Although they were a considered, even in their day, to be a bit lightweight and weren't composers of most of their music, the British Invasion group Herman's Hermits (and their young singer, Peter Noone) were major stars in America, scoring eleven Top Ten hits from 1964 through 1967, by which time they'd sold 40,000,000 records worldwide.
Peter Noone was born on November 5th, 1947 in Manchester. His father was a semi-pro musician and keen that his son should follow in his footsteps, so Peter was sent to study singing and acting at the Manchester School Of Music And Drama. He was something of a childhood star, playing Len Fairclough's son in the soap opera Coronation Street as well as in the lesser known Knight Errant and Family Solicitor. He combined this with local stage appearances too. An acting career seemed inevitable, but instead of becoming a film star, he became a Pop star.
On stage, Peter used the name Peter Kovak. The change to Herman came after his band remarked on his resemblance to the character Sherman in the TV cartoon The Bullwinkle Show, although he mis-heard the name as Herman. The group, who by 1963 were a popular dance hall and youth club attraction known as The Heartbeats, changed their name to Herman And The Hermits. Consisting of bassist Karl Green, drummer Steve Titrington, and guitarists Keith Hopwood and Owl Ridgley, they had gone to Mickie Most's studio in London to make a few records, but nothing panned out and the band began to splinter. Manager Harvey Lisburg then approached drummer Barry Whitwam and guitarist Derek Leckenby from a band called The Wailers, but neither was interested in joining a light-weight group with such an old fashioned name. The pair changed their minds after learning that the band was booked seven days a week for months. One other condition was insisted on by Leckenby: Change the name to something more modern. Lisburg agreed and on April 1st, 1964, Herman's Hermits were born.
Mickie Most eventually got them a deal with EMI's Columbia label. Mickie thought that Peter Noone resembled a young John F. Kennedy and resolved to make him the focus of the group. Most arranged for them to record a Gerry Goffin / Carole King number which had recently been a minor hit in the States for Earl Jean (the Cookies' vocalist). The song, "I'm Into Something Good" shot up the charts and spent two weeks at #1 in September 1964. The British public rapidly took Peter Noone into their hearts as the safe face of Beat music, and the band soon became a household name. Delighted by the success of their earlier song, Goffin and King offered the group a follow-up, but in retrospect, "Show Me Girl" lacked the appeal of their debut disc and only just squeezed into the Top 20.
January 1965 saw the release of the group's first EP, "Hermania", which contained a cover of "I Understand" (which had been a hit for The Four Tunes in 1954 and more recently for Freddie And The Dreamers); covers of Frankie Ford's "Sea Cruise" and Ernie K-Doe's "Mother-In-Law", and a song called "I Think Of You". The EP sold well and some people even spoke of 'Hermania' as a younger rival to Beatlemania.
The band made their first visit to the U.S., which was soon to prove a lucrative market for them. While there, they made a cameo appearance in the teen movie When The Boys Meet The Girls. For their third UK single, the group covered The Rays' 1957 hit "Silhouettes", which climbed to #3 and was undoubtedly one of their better singles. In the U.S. they went one place better with a Carter / Lewis song, "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat", outselling a rival version from Goldie And The Gingerbreads in the process. This gave them their second million-seller ("I'm Into Something Good" had been the first).
Their next 45 was a slick revival of Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World", which rose to #7 in England in April 1965 and #4 in the U.S. a month later. Their really big breakthrough in the States came when an American DJ heard "Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter" on their first US album, "Introducing Herman's Hermits", and persuaded their U.S. record company, MGM, to release it as a 45. It sounded like an old music hall song (though it wasn't) with Noone's George Formby-style vocals and the banjo guitar sound. Realising this, the group prevented its release in England, but in the U.S. The song spent three weeks on top of the charts, earning them another Gold disc. It also topped the Australian Charts and sold 14 million copies worldwide. This success coincided with the group's first full U.S. tour. Over the next two years, when the group faced strong competition from several rivals in the UK, they enjoyed a phenomenal run. Their popularity seems to have been partly due to the fact that many of the first wave British invasion groups had already peaked in terms of sales (with only The Beatles and The Dave Clark Five consistently selling vast quantities of vinyl) and partly because, fuelled by the success of "Mrs. Brown", Mickie Most selected songs for U.S. release that had a vaudeville edge to them. Not only did this set them apart from other U.K. acts of the time, it also fulfilled the American stereotype of what British life was like.
The band enjoyed another Top 20 hit with Kenny Young's bouncy "Just A Little Bit Better" which later made it to #7 in the U.S. Across the Atlantic, another U.S. only single, "I'm Henry VIII", a revival of a 1911 music hall song, extracted from their album "Herman's Hermits On Tour", gave them another #1 and million-seller.
Their first U.K. album, simply titled "Herman's Hermits", wasn't released until September 1965. It consisted of material from their first two U.S. only albums and included both their American number ones, alongside material like The Yardbirds' "For Your Love" and Buddy Holly's "Heartbeat". Climbing to #16, it was to be their only U.K .chart album until a budget-priced retrospective compilation in 1971 took them two places higher. Two EPs followed in the U.K.: "Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter", which became their best-selling EP, rising to #3 in the EP Charts (and suggesting that, had the song been released as a single there, it would have done extremely well) and "Herman's Hermits Hits", which rose to #19.
Their final 45 of 1965 was a fine, jangling P.F. Sloan / Steve Barri song, "A Must To Avoid", which made it to #6 in England and #8 in the States. In the U.S., MGM issued another album, "The Best Of Herman's Hermits", Vol. 1, which included most of the year's 45s and some earlier album tracks. In March 1966, the band issued another U.S. only single. "Listen People" was a slow ballad which went to #3, earning yet another Gold record. Its flip side, "Got A Feeling", was taken from the soundtrack to the film Hold On!, which reached #14 in the U.S. This was a teen movie about naming a U.S. spacecraft after a Beat group, to which the band contributed 11 songs. The album also included four Sloan and Barri tracks such as "A Must To Avoid" and the title cut, "Hold On". Meanwhile, "Listen People" appeared as the flip side to a Tony Hazzard composition, "You Won't Be Leaving", a folksy number that just made it into the Top 20. The follow-up, "This Door Swings Both Ways", was not one of their strongest 45s, but still took them to #12 in the States and #18 in the UK.
It seemed that the band's fortunes were beginning to ebb when they were revitalized by Graham Gouldman's "No Milk Today". This was an excellent Pop song and their first 45 to employ an orchestra. It gave them their first Top 10 hit in the UK in over a year and came with a good flip side, "My Reservation's Been Confirmed", a decent self-penned rocker. In the States, "No Milk Today" appeared on the flip side to a strong version of The Kinks' "Dandy", which put them back in the U.S. Top 5. In the UK, "Dandy" became the title track of their sixth and final EP.
Their next album, "Both Sides Of Herman's Hermits", had different track listings in the U.K. and U.S. While the British pressing appeared the more selective with fewer throw-away songs, it was the U.S. one that enjoyed chart action, peaking at #48. Later, at the beginning of 1967, a U.S. only compilation, "The Best Of Herman's Hermits, Vol. 2", just edged into the Top 20. On the 45 front, their treatment of Graham Gouldman's "East West" had failed to impress on either side of the Atlantic, but in late 1966, they bounced back with a ballad called "There's A Kind Of Hush", a Les Reed / Geoff Stephens composition, which made it to #4 in the U.S. and #7 in the UK. Definitely one of their best songs, it also became the title track of their next album, which for the first time had the same track listing on both sides of the Atlantic. It made the U.S. Top 20, but failed to sell in large quantities in England. Future Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones, who arranged most the band's records, played double bass and piano on the final mix.
In America, with the advent of The Monkees and the onset of the psychedelic era, Herman's Hermits' fortunes declined rapidly. Kenny Young's "Don't Go Out Into The Rain", became their last U.S. Top 20 hit. Their next U.K. 45 was a cover of Donovan's "Museum", which only managed #37 in the U.S. Their final album, "Blaze", didn't even get a U.K. release, although it had its moments with the Beatles-like "Moonshine Man" and Graham Gouldman's "Upstairs Downstairs".
In their final years, the band concentrated on the mainstream Pop market and enjoyed further big UK hits with "I Can Take Or Leave Your Loving", "Sleepy Joe" and sing-along ditties like "Sunshine Girl" and "Something's Happening", all in 1968. The one area of U.S. success in this phase of their career was the group's appearance in the film Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter, in which Noone played a lead role. The soundtrack album didn't chart at all in the U.K. and only rose to #182 in the US.
In November 1968, Noone married a French girl, Mireille Strasser, and the following month he formed a business partnership with Graham Gouldman which led to the opening of a New York boutique called Zoo. 1969 saw the release of one of the band's best records, "My Sentimental Friend", a ballad which didn't catch on in North America, but was a major European hit, reaching #2 on the U.K. Pop chart. Later in the year, while on tour in Australia, the band heard Ross D. Wylie's hit cover of Johnny Young's "Here Comes The Star", and decided to record it for U.K. release. It was another slow, sad song, but didn't enjoy the success of "My Sentimental Friend", only managing #33. Their final single for Columbia, "Years May Come, Years May Go", returned them to the Top 10 on the British chart for one last time.
In mid-1970, Mickie Most launched his new RAK label and with their good track record, Herman's Hermits were an inevitable choice to help promote it. Their first 45 on this new label, the reggae-influenced "Bet Yer Life I Do", which had been written by Hot Chocolate's Errol Dunkley and Tony Wilson, marked a significant change of style and it did the trick for Most, giving him a Top 30 hit to help launch the label. The follow-up, another Hot Chocolate song, "Lady Barbara", took things a step further putting them back in the U.K. Top 20. It was credited to Peter Noone And Herman's Hermits and proved to be his last hit song with the band.
As the music scene split into Rock and Pop segments and tastes began to lean in a more serious direction, Herman's Hermits' hits dried up. The group slowed down and eventually split in 1971, followed by the typical legal battles. Noone went solo, continuing to record on Mickie Most's RAK label, while The Hermits recruited Eric Stewart from 10cc and relocated to the U.S. where they signed with RCA. A single called "She's A Lady" made it to #20 in England and #1 in Scandinavia, but did nothing in America. The band continued as a live act for several years and recorded the occasional single, none of which enjoyed any chart action. Inevitably, compilations cropped up after their split and there was also a brief reformation in June 1973 to top the bill at the British Invasion nostalgia concert in New York's Madison Square Gardens. The EP "Collection" included most of the band's hits from the 1964-66 period. "The Best Of The EMI Years" is a two CD set which includes all of their hits. When Peter again left the band in 1974, bassist Karl Green took over on lead vocals and the group soldiered on.
In the mid-70s, Peter Noone spent three years hosting a British television series. He then moved to the south of France and cut a few singles that were moderate hits there and in Belgium. By the end of the seventies, Noone had taken up part-time residence in L.A. where he formed another Rock band, The Tremblers. The group released a mostly ignored album called "Twice Nightly" that Peter produced. In 1982, he recorded a solo album called "One Of The Glory Boys" and appeared as Fredric in the Broadway production of The Pirates Of Penzance. For five years in the 1990s, he hosted the VH1 program, My Generation.
Not all of the original members of the Hermits stayed in the music business. Guitarist Keith Hopwood started a music company called Pluto Music and wrote music for TV, film, and animation. Karl Green left to raise his family in 1980 and opened a plumbing and tiling business in London.
Since the departure of Peter Noone, the Hermits never stopped touring. Original members, Derek Leckenby and Barry Whitwam continued to tour as Herman's Hermits until Lenkenby died of cancer at the age of 51 in 1994, after which Whitwam carried on, averaging more that 200 one-night stands per year.
Peter Noone also toured the United States in 2002 as Herman's Hermits, staring Peter Noone, but none of the original Hermits were with him. In the mid-2000s, the four surviving members, Peter Noone, Keith Hopwood, Barry Whitwam and Karl Green met over lunch to discuss business and at Noone's urging, performed together one last time on a Sunday night at the London Palladium. No other reunion dates were set. In March, 2007, Peter appeared as a celebrity coach on US TV's American Idol, where he also sang "There's A Kind Of A Hush".
In 2009, Noone launched a law suit after one of Whitwam's shows was billed by a promoter as Herman's Hermits instead of the agreed on Herman's Hermans starring Barry Whitwam. Feeling that it was "not worth the hassle", Whitwam stopped touring in America from that point on. He carried on world-wide with Geoff Foot, who has been with the band since Noone's departure as lead singer and bass guitarist, Kevan Lingard on keyboards and vocals, and Simon Van Downham on guitar. Paul Cornwell replaced Van Downham in 2013. The band was still heavily booked through 2016. Peter Noone also had a full slate of tour dates booked during 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016. In March 2015, the German label Bear Family released a 2-CD "50th Anniversary" set containing sixty-six of Herman's Hermits most significant recordings. Fifty-nine of them are in first-time-ever stereo.
By 2015, original bassist Karl Green had formed The Karl Green Band and was scheduled to play a couple of tours of America that Spring and Summer, but visa problems put an end to his plans. Although he told Gary James of ClassicBands.com that he's quite willing to team up again with Peter Noone and Barry Whitwam, he also conceded that any reunion of the surviving original members of Herman's Hermits is highly unlikely because Noone and Whitwam were still at odds.
Be sure to read Gary James' interviews with
Karl Green (first interview)
Karl Green(second interview)