At the age of fifteen, Peter Noone achieved international fame as 'Herman', lead singer from one of the most legendary Pop bands from the 1960s, Herman's Hermits. With striking blue eyes and undeniable photogenic looks, because he was five or six years younger than The Beatles and Rolling Stones, his bandmates and Noone in particular, managed to tap into the pre-pubescent heartbeat of young America.
With a string of classic hits that included I'm Into Something Good, I'm Henry VII, I Am, There's a Kind Of Hush, and Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter, the Hermits could also play on the darker side of the block, turning in rougher-edged performances on such tracks as Jezebel. Though they did not write much of their own material, Herman's Hermits formed a catalyst that broke through to an even younger market than most record executives thought imaginable. Indeed, to the ears of this author (then 10-years old at the time) Herman's Hermit's ignited a musical spark that struck a solid chord in the pre-teen market, something that by 1967 The Beatles and Stones had matured beyond, and hence only alluded to.
With music that was undeniably benign, catchy, carefully crafted and filled with buoyant British cheekiness and longing, Herman's Hermits sold over 60 million recordings and logged 14 single and seven Gold albums. The original band line-up lasted for 10 years; not a bad feat in the often volatile world of rock 'n roll.
Despite (or perhaps because of) his young age and star-kissed demeanor, Noone was also a serious musician with a keen ear for the new sounds sweeping Swinging England in the 1960s. He introduced such seminal bands as The Animals, The Who. The Hollies, and even Jimi Hendrix to American audiences by featuring them as tour openers on his first stints in the U.S.
Throughout the 1970s, Noone performed, composed, and produced recordings with such artists as David Bowie and Debby Boone, and he also started taking on leading rolls in full-scale theatrical productions. In the 1980s, Noone served as the winsome host of VHI's 'My Generation', the highest-ever rated retrospective of popular music.
On a sunny June afternoon I had the opportunity to interview Peter Noone prior to his appearance back in 2006 at the Labadie Pig Gig.
With the unmistakable lilt of his British inflection in the receiver, the 58 year-old Noone spoke candidly about the past, reasons for the longevity of his career, and displayed a sharp recollection from an era that many artists managed to obliterate with drugs, partying, and the professional roadblocks that led to the cliché 'if you remember the sixties, you weren't there'.
Peter Noone helped define the sixties. And he remembers it all very well.
Review: When people speak of the 'British Invasion' from the 1960s, they often refer to different 'sounds' such as the 'Mersey' or 'Manchester' sound. Do you think a particular style came out of the various regions of England?
Noone: I think that notion is an invention of Americans and the only thing the British Invasion groups were after were hit records. There was a publication called 'Mersey Beat', but everything was so new and the groups so young that they hadn't developed in that manner.
Review: Many young bands were ripped off financially by their management in those early days. Did that happen to you?
Noone: Yeah, but I have a different attitude about it. If somebody came up to you and said you can have a career in show business and a great life, the last thing you would ask is how much that will cost me. In my case, money wasn't the motivation. I don't think The Beatles thought this was a way to get rich quick. They wanted to be musicians and maybe make a little money along the way.
When starting out I would make five pounds a night, then ten pounds a night, and before you knew it we'd be taking in 100,000 pounds. I never had time to start wondering about who stole our money, which is why I'm still happy and healthy today.
Did Allan Klein rip us off like he did The Beatles and The Stones? We're still in litigation. But if you get some resentment going against that man in the soiled turtleneck sweater, it sets you on a downward spiral. I'm not wasting my time on hating anybody. The fact I've still got a career and am making money is a source of great amusement.
Review: What was it like being propelled to fame and stardom at the tender age of 15 and how does it feel performing those songs today?
Noone: Well, in school I always enjoyed the 'most unlikely to' slot in the yearbook. I was probably the 'most likely' to go to prison. But the great thing nowadays is, being a survivor from that period; people were surprised that we were actually a good band. They wanted us to be bad, which is still true for me today. It's so silly, really.
Anybody who is a musician wonders how can you go back in time? But the audience doesn't want to see somebody with their head down doing a 25-minute guitar solo on Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter. Over the years, I've polished that song like gem and don't throw anything away.
It may be amusing to the audience to see a 58-year old man singing Mrs. Brown. How can he be serious? But the thing is I actually believe it when I sing it. That's the difference.
Review: To what do you attribute your musical longevity?
Noone: By staying alive I beat the competition. Herman's Hermits music is still played on the radio and I'm glad we didn't record something like Eve of Destruction, because our songs were about romance and youthful instincts that never really die unless you allow them to.
Review: Were you influenced strongly by The Beatles?
Noone: One day The Beatles played on the field outside what was our sort of residence, the Urmston Football Club. Can you imagine having the Beatles play on a field outside your little local teen club?
This was of course the thing that would change my life. They weren't known well then. The girls at this show were absolutely unmoved and only the local members of beat groups, as we were called, were paying any attention.
I was absolutely transfixed. They began with a song called 'Some Other Guy' and I will remember that moment forever. John was the one who captured all my attention, because he epitomized everything that I liked about Rock 'n Roll. He had charisma and attitude and was incredibly funny.
Paul was the best looking man I had ever seen. I hated him for being so totally cool, charming, cute, handsome and talented. George was 35 years ahead of anyone playing in my band at the time.
But we had seen the real competition and from that moment on we began to get serious. No more part timers.
Review: Another amazing thing about Herman's Hermits is that you managed to introduce America to some landmark bands on your early tours. You featured bands like The Who to U.S. audiences when they would open for you on your early tours of the U.S. back in 1967 and 1968.
Noone: Well, you see, we were all friends. Britain is not that big of a country. Nobody lives more than 200 miles away from each other. I knew The Who before they came on tour and we thought they deserved a break. We thought they would become big in America. None of their early records were hits, and it wasn't until Pictures of Lily and Happy Jack that they hit big. Suddenly, by the end of that U.S. tour with us, they were famous. The same thing happened with The Animals and it almost happened with The Hollies, only they missed the boat by leaving town early in the tour.
Review: Another episode I must ask you about concerns the stop you made on that tour in Flint, Michigan, which became legendary because it was the day of Keith Moon's 21st birthday party. This is when The Who demolished the Holiday Inn hotel in Flint and Keith drove a Cadillac into the swimming pool.
Noone: (laughing). Yeah, Keith broke his teeth at that party. But you see we were nice working class people and I knew it was Keith's birthday so I had Bob Levine, our tour manager, talk to the hotel management and arrange to pre-pay for the damage. He asked them which of their rooms they would like 'redecorated', so we descended upon this funky room with 100 birthday cakes, and everybody threw cake at each other. It was typical English Boarding school antics. Keith was fun. Everybody was fun in those days. I just saw Ringo the other day and it was like holding our own little Plumber's Union Event.
Review: What's the biggest challenge about maintaining a career in rock over a long duration of time?
Noone: Not to listen to advice, ever. If we had listened we'd be doctors & lawyers. It's hard to keep it going, but persistence is a great thing. You just keep going until you get it, which is a requirement for success, particularly in the music business.
Everybody, including your girlfriend, tries to talk you out of it. They want you to get a job at the mall where you come home every day at the same time. Most people quit because it's hard to be a part-timer in music. My brother was a great musician, but had to support a family. Only the full timers make it and if you ask your Mum what she thinks, you'll end up staying in bed.
Review: How did you first get interested in music?
Noone: I went to the College of Music and met all these guys in bands that wound up being rock & roll musicians. That was it, really. I'd always been a fan of R&B, which was part of my growing up. In the background of my childhood artists like Little Richard and Sam Cooke would be on the radio.
One of the greatest things about my success was that I got to meet all the people I'd become a fan of growing up. It's much better to be a male fan, because it's all about the music. I couldn't care less if Sam Cooke had a nice jacket or a cute ass because I was a fan of his music, period. Johnny Cash told me he couldn't understand why somebody from the British Invasion could know so much about him, but it was because I was a fan.
When I met Elvis Presley I had so many questions to ask him, but nobody flipped me off. I was really scared about meeting him, so came off being English and cheeky. But he was mind-blowingly funny and charming. People don't realize that in 1965 Elvis was really healthy and bright and in great physical shape. He was really alert and good at repartee. Too many people think of him as a stumbling bumpkin, without realizing that Elvis made all his own records. I asked Tom Parker (Elvis' manager) who produced his records, and he said, 'Do you see the name of any producers on his album covers? No. That's because Elvis makes all the records. You can hear him on the outtakes of King Creole telling the band what to do. He was a very personable guy that knew music backward and forward.
Review: Are there any performances that stand out for you as landmarks?
Noone: Well, they're all in England usually and one in particular was a Music Poll concert where we played with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones. Each group would only do a few songs and then another would come on, but the memorable part is the camaraderie backstage with all those wonderful characters.
We all went different ways, some people died, some dropped out, but a lasting memory for me is how wonderful we all felt about each other's success. John Lennon would say to me, 'I see your record is number one in America', and he was genuinely happy for me. We all knew what was going on with each other in those really early days and were happy that each of us was succeeding. That's all completely missing now.
Today if you make it the reason is attributed to luck, not because you had a good idea at the right time or some English gay man thought you were good so you moved to Round 3 of American Idol. We have something similar to American Idol in Britain now, and it's destroyed British show business as well. Everybody competes to be on these shows, so now Top of the Pops is gone. None of today's artists have any venues that they can perform live at, so today it's all a video show.
It's like the art gallery guy that thinks hey own an artist's painting. If the guy in the gallery is controlling the artists and telling them what to paint, that's a bad idea.
The British Invasion was the end of all that Fabian type- stuff where you'd put a voice on a track and market the face. The key to the British Invasion is that we weren't having any of that. We'd play live and want people to like us. You would work a couple of years on the road and then make a record. That's all gone now. No bands are out there traveling and breaking in, with the exception of Coldplay.The only way for a band to get heard today is through the Internet, and thank God for that!
Review: Is it true that you worked with David Bowie?
Yes. He was between record deals and trying to get out there so broughtOh You Pretty Things
to Mickey Most's office. He thought it would be a good song for Herman's Hermits.
He came on Top of the Pops with us and it was part of the whole promotion of the record. We cut another song together called Right on Mother,
which wasn't a hit. But then his career started taking off. Those were good moments. He was a nice guy and we got on really well.