BY ELLIOT STEPHEN COHEN
“If I knew how good you could feel when you’re 67, I’d have taken better care of myself,” laughs Peter Noone, paraphrasing a quote attributed to the legendary baseball great, Mickey Mantle.
Noone, who still does more than 100 shows every year, has not only retained his youthful voice, but has also kept his good looks that made teenage girls swoon in his Hermits’ 1960s heyday.
It’s a fact: In 1965, while the British Invasion was in full swing with bands like The Dave Clark Five, Kinks, Animals, Yardbirds, Zombies, etc., Herman’s Hermits was the second most popular English band in America … Even bigger than the Rolling Stones. Only the mighty Beatles were more popular.
The band’s famous hits, “I’m Into Something Good,” “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter,” “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat,” “I’m Henry The Eighth I Am,” “Listen People,” “A Must To Avoid,” “Dandy” and “There’s A Kind of Hush” were overseen by the legendary record producer Mickie Most, who sometimes employed future Led Zeppelin members Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones.
Although the group sold over 60 million records, which included 14 gold singles and seven gold albums, with musical styles changing in the late ’60s, their popularity began slipping. However, as late as 1967, they were headlining over The Who. Although the band was still hugely popular in England, their US label MGM began losing interest in releasing their records. In 1971, Noone left the group to pursue a solo career. One of his first singles, “Oh ! You Pretty Things,” written by David Bowie who also played piano on the track, became a huge British hit, but his days as a prolific hitmaker were largely over. However, he established himself as a popular concert attraction, and remains one to this day.
In 1980, Noone assembled a new band called The Tremblers which recorded an a an excellent album, “Twice Nightly” which unfortunately failed to attract much attention, and they disbanded soon afterward.
Other ventures have included acting in the Broadway show “The Pirates of Penzance,” hosting the VH-1 television program, “My Generation” for four years as well as a 3-hour weekly radio show on Sirius XM, “Sixties On Six,” heard every Saturday at 5 PM, Eastern Standard Time.
Always a crowd pleaser, Noone will be performing Thursday evening at Morristown, New Jersey’s Mayo Center of the Performing Arts, along with The Buckinghams. On Friday, he will be at the Bergen Performing Arts Center in Englewood, NJ, and Saturday evening, Noone will share a bill at The NYCH Theater in Westbury, New York, with Tommy James and The Shondells, The Grass Roots and The Buckinghams.
EXAMINER: First off, belated “Happy Birthday.” Peter, do you have a portrait of yourself hanging on your wall at home that keeps getting older like “Dorian Gray”?
NOONE: (Big laugh) I used to think I’ll do this five more years, but I just told my agent the other day, ten more, if I keep my voice. To me, there’s nothing more stupid than being old and not being fit. I’m going full on until I can’t do this any more, then I’ll stop. Paul McCartney and The Stones are still doing it. I’m an entertainer, and every night I still go out there and try to do the best show I’ve ever done. I give pre-show talks to my band before we go on, like a James Brown. We’ve got to keep hitting home runs, be better than we were the night before. We’re athletes, and we’ve got to kill the audience. We keep things simple, backstage: no coffee, no food, no booze, no smoking, no guests.
EXAMINER: Many contemporaries of yours, The Beach Boys, Rolling Stones, Hollies have done or are doing 50th anniversary tours. Why aren’t you doing one with the three surviving original Herman’s Hermits?
NOONE: I’ve never been a fan of things like that. I don’t want to be reminded that it’s 50 years. I’m not a fan of reunions with a special date, and I don’t think people in the audience want to be reminded that they’re 50 years older. I have suggested to Keith (Hopwood) and Karl (Green), who are still active to show up and do some dates with me, (Noone has been feuding with original drummer Barry Whitman for years, and guitarist Lek Leckenby died in 1994 from lymphoma) – Ed.), but that whole “50 thing” disturbs me. I think I’m relevant now. I don’t want to go backward. You know, I wasn’t married to those guys. We just shared a similar taste in music.
EXAMINER: Back in the 60’s, you were like the Justin Bieber of your day, and Herman’s Hermits were like One Direction is now, with all the screaming girls. What do you think of these two acts?
NOONE: You know, I know absolutely nothing about Justin Bieber. I’ve never heard any of his records. I actually like One Direction. I’ve heard a couple of their records, and I get the idea. It’s like the Monkees, isn’t it, where you get the right songs and a bunch of pretty boys to do them. That’s not what Herman’s Hermits was about. We weren’t pretty. There were a lot of much better looking guys than us. Elvis Presley was pretty …. and talented. We were just talented and, in all humility, took massive advantage of it.
EXAMINER: So what do you see as the most important differences between Herman’s Hermits and today’s young stars?
NOONE: Well, most young stars today have somebody looking after them, paying their bills, booking the hotels, the flights, getting the limos., all that (B.S.). I started out driving us around in a van. Even though I was only 15, sometimes I was the only sober one in the band. So you develop a special kind of humility when you have to look after things yourself at that age. Herman’s Hermits were definitely child stars. Keith and Karl were like 16 and 17, just a little older than me, and we developed this kind of like Royal Marines kind of comradery. People were always trying to beat us up, and we’d all be in the fight. It wasn’t like any of us ran away. We all got beaten up together. That’s a special kind of bond that, I think, child stars don’t have today.
EXAMINER: You had some pretty wild fans in those day.
NOONE: Yeah, we still do. You know, the whole fanatic thing is really appealing to me because I think I’m sort of a fan myself. I meet people that I’m a fan of. I met Joe Bonamassa, recently, and I acted like a fan. It’s the true test of an entertainer, how nice he is to his fans. When I met Johnny Cash, he was so nice to me and so friendly. He was really enamored that, being from England, I knew so much about him. I said, “Everybody in England, knows Johnny Cash.”
EXAMINER: Who are some of the other greats you’ve met, and had similar experiences with?
NOONE: Elvis Presley was delightful, charming, comedic. He was a real gent, same with the Everly Brothers. I’m like that with my fans. I try to be a graceful as I possibly can. Sometimes there are one too many people in line who don’t say “Please.” – “Hey, sign this!” – Every now and then somebody sends me an e-mail, “I used to be a fan, but I’m not anymore, because you said, “Hurry up and take the picture,” but I try my best to accommodate as many people as I can.
EXAMINER: What reminisces do you have of the late Davy Jones?
NOONE: Great bloke. We all loved him. He was a good comedian. One time we were doing a show together, and I was singing “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter.” He came onstage dressed as a woman with a wig and dress and hit me over the head with a handbag, while I was singing.
EXAMINER: Tell me about Roy Orbison.
NOONE: A true gentleman. He was very kind to Herman’s Hermits. He taught us to always go into the dressing rooms of other acts who were on our tour and introduce ourselves. Well, why? Because the Beatles always did. They would come into our dressing rooms and say, “Hey, Hermit.” I was always “Hermit” to them. “Thanks for being on our show.” It really touched me and, because of that, I think we did a much better show. Where did The Beatles get it from? They did a tour of Britain in 1963, with Roy Orbison, when they were still pretty much unknowns, and Roy went up to their dressing room and said (Noone initiates Orbison’s famous Texas twang), “I just want to thank you for being on my tour, and I hope you have a good show tonight.” So that’s how that tradition got passed on to me.
EXAMINER: As a teenager, you were hanging out with John Lennon, which must have seemed strange for him, being that he was 24 and one of the world’s most famous people, and you were only 17. You must have seemed like a kid to him.
NOONE: Yes, but it was a lot of fun because Lennon was famous for what we call in England, “Taking the piss out of someone,” like, “That’s a nice suit they make in your size,” but I was pretty confident about myself and could give it back to him as well. I was always happy to see him and, I think he was happy to see me. He’d buy me drinks, because I was underage. I think it really showed a kind of kindness on his part – to be kind to the up-and-coming young musician.
EXAMINER: Did he ever express admiration for your records?
NOONE: Well, at the time, there was only one radio station in England (that played pop records), so he must have heard them. He never actually did say he liked them, but once he said to me, “I see you’ve got a number one in America,” and I said, “Thank you.” Then, afterward, I said to myself, “Hermit, that was the stupidest thing you’ve ever said. He’s got nothing to do with the record,” but what I meant, was, “Thank you for noticing.” He was a good bloke, and really nice person.
EXAMINER: When did Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones enter the picture on the Hermits recordings?
NOONE: I think Jimmy showed up around the time of “Wonderful World,” like in early ’65, and John Paul Jones came in around late ’66: He did all those fantastic arrangements on “A Kind Of Hush,” “No Milk Today,” and even did a tour of Germany with us as a keyboard player.
EXAMINER: Speaking of Page and Jones, what did you think of Richard Branson’s recent offer of $800 million for Plant to join them for a Led Zeppelin reunion tour (Which has since proved to be false – Ed.)
NOONE: My opinion is that Robert Plant has way too much class to get involved in something like that. You know, when you go to a Stones concert now, you can guarantee there’ll be like three songs they’ll pull out of the bag, when you’ll go,” That’s better than they’ve ever been. “Well, I don’t think Led Zeppelin can do that. They don’t have that drama. Jimmy Page is not that aggressive any more, and Robert says he can’t sing (those Zeppelin songs), but he still sings great. I’ve seen him live, but that’s why the Beatles never got back together, because people would have said they’re not as good as they used to be.
EXAMINER: Herman’s Hermits have been very underrepresented on CD in America, with only a couple of greatest hits compilations and one movie soundtrack released by ABKCO I assume they own all of the band’s original master tapes.
NOONE: We had a court case settled up with Allen Klein (the label’s late owner and former manager of The Beatles and Rolling Stones – Ed.), and are back on the label. So, after 40 years of an adversarial relationship with them, Jody Klein (Allen’s son) is my best friend. Now, ABKCO will be releasing Herman’s Hermits product with the help of Herman’s Hermits. There hasn’t been much released over here in the past 40 years because we always fought it. Every time they put something out, they would get a legal writ. Isn’t that ridiculous? 40 years adversarial relationship with your label?
EXAMINER: It’s been too long since you’ve made a new album. Do you have any upcoming recording plans?
NOONE: I think I’m going to Nashville to record because I really like the guys there, but I haven’t decided on any songs yet.
EXAMINER: Do you think Herman’s Hermits have been unfairly characterized by some critics as being musically lightweight teen-pop idols, with additional studio musicians helping out on the records?
NOONE: You know, the other day I was looking at some old videos of Herman’s Hermits. A lot of people said, “Oh, they were like The Monkees.” Well, we really weren’t. We were really a good live band. The only reason you could get a record deal in those days was if you were a good live band, and we were the only band left in Manchester who weren’t signed. We always played live on the Ed Sullivan Show, and if people check out those appearances on YouTube, they go, “Oh, you really were good.” Yeah, I know that.
EXAMINER: When you got married at 20 at the height of your fame, didn’t management try to discourage you, that it would hurt your career? You must have broken the hearts of a lot of teenage girls.
NOONE: Management did, but Paul McCartney had told me earlier in my career that you could have a great career in rock and roll, but it was also OK to have a life. He was married to Linda (Eastman) for a long time, and managed to have both. I’m an artist as well as an entertainer. I do whatever I think is right. I met a girl who was the prettiest, nicest girl I’d ever met. I asked her to marry me, and that was the end of that.