Legendary Herman’s Hermits frontman, Peter Noone, talks music, the 60s and about ‘having fun’.
In 1962, at the age of fifteen, Peter Noone achieved international fame as ‘Herman’, lead singer, spokesman and frontman of the legendary 60s pop band Herman’s Hermits. In a few short years, Noone and the Hermits had performed on hundreds of television programs, including the Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason, Dean Martin and Danny Kaye television programs performing classic hits including, “I’m Into Something Good” “Mrs. Brown, you’ve Got A Lovely Daughter”, “I’m Henry VIII, I Am”, “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat” and “There’s A Kind of Hush”.
Over 60 million recordings sold, 14 gold singles and seven gold albums later, the legendary (and, absolutely delightful) Peter Noone lands in North Texas Saturday night at the Arlington Music Hall. In advance of his performance, Tellyspotting had the great good fortune to sit down for a very enjoyable chat with the English singer-songwriter, guitarist, pianist and actor to talk music, the 60s and life in general.
Bill Young: You had a very musical family. Parents, grandparents…
Peter Noone: I was always into music. I was a fan of all kinds of music. We were in the pre-television days. My family entertained each other by playing musical instruments. Weddings, funerals, christenings, baptisms always ended up with a family gathering with pianos, trombones and things like that. My father played the trombone, my grandfather played the church organ in the church and the piano at home and my Auntie Mary played Fats Waller. Sunday afternoons was always music because there was no other way to entertain each other. We didn’t have a television, it hadn’t been invented, so we played music.
My grandmother would take me and make me sing songs like in the choir. She was the choir-mistress. She would make me do funny things. I would do Phil the Fluter’s Ball which is an old Irish song and I would go through all the motions so I was like a bit of an entertainer. Later a music teacher signed me up for an evening class at the Manchester School of Music which was adult school but he somehow managed to get me into this class. It was here I learned music theory. My father thought if I wanted to be in the music business, I’d have to know the theory.
One day, someone came in from a local independent television station, this was about 1960 I would say as I was 12 or 13 at the time. He asked if there was a kid here that could play A Christmas Carol on the piano and I was that kid. I got loads and loads of TV work every time they needed a 12 year old kid and all the time using that money to finance my band.
BY: What was it about that particular time in Manchester when you had the like of the Hermits, the Hollies, Freddie & the Dreamers, Davy Jones and John Mayall, all in a very small area.
PN: I think it’s the same in Liverpool or Detroit. I think you had working class towns with people that needed entertainment…and cheap. If you think about what is a rock and roll band like the Beatles…all they did was downsize so it was cheap. They didn’t have a girl singer, two back-up singers, a brass section. I said we could put together this little band, put it in a van, all of us will get in the van and we’ll drive to a concert and we’ll be so good that we can replace a 16-piece orchestra or a big band and that was all available to us.
My father was in a big band and they didn’t work much because it cost more to work than they would make. My group and the Hollies, we could work for 4 pounds and have money for a meal on the way home. The costs were so slow, if you could afford to buy a guitar, you could be in a band. There were all kinds of quality too. When we started, we were really bad but it was ok because we weren’t asking for 5,000 pounds, we were asking for 5 pounds.
People gave us a chance. There were lots of people feeding of this new thing where parents were busy. It was the beginning of women working in England so our Mums and Dads were busy. Both my parents and grandparents worked so we needed to have things to do in the evenings so there were things called youth clubs. It all ended really when people found out you could make a lot of money by having a band in a bar. Then, the whole thing ended because you had to be 18 to go anywhere to see a band.
The reason this happened in Manchester is that our parents believed we were safe. You went to meet girls and to dance and see live music. For a time, it was a safe place where people could go meet each other. There were no drugs. I remember the place we played in Manchester we played where there were drugs. There was only one place where there were any drugs and they were filled with what we called beatniks and hippies and we said, ‘we don’t want any of that’. We not interested in playing there since these people wouldn’t ever like our music. They don’t dance, they lie around on the floor. Then the booze places started. Everybody, included Herman’s Hermits had to become more entertaining and we called that cabaret.
Manchester was 500,000 working class people who couldn’t afford very much and they could go down to the pub and there would be a live band or the kids could go to a youth club and there would be a live band. I could go down to the Cavern and see Gerry & the Pacemakers because he was a real entertainer. You could see the Beatles and they appeared to be having so much fun just being with each other that it was an attraction. Everyone would say, ‘I’d love to be in a band and have that much fun’. If you couldn’t be in a band, you bought all the records. When you think about the British Invasion, a lot of those people weren’t even old enough to go into a pub. No one in Herman’s Hermits could go into a pub.
Again, our parents believed we were safe. People took their children, 13 year-old girls and dropped them off at Shea Stadium in the parking lot. I’m 71 and I wouldn’t go into the parking lot of Shea Stadium but once upon a time, the world was safer.
We were shocked when we first came to America…it was actually in Dallas. We were shocked when people didn’t stop when a policeman said stop. They rushed the stage when, in England, you needed one person at the front, one cop, and he would say ‘back up everybody’ and everyone would back up. In America, they just ran over the security and onto the stage where we were.
BY: From an influence standpoint, there are a couple of Texas influences in Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison that you had.
PN: At the time, we didn’t know it was Texas, we just knew it was America. There was a turning point for musicians around 1961 where you either went American rock and roll or really what is called country now. My first band was called “The Heartbeats” because we thought we were a Buddy Holly parody. We could do Buddy Holly songs. I wasn’t going to do Muddy Waters, it would be ridiculous. So did the Beatles, so did Gerry & the Pacemakers and so did the Hollies. We all went for that ‘pretty thing’. Meanwhile, those people that were going the Muddy Waters route weren’t playing in the clubs we were playing in. We chose the more country route. In my house, it was more Conway Twitty. My Mom liked Marty Robbins so that’s what we grew up with.
BY: The Hermits started in 1962. What struck me was how you stayed very true to your music through to the end of the 60s as the music was evolving around you to more Jimi Hendrix and such.
PN: We didn’t have a plan but we knew to never become anything else but who we were. Not having a plan was kind of a punk thing. We just said, ‘let’s make a record that gets on the radio’. We really didn’t want to impress other musicians. First of all, we’ll never be able to impress other musicians and other musicians won’t buy our records no matter how impressed they are so we thought let’s just keep making records of songs that we like. We didn’t do a psychedelic album because we didn’t like that. We could buy those records but we didn’t want to be known as the group that made a psychedelic record, then a disco record and so on. We were Herman’s Hermits and we were pretty true to our core…who we originally were and how we ended up.
In the beginning, there was a thought that Herman’s Hermits would be the good guys. We lived with our moms and our dads, we did well at school and the Rolling Stones were these horrible guys and such. I remember thinking that at the time I was going to be pretty happy being one of the good guys because I thought it’s going to be really hard work for Mick Jagger, who is a really nice, intelligent, well-educated, respectable person to have to pretend to be the bad guy for 10-15 years, not knowing he was going to have to do it for 60 years! I liked my role in this play. Herman is Peter Noone is Herman.
BY: Where did the level-headedness come from in that you were able to keep everything in perspective given what was going on around you and you were 15, 16 years old.
PN: I went to a very conservative Roman Catholic school and my family believed in morals as a way of life. One day when, I think, I was 14 or 15 and talking to my Dad. I said there’s this club called the Twisted Wheel and people in there smoke hash and some of the groups there were smoking too. I said when you were in a band was there any of that around? He said there’s always been the drugs. He said that when you see people doing drugs, those are the ‘drugs of procrastination’. He said to always remember that those people doing drugs are your competition. We suffered a little bit because people those we were too good two shoes, more good that we were. We didn’t want to be more good than we were, we just wanted to be good.
It’s quite amazing that we all found each other. By the time we had made it, we had gotten rid of everyone that had drinking problems, things that ruined bands. When we had made it, we were all manageable with each other. That’s why we lasted for so long, really. We enjoyed each other. We weren’t friends, we just were companions.
BY: It was a simple time. Manchester was very working class. The songs were enthusiastic. Looking back on the videos, every song of the Hermits, it looked like you were having fun.
PN: It really was fun. When it stopped being fun, we stopped. We had to change course and do cabaret. We did a show at the Royal Command Performance in England and the Hermits danced. They put down their guitars and danced. They weren’t trained for that. It’s nothing the band wanted to do. When you join a band, you don’t want to end up being a dancer for the Queen. The were faultless. Interestingly, no one ever told us we were good.
BY: What was it like when you first found out your songs topped the charts in America?
PN: The most exciting thing happened here and that was hearing “I’m Into Something Good” on the radio. After that, there’s always a buzz. In my head, when you were on the radio with Orbison, Dion and the Four Seasons and the Beatles, THAT was the big deal. I think the first #1 in America was probably “Mrs. Brown, you’ve Got A Lovely Daughter”. It was special because it was in a place where we had not played.
BY: The documentary “The Wrecking Crew” had a lot of musicians who played on albums for the likes of Otis Redding, Sonny and Cher, the Beach Boys, etc. You had an impressive laundry list of some pretty amazing musicians playing on some of your albums.
PN: Unlike “The Wrecking Crew”, England is a very small market. We all knew each other. Everybody who was in a band that passed the 50 pound mark, knew each other. You would play the same dates as them, you would meet them in the transport cafe. Everybody was very young. I think the Beatles were the ones old enough to drink. None of this took place in pubs at the beginning of the British Invasion. It was all in the youth clubs. There was one road in England, joining the North and the South, and there was a transport cafe called The Blue Boor and you’d always know someone when you stopped. You would see Jack Bruce (Cream) or Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) as they were in other bands going around.
So, when you were in the studio, if someone was in the next room, it was before anyone was doing it for money. Jimmy Page might say, “…I’ve got a good idea for that, Is that that Sam Cooke song you are doing?” It was that simple. People just had an idea for a song. Money didn’t enter into the picture. I believe that all the people that got into the music business for the money, failed. Those that got into the music business because they liked the music, made it. It needs that kind of enthusiasm.
BY: You average roughly 100+ dates a year touring.
PN: This year, it’s 165.
BY: For people coming to the show at Arlington Music Hall, what can they expect from the show?
PN: I don’t have a set list so to speak. I do pretty much stick to the same things. I’ll do all the hits. All the big American hits, we always do a Johnny Cash bit. I just feel my way through the audience. I feel like I’m in the audience. I still go to shows to find out what not to do.
BY: Finally, if you had the opportunity today to pick up the phone and call a 16 year-old Peter Noone who has no idea what is ahead of him, what would you offer to him as advice…and, would he take it? That said, everything seems to have worked out really well so maybe there isn’t anything you need to say to a younger self.
PN: The thing that was missing and I’m going to talk to Peter Noone now….”It would have really been good if people around you had told you you were better than you thought you were.” Nobody was ever critical. I had done “Pirates of Penzance”. I’d done it on Broadway and I had come back to England to do it in the West End. My father, who was a bit stoic, said to me after the show, “You were really good”. I was shocked because he had never ever said that was a good job. He’d always said “You’re ok but try going on after The Rolling Stones instead of Freddie and the Dreamers”. I think he was trying to up my game but didn’t know how to say it. So that’s what I would say to a young Peter Noone. Try and get some compliments every now and then.
A bit of Herman’s Hermits trivia for British comedy fans….the writer of “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”…Trevor Peacock, a.k.a. Jim Trott in The Vicar of Dibley.
It’s obvious that Peter Noone has been having fun since those early days of Herman’s Hermits and audience around the world continue to have just as much fun. There are a few tickets left for tonight’s 7:30p performance at the Arlington Music Hall. Definitely one not to miss.
In: Music,Odds & Sods