Peter Noone, singer-songwriter with Herman’s Hermits chats with Kevin Cooper about working with Mickie Most, his brother in law Geno Washington, protecting Tom Jones with his mother’s coffee table legs and his forthcoming tour with The Solid Silver 60’s Show.
Peter Noone is an English singer-songwriter, guitarist, pianist and actor, best known as Herman of the successful 1960s pop group Herman’s Hermits. As Herman, the photogenic Noone appeared on the cover of many international publications, including Time Magazine’s cover collage showing new faces in popular music.
His classic hits included I’m Into Something Good, Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter, I’m Henry The Eighth I Am, Silhouettes, Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat, Just A Little Bit Better, Wonderful World, There’s A Kind Of Hush, and Dandy. Herman’s Hermits sold over sixty million recordings, with fourteen gold singles and seven gold albums.
As Herman, Peter Noone also performed on hundreds of television programs and appeared with Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason, Dean Martin and Danny Kaye. He featured in three films for MGM; Mrs. Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter, Hold On! and When The Boys Meet The Girls.
After Herman’s Hermits disbanded in 1971, Noone recorded four singles for UK RAK Records; his first being Oh! You Pretty Things, which was written by the late David Bowie, who also unknowingly played piano on the track. Noone now lives in California but regularly tours the UK as part of The Solid Silver 60’s Tour.
Whilst busy rehearsing, he took the time to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.
Peter, good afternoon how are you?
I’m fantastic Kevin and living the dream.
You are bringing The Solid Silver 60’s Show to The Royal Concert Hall here in Nottingham on Saturday 7th May. Are you looking forward to performing here in Nottingham once again?
Yes I truly am; it’s the second date of the tour and I really do love performing in Nottingham. I am so excited as I love performing at The Concert Hall; I love that place. Parking is a bit difficult but…(laughter).
What can you tell me about the show?
It’s going to be a great evening with some good acts and great songs. Dave Berry is with us, and I really do like what Dave does. On Herman’s Hermits very first tour of the UK Dave was supposed to look after us and make sure that we didn’t get into any trouble (laughter). Let me tell you he didn’t have a chance (laughter). Brian Hyland and I have been friends since his first records came out. Brian was having hits before Herman’s Hermits so we were in awe of him at that time. It is always great to tour with people that you admire. As for The New Amen Corner I would prefer it if they were not one of those fake outfits. I personally have trouble with that and I refuse to tour with bands like that over here in America. It’s easy for me to be preposterous in America because I am much bigger over in the States than I ever was in the UK. People love me and listen to me over here. In the UK I am just an oldies singer.
I personally prefer it when it is the real people. Dave Berry is the real Dave Berry, Brian Hyland is the real Brian Hyland and I’m the real Peter Noone. The Merseybeats are The Merseybeats who I have known since back in 1963. The Merseybeats and Herman’s Hermits were playing gigs at The Cavern Club in Liverpool as far back as 1963. I think that it is pathetic if you can’t make a living without impersonating somebody else, it’s pathetic. I’m not pathetic and thank god that I have never had to impersonate anyone else; I am Herman from Herman’s Hermits, always have been, always will be.
You last played here in Nottingham almost seven years ago now.
Bloody hell, is that right. It certainly doesn’t feel like it was seven years ago. Having said that I do only tour once every decade so, so to be honest I’m not quite sure.
Well let me tell you that you are in for a shock as we now have an awful one-way system in the city centre.
Well everywhere is a shock really because I am so old that I can remember these places when I used to ride up on a bike (laughter). I think that I still know where everything is and I just hope that we can put on a good show and that the people can get there. The last time that I played there I parked across the street from the Concert Hall and walked over the road with the audience. As long as the new system encourages more people to go to the theatre then that can only be a good thing isn’t it?
Yes I totally agree with you.
We have to protect and save our theatres as it is the most English of all things. I can remember my mum taking me to the theatre to see a rock and roll band which is one of the most English things; you could take your kids along and it was great. The biggest problem with it all is that you wouldn’t want to take your kids to see some of these bands now as they are either dangerous or sexually inappropriate. I feel like a Conservative now; I live in America and I feel like I am on the wrong side here as I feel like I am on the Republican side. I feel that people should not be allowed to behave badly.
My dad would have thumped about fifty people who I see every day. He would have said “you can’t do that, not here you can’t”, I can hear my dad saying that sort of stuff every day (laughter). Over in America if you did stand up and say something then you would get yourself shot and I hate that.
So just where does your passion for the theatre originate from?
Well I can remember when I was a kid being introduced to rock and roll by my parents who took me along to the theatre. My older sister would regularly take me along to The Manchester Hippodrome to see the likes of Eddie Cochran; it was all a part of our culture going along to the theatre to see an American rock and roll star like Jerry Lee Lewis. When I think back to all of the great artists that I went to see playing the theatres, it really is quite amazing. My generation, and I am talking like an old geezer now, for us it is like the last of the cheeky-chappie entertainers such as Gerry Marsden and The Beatles; they were all-round entertainers and not just songwriters. They were musicians who knew how to put on a show.
At the end of the show people would go home with a smile on their face.
Yes they would, absolutely. In my case Mickie Most who was my producer would always say that we had got to make it so that it would work straight after the news. Mickie truly believed that and he wanted all of my songs to be inspirational uppers. Once upon a time popular music was all about feeling up and being visually pleasant wasn’t it, whereas now it seems to be all doom and gloom.
Everything now seems to be about anarchy.
There are lots of songs out there that have been written about anarchy but hey, musically I am from a different world. I am from this working class world where everyone was happy and would save as much money as they could in order to go on holiday in a caravan in Wales (laughter). Now everyone has much higher expectations. One thing that I never realised until I was a really old guy was that my parents and grandparents were in actual fact really poor. But as kids we didn’t know that we were poor because we never saw other people on the television, unlike the Cubans who watched American shows and thought that all of the cops in America drove around in bright red Ferraris (laughter).
We simply didn’t know what other people had so we had nothing to envy. Look what you’ve done Kevin, I’m reminiscing now as I remember my family sitting around at weddings, christenings and funerals playing music because that was all that there was. You either played Monopoly, Snap or music (laughter). All of the family did it together whereas now people are all separated and do their own things. If you look at four people driving past you in a car, all four of them will be listening to a different song. My dad would make us all listen to the songs on the radio until the end. His favourite saying to us was “you can’t turn it off, give the lads a chance”.
Dad would be listening to The Billy Cotton Band Show and I would ask him to turn it down and he would always say to me “give the lads a chance” (laughter). For me it really was a good musical education and included in that would be Elisabeth Schwarzkopf for twenty minutes. We had to give her a chance as well (laughter). I’m sure that my mother would have said “no she was a Nazi” (laughter) but at least as a family we shared her music. Everybody in the family shared the music.
How did you get started in music?
(Laughter) well it was like this, my auntie Mary knew a Fats Waller song called My Very Good Friend The Milkman and she taught me to play it on the piano. That was my first step towards having a career within the music business (laughter). I get young people coming along to my concerts and I always ask them how do they know about me and my music and they always tell me that their grandparents had all of my records (laughter).
Does that bother you at all?
No, not at all because I never ever wanted to be famous; all I wanted was to make popular songs. I always kept myself under the radar and was never what you would call a regular pop star. When I lived in England you would never see me on a red carpet; I would never attend the James Bond openings because I wasn’t interested in that side of show business. I’m thankful for that; I just wanted to be famous for my songs (laughter).
I have just been watching your 2015 concert at Busch Gardens in Florida and I have to say that in my opinion you are both looking and sounding as good as ever.
Thank you Kevin, that’s nice of you to say. We really do try to sound like the records and the band play the songs in the original keys which for me as the singer is hard work, but it is something that I strongly believe in. With the American operation I have had the same bunch of guys in my band for well over twenty years now and we all decided that as well as being musicians we want to be like Mick Jagger; we wanted to be like athletes. We wanted it to be like us playing for Manchester United, and if you are no good during that ninety minutes you get sent to Crewe or Sunderland (laughter). All that we do all week is train and then on the way to the gig we are mentally preparing for what lies ahead.
We want to be good and continue to play at The Royal Opera House; we want to keep that standard. So in order to be able to do that you have to be fit, and you have to constantly be thinking about what you are going to do at the next gig. Repetition is very dangerous, so much so that some of the songs can become hybrids. So what we do every week is we listen to the original recordings and I always say the biggest insult to my musicians when I say to them “no, no, no you just have to be able to play it as good as those sixteen year old boys on the record” (laughter). That is actually a great compliment to those sixteen year old boys playing on the records but at the time we didn’t know just how good it was. I am so grateful that there are just so many great songs for me to choose from. None of them sound stupid.
On the subject of sounding stupid, do you still include I’m Henry the Eighth I Am in your set list?
(Laughter) funny that you should mention that particular song. Wherever I play in America I have to sing I’m Henry the Eighth I Am, and the audiences love the fact that I go for it whenever I sing that song. Brian Hyland, who is on the Solid Silver 60’s Tour with me has to sing Itsy Bitsy Teenie Weenie Yellow Polkadot Bikini and I don’t really think that he enjoys it. However I said to him that it doesn’t matter if he enjoys singing it or not. All that he has to do is look at the faces of the people in the audiences when he does sing it, it’s a buzz.
Who would you say has been your best audience?
That’s easy, the best audience that I have ever had in my life, and I have been around for a long time, was a matinée audience in Leeds. I walked out onto the stage and started singing I’m Into Something Good and as it was a small theatre I could see that every single person in the audience was singing the song with me. I thought shit (laughter) and it was the greatest feeling that I have ever had in my life. For a moment I felt like Freddie Mercury singing We Will Rock You to ninety thousand people but I’m Into Something Good is a bit more complicated, it’s a little more complicated than We Will We Will Rock You (laughter). (He then sang an impromptu version of both songs to me to prove his point).
It gave me a massive buzz and I came off stage and immediately called my wife, my daughter and my agent saying “you won’t believe this, I have just had the greatest audience that I have ever had in my life” (laughter). That was in relatively recent times. Before that we had a few good audiences at The Cavern Club up in Liverpool but nothing like that audience in Leeds.
Am I to take it that you still enjoy touring?
The short answer to that is yes, and I still play a minimum of one hundred concerts every year. I have now done that every year for the last thirty years. It is what I do; I am a working class lad from Manchester. My parents and my grandparents all went off to work every morning, if they were lucky, so I wake up in the morning and I go to work. I actually feel bad because I’m not working today, it’s called being lazy in the Noone family (laughter). So I keep looking for further opportunities to work.
I actually follow you on Facebook and looking at footage of your American shows they are always sold out and the audiences are having a whale of a time.
The reason for my success is simple; I have outlived all of the competition. So that means that I am the only British Invasion bloke who is out there still doing it. We have recently played eighteen sold-out gigs at Busch Gardens in Tampa. I know that certain people will say that its only eighteen thousand people but it’s a cool living for me.
So what would you say sells out your concerts; is it your boyish good looks or do good songs play a part in it?
I think that now it is only about the good songs because for me personally, I always wanted to be able to walk along the street and be able to stand in the lobby of the theatre and watch the other bands. I have always since day one tried to keep myself under the radar as much as the music business would allow me to do. The truth is that the songs are that good that my dad could be out there singing them now.
I have heard that you have two different set-lists, one for here in the UK and one for your shows over there in America. Is that correct?
(Laughter) who has told you that (laughter). Yes Kevin that is absolutely correct, whenever I play in the UK it is a different set-list to the one in the USA. For example when I play in the USA there is no My Sentimental Friend, Somethings Happening, Sleepy Joe or Sunshine Girl on the set-list simply because those songs weren’t hits in America. In fact those particular songs were never released in America. So whenever I am performing in England I have to rehearse a hell of a lot and I have to sing a lot more because they are much harder songs for me to sing (laughter). But I have to say that regardless of whether I am in the UK or the States, they are all great songs.
Does being labelled an ‘Oldie But Goodie’ bother you at all?
Because I tour so much and I run into so many other musicians within my form of show business, I think they call it Oldies But Goodies over there in England (laughter). I absolutely don’t mind that because in my eyes being an Oldie But Goodie is far better than being a ‘never had a go’ sort of person. Being an Oldie But Goodie allows me to meet guys like, for example Tommy James And The Shondells who in the past got to release twenty or so fantastic songs but they don’t play them like the records. So as you can imagine the audience kind of get, I can’t say disappointed, but it’s not quite what they were expecting from the show.
Didn’t your dad give you some good advice regarding audiences?
Yes he did, my dad always told me that you should never disappoint your audience. He told me to never walk out there onto the stage and be flat, and never do anything that would make the audience disappointed. You need everyone to go out onto the stage like Bobby Charlton in the 1966 World Cup Final. He was the oldest guy on the pitch and he just had a fantastic game; probably his best game ever. I want to do that at every gig and I simply can’t go out there without the ammunition so the songs are very important. Being honest, you can probably go out there with no talent and get away with it with those songs but do you know, after fifty years I’m pretty good at it now (laughter).
How do you manage to keep your voice in such good shape?
I did a Broadway show thirty-seven years ago now, after I had already been in the business for twenty years and at that time I didn’t really know anything about breathing techniques. Doing the show taught me all about that and everything that I learnt on that stage in New York I will still be using on the stage in Nottingham. It’s all about trying to be like an athlete. I train my voice every day whether I am on tour or not because your voice is a muscle. I didn’t know any of that when I was in Herman’s Hermits, in fact I used to smoke right up until the moment that I walked out onto the stage. I knew nothing at all about that. So now I train for my gigs which is so strange but I also know that Mick Jagger does (laughter). In fact I would go so far as to say that Mick is a better singer now than he was back in the day when he was twenty-two years old.
Lots of people do get better as they get older. I always love to see Paul McCartney performing live and after every gig I always say the same thing which is “shit how does he do it” (laughter). Paul is now in his seventies and none of us knew when we were kids that old men improved in some departments. I can remember going to visit my old mate Arthur Askey, who was an English comedian and actor, in the hospital just after he had had both of his legs amputated. Arthur just looked up at me and said “I always said that it’s the legs that go first” so I said to him “that’s not true it’s your knob that goes first” (laughter).
You have briefly mentioned Herman’s Hermits. Do you have a favourite Herman’s Hermits song that you like to perform whenever you tour?
I really do like singing I’m Into Something Good and I actually open my shows with that. People always say that it’s weird that I have sung my best song first but it just puts me in the place where I need to be on stage. Whenever I walk out onto the stage I want to be the age of the person on the record because the only way that you can create the sound of the person is to try to imitate them. So whenever I walk out I am seventeen again. By the time that I get to My Sentimental Friend I am probably about twenty and by the time that we get to the encore my career is over (hysterical laughter). I’m an Oldies But Goodies act at twenty-two (laughter).
I always start with I’m Into Something Good and then I sing Wonderful World because it puts me in a good place musically. Also I’m Into Something Good is the hardest song for me to sing so I have to spend forty minutes in the dressing room preparing my voice to sing that song because I’m old to sing that song. I was sixteen when I recorded it and I am now sixty-eight. They are all great songs to play but let me tell you, they are not easy. Once I get back into the buildings it’s easy for me to once again become a young man because I remember them from when I was a young man. I have played them all before at different periods throughout my life. And that makes the tour easy for me. I suddenly become a tourist once again revisiting places.
I have to ask you about Oh! You Pretty Things written and recorded by the late David Bowie. How did you come to record that song?
At the time that he wrote the song David (Bowie) was having financial difficulties together with problems with his manager. He had written quite a few songs that he couldn’t record himself; he found himself with all of these great pieces of work which legally he couldn’t record. In fact he was having so many problems with his record label that he wasn’t even allowed to release a record of his own as I recall. David came to Mickie Most’s office with a couple of songs that he thought would be good for Herman’s Hermits. We listened to them and Mickie liked three of them; a song called Bombers which has never been released, in fact I have the only existing demo of David singing the song Bombers, which was a story about a world war two bomber. It is a brilliant piece of music.
We had a look at that but then Mickie heard Oh! You Pretty Things and suggested that I have that as my first solo single and that we would have a billboard in Trafalgar Square to promote it. I can remember saying to Mickie at the time that I thought that David was the new Paul McCartney and I thought that he would be this great songwriter just like Paul. We went into the studio with David’s demo of Oh! You Pretty Things which was okay but not that good quality. It was just David playing a piano. Mickie and I got every piano player in London into the studio to have a go at playing this song but no one could play it because David would only ever play in F Sharp, he would only play the black keys. So on the demo he had played the entire song using only the black keys which is kind of bizarre, but this was David Bowie. The only problem was that no one else could play it in F Sharp.
We tried it in other keys which they could play it in but it simply didn’t work. Eventually David showed me how to play the chords on the piano with a C and D together with a B Flat which isn’t even a real chord (laughter). You couldn’t even write it down because the chords simply didn’t fit together. Then out of the blue Mickie asked David to play the song through once on his own but to let me sing it. So David and I went through it once and unbeknown to either of us, Mickie had recorded it and later we added all of the pieces onto the recorded track. We later found musicians who could play the song in David’s way and it is just a magical record. There are no backing vocals on it, we just doubled tracked it with my voice. Once it was finished Mickie looked at me and said “there’s your first solo single”.
We were so excited with how well the song had turned out that David had another song, Ride On Mother and both Mickie and I thought ‘there’s the follow-up too’ (laughter). The two of us were so excited by David’s material.
You have mentioned Mickie Most, what was it like working with him?
It was great, Mickie was and still is my best friend. He was the best man at my wedding and he is a Liverpool supporter so I used to take him to matches, even though I’m not a Liverpool supporter (laughter). The most important thing was that musically we were both on the same page. If I said to Mickie that I wanted that guitar sound of the Everly Brothers on my next song he would know exactly what I was talking about. He is a great friend and a pleasure to work with.
Your daughter Natalie is carving out a career for herself within the music business. Are you a proud dad?
Yes I am and I have to tell you that the first song that she learnt to play on the guitar was a Buddy Holly song so she is in the right spot. It also makes me reflect because I never realised just how proud my parents must be before I became a parent myself. It made me wonder just what they must have thought the first time that they saw me on Top Of The Pops. My family didn’t have that kind of connection like I do with Natalie. My dad was a bit more stoic; he wasn’t a cuddling sort of guy. My daughter is American and I’m English and American dads are all cuddly; they take hold of their daughters and they squeeze them. My dad wasn’t like that with my sister or me. I can only imagine how proud he must have been when I met The Queen. My parents were regular normal North-West of England people who were never supposed to be anything. They didn’t have big dreams, they just wanted to feed us.
Their biggest problem was feeding us (laughter). My mother gave us a sugar sandwich made from mothers pride bread, stork margarine and Tate and Lyle sugar. I can still see it in the kitchen, which was a treat. My sister and I didn’t know that they were broke. Whenever I get to England I go looking for a conventional sandwich (laughter). I always tried to be cool and not let the fame stuff affect me in any way but I now know that it must have affected them. Natalie has recently had a number one record in the Country charts and I was calling all of my friends telling them all about it. So it made me think that my parents must have been like that. They probably walked along the street acting all snooty (laughter). If I am honest then, my mum was the Mrs Bouquet of her day, always pretending that she had bags of money (laughter).
I have to tell you that it was your brother-in-law Geno (Washington) who got me into Natalie’s music.
You know Geno do you Kevin. He’s the man. I’ve not managed to speak to him this week how is he?
He’s just had an operation on his neck but he is doing ok.
That’s good. Whenever I get over to the UK I always make sure that I spend some time with Geno. I have to run away from him at times because he exhausts me (laughter). I always take someone with me to fend off some of Geno’s energy (laughter). My friend knows exactly what his role is and that is to keep Geno busy.
What amazes me is that Geno’s energy levels are as high today as they were sixty years ago now.
Geno is an athlete, he really is the real deal. There are not many African/American males who are as popular or as fit as Geno, especially at his age. He really does exhaust me (laughter). I can never visit the UK without spending some quality time with both Geno and his wife Frenchie.
Mentioning Frenchie and a lovely lady she is, but I was speaking to Geno at a recent concert and she produced a freshly cooked lobster from her handbag and tried to feed me.
(Hysterical laughter) that’s Frenchie. She and Geno are so well matched.
You have mentioned Top Of The Pops what was you first experience of Top Of The Pops like?
When we were first asked to perform on Top Of The Pops it was still being recorded in a little church up in Manchester. It was amazing not only for the fact that Herman’s Hermits were on Top Of The Pops but we got to meet The Supremes and Roy Orbison. It was kind of like being on an acid trip because all of these things that could never happen to these young boys from Manchester were actually happening all around them (laughter). Everyone was so kind to us; Roy Orbison came into our dressing room and he knew our music, stuff like that. We would do the show with The Beatles and hang out with them and we actually got to know them really well.
Tell me about your 1960’s radio show?
Wow Kevin where have you got your information from (laughter). That’s right I currently present a radio show over here in America which is broadcast on the SiriusXM network which is all about the 1960’s and it is currently listened to by over thirty one million subscribers. I spend a few hours a week on that and it really gives me a chance to tell stories; some of them are even true (laughter). It is all about the 60’s and the people who I knew back in the 60’s. I have lots to talk about and so that keeps me really busy, especially when I talk about the things that Geno used to get up to (laughter). I have lots to talk about and that really does keep me busy.
Speaking of people who you knew back in the 1960’s don’t you have a new neighbour?
(Laughter) you are going to have to tell me where you are getting all of this information from. Yes, you are quite right, my new neighbour is Eric Burden who you will remember as being the singer in The Animals. Eric has been a friend of mine for many, many year’s now.
Have you finally adapted to the show business social life?
We really do have an odd kind of social life living over here in the States. Sometimes we will go out with Tom Jones who is also an old friend of ours but it really is odd let me tell you. For example my wife and I went out one evening last week and we had a photograph taken of the people who were sat at our table. There was Priscilla Presley, Tom Jones, Ronnie Wood from The Rolling Stones, and me and my wife. Standing in the background behind us as he couldn’t even get into the picture was Mick Jagger (laughter). He didn’t even get invited to be in the picture (laughter). That has to be the show business picture from hell doesn’t it (laughter). Mick Jagger is like me as he doesn’t particularly like to be very much involved with the show business world. So he remained pretty cool and stayed in the shadows at the party.
I really do admire the guy because he really has managed to pull it all off. I never tell him but I think that Mick is one of the top five songwriters of all time. I don’t think that Mick likes being referred to as a songwriter; he thinks of himself as a singer. Also Tom is so humble and so great. Me and Tom sang at this party because he likes to do that and we will only sing Jerry Lee Lewis songs because we are both massive fans of Jerry Lee’s. I always ask Tom if he will sing a Herman’s Hermits song because Jerry Lee Lewis wrote it for us and he always replies with “I know that because it was me that bought it over to you in the hotel in New York” (laughter). It’s true, Tom Jones came to the hotel in New York with the record that Jerry had written for us (laughter).
What would you consider to be the highlight of your career so far?
That would have to be early on in my career because I thought that my career was over early on. It was at an NME Poll Winners Concert where The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, Cliff Richard And The Shadows, The Kinks, The Who and Herman’s Hermits were performing. It was just a great day, one of those days that stands out in your memory. Back in those days we all knew each other in show business and we had a sort of mutual appreciation society without any competitiveness at all. The Beatles even let us use their gear (laughter). Everybody was happy if you were having some success, no one begrudged you any success. You have to remember that we weren’t competing for the same prize.
The Beatles weren’t like The Stones and The Stones weren’t like Herman’s Hermits and Herman’s Hermits weren’t like The Who and The Who weren’t like The Kinks, who weren’t like The Beatles who weren’t like The Stones. We were all kind of unique. That’s how we had all got there because we were all different. You simply couldn’t be in a band who were a copy of The Beatles and expect to make it; you had to find your own unique thing. Everyone was pleasant to each other. Anyway on this particular day Pete Murray, who was a British radio and television presenter, was the MC for the day. I was standing backstage with John Lennon who I thought was the greatest rock star of them all.
John was the guy who I wanted to be like. He was my version of Buddy Holiday. He was always rude to me but I was always rude back. He would always say “hello Hermit that’s a nice suit, do they make it in your size” (laughter). John bought me my first real drink in the Ad-Lib Club in London where they wouldn’t serve me so John told me to get two cokes and he would buy two Bacardi’s (laughter). So I was standing backstage at the NME party talking to John Lennon and he said those magic words “isn’t this one of your songs”. The Hermits were on stage with Pete Murray who has announced Herman’s Hermits to the ten thousand or so audience, and I’m not on the stage (laughter). Pete saw that I wasn’t there, asked the Hermits where I was and when they told him that they didn’t know Pete chickened out and ran off the stage (laughter).
The Hermits did the only thing that they knew to do, they started playing the song. As soon as I heard that I ran out onto the stage and just made it for the start of my vocals. So I know that’s a rather long answer to your question Kevin but it was so great for me that John Lennon knew one of my songs. We were just a small group and we all knew what each other was doing.
You have mentioned Tom Jones, can you tell me what the link is between him and the legs off your mum’s coffee table?
(Hysterical laughter) just where are you getting your information from Kevin. Funnily enough I was recently speaking to Tom Jones and he reminded me of a fight that we had got involved in at The Blue Boar, the old motorway services. For some reason people wanted to beat-up Herman’s Hermits because we had long hair and Cuban heeled boots. So whenever we went out on the road we would always take our dobbers with us (laughter). My mum had a posh coffee table with screw on legs and whenever we went out on the road we would unscrew the four legs and take them on the road with us. One night there was a fight and Tom was getting the shit kicked out of him by three truck drivers, so me and the Hermits jumped out of our van with our dobbers and we creamed these three guys (laughter).
We were like heroes that night, we were about fourteen years old so we could do it. We had this rule in the band that if you left the vehicle with your dobber you had to hit the people with it. If you just threatened them and they took the dobber off you, then they would hit you with your dobber (laughter). Tom has actually written in his new book about two fights that I won. Isn’t it funny how everyone always remembers the fights that they won? Every time that he sees me in a restaurant Tom will come over to the table and no matter who I am with Tom will say “hey Herman, hit him” (laughter). Tom remembers all manner of fights that we used to get into. Not between bands because we were all the same, but there was always someone out there who simply didn’t like us because of the way that we looked and also because we were stealing their girlfriends (laughter).
Putting aside the problems that you had regarding the name, was the time that you spent in Herman’s Hermits enjoyable?
It was absolutely fantastic. They were really good guys and in retrospect we were so lucky that there were no bad people in the band. Without mentioning any names I have known bands who have had some really bad people in them. We were like the marines, we stuck together and we fought the fight together. However, all of that slowly breaks down; people get a girlfriend, people get married, we even had a rule that you couldn’t take your girlfriend to the gig. But bit by bit that all changes because you get married and of course you want to bring your wife to the gigs. The whole structure of the band changes then because someone’s wife asks why you are not writing all of the songs because your songs are better than his. It all changes.
Mickie Most and I would write all of the songs for Herman’s Hermits, and we had an amazing run where we could make any mistakes. The two of us would create all of the records. One day we went into the studio with John Paul Jones from Led Zeppelin and we did Dandy, No Milk Today and There’s A Kind Of Hush. We got three tracks in the one session. All of those were top ten hits in America. Mickie and I were on a ride. We had been sent an Engelbert Humperdinck demo of There’s A Kind Of Hush and John Paul Jones turned it into a hit. We had No Milk Today but Mickie didn’t like the song but again, John Paul Jones rearranged it and made it into a hit. Dandy was an old Ray Davis song that we had sitting around and as I recall Mickie had been given a percentage of the publishing so we would have recorded it no matter what (laughter). Everything just fell into place, it was such a magical session.
Why do you think that the American audiences took to Herman’s Hermits as warmly as they did?
We were really charming and English. People ask me why I spend so much time in America and that is because in America I am an Englishman; I am that English bloke with the accent. However, whenever I am over in the UK I am just another Englishman. I decided very early on when Herman’s Hermits came over to America that I was going to be that English singer who could do Buddy Holly, and that I would sing songs like George Formby did, in my own accent. So we would play songs like Mrs Brown You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter and I’m Henry the Eighth I Am with an English accent. The funny thing was that we were involved in The British Invasion but we were the only ones with a British accent (laughter). The Rolling Stones only ever used a British accent when they were giving interviews.
You have mentioned The Beatles fondly, but during the mid-sixties Herman’s Hermits record sales were second only to The Beatles.
We actually beat them for a couple of years but they were probably locked away somewhere recording Sgt. Pepper (laughter). We had no plans and back in those days you never got to make an album, you had to have had a few hit songs before you were allowed to record an album. So what we were doing was constantly making records that would be played on the radio. We would be constantly writing and there we were in the middle of a really hot summer so we wrote Sunshine Girl. That was simply the motive behind the band to write and record hit singles.
You actually broke America where lots of other British bands have spectacularly failed. How did that feel?
It is actually strange how that break into the American market came about. In America we didn’t have a record deal and our records weren’t being released over there. Then I decided that we would play Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat on our American tour simply because I loved the song. That particular single was never released in England but it went to number one in America. Then our American label got all excited and they released everything of ours over there. Every three weeks they would be releasing one of our records and in fact we had eleven top twenty hits in America that year (laughter). We were everywhere; we were all over the radio and it was so exciting for everyone except us because we didn’t realise just how popular we were.
How did it feel when the crowds started turning up wherever you went in the States?
We were always shocked when there would be twenty-five thousand people there. At that time we had very low self-esteem. We were following in the shadow of The Beatles and so we had very low expectations and thought that we would just carry on making the hit records. However we were the new teen heartthrobs in all of the teen magazines in America and Warner Brothers were making movies so rightly or wrongly we got caught up in this Mrs Brown You’ve Got A lovely Daughter world. We were the cute English rock band and because we didn’t have any other plans we became the cute English rock band.
Were you upset when people started to liken you to The Monkees?
Yes it did, it really did. A little later people even began to think that we were like The Monkees but in truth we were the complete opposite of The Monkees. They thought that someone made our records and then sent us out onto the road. That really wasn’t the case. It was an insult to those two years that we spent in that Bedford van with the engine open, up and down the motorway to St. Albans and shit places like that whilst we were out on the road. Back then we never got asked to stop in Nottingham; it was always on the way to some other shit horrible place (laughter).
So you never got to play at The Boat Club or The Brit here in Nottingham?
No sadly we didn’t. Nottingham was always too far South for us. We only ever played the North-West and I think that the closest that we ever came to Nottingham was a few gigs in Stock-On-Trent. Then when we made it we played everywhere. But before that we travelled up and down the A580 which was for us the road most travelled. It is the East Lancashire road that runs between Liverpool and Manchester passing through such places as Wigan and St. Helens. That is where we grew up; that was our stomping ground. Because there were so many good bands around, you had to be good and you had to have a good show. You couldn’t play those kind of places if you just played songs.
We were different because we played all of these weird songs which also worked for us over in America. We had to do weird songs because every other band was doing Fortune Teller and Roll Over Beethoven, and they played them better than us. Having said all of that we made it good in the best times ever for a musician to make it. We got to play on bills with The Rolling Stones, Cliff Richard, Joe Brown and Tommy Steel. Every one of those people were my heroes. Whenever anyone would ask me who I would like to meet it was always the same reply, Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley and I got to do all of that.
It’s not bad for a music fan to be able to say that he knew Wilson Pickett. I thought that he made fantastic records and he was a great bloke. I once told his wife that I thought that Wilson liked me. However she said that he didn’t like anyone. I replied that he liked me enough to show me his gun, and all that she said to me was ‘which end’ (laughter). He really liked me because I didn’t talk to him about soul music, the Deep South and all that, I would just talk to him about records. I am first and foremost a fan of music.
Peter, I think that’s a good place for me to once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me.
Thanks Kevin it been a pleasure. I am really looking forward to being back there in Nottingham. Please do come and say hello, and I really like the fact that you know Geno. Bye for now.