Saturday, June 6, 2020

Interview -- Peter Noone (Herman's Hermits)

"We didn't know
it was a British invasion.
We just knew there was much
more enthusiasm over there."
~ Peter Noone ~

Peter Noone was just 15 when he became the lead singer for Herman's Hermits.  Before that, he had been a successful child actor in a TV soap.  Peter Noone was the perfect frontman.  He had a boyish charm that made all the little girls mad.  And an infectious, good-time goofiness about him that made it clear he didn't take himself too seriously.  And most importantly, he could sing.  Peter, along with the rest of the Hermits, made a lot of great AM radio-ready songs.  Their first single, “I'm Into Something Good” went to number one.  “Mrs. Brown...” did the same.  The British Invasion went down and the boys were off to the races.  In fact, for a while, Herman's Hermits were giving The Beatles a close run for their money.  They were that big.

At 72,  Peter remains ageless, looking and sounding much the same as he ever did.  He is still acting on both stage and on screen, but it's as the lovable Hermit that Peter is remembered best.  And it's nice to find out that "Herman's Hermits with Peter Noone" have some new tour dates scheduled for later this year...if the creeks don't rise.  Peter Noone is the Peter Pan of the British Invasion.  Go get you some.

Peter Noone Interview -- June 2020
Peter Noone

Casey Chambers:  I recently heard your recording of "Oh, You Pretty Things" (1971) and it is amazing.  This was an early David Bowie song that he would later record himself.  Your version was the first version and it was released to big success in the UK.  And it really begs new ears.  How did that all go down?

Peter Noone:  David came to Mickie Most's office with the song.  Mickie Most was our producer...Herman's Hermits producer.  And The Animals.  And Donovan.  David thought it would be a good song for Herman's Hermits and he played it for him.  Mickie called me over to his office and while David was playing it, Mickie said to me, 'This should be your first solo single. This shouldn't be Herman's Hermits.'  And as it was in those days, we quickly booked the studio.  David played the piano on the record.  He was the only person who could play it like he wanted it.  We got Herbie Flowers on bass and, I think, Bobby Graham on drums.  And 20 minutes later it was done.  We edited the take a few times because David couldn't play all the way through and it turned out great.  It was my very first solo single and then we did a couple more together.

"Oh You Pretty Things" - Peter Noone / Single (1971)

Casey Chambers:  Was that the first time your paths crossed?

Peter Noone:  I can't remember the first time I met David.  England is a small country.  Everybody who was in the music business knew each other.  We'd seen each other at gigs and been for a beer and stuff like that.  But the first time I saw him, I just don't remember.  Probably when I was at school.  He was in one band and I was in another band.

Casey Chambers:  Your first solo single turned out to be a pretty tasty cinnamon roll.

Peter Noone:  Yeah, it was a big song in Europe.  I don't think it even came out in America.  I'm not quite sure if it was ever released.  But it was a massive hit in England.  When I do concerts in England, that's the most requested song.  That, and "No Milk Today" strangely enough. (laughs)  David and I ended up doing a few songs together.  We did "Life On Mars," "Right On Mother," "Bombers," but "Oh, You Pretty Things" was the only one that was a hit.

Casey Chambers:  Jumping around, you were in an episode of the cult-favorite TV show..."Quantum Leap." ("Glitter Rock" S:3/E:17 - 1991)  And it was great fun seeing you.  How did you leap into that gig?

Peter Noone:  The show had an audition looking for people to play musicians.  Musicians for a band that looked like Kiss.  And I went in to audition because I actually knew the producer and the writer of the show.  When I got there, they asked if I would be interested in being the crossdressing, embezzling, murdering manager. (laughs)  Everybody knew I was already in a band, but no one would ever suspect Herman to be the cross-dressing, embezzling manager.  And it was good.  It was good.  And it sort of led to other things because later I was asked to replace Scott Bakula in a Broadway show called "Romance/Romance."  Scott's a genius guy.  A great singer.  Great musician.  And I got to be his replacement in a Broadway show.  That was partly because they had seen me in "Quantum Leap."

"Quantum Leap" Season Three

Casey Chambers:  I was a little late to the party, so my introduction to your music was when the song "I'm Into Something Good" was featured in the movie, "The Naked Gun." (1988)  And that song became a hit all over again.  Radio was playing the song all the time.

Peter Noone:  Yeah, what happened was they wanted to use "I'm Into Something Good" for a scene in the movie, but the song belonged to Allen Klein who wanted to charge them a lot of money.  The Zucker Brothers, who made all those "Naked Gun" movies, called and asked if I could recut the we did.  We recut it so was so close to the original...we needed to change the guitar solo.  Otherwise, Allen Klein would think it was his version.  So we added a kind of Moog synthesizer instrument that wasn't invented in the '60s.  Yeah, yeah it was great fun.  The people who made the movie took me to see it afterward.  I went with Elvis' wife and his daughter.  The Zucker Brothers had such great energy.  Comedy energy  It was a very, very good fun time.

"I'm Into Something Good" - Peter Noone / "The Naked Gun Soundtrack" (1988)

Casey Chambers:  Little did I know at that time, 25 years earlier and long before Leslie Nielsen had fallen on top of the queen, "I'm Into Something Good" was Herman's Hermits first charting single.  It really opened the floodgates for you guys.

Peter Noone:  People were sending songs to our producer all the time and Mickie Most was a great song picker.  He gave us that song and told us we should go try it out.  And so we did.  We went out and played it at a few gigs in Liverpool and Glasgow and all those.  And the people seemed to really like it.  So we recorded it and the song went to number one in England.  Went straight to number one.  It was a quite massive hit.  And still, when people see me...they will sing that song.  It's also become the theme song for the Manchester United Football Club.

Casey Chambers:  You gotta love it when a football team adopts one of your songs.

Peter Noone:  Yeah, 'cause we were all from Manchester, so yeah. (laughs)

Casey Chambers:  Even better.  Free tickets! (laughs)  "I'm Into Something Good" was also written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King.  Did you ever receive any feedback from them?

Peter Noone:  Oh yeah, of course.  Carole loved it.  We did a concert once, and they were both in the audience together.  And when we played it, they looked at each other and smiled, which was a great feeling.  You know, it's nice when performers see the writers get off because they connected with it.  They wrote so many great songs and it was a great moment.

Casey Chambers:  What was it like coming to America for the first time and being a part of what became known as the British Invasion?

"Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter" - Herman's Hermits (live 1965) 

Peter Noone:  Well, we had no idea what America was.  We thought Elvis Presley was America.  Chuck Berry was America.  England was just a bunch of nice chaps where everybody knew each other.  You know, the British rock and roll scene.  No competition.  We were all collaborators in this Invasion.  When we got to America, we went out on a tour that included Little Anthony and the Imperials, and Bobby Vee and Freddy Cannon, and Ike and Tina Turner.  And we saw that America was lots and lots of mixed up things.  So...big culture shock.

Casey Chambers:  In your mind, did you think of it as a British Invasion at the time?

Peter Noone:  Well, we knew that lots of British acts were doing America and having hits in America  The audiences had changed very quickly.  You don't remember...but once upon a time, there was no afterlife to music.  You had a hit record and then you went back to high school.  But with the British invasion...all these artists had had more behind them.  There was an album.  There was a tour.  And so it was just different.  We didn't know it was a British Invasion.  We just knew there was much more enthusiasm over there.

Casey Chambers:  Mickie Most was one of the most successful producers of the era.  How did you guys meet?

Peter Noone:  He came to see us play.  England is a small country and what happened...all the record producers would hear about a band getting popular...and they would show up.  Sort of like Seattle for Nirvana and Detroit for Motown.  And there was a scene in Liverpool and Manchester.  My parents lived in Liverpool and the band was from Manchester and we somehow crossed over into being a Merseybeat band and a Manchester band.  We were playing a lot of dates and were being quite successful.  In those days, if you were getting lots of concerts, you had to be successful.  That was a part of the success.  So Mickie heard about us and came to watch us in this little club in Bolton.  We were the hottest unsigned band for quite a while.  We'd do auditions for people and fail because they didn't understand what we were doing.  We were kind of mixing music and comedy and luckily Mickie was the guy who signed us.

"A Must To Avoid" - Herman’s Hermits / American Bandstand (1966)

Casey Chambers:  Was that before or after you guys were playing the legendary Cavern?

Peter Noone:  Oh, much after.  We started playing The Cavern right in the beginning.  We were one of those bands who could play all day at The Cavern.  We could do the lunchtime session.  We could do the junior Cavern and evening Cavern.  We just had a good setlist for that.  We did American songs with an American accent.  What we supposed was an American accent.  We would do "Mother-In-Law" thinking we were singing like Americans and songs that were very English like, "Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter" and "Leaning On The Lamp Post"...we sang with an English accent.  We did the accent that fit the character.  Little characterizations...sort of Stanislavski stuff.  All these songs were done at The Cavern.  Yeah, we played there a lot.

Herman's Hermits

Casey Chambers:  Many bands used The Cavern as a springboard.  The Kinks. The Stones. The Beatles, of course.  That had to feel like grabbing the golden ring.

Peter Noone:  We thought we had made it when we made it to The Cavern.  'Well okay, we've made it. Now what?' (laughs)  But then next you wanted to get heard on the radio.  And it was always about the next.  All those many bands at The Cavern.  Some of them were much, much better bands than Herman's Hermits, but they never made it and nobody knows why they didn't make it.  But I think it's because all the pieces have to be on the same board.  And I mean...all of them.  If one's could be a manager.  It could be a crooked agent.  In our case, all the pieces fell together.  We had the right song.  The right label.  The right producer.  The right manager.  And on and on.  And that's how we made it.  But there were lots of good bands.  The Mojos was a great band.  The Escorts was a great band.  The Undertakers was a great band.  Much better than us.  I mean, we would go to watch them.  And they never made it.  We were just unique enough to make it.

Casey Chambers:  Did you have much of a musical upbringing?

Peter Noone:   Yeah, yeah.  I had a musical household.  Everybody was a musician, you know?  I'm a true musician.  So my dad had a trombone.  His brother had a trumpet.  My grandfather was the church organ player.  My grandmother was the choir mistress of the church.  All we did was sing and dance and laugh at you weddings, funerals, christenings, baptisms.  There was always music. Live music.

Casey Chambers:  Did you have the opportunity to see many American artists in England when you were growing up?

Peter Noone:  Oh yeah.  Many, many.  I only liked American artists.  I didn't have much energy for the English ones.  I saw Del Shannon and Roy OrbisonThe Everly BrothersSam CookeChuck Berry.  I saw Gene Vincent and Gene Pitney.  The ones who came to England, I would go and see.

Casey Chambers:  You mentioned Sam Cooke.  You guys did a really nice cover of his classic..."Wonderful World" and had another smash.  It's a fun listen.

"Wonderful World" - Herman's Hermits (Live in Australia 1966)

Peter Noone:  Yeah, everybody did one of his songs.  He was pretty inspirational because he had beautiful pop songs.  In America, they had all these different charts.  Charts that confused us.  They had a country chart and rhythm and blues chart.  The Top 40.  England, we did have the Top 40.  But The Beatles were number one.  And number two was the soundtrack to "The Sound Of Music." (laughs)  We were not spoiled by all the broken up little towns of different radio stations for different people.  So we heard it all.  We heard all music.  Of course, Sam Cooke was brilliant and we heard it right.

We'd hear Julie Andrews.  Then we'd hear Sam Cooke.  And then we'd have Woody Herman's Thundering Herd.  That's how England was.  We didn't get stuck with just the top 40.  Or just country and western.  We didn't know that Johnny Cash wasn't a rock and roll star.  We bought Conway Twitty thinking he was a rock star like Elvis.  We didn't know that retrospect, almost all the British superstars that came from America were country singers.  Roy Orbison was country.  The Everly Brothers was country.  Everybody except for, you know, Sam Cooke and Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.  The rest of them were country stars.  Elvis.  His first records broke in country music.  "That's All Right, Mama" was a country song and then they changed the name to rock and roll and he got moved over into the top 40.  Same with Roy Orbison.  Same with Johnny Cash.

Casey Chambers:  I get it.  Music labeled to death.  What's an album you would recommend readers track down and listen to?

Peter Noone:   You know, I think Buddy Holly and the Crickets.  It's the one with the gray cover with his glasses on the front.  I recommend everybody start with Buddy Holly and the Crickets because they just recorded everything that they could.  Non-stop recording.  He was the music of everybody in those days.  The Beatles did...(singing) 'Words of love whisper soft and true."  And maybe they recorded more than one song, but when they were live...they played lots of Buddy Holly.  The Stones recorded "Not Fade Away" and turned it into a rhythm and blues song.  But pop was the thing that Buddy Holly owned.  Herman's Hermits recorded one of his songs, as well. ("Heartbeat")  All the bands were doing Buddy Holly material.

Casey Chambers:  I'd like to toss you a few names and have you say whatever comes to your mind.

Peter Noone:  Okay.

Casey Chambers:  John Lennon.

Peter Noone:  John was very nice to me.  I think because he had the same English kind of wit as I have.  So I could parlay with him.  He would say, 'That's a nice suit. Do they make it in your size?' (laughs)  And I would say, 'No, but my tailor can make collars.' (laughs)  Stuff like that.  It was just easy.  We all liked each other.  You didn't have to like the music to like somebody.  That's this new thing that's been created, like with "The Voice." and "American Idol."  So, I had friends and they didn't necessarily buy my records.  I'm sure John Lennon didn't rush out and buy my records.  But I think he liked me.

Casey Chambers:  Brian Jones.

Peter Noone:  I had just been reading his book again.  You know, he was a really nice guy.  I was probably one of the few people who got on great with him because nobody seemed to like him.  But I loved him.  I thought he was the person who was most like me.  Grammar schoolboy.  A nice mom.  Totally, totally into music.  If ya went out on a walk with him during a break from a TV show or something, we'd talk about music and girls.  No rubbish.  Just music and girls.

Casey Chambers:  Arthur Lubin...the director of the movie, "Hold On!"

Peter Noone:  He was a great character.  He had done some great work.  He had a massive TV background.  And he had no idea what to do with us. (laughs)  He thought that Herman's Hermits were like the Beatles in "A Hard Day's Night."  Like everybody thought that the Monkees were like the Beatles in, "A Hard Day's Night."  So we just had fun.  Music is fun.  Arthur Lubin understood that singing "Leaning On The Lamp Post" in a spaceship was a good joke.  And none of this should be taken seriously, you know?  So the serious stuff, we never had any.  We never gave that a moment.
If you're a musician and you want to try to impress other musicians, you don't stand a chance.  History will prove this to be a fact.  You now move from one in a million to one in a trillion chance of making it.  I was very lucky.  We never wanted to impress musicians.

Casey Chambers:  Well thank you so much for hanging out this morning.  It's been a real treat.  I hope you're staying safe in your neck of the woods.

Peter Noone:  Of course, I am.  I was already a hermit, remember, before this started. (laughs).  Nice talking to you, Casey.

"There's A Kind Of Hush" - Herman's Hermits / "There's A Kind Of Hush" (1967)

Peter Noone Official WebSite

Upcoming Tour Dates

Good stuff.

Casey Chambers
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Anonymous said...

One of my favorite groups from the 60's

Anonymous said...

Really good interview. I'm old enough to remember the "British Invasion" firsthand and what a great time for music. Enjoyed this a lot and glad to see younger people interested in music from our generation. Thanks for the entertainment!