Gary James' Interview With Herman's Hermits'
They became one of the top selling artists during the British Invasion and in all of Pop music history. In 1965 they sold more records than The Beatles! To date, they've sold more than 80 million records. They appeared on every top-rated television variety show there was, including Ed Sullivan. Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, Dean Martin, Don Kirshner's Rock Concert and The Midnight Special. They travelled the world; Tahiti, Fiji, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Cambodia, the Philippines, Europe and the U.S. They were awarded seven Gold albums and fourteen Gold singles for songs like "I'm Into Something Good", "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat", "Henry VIII", "Silhouettes", "Wonderful World" and "Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter".
We are talking of course about Herman's Hermits. Herman's Hermits member Keith Hopwood spoke with us about his time in the band and what he's doing today.
Q - There is still a Herman's Hermits band out there that's is touring the world. Are you still part of that band?
A - No. I left in 1972. Peter had left. We carried on for a bit in the band with another guy. We made an album with Eric Stewart from 10cc. We sort of formed a new band, wrote all the material and had a record deal. It was quite different from what the Hermits had done. It was a bit more Country / Rock stuff. Then after a year of putting the stuff together, the record company had a political change 'round and shelved it all. At that point, the guys wanted to do touring, but we couldn't use any of this material 'cause nobody had ever heard of it. So, I didn't want to do that, so I left. I had already got my company, which I had formed with Lek (Derek Leckenby, Herman's Hermits' guitarist) much earlier. So I left the band then and they carried on, and it went from there. I've not been in the band since then.
Q - Drummer Barry Whitwam is the only original Hermits member in the touring band. How is it that he gets to carry on with the name Herman's Hermits?
A - Oh, this goes back to the mid-70s when the band kept going. I'd left. They got back together with Peter for a tour in the States. Just one tour. When we were all still together, the last couple of records were billed as Peter Noone And Herman's Hermits in the U.K. That was what was on the record. So when they toured with him and they stared to work on their own in America, they said "You're Peter Noone and we're Herman's Hermits." It went from there and there was litigation and basically they ended up with the name. He was Peter Noone. They were Herman's Hermits. It didn't make much sense, but it all stemmed from the fact that the record ended up being called Peter Noone And Herman's Hermits. That's what happened. He just carried on using the name ever since.
Q - Your time these days is take up by a studio you opened in 1968 with Derek Leckenby?
A - Well, yeah. The studio Pluto, the company was formed in '68. We had a little studio in the same building as Strawberry Studios and then in the '70s we moved to Manchester, into a very big 5,000 square foot space that had a big 24-track commercial studio and a voice studio and an audio / visual studio. For ten years it was a commercial studio, recording bands, The Smiths, The Clash and people like that. Then the lease ran out and they were going to re-develop the whole block, so I didn't want to do that again in the city. We just looked for a house that had a barn attached to it, a good size barn and moved out about 50 miles away and basically re-built it in the barn, only this time just as sort of a private facility. So I don't really record other people. Most of the time it's just my own stuff. I've been here ever since.
Q - Do you perform today?
A - No. When say my own stuff, it has to do with writing television and animation films. So that's what I've been doing for the past 20 odd years. So there's lots of these. A lot of them haven't been shown in the States, Wind And The Willows, BFG, Bob The Builder. All kinds of things.
Q - Before Herman's Hermits, what were you doing? Were you in another band or were the Hermits your first band?
A - Well, I was only sixteen when I joined the Hermits. Yes, I was in another band. I was in a band called Sean Hunter And The Falcons. We'd been going for about a year. The guitarist in the Hermits decided he didn't want to do it anymore and they came and asked me to join. So, I went to see them and I think our band was musically better, but they were much more enthusiastic and our band was not enthusiastic, so I joined. And they also had a very full diary, which was quite attractive. I joined and carried on from there. It was in '63.
Q - Where were the Hermits playing when you went to see them?
A - They were playing in a hall in a suburb of Manchester. It was like a small town hall, that sort of thing.
Q - Probably open to teenagers?
A - Oh, yeah.
Q - Derek Leckenby was the lead guitarist in Herman's Hermits and you were the rhythm guitarist?
A - Yeah, but he wasn't in the band at that point. When I joined, Derek Leckenby and Barry Whitwam were not in the band. It was two other people.
Q - So, what were you playing?
A - I was playing lead guitar at that point.
Q - And when Derek joined the band, you switched to rhythm?
A - Yeah. It was about six months later. What had happened is, we'd had a few different recording auditions and musically the bass and drum department didn't measure up. So we changed the personnel and that's when Lek and Barry came in. I switched to rhythm, Karl switched to bass. Lek played lead and Barry was on drums. And then Mickie Most came back to see us. We'd only seen him once. He said, "Right, let's go!" and found us "I'm Into Something Good".
Q - "I'm Into Something Good" was recorded and released in 1964, wasn't it?
A - Yeah. It was all very quick. We changed the personnel of the band in about April and he came up to see us in May, June. He found the song a couple of weeks later and it was released on August 7th, 1964 I think in the U.K. Three weeks later it was number one.
Q - I love that song.
A - Yeah. It's great.
Q - Didn't someone else record that song before the Hermits?
A - The record that we got to learn it from was Earl Jean And The Cookies. It got in the charts in the U.S., but only up to about 50 I think.
Q - Your songs were melodic, catchy and fit perfectly into the Top 40 charts. I know there are people who didn't really care for your music. Were Herman's Hermits as popular in England as you were in the U.S.?
A - Well, yeah. We didn't have the sort of thing like in the States, it all sort of caught fire with "Mrs. Brown" and "Henry VIII", the very English stuff, which took it to another planet. We were just as popular in England. In fact, we went further in time span, much further in England. It all sort of died in America. We carried on for about another four years in England. We had loads more hits, Top 40 hits. So we were as popular, but we didn't have that sort of peak that we had in America. Those English type records weren't released in the U.K., "Mrs. Brown" and "Henry VIII". They were just released in the rest of the world.
Q - What did you think accounted for the success of Herman's Hermits? Was it your frontman, Peter Noone? Was it your producer, Mickie Most? Was it the songs?
A - Well, it was a combination of all those things. The material that Mickie found; Mickie's great knack was finding the right song for the right artist at the right time. It wasn't just with us. He did it with other people. He was brilliant at making singles. As a singles producer he was unbeatable. He'd find those songs that we did. "I'm Into Something Good" was a contemporary song that had just been written. Things like "Silhouettes" was a 1950s song and "Wonderful World", a Sam Cooke song. Not only were they great songs, but they were actually perfect for us. And it's that combination of the material with the band at the time. I think it was all of that. He was very instrumental in all of it. He didn't know how he did it, I don't think. He just managed to do it with other artists as well. As always, it's a combination of things. You can't point to one thing. It's a combination of appeal at the time, but then also the material, which means the producer as well because he's finding the material.
Q - So you guys literally went from playing halls in 1963 to playing in front of 40,000 people at the Ohio State Fair in 1965. What would you guys talk about after a show in the 1960s?
A - (laughs) To start with, it was quite a lot to take in. I mean, the main point is we were very young. The Beatles were five to six years older. They'd been to Hamburg. They'd been on the road. They were like seasoned veterans. We weren't. And most of the bands were sort of older than us. We started basically straight out of school. One year later we're number one! And not only number one in England. You come to the United States and it takes off to an even greater degree. In the initial stages, it was hard to take in. I don't think we knew what was going on, particularly when it started to snowball in 1965. Some of the shows there were quite terrifying. There was minimal security and the crowd was ten times what they expected. We did a lot of running in those days, trying to escape various situations. It took a lot of getting used to, but we liked it.
Q - You couldn't go out of your hotel room, could you?
A - No. We were stuck in the hotel. They (fans) camped out in the lobby and the back stairs. So we'd find a way to the roof where all the air conditioning plants were and we'd sit up there for an afternoon and hang out there. If you got to the town sort of earlyish, there was nothing else to do apart from sit in your room, which we did. We did a lot of song writing with Lek. There was really no escape from the hotel in most of those places. The places you'd stay, they'd make the mistake of putting a great big sign outside saying Welcome Herman's Hermits and then got quite pissed off when the lobby was filled with hundreds of girls all day and blame us for it. You'd look outside and you put that sign up. It's very obvious where we're staying.
Q - What hotel would do that?
A - If you were staying at Holiday Inns where they have those big signs and they'd put Welcome. But they found out where you were. It just went 'round the grapevine and they'd just all congregate there.
Q - So, when the teen magazines would show photos of Herman's Hermits shopping, that would have been impossible, wouldn't it?
A - Yeah, not in the States in 1965. It was batten down the hatches, get to the hotel, get to the gig, get back and get to the airport.
Q - What did those screaming girls want from bands like Herman's Hermits?
A - I don't know if they knew what they wanted. When we stayed in New York, if you're doing The Ed Sullivan Show, of course everybody knows you're doing it. And it's a 'live' show. Everybody knows exactly where you're gonna be at 8 o'clock that night. We stood on top of our hotel at 57th Street or something. And the streets would just be full after those Ed Sullivan things because they knew exactly where it is. It wasn't even guess work. It was a bit hairy at times.
Q - In retrospect, you just have to wonder why American groups didn't grow their hair long and wear matching suits with ties.
A - It's sort of easier looking back. When The Beatles started, they just came up with a whole different thing, their music, their songs and their background was all based on American music. So when they did start writing their own stuff, there's a flavor of that in it. But it was just a very different way of having a band. Most bands before that just did cover versions of contemporary hits or cover versions of old songs. But they were all cover versions. The Beatles changed that by writing their own. But it was just this different flavor from the point of view of not having one lead singer. They sort of broke the mold and brought it all back to America and what they were bringing back was in a different form. It was all based on American music to start with. The American bands could have done it, but they were probably too close to it. And to be honest, they probably weren't listening to the American records that The Beatles were listening to, all this sort of Southern Black stuff that was Blues stuff. That's what The Beatles and bands in England would find and listen to and sort of emulate and work on. I don't think bands in America would've done that. They didn't listen to that stuff. I don't know what they listened to, but it wasn't that. So, I think we sort of stole the march on it. The British thing sort of took a new direction, albeit stemming from American music, and took it back to America. Eventually the American guys caught up and did it a different way. But that's what it was. At the time you're not really sure what was happening and at that time if you were British it was quite a big deal. People didn't travel in those days. It was very, very expensive. You didn't hop on planes and go on a holiday on a cheap flight. Americans in general weren't exposed that much to these English accents, so that played a part in it. Every time you opened your mouth in 1965, "Oh, say that again!" It doesn't happen now. Nobody bats an eyelid. In 1965 it was exotic. "My God, where are you from?" They couldn't understand the words, but the accent... So that was part of it as well.
Q - What kind of material were the Hermits playing before you got famous? You weren't playing R&B, were you?
A - No, we weren't. Although, actually before we signed a record deal, we were doing quite a few of the American R&B, not out and out Blues stuff. We weren't a Blues band by any means. There were R&B tracks like "Fortune Teller". All the act that we did were covers. Most of it was American covers from the sort of stuff we liked. Once we started recording, it all sort of went a bit more Pop. That was the producer and those were the hits. But the stuff we were doing before that was a bit more R&B.
Q - Did anyone ever suggest you should write your own material?
A - Well yeah, they suggested it once we actually got going and started recording. Lek and I said we should be writing. Things like the B-sides and the album tracks going to anybody and everybody. We should do this and so we did. You have to remember, we were very young, so you can sit down and start to write, but it doesn't mean you're going to write anything decent straight away. So, we did start writing more or less straight away after the first record. There were a couple of tracks on the first album that I wrote on my own and I wrote some stuff with Lek. So, we did make a point of getting stuck in there.
Q - Herman's Hermits appeared at the War Memorial in Syracuse, New York on May 25th, 1965. Your limousine was mobbed by so many fans after the concert, that Syracuse police were called in so the limo could continue on.
A - Yeah. There was a few times like that. There was one awful one where it was an auditorium, but where we got changed, there was sort of a tunnel underneath. It was like a school or something. We got changed and went through this tunnel. When we came off the stage, we ran through the tunnel, but there were kind of various ways you could go. One of us went the wrong way and ended up completely outside of it all, on the street and eventually just flagged a car down and jumped in his car, "Take me home!"
Q - Sounds to me like you're describing the Syracuse War Memorial.
A - It might've been there. I don't know. It was definitely '65. It was quite bizarre.
Q - Who ended up on the street?
A - I think it was Barry. He flagged a car down and got in this car with this guy who didn't know who he was. He said "You've got to help me get out of here!" The problem was when we checked into the hotel, he didn't know where he needed to go. (laughs) Eventually, driving around, he sort of found the place.
Q - Going back to that year 1965, you guys were in Hawaii. I don't' know if you were making a movie or not.
A - No. It was just the last day of the tour. It was a very long tour. About a two or three month tour. Hawaii was the last gig.
Q - Peter ended up doing an interview with Elvis.
A - Yeah.
Q - Did you also meet Elvis?
A - No, I didn't. What happened was, we finished the tour in Hawaii and somebody said "Elvis is here making a movie." So we said "Can we meet him?" They said "Right. We'll get on it. Maybe in a couple of days." So we waited a couple of days and another couple of days. This went on for a few days. There was no definite sort of time and in the end I have to admit, I came home. (laughs) Peter stayed and met him. I came back. Otherwise I would've met him.
Q - You probably regret you didn't stay.
A - Of course I do, but at the time it had just been a very, very long tour. In any other circumstances I would've stayed there as long as it took. But we weren't doing anything. We were just waiting for an appointment as it were. So I just said "Oh, I'm going." Nobody said it wouldn't happen, but there was kind of a chance it wouldn't happen. It was one of those things that until somebody said definitely, "there you go, that's the time," you didn't know for sure if it was gonna happen. So I left and hence didn't meet him.
Q - Rolling Stone's Encyclopedia Of Rock And Roll said the reason Herman's Hermits broke up was because of a lack of unpaid royalties. Is that true?
A - No.
Q - Today, four of the original Hermits are still alive. Derek Leckenby is no longer with us. Has there ever been any talk of getting back together and doing some kind of a tour?
A - Well, other people have said it a lot. But the problem you've got is there's two of 'em still touring separately. You've got Peter touring in the States and Barry touring wherever and the business with the name... It's not something that got close to happening. We did all play together six or eight years ago. Peter was doing a tour in the U.K. and the last night of the tour was at the Palladium in London. We'd all been together. We met up for lunch. We just got together to talk through some business. He said "It's the last night on a Sunday. Why don't you come down and play?" The three of us went down to London and we did his show there. So that's the last time the four surviving members played. But at the moment, there are no plans to get back together.
Q - I saw Herman's Hermits, minus Peter, in a club called The Brookside in Syracuse, New York in July of 1974. I did talk to Barry and Derek. I never asked them, but I wonder how they made that transformation from a headlining act in an arena to a headlining act in a club. I would think it must've been difficult.
A - Well, that's kind of why I left. If we all carried on, fair enough. I didn't leave because I didn't like it. I just felt for me personally, especially having done this new album and written it all in a whole new direction that was quite exciting. To just put all that in a drawer and lock it away and go back to playing in the band without Peter, it didn't appeal to me, so I left.
Herman's Hermits July 28th, 1974 concert at The Brookside in Syracuse, New York.
Good spirits and high energy prevailed at The Brookside where one of England's most famous pop groups - Herman's Hermits concluded their 9 week tour of the U.S. More than 1,000 people turned out paying between $3 ( Advance Sale tickets) $4 to witness the memorable event Sunday night. Although former lead singer Peter Noone was absent from the group (having left 3 years ago to pursue a solo career) The Hermits sounded as good as ever!
Opening up with "I'm Into Something Good", The Hermits proceeded to play a good deal of Rock'n'Roll which the crowd thoroughly enjoyed and managed to successfully bridge the gap gap between the music of the '60s and the '70s without sounding old fashioned or out of date. Songs performed by the group included " She's A Must To Avoid", I'm Henry The VIII Am", "Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter", " Just A Little Bit Better", " Can't You Hear My Heartbeat", " Wonderful World", "Lucille", "She Loves You", "Jailhouse Rock", "Jet", and "There's A Kind Of Hush (All Over The World").
There are 3 original members left in the new Herman's Hermits line-up - Karl Green (who doubles on both Rhythm and Bass Guitar); Barry Whitwham (Drums), Derek Leckenby (Lead Guitar), and the newest member - Chris Finley, introduced by Karl Green as "the baby of the group") at 25 years old who plays Bass and Keyboards. Part of The Hermits performance consisted of audience participation, clapping and singing to such songs as "Mrs. Brown" which began by Karl Green thanking everyone who ever bought the record. At one point someone requested the song "Jezebel" and group spokesman Karl Green replied they hadn't done that number in 7 years but promised they'd learn it the next time around. The crowd cheered.
After the show I spoke with Hermit Derek Leckenby and asked what the future held for the group. "Right now we're negotiating for our own label to be distributed by Brunswick Records and hope to have a lot of new original material."
I also asked if he felt the audiences had changed - were they more demanding today? To which he replied - " The audiences have changed no more than we have I guess". In chatting with Drummer Barry Whitwham he told me the group had been performing "mostly clubs nowadays". Was the enthusiastic reaction to The Hermits music typical of other places they've played? "Yeah, I'd say so", Barry replied.
The point that should be made about Herman's Hermits is they're not cashing in on any nostalgia craze. They are every bit as entertaining today as they were 10 years ago. "Hermanmania" still reigns!