A FEW MINUTES WITH… Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits
By Don Wilcock
Herman’s Hermits, the headliners of the Sixties Spectacular concert at Proctors in Schenectady on Saturday night (April 22), racked up more hits than the Beatles in 1965. “We just fell into the moment,” says Peter Noone, who essentially is “Herman.”
“We were of the moment. So, we sold more than the Beatles in 1965 because it was our moment,” explains Noone. “‘I’m Henry VIII, I Am’ was an accident. ‘Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter’ was an accident. ‘Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat’ was a tribute to Buddy Holly that became a song. ‘A Must to Avoid,’ somebody came into the studio and played it to us. So, the hits that we having were all kind of accidental. We only recorded ‘Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter’ because we didn’t have any songs left that we could record.”
Noone already had a nascent version of his band in 1962 when he and his group stumbled upon the Beatles playing a gig in a field outside of Manchester, England. “They were loud and (my band mate) said to me over the noise, ‘We’re fucked,’ meaning he quit the band.
“The Beatles were sort of better at everything than everybody else. They were better looking. They were funny, and they were just around all the time. They were just part of everyone’s conversation in the music business because even though they hadn’t made a record yet, we knew that they would, and we knew that it would be great.
“The next version of the Hermits all made a deal that we would not have day jobs and that we would spend all day rehearsing. The Beatles changed that whole thing. Show business now was about, ‘Can you get on stage for 45 minutes for minimal cost and entertain people for an hour?’”
Still recovering from the hard times that kept Britain in a depressed economy after World War II, most in the country never even considered the possibility that British rock and roll could be sold back to America.
“America was where the music came from, and we never expected to bring it back here, but then we realized that the one thing that was lacking in American musicians at the time was enthusiasm. The naive enthusiasm that the Beatles had made it just possible. Let’s go for it. When the Beatles stepped out to explode, I remember the movie that came out was ‘Beach Party Bingo.’ And if you think about it, in England beach party and bingo are the most unlikely rock and roll words of all.
“So, it looked easy at the time, didn’t it? And the only British records that had ever been hot up until then were ‘Telstar’ by the Tornadoes and Acker Bilk’s ‘Strangers on the Shore,’ which were both instrumentals. So, who knew that ‘I’m Henry VIII, I Am,’ a song by somebody with an English accent, could be a hit? The whole thing was a surprise to everybody. I don’t think that anybody except (Beatles manager) Brian Epstein – who I happen to think was a bit of a genius – would have even thought of America as a possibility.
“The English people needed up music. Trad jazz, Acker Bilk and Kenny Ball and all those people, they were just fun, lively banjo, lively traditional jazz, New Orleans traditional jazz. It was just lively. Lonnie Donegan, all his songs are lively. ‘Cumberland Gap?’ We didn’t even know what ‘Cumberland Gap’ was.”
If Herman’s Hermits had any plan at all to cash in on the British Invasion, it was simple: make upbeat records. “We didn’t have a plan. We just wanted to be on the radio. How do you get on the radio? That’s the next step, and we never got beyond the next step. We hadn’t made an album. So, we were just running with it all, and luckily, we got some good songs, and we recorded them really well. That’s all it really was.”
Their producer was Mickey Most, who also produced the Animals, the Nashville Teens and Donovan. “He wasn’t really a producer; he was a director. Herman’s Hermits never made a record to impress musicians or music critics, meaning if you’re making a record to impress other musicians you probably will never ever get a hit record. We wanted our own following to buy our records. You can have your following ’cause we knew that we had to be different from everybody else. So, if you notice, the songs are all upbeat uptempo, up-spirited. There’s no death or doom. I like to say our song was ‘I’m into something good. Woke up this morning, feeling fine,’ and your song was ‘Eve of Destruction.’ And ours lasted longer…”
Half a century later, Noone does have a plan. His current band of Hermits has a repertoire of 300 songs. “We have a system. It’s amusing to the band because they don’t know what the next song is, so they have to remain alert. So, it keeps us all enthusiastic really. It’s hard to be enthusiastic. We’ll always sing Herman’s Hermits’ songs, but we got loads of other songs, and I don’t always do any of them. The other night we did ‘Glad All Over,’ the Dave Clark Five song. This is fun. Some of the young people in the audience don’t know that it isn’t a Herman’s Hermits song.”
The Beatles are a memory at times resurrected in the concerts of their two remaining members, Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr. Peter Noone, on the other hand, keeps Herman’s Hermits alive as an oldies band. Looking back more than 55 years to when he was 15 years old, he says, “I didn’t even realize I was a kid. I didn’t know that Herman’s Hermits was a boy band until I look at people’s ages now, and I go “Shit! Paul McCartney wasn’t a kid. He was 22. They had seven years more experience than me. So, of course, they were better at it.”
WHAT: The Sixties Spectacular
WHO: Herman’s Hermits starring Peter Noone
WITH: B.J. Thomas, the Grass Roots and Joe’s Boys with guest vocalists Al Bruno and Trish Anderson
WHERE: Proctors, Schenectady
WHEN: 7pm Saturday (April 22)
HOW MUCH: $39.75-$54.75
PS: Who remembers Peter Noone fronting the early ’80s power-pop band The Tremblers? Just one album, “Twice Nightly”, but it was killer, including a crankin’ cover of Elvis Costello’s “Green Shirt.” And they cranked out a great show at The Hulla-Baloo in Rensselaer, too…