didn’t manage to fit in all the places, Nicki started touring extensively around the world with Gavin, finding that ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, and Nicki’s lively stage show, were a huge success wherever they went. The touring has never really stopped either, although it has calmed down a little now!
To cap a great 1995, Nicki’s success continued at the annual Dance Music Authority Magazine Awards in the USA, where she was honoured to win all three awards she was nominated for - Best Female Vocalist, Single of the Year and Most Promising Newcomer.
Nicki managed to achieve the often elusive international recording success, and in the summer of 1995 released her debut album, ‘Secrets’, which sold over 50,000 copies in its first week of sale in the USA. A second album, ‘French Revolution’, includes tracks co-written by Nicki.
In March 1996, Nicki embarked on her first visit to Brazil, totally unaware of the extent of her success in the South American territories, where no less than nine of her songs have been huge hits, particularly ‘Did You Ever Really Love me?’ (her personal favourite) and ‘Te Amo’. She subsequently returned to tour there five times in 18 months.
In 1997 Nicki was approached by Jim Steinman, the original writer of ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, and famous for his work with Meatloaf, Celine Dion, Cher and Barbra Streisand to name but a few. He had heard the ‘French Revolution’ album, and wanted to work with Nicki. She then recorded a couple of tracks for his new record company, Ravenous.
Nicki carried on doing live shows around the world, then in August 1999 had another call from John Springate – the song he had for her this time was entitled ‘Don’t Play That Song Again’, written by John and Gerry Shephard (they were in the Glitter Band together back in the 1970s), and they were planning to enter it for Song for Europe – was she interested? John had never realised that Nicki was a HUGE fan of the Eurovision Song Contest – he does now! They recorded the track in two takes, and the song was put forward for selection. It then went through all the elimination rounds, and after the Radio 2 listeners voted it into the final four, Nicki ended up back in the Top of the Pops studio again, to perform the song live on BBC1. That was 20 February 2000 – a day she will remember forever. The song was VERY well received, and Nicki comfortably won the public’s vote – and support – thus fulfilling her childhood dream of representing her country at Eurovision in Stockholm, an experience she classes as ‘the most magical week of my life’. Although it didn’t win, the UK delegation did win one award – for Best Party during the week of rehearsals! Nicki’s popularity in Sweden since then is such that she was one of the headline acts at Stockholm Pride in 2001. In the Summer of 2003 she was invited to return and performed again – this time with her live band and singers. The audience reaction was amazing – even better than 2001, proving that there’s nothing like a live band!
In the lead-up to Eurovision, Nicki took part in many television and radio interviews, and a lot of people noticed how natural she was in front of the camera, which has seen her move more into presenting work.
In January 2003, Nicki was the only British artist to feature in an all-star line up for an ABC Television special in Los Angeles, ‘The Disco Ball – a 30-Year Celebration’, which was filmed at the Shrine Auditorium, home of the Oscars Ceremony, and included Gloria Gaynor, Whoopi Goldberg, KC & the Sunshine Band, Chic, Irene Cara, Usher, Village People….. The show has since been repeated on tv around the world many times. Then, in 2005 she travelled to Sydney, where she headlined the Australian Mardi Gras celebrations, a huge honour.
Nicki has taken part in many television programmes in her career, including Top of the Pops, GMTV, The Big Breakfast, MTV, FBi, The Cable TV Awards, After 5, Newsround, Esther, Nickelodeon, UK Living, Night Fever, BBC Breakfast and A Question of Pop. In 2003 she took part in ‘The Weakest Link – Eurovision Special’, and won! - making £13,000 for Cancer Research.
In the past few years, Nicki has been in demand for her acting, as well as her singing skills, and has managed to combine the two with some wonderful theatre roles, playing eight different parts in the UK tour of ‘Annie’; three of the four characters in ‘Menopause the Musical’ (UK & Ireland tours); Ethel Merman in ‘Gee, But It’s Good to be Here – An Audience With Ethel Merman’ (Trent House, Newcastle); Helga ten Dorp in ‘Deathtrap’ (Brookside Theatre, Romford); Sarah in ‘Dirty Dating.com’ (UK tour).
Nicki is also now in demand at panto season, and has played Fairy Godmother, Good Queen, Dandini AND, more recently, turned her hand to playing the ‘baddie’ roles, which she loves: she co-starred with Bernie Clifton at the Palace Theatre, Newark in 2013 as Snow White’s Wicked Stepmother, and for Christmas 2014 she won great reviews for her portrayal of Witch Guillotine at the Oakengates Theatre, Telford, in their production of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, co-starring with Matt Evers (‘Dancing On Ice’). This year, she is delighted to be back playing the Wicked Queen Griselda alongside Jonathan Ansell (G4) as the Prince at the Pomegranate Theatre in Chesterfield.
A couple of years ago, Mike Stock contacted Nicki about recording some new tracks together. The first offering from their work is 'This Love', which has had an amazing reaction from fans, going straight in at number 1 on the EuroNRG chart. There are more tracks planned - and we hope you carry on following Nicki's career through music and theatre...