Mike Nicholls: From the JT to hanging out with rock giants

MIKE Nicholls may not be a musician, but that did not stop him from experiencing sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

The journalist spent decades covering the great and good of the music world, fraternising and befriending such names as David Bowie, Debbie Harry, Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger and Roger Daltrey.

And the Mancunian has recounted his fascinating career in My Life With Rock N’ Roll People (Ghostwriter, £18).

“It took me a while to work out an angle for the book, which then came to me clear as day,” Mike told me from his home in the market town of Sudbury, Suffolk.

“I’ve written it as an A-Z of all the people I have interviewed because, the way the world is now, most people have a short attention span, so what I have done is write 100 easily-digestible chapters.”

There is another more serious reason why Mike decided to pen his memoirs, though — in 2002, he was diagnosed with colon cancer.

He said: “I spent a fortnight in hospital and, luckily, the cancer had not spread. I had to have colonoscopies and scans for five years afterwards, but it has made me see time as as more precious.”

Witnessing debauchery and working with some of the most influential artists of all-time is a long way from the 63-year-old’s beginnings in north Manchester.

Born to Joy and Norman Nicholls, they moved to Hale, Cheshire, when Mike was young.

He was barmitzvah at Manchester Reform Synagogue (Jackson’s Row), but said he never took religion seriously.

“I quite liked the singing in the shul, though, as they had a good choir,” Mike said.

A former William Hulme’s Grammar School pupil, he went on to read politics and philosophy at the University of Warwickshire, where he experienced his first taste of rock ‘n’ roll.

Mike explained: “My late brother, Robert, was a lawyer and my parents wanted me to be one, too, but I was never academic.

“I worked hard and passed everything, but I would never have made a lawyer.”

Just a month or so into starting at Warwick, he saw the New York Dolls play one of their few British gigs, later becoming friendly with members Johnny Thunders and David Johansen.

His passion for music starting with his discovery of The Beatles when he was eight.

And his first taste of journalism was in 1977, as a reporter in the Jewish Telegraph Leeds office, while also covering the Manchester Jewish football scene on a Sunday.

Mike, who also wrote for his university’s magazine, said: “I would go to the printers on a Thursday with Paul Harris, who is now the JT’s editor, which was really good fun because it was almost like a school trip away from the office.

“Paul’s father, Frank (who founded the newspaper with wife Vivienne in 1950), was also very fond of language and the use of words, and he was really encouraging towards me.”

At the same time, he was reviewing gigs for the Altrincham Guardian and, when the punk scene exploded in the late 1970s, Mike sensed an opportunity.

“When punk happened, I thought, ‘this is it’,” he added. “I went to a see a lot of the Sex Pistols on their Anarchy in the UK tour and they also played at the Electric Circus in Manchester.

“At those gigs, there would be quite a lot of music industry people who had come up from London, because Manchester was a happening music centre.”

Having established a network of contacts, Mike went on to work for Record Mirror, the weekly music newspaper

And it was while there that he first met Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger.

“Record Mirror sent me to New York for a week to see which acts were playing,” Mike recalled.

“I was watching a gig from the DJ’s booth by British band The Selecter when Mick arrived with Jerry Hall.

“I told Mick I was a journalist and that maybe we can sit down sometime and do a proper interview.

“When I got back from New York, I phoned his PR and was invited on the road with the Stones! It was great fun, but very much sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

“Guys like Mick and Paul McCartney are always good fun.

“I have always found that those at the top are easier to get on with.

“Mick was always asking me about the latest bands, as would Blondie and Tina Turner when they were in London.”

He is close, as well, to The Clash’s former guitarist Mick Jones, who is also Jewish, Don Letts, who later formed Big Audio Dynamite with Jones, and Eurythmics co-founder Dave Stewart, as both have holiday homes near each other in the south of France.

Mike was offered the editorship at Record Mirror, but didn’t take it as he enjoyed writing and interviewing, a post which regularly took him halfway around the world.

He was soon poached by Penthouse owner Richard Desmond, where he worked as one of its editors, and then wrote a regular music and film column for Hello! Magazine.

His work at the former raised a few eyebrows in his native north-west, too.

“I came home to see my parents — or when I had a bird on the go — and being at Penthouse caused quite a stir in the Jewish community,” laughed Mike, who is married to Kira.

He also set up a pop and rock column in the Daily Express, and then moved on to The Times, where his former Express colleague Andrew Harvey had become editor of its Weekend supplement.

Mike, who also worked for the satirical music magazine Flexipop in the 1980s, has two daughters, Jasmine and Grace.

The hit print journalism has taken, thanks to the internet, meant Mike had to move in a slightly different direction.

He took the pop star at home feature he used to write at Hello! and applied it to The Sunday Times’ Home supplement, writing about rock stars moving up the property ladder.

He went into property himself, as well as moving back to Cheshire, where the family spent 10 years, before heading for Sudbury.

Mike, who still contributes to The Sunday Times, explained: “We had to move to the countryside as the house prices in Hale had gone up too much.

“I had my parents to look after as well and thought that I could be the northern bloke for The Sunday Times’ property section, but newspapers were just starting to go into decline, so there was not the same amount of work available.

“There were newspapers running pieces on places near to where I lived, such as Knutsford and Alderley Edge, but the journalists weren’t actually going up there and talking to people or checking out restaurants and estate agents.

“I remember one piece which a paper ran on Knutsford was so out-of-date that half the restaurants featured in it had closed down.

“The quality of journalism today has plummeted so much because sales of print journalism are down, which means newspapers are not investing and so everything seems to be cut and pasted.”

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