Gary James' Interview With Peter Noone of
When he was just 15, Peter Noone gained international fame as "Herman", the lead singer of the British quintet Herman's Hermits. With Herman's Hermits, Peter Noone became one of the top-selling artists in all of Pop music's history.
Just consider that in 1965, Herman's Hermits sold more records than The Beatles! The Hermits sold more than 51 million records in their career. They were awarded seven gold albums and fourteen gold singles. Songs like "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter", "I'm Into Something Good", "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat", and "Henry the VIII" took the group to the top of the charts.
In both 1965 and 1966, Herman's Hermits were part of The Big Three, that included both The Beatles and The Stones.
Noone and Company appeared on every top-rated television variety program there was, including Johnny Carson's Tonight Show, The Ed Sullivan Show, The Jackie Gleason Show, Danny Kaye, Dean Martin, Don Kirshner's Rock Concert and The Midnight Special. And when the group wasn't recording or guesting on TV shows, they were travelling. The Hermits globe-trotted their way through Tahiti, Fiji, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia, Cambodia, the Philippines, Europe and the United States.
Peter Noone spoke with us about the British Invasion and Herman's Hermits.
Q - Back in 1974, you were quite upset with an interviewer who introduced you, in her article, as, "part of history." You said, "History? I haven't started yet. I'm the same age as The Beatles were when they first went on the road." Don't you think she was referring to the fact that your success was so overwhelming that you might not be able to duplicate it?
A - Yeah, she probably was referring to that, but I've never believed that. If I believed that, I would be doing something else already. I believe I've still got lots and lots to do. When I left Herman's Hermits in 1973, I said one day I'm gonna be in a Broadway show, and I thought it would be in 1974. Then, it took me ten years to do it, but I didn't ever quit.
Q - How long did your Broadway stint last?
A - That Broadway thing was 3½ years. I did Pirates ot Penzance for 3½ years, from '83 to '87. I did a year in England, a year on the road, a year on Broadway and six months in New Zealand.
Q - You once said, "I think I wanted to be onstage because I was very shy. Onstage, I'm another person, an extension of myself with confidence." Are you still shy?
A - I don't think I am. Now I've learned to be pretty ebullient. I can walk into a room and take it on, you know. I didn't used to be able to do that. But yeah, I suppose I really am. It's all a front for shyness, those outgoing, gregarious people are usually covering some fear.
Q - According to one book, "Rock From the Beginning" by Nik Cohn, you would stick your fingers in your mouth as you sang. Why did you do that?
A - I never did it. I did it, because impersonators did that when they impersonated me. Like all people who have an image; like Elvis Presley never did that thing with curling his lip. But when he came back in the box with the black leather thing, he did the lip thing. It was just an amusing thing. When people impersonate Mick Jagger, they do much more of a frantic performance. Now he impersonates himself as well. It's one of those things that all entertainers end up impersonating themselves, and impersonating the impersonation eventually.
Q - The Hermits enjoyed more success in America than in England, didn't you?
A - That's not true. That's probably one of those Nik Cohn things that people said. We had more hit records in England than we had in America and they lasted longer. I think up until '71 or '72, Herman's Hermits had our second and third Number One records in 1969 and 1970. You know, the first one was in 1964. It was just a question of the American success being so outrageous, that that attracted the most attention.
Q - You were playing to crowds of 100,000 at the Ohio State Fair and 38,000 at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, back in the mid 60's. The girls were always screaming. Did that ever get on your nerves?
A - No. I loved it. That was great. I mean it just seemed like a natural thing. Your know, it happened to Elvis and The Beatles, and now I'm gonna have a go at this.
Q - And the girls would rush the stage. Had they been able to get closer, what would they have done to you, tear off your clothes?
A - Yeah, that's what they did. It once happened to me in Louisville, Kentucky. I ran the wrong way when I came offstage and I met the audience. I had a 14½ inch neck, but my tie was one inch. They just pulled my tie and ripped my hair out. The ones at the front were shoving back and the ones at the back were shoving. I basically got trampled and beaten up, same as if 40 guys jumped you.
Q - Your name, people always thought you were Herman.
A - Oh yeah, I used that. I wanted to be Herman, just like Buster Poindexter (David Johansen - New York Dolls) is now. He's got his two characters. I enjoyed having those two personalities. It was a good thing.
Q - How did you tolerate hotel living for seven years? We never heard any stories about the Hermits destroying hotel rooms.
A - I never destroyed hotel rooms. I've never been attracted to that kind of mayhem. Sometimes when Keith Moon was on tour, we would pre-pay a room so that he could damage it, and we'd all join in. But, I find that stunningly boring. Breaking things you know.
Q - You didn't get caught up in the drug revolution did you?
A - No, I didn't get caught up in that at all. I saw some people who had really big trouble with it, and it scared me. It's like if you've got an alcoholic auntie, you know you say maybe I'll drink gin, but I won't drink two bottles. And, I saw a lot of people when I was really young, who had major troubles with it, people who couldn't stand up, people who puked on my mother's carpet. It kind of scared me off. I find myself pretty fortunate, 'cause it meant I never got in real trouble anywhere.
Q - Frank Barsalona of Premier Talent played a major role in your career. When no other agency was interested in you, he took over and negotiated deals with the Dick Clark people. Do you still talk to Frank Barsalona these days?
A - I speak to him all the time. He's a wonderful guy and good friend. Basically Herman's Hermits had no idea what was going on. We arrived from England and he knew. We recommended all our friends in bands to go with him. And, they all did, like Hendrix and The Who. They all ended up with Premier.
Q - Do you remember the Dick Clark Tours?
A - I loved them. That was my first introduction to Americana. I would get on the bus, and we would stop at Howard Johnsons. We hung out with Little Anthony and The Imperials. I was more attracted to Black Americans because they seemed to be having much more fun than the white guys. So, I hung out with them and the Ikettes, the girls from Ike and Tina Turner's band. That was a good experience for me. To be honest with you, the school I went to in that part of town, there were no Black people in England. I remember there was this one guy who was nine, when I was fourteen, who was a Black guy, in the whole of my town. To arrive in America, and to already know the roots of music was very impressive to me, and then to hang out with those guys and go to their clubs. When we got to Detroit, they introduced me to Stevie Wonder. They were what was happening for me. I was always a bigger fan of Sam Cooke than Pat Boone.
Q - Did Dick Clark help get you in the U.S. through his contacts with the Immigration Department?
A - It wasn't a problem for us. Fortunately for me, I've never had that problem. I've always been welcome here.
Q - I've read that Dick Clark had used his influence to speed up the process of getting British groups into America.
A - Oh, that's possible, but basically Herman's Hermits never had a problem. The British government helped us, 'cause they said we would be good ambassadors. America was just one of the places we went. We went everywhere. We were big everywhere. And, we were pretty smart kids. When you think of it, I was 15, 16 and the other guys were much older. We handled ourselves very well I think. We were always on time. School boys. Straight out of school. We still had the whip shaking behind us.
Q - Is it true that Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones played on your records?
A - On many of them, yeah.
Q - Couldn't the guys in the Hermits play their own instruments?
A - Of course they could, but it was just a question of getting things done better. We decided, Mickie Most (Hermits record producer) and I decided, and it was pretty rude of us to have done it. But, you know sometimes when you're young, you don't care about people's feelings. You just go for what's best at the moment. Jimmy Page at the time wasn't a much better guitar player than Derek Leckenby. But, he had more imagination. Rather than have to tell people what to do in the studio, Mickie and I decided we could get people to show us what they had.
Q - Nick Lowe does not believe the world will ever see another time like the British Invasion, because people today are too sophisticated and jaded. Would you say he's right about that?
A - I don't think so, no. There might not be another British Invasion. There's not that much work in England as there was then. The way that all those bands grew was through a unique Pop system. If you knew two guys in a band, you could find out two new gigs a week, and everybody was prepared to share the information with everybody. Nobody would ever try to hide their cards. Everyone was kind of in it together. I don't know how naive we were. I think we were pretty sophisticated businessmen to say that America's got the big bucks and there's this other country next to it called Canada that doesn't have a lot of people, but they buy records too, and we can tour there. You know, everybody was into it.
Q - In 1967 according to Billboard Magazine, Herman's Hermits were the twelfth most popular group in the world. The Rolling Stones were number fourteen. Yet, the Hermits never did get the recognition The Stones got and are still getting. Why do you suppose that is?
A - Yeah, but we had "Mrs. Brown You've Got a Lovely Daughter", "Henry VIII" and novelty things. That's all people remember from Herman's Hermits. But that's fine.
Q - Did Allen Klein (group's business manager) make any money for you, or did he rip you off?
A - I don't know. You know something. I've been through wasted periods where I've started to get into the Allen Klein thing and it's just very negative, the whole thing, to me. So, I never bother about it. If a check comes, great. If it doesn't, it doesn't matter. I'd rather be concentrating on new stuff rather than chasing around after old money and stuff like that. It's never been my style.
Q - How about the other Hermits?
A - Oh, they're after him.
Q - You quit Herman's Hermits because, in your own words, you "didn't want to become an end of the pier performer." What does that expression mean? It must be a British expression.
A - It is. It's like in England they have summer sessions where you work from June 15 to September 1 at the end of a pier, in a little town, in a beach town, sort of like Asbury Park or Atlantic City. That's what I would have been if I hadn't quit England. That's the future for English entertainers.
Q - You once met Elvis in Honolulu. Do you recall what you talked about?
A - Oh yes. Well, I have a tape of it. I just said, when are you coming to England? What's your favorite group? Who are all these guys? What does he do? Where are the girls? Those kind of questions you know. Just like two guys from real different cultures.
Q - What went through your mind when you heard Elvis had died?
A - The same as yours, that not many people knew what a great personality he was. He was only known for being this Elvis character you know. He was really a funny, funny, funny man. Great sense of humor, like English people have. He had that same sense of humor.
Q - When you were in The Tremblers you said, "When we finally get roadies to give us our room keys, well appreciate it. You know, I was once in a band that didn't appreciate it." What does that mean?
A - (Laughs). It means that Herman's Hermits went from bars in Liverpool to Hyatt Regencys and had five or six people runnin' around for us full-time. The Tremblers started in bars and stayed in bars. The ides was to build it up to being as big a band as Herman's Hermits. It means that Herman's Hermits never appreciated the fact that we had all this glamour given to us. Just because we were young, we accepted it, which kept us pretty normal.
Q - Are you surprised at all that Rock has become a multi-billion a year business? Did you ever in your wildest of dreams think it would happen?
A - You know something, I never thought about it.
Q - You certainly don't look your age. What's your secret?
A - I think it must be my parents. They didn't look their age either. It's one of those Irish-Welsh mixtures that keep people freshly scrubbed. And my brain is only about 17 years old.