There are a tiny handful of artists who are so prolific and wonderful, and have had such an enormous impact on the wider music community, that they deserve to be celebrated. But perhaps none are quite as significant, influential or prolific as the incredible Carole King.
Carole’s magnificent life as a writer, musician, and artist, in its own sense, almost commands a tribute, and songstress Nikki Nicholls has set out to do just that, with her upcoming show “You’ve Got A Friend”. In the wake of her performance, set for Friday, March 3rd, at The Palms At Crown, I had a chat with Nikki about music, her prolific career in the industry, and what Carole King means to her.
I’ve been reading through your list of contributions and accolades, you’re definitely no stranger to the music industry! What is it about music that you’re so passionate about?
Oh gosh, wow. Music has just been in my life, all my life. It’s just something that I knew from a very early age that I wanted to do. Mum said that I was always singing and writing my own little songs in the bathtub and stuff like that. Of course a lot of kids do that, but it was something that just seemed to be built into me, because I never thought I’d be doing anything else. I used to watch little kids singing on TV shows and I just kept saying “That’s what I want to do”, and I did.
It’s just been a part of my life and I love it, it just does so much. It brings so much emotion to you, happiness and sadness. Music is my life as they say – that old cliché. It’s something I know I will always be involved in, I can’t do anything else.
Was there ever a thought in your mind of, “I don’t know if I can pursue a musical career”? I just love that your career has been made up of something you’re so passionate about!
I’ve been really lucky that I’ve been able to make a living out of it all these years. There was nothing else I ever really wanted to do. It wasn’t until a lot later in life that I realised if I ever wanted to do something else I would have liked to have studied psychology, so… I did. I went to Uni and got my degree; I haven’t used it but it’s just something that, you know, when the phone stops ringing for music, I can have a real job to fall back on.
I love that term real job! I can definitely relate to that sentiment 100%
(Laughs) Absolutely! It’s funny isn’t it? I get paid to do something that I absolutely adore so there’s just no way that it feels like a job for me. I’m just so lucky.
You’ve worked with the likes of John Farnham, Suzi Quatro and Kylie Minogue, can you pick a highlight?
Oh god, a highlight. There have been highlights with all sorts of people I’ve worked with. With Farnham, the biggest highlight was when we toured with Stevie Wonder, and I got the opportunity to sing with him. I actually helped him fall over on stage, because I forgot he was blind, and I was in a conga line with him, and they put me behind him. I was just so beside myself, with my hands around his waist, I forgot to help guide him on stage and he went over the monitor and of course I went over after him, and that was kind of funny.
Another highlight… I did two tours with Kylie Minogue, another was working on the John Lennon memorial concert in Liverpool and working with people like Joe Cocker, Cyndi Lauper, Al Green and Lenny Kravitz. It was just amazing! There have been a lot of great things. One day I’ll write a book!
As well as collaborating, you also found time to record three albums as well, was that part of your initial musical mindset from the get-go?
I guess so, but I didn’t actually think of writing songs until I was around 20. A girl I knew wanted me to sing one of the songs she’d written and I thought, you know what if she can do it why can’t I? So I started writing songs and setting out to record an album. One was “Misunderstood”. I thought I’d do an album that was a male orientated rock album with a female vocalist. I’d also been writing, and had all these songs and producer Doug Brady basically said you have to do an album of your own stuff, so that’s what I did!
Prior to that I had also been learning Japanese on and off for about eight years, it’s like I had this calling to learn Japanese. I don’t know why but it was just this little phase I was going through and I thought, “What if I could learn to sing in Japanese?” I then started to write an album in Japanese and recorded a bunch of songs about different parts of Australia. I sort of made it into a souvenir album for tourists.
It’s hard enough for most people to write an album in general, but for you to write and sing in another language just adds another lovely little complicated layer on top!
Absolutely! It was a bit of a crazy time. I get a bit of a bee in my bonnet and when I start to do a project I pretty much do it until the end. I can’t handle stopping in the middle, it has to be finished. It took me about three years to do that project, of course there was a whole other eight years learning the language prior to that as well. Now onto the next project!
Speaking of your next project, you’re about to embark on a tribute show to Carole King. But before we get into that, I wanted to ask, who are your major influences?
That’s a good question! I guess Stevie Wonder has always been high on my list of mega people. He always inspires me. A blind man, born blind, to be able to write the lyrics that he writes, the beauty in his music and lyrics, without sight, is just incredible to me. He can write so much beautiful stuff, better than people with eyesight. He’s been a huge inspiration and influence in my life.
People like Cyndi Lauper have always been high on my list as well. She came out with that crazy voice in the beginning and at first I thought; “I don’t like this at all”, but I met her a few times, and she’s such a beautiful gracious lady. When I saw her in concert, I realised what a great singer she really is and she really truly is an amazing singer. People like that inspire me. There’s others but I just can’t think at the moment. A lot of Australian artists as well.
Where did the initial idea for the tribute, accurately named “You’ve Got A Friend” begin?
That started probably about 12 years ago. I’ve loved Carole King all my life, I grew up with her music and I’ve always loved singing her songs. They really suit my voice, they’re just beautiful songs. Back in those days, I was doing a show called “Girls Girls Girls” with Wendy Stapleton and Debra Byrne, but we ended up going on a slight hiatus for a while.
In the meantime, I ended up putting a show together called “Tapestry” which I performed with a three-piece band. We did that for a while until “Girls Girls Girls” got back together to do another tour. About a year or two ago I decided to bring it back, but bigger, and I decided to add the James Taylor element as well. I started writing a bigger and better show than the last “Tapestry” I did all those years ago. That’s really where it came from.
I love that you mention James Taylor. Obviously James Taylor and Carole King have quite a lengthy history together. But for those not in the know, can you explain the significance about his involvement in her career?
He was responsible for her becoming the performer she is now. They met in 1967, he was a full on junkie at that time, he was really rude and she didn’t like him at all initially. About three years later, he was clean and called her to ask her to play piano in his band. She had written a song called “Up on the roof” for The Drifters and James also recorded and had a hit with that track. When she was playing with him in the band, he actually, in the middle of a show, introduced her and said that she was going to sing that song with him. He really put her on the spot.
She never wanted to be an entertainer. She just wanted to be a piano player and a songwriter. That’s how she ended up being dragged on stage. She was really shy and uncomfortable with her voice and with audiences. They’ve remained great friends, to this very day. It’s almost as though they are mirrors of each other both musically and personality wise. Such a great combination.
I love as well, that you’re going to be covering the songs that Carole has written for a lot of other artists. I think it’s really important to shine a light on that particular aspect of the music industry, and accentuating the person that she was and what she initially wanted to be – a writer and piano player. Was that important going into this particular show?
Absolutely! See most people don’t realise the amount of songs she has written for other people. People don’t know that she wrote for The Monkees or Blood Sweat and Tears, and the songs she wrote were massive hits. Not a lot of people are aware of all of the work she’s done… It’s just amazing what she’s done!
How did you go about picking the set list, from someone who has such an enormous back catalogue?
Oh you’re right, she has such a huge catalogue and it’s very hard! What I’ve done is try to put in as much as I can into the show. What I’ve done is put a few songs in medleys, just to get as much in as I can.
…Coming back to your earlier question about influences… Carole! Of course!
I guess finally, what is it that the audience can expect from this particular tribute show from you and your band?
The musos are all spectacular Australian musicians. For a start the band is going to sound fantastic. The Audience will get a great musical journey. There is going to be a lot of funny stuff in there, emotional stuff, there’s some audience participation stuff, just a whole array of stuff really! It’s got everything. It’s got beautiful music; you can’t go wrong with her music. It’s going to be a good show, a great show!