A Musselburgh singer/songwriter has overcome the adversity of daily chronic pain to pursue her vocal career after suffering a slipped disc in her neck. 

Nicola Graham, 44, from Fisherrow, feared her “one true passion” for singing would be lost after she needed surgery to have a titanium plate to “hold [her] neck together”.

She has already celebrated the recording of her debut single Nightbird in early 2020 and her recent single Mama Hold On features in a music video against the backdrop of Seacliff Beach, east of North Berwick.

About seven years ago, Nicola started to get gradual pain in the clavicle area (the bone that connects the breastplate to the shoulder), which led to her hardly being able to walk straight.

She shuffled to walk and could barely lift her head.

Nicola, a former pupil of Musselburgh Grammar School, said: “I went on like this for over a year, being misdiagnosed, until eventually a doctor sent me for an MRI scan and found that I had a slipped disc in the cervical (neck) area.

“The slipped disc had been compressing my spinal chord and nerves – I needed an operation.

“I had what is called a cervical decompression and fusion in early 2015, which removed the disc that was compressing the nerves and spinal chord, and fused my neck so I have a titanium plate which holds my neck together.”

Nicola, who has been a singer all her life, said: “I was told my voice may change after the operation due to the movement of the vocal chords during it.

“Singing is my one true passion; to lose it, I have no words.

“A few months after the operation I began to try and sing. I was determined not to lose the one thing I felt helped me express myself my whole life.

“Due to the length of time the compression had gone on for and my age, 37 at the time, I knew I would never fully recover but wanted to do as much as I could to try and get some kind of life back.

“As of now, I live with chronic pain every day due to the nerve damage and also have mobility issues so use a walking stick. Some days are better than others.

“I can manage a few hours of singing but I suffer afterwards so I am very limited to what I can do physically but it doesn’t stop my brain from creating, whether it be my art, photography, poems, short stories and my music.”

Nicola said she fell in love with writing poems and short stories while a pupil at Campie Primary School.

“I was always a very nervous person when I was younger and loved to sing but practically froze when getting up to sing,” she said.

“Then came the internet and I started uploading videos to YouTube around 14 years ago now, which, bit by bit, grew my confidence.

“You really evaluate life when going through these types of situations and I pushed myself to get out and try to get my songs heard. The fear of performing had gone.

“If there is anything I have learnt, it is to live life to the fullest I can.

“I don’t want to have any regrets and encourage everyone to follow their passions, and that’s what inspires me – that no matter the obstacles in life, you can still find a way to follow your passions.”

Nicola started out singing at Staggs’ Musselburgh Hotpot and began working with another local artist, Ronnie Elliot, as duo Cry Alex before going solo as Nicola Christina in 2019.

She found out about Honest Sound Studios in Musselburgh, a collaboration between guitarist Iain MacLeod and drummer Bertie Fritsch, and approached them about producing her songs. She works in many genres, including country, blues, indie, rock and pop.

She said that with Mama Hold On she had the help of some friends and artists including singers Martina Cannon Ball and Kim Sayers. Her cousin Jennifer Welsh, from Musselburgh, who works in the nursery at Macmerry Primary School, sings on the single, along with Nicola’s mum Brenda Rolland, who is moving from Musselburgh to Tranent, and her aunt Brenda Black, from Prestonpans. Nicola’s brother Alex Black also appears in the video.

Nicola said: “I wanted Mama Hold On to include my family and friends as they all mean so much to me and I don’t know what I would do without their support.

“I wrote the song several years ago for my mum when things were tough, wanting to express that no matter what happens in life, we will always have each other and everything will be alright.”

Nicola also paid tribute to husband Gordon and brother-in-law Stephen Graham, who filmed their wedding video in 2007 and created the video for Mama Hold On.

She said: “The reason I chose Seacliff was simply that I had seen photos of it on the East Lothian Courier Camera Club on Facebook as I’m a member and thought it would be a lovely day out if nothing else. It’s such a stunning beach and pretty quiet, which was nice.”

Stephen has been involved with a video of a lockdown song called Drowning in the Night with Nicola and Edinburgh guitarist Jim Wilkie at Prestongrange Museum. Another video for a song Nicola wrote, called Quarter to Nine, is also planned.

Nicola, who is also a Patsy Cline tribute act, said: “I have a song called Angel Watching which I hope to record in future that is about the struggle with pain and not giving in to it.”

Her new single has featured live on Sescot Radio in Dunbar and can be downloaded from Amazon, iTunes and Spotify.