Yes, there’s a big production musical on in Sydney called Beautiful and it’s about Carole King. But, not everybody can afford that experience. Nicki Gillis provides the perfect alternative, and it’s just down the road at Laurieton United Services Club.
She studied piano from age five under her mum. “I hated the exams, even though I loved playing, but the nerves [before exams] got too much,” Gillis says.
At age 15, she decided she never wanted to sing or play piano again. But, by the end of that year, she was doing backing vocals for acts around Perth.
Her mum was a harmony specialist, and as she has a low register, and there weren’t that many around, she soon found herself performing with Jackie Love, Joe Pantano, and John St Peters.
At 17, she was a back-up singer for a cover band and then joined Cold Chisel concept band Power Station, then blues band Black Cats, followed by party band, Slim Jim and Phatts.
By 1996, Gillis had played everywhere she could in Perth and decided to enter the Gympie Muster Talent Search. “I almost didn’t get on the stage at the grand final. It took an army to get me on stage.”
She won but went back to Perth. When she finally moved the whole family to the East Coast in 2004 she hit the country music circuit as hard as she coud.
Gillis recorded her first EP as part of the prize she had won all those years before. “I didn’t think it made much of an impact, but then I went back to Perth and had radio people asking me ‘where did you go?’.
Fast forward to 2009, when she recorded a version of Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow. “I’d always loved Carole King.” It happened to be Frank Ifield’s favourite song. “He researches artists and watches them for a while, then he gives out his ‘Spur Award’.”
You get to tour the UK and release a single to UK country radio, and Ifield provides contacts. Gillis won and now returns every year.
“Carole King had never toured the Tapestry album, then she did the Hyde Park concert in 2016. But we went ahead anyway. I plead insanity,” she says.
The first half of the show features songs King wrote for other people, and then it’s Tapestry “as organically as we can”. “I always hope I do it justice.”