Maggie Nicols, formerly known as Nichols, born Margaret Nicolson in Edinburgh (not the Margaret Nicholson who assaulted King George III, although I’d wager that Maggie might like said woman’s feisty attitude towards royalty). I don’t know how or why Maggie made her teenage decisions, but “She’s Leaving Home” comes to mind when I read about her early musical life. Her career kicked off at the tender age of 15 as a dancer at the Windmill Theatre. Within a year she was singing in a strip club, and then was soon jamming with be-bop jazzers, hostessing in Greece and Iran, and dancing at Le Moulin Rouge (I am not sure if that included doing the can-can).
The lady has guts. And a big, warm heart. We first met (after an exchange of letters) at a new music festival (Festival Musiques Nouvelles / Rock In Opposition, April 18-20, 1980) in a wonderful modern arts centre (Maison de la Culture André Malraux, Reims, France; since 1987 renamed La Comédie de Reims). I don’t think Maggie knew what I looked like, but when I spotted her at the end of a long, almost-empty corridor I grinned, and she immediately dropped into a tiger-like pose, and proceeded to approach me (as I did her) almost on all fours, weaving from left to right, sizing me up, all the way down this interminably lengthy corridor. At the final moment she leapt at me and gave me a huge bear hug (sorry to mix metaphors). Such is a greeting from Maggie Nicols!
The Festival was a cornucopia of musical riches, featuring many of the most wildly inspiring cutting-edge bands from all over Europe – how amazing to see so much talent gathered together – a rare occurrence then as now – and in such a beautiful, high-tech venue. In the original Miniatures sleeve notes I actually take five opportunities to mention La Maison (which means I saw 5 Miniatures artists perform there), so I doubtless will do the same in this blog. I had booked a small bedroom with kitchen adjoining the Maison, and on the first day of the event I cooked up an enormous brown rice risotto which was eagerly gobbled up over the next three days by Maggie, Lol Coxhill, and other festival participants.
The two performance videos linked above show Maggie in her preferred, free music mode, which she has also pursued joyfully in the company of another great lady of English song, Julie Tippetts – not least in Keith Tippett’s amazing 50-member project “Centipede” – produced by Miniatures artist Robert Fripp. But Maggie is not averse to singing a “straight” song, as she shows so movingly here with a version of “Stormy Weather”, performed live in October 2010, accompanied by another Miniatures artist, Veryan Weston on piano.
Around the same time as Miniatures, Maggie sang on my album “Claws – The Hybrid Kids Xmas Album.” She brought her advanced vocal techniques to the Yoko Ono song “Listen The Snow is Falling”, sliding precipitously down at the end, from almost ultrasonic notes to contrabass groans. She also sang, accapella, her slightly modified womyns’ version of a Christmas folk song from 1778, originally titled “Dame Get Up and Bake Your Pies,” now more graphically renamed “Dead Ducks.”
Maggie continues her socially-oriented musical activities with her ongoing “The Gathering,” “Hecate’s Haven” and other improv events in London and Wales and elsewhere – open to anyone who wishes to join. Digging for the deeper beauty within ordinary life.
Look closely at her drawing above – the song title is hidden in there.
Next up: you thought one minute was short…?