Early life and career
Nicols was born in Edinburgh as Margaret Nicholson. Her father was from the Isle of Lewis, and her mother is half-French, half-Berber from North Africa. At the age of fifteen she left school and started to work as a dancer at the Windmill Theatre. Her first singing engagement was in a strip club in Manchester at the age of sixteen. At about that time she became obsessed with jazz, and sang with bebop pianist Dennis Rose. From then on she sang in pubs, clubs, hotels, and in dance bands with some of the finest jazz musicians around. In the midst of all this she worked abroad for a year as a dancer (including a six-month stint at the Moulin Rouge in Paris).
In 1968, she went to London and joined (as Maggie Nichols) an early improvisational group, the Spontaneous Music Ensemble, with John Stevens, Trevor Watts, and Johnny Dyani, and the group performed that year at Berlin's then new avant-garde festival, Total Music Meeting. In the early 1970s she began running voice workshops at the Oval House Theatre (one of the most important centres for pioneer fringe theatre groups). She both acted in some of the productions and rehearsed regularly with a local rock band. Shortly afterwards she became part of Keith Tippett's fifty-piece British jazz/progressive rock big band Centipede, which included Julie Tippetts, Phil Minton, Robert Wyatt, Dudu Pukwana, and Alan Skidmore. Tippetts, Minton, and Nicols also joined Brian Eley to form the vocal group Voice. Around the same time Nicols began collaborating with the Scottish percussionist Ken Hyder (who had recently moved to London) and his band Talisker.
By the late 1970s, Nicols had become an active feminist, and co-founded the Feminist Improvising Group, which performed across Europe, with Lindsay Cooper. She also organised Contradictions, a women's workshop performance group that began in 1980 and dealt with improvisation and other modes of performance in a variety of media including music and dance. Over the years, Nicols has collaborated with other women's groups, such as the Changing Women Theatre Group, and even wrote music for a prime-time television series, Women in Sport.
Nicols has also collaborated regularly over the years with Swiss pianist Irene Schweizer and French bassist Joelle Leandre, including tours and three recordings as the trio "Les Diaboliques". Her collaboration with Ken Hyder also continues; the duo incorporate elements of the traditional tunes of their shared Scottish background into jazz improvisations in their most recent project, Hoots and Roots Duo. She has worked with pianists Pete Nu and Steve Lodder, with her own daughter, Aura Marina, with avant-gardists Caroline Kraabel and Charlotte Hug, and with lighting designer Sue Neal in Light and Shade. She performed internationally for several decades, including the Zürich and the Frankfurt "Canaille" festivals, the Victoriaville Festival. She gave solo performances at the Moers Music Festival, the Cologne Triennale, and a number of other creative and improvised music festivals.
- Maggie Nicols at AllMusic.
- Carr, Ian; Fairweather, Digby; Priestley, Brian (2004). The Rough Guide to Jazz. Rough Guides. p. 588. ISBN 978-1-84353-256-9. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
- Smith, Julie Dawn (2004). "Playing Like a Girl: The Queer Laughter of the Feminist Improvising Group". In Fischlin, Daniel; Heble, Ajay. The Other Side of Nowhere: Jazz, Improvisation, and Communities in Dialogue. Wesleyan University Press. pp. 224–243. ISBN 0-8195-6682-9. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
- Smith, Julie Dawn (2008). "Perverse Hysterics: The Noisy Cri of Les Diaboliques". In Rustin, Nichole T.; Tucker, Sherrie. Big Ears: Listening for Gender in Jazz Studies. Duke University Press. pp. 180–209. ISBN 978-0-8223-4320-2. Retrieved 25 July 2012.
- Nicols' Web pages.