The late James Brown liked to call himself ‘the hardest working person in show business” because of his grueling recording and touring schedule. I’m certain the Godfather of Soul would respect the work ethic of Peter Noone, the lead singer of one of the biggest hit-maker bands from the 1960s British Invasion, Herman’s Hermits.
Noone is now 72 and he must have made a Faustian bargain at some point in his life. His looks and voice seem unaffected by the passage of time. His live performance schedule would intimidate musicians one-third his age. In addition, he hosts a three-hour Saturday afternoon show called “Something Good” which airs on Sirius XM’s 60s on 6 channel.
Noone performed four shows at Manhattan’s intimate music nightclub, Iridium,a few weeks ago in what was labeled an acoustic performance as he was accompanied on stage by just renowned guitarist Vance Brescia who grew up in Northport, Long Island.
He opened his 70-minute show with Herman’s Hermits’ first big worldwide hit, “I’m Into Something Good,” which was recorded when he was just sixteen years old. He quickly segued into “Dandy,” a 1966 hit which was penned by Ray Davies of the Kinks. He eventually got around to Hermits classics as “Mrs. Brown, You Have A Lovely Daughter,” “I’m Henry the VIII, I Am,” and “There’s A Kind Of Hush.”
Unlike when Noone plays with the current incarnation of Herman’s Hermits at fairgrounds across the country, performing at intimate venue as the Iridium allowed him to do away with a prepared set list and instead gave him a chance to be a raconteur. Admittedly some patrons may have preferred hearing the entire Herman’s Hermits catalog. While that is completely understandable, I liked the fact that he mixed the songs with an oral history of the British Invasion.
In case you were wondering how he came up with his band name, a pub owner looked at a 15 year-old bespectacled Noone and said that he looked like Sherman from the classic “Rocky & Bullwinkle” cartoon. Except he mistakenly called him “Herman” and thought his backup band looked like a bunch of hermits. The name stuck so well that John Lennon always affectionately called him “Hermit” and never Peter.
Noone attributed his success to Herman’s Hermits producer Mickie Most who also was responsible for the hits made by Eric Burden & the Animals and the Scottish folk singer Donovan.
The most sage advice Noone got from Most was to never be ashamed that his records might be considered lightweight by his fellow musicians. “Don’t worry about making records to impress musicians. The only thing that counts is making records that sound good on the radio.”
Both he and Most were huge fans of the legendary soul singer Sam Cooke who penned and recorded numerous classics. Both men were devastated when Cooke was killed under mysterious circumstances in a seedy Los Angeles motel in December 1964. Most immediately thought Noone should record a cover of “Wonderful World” while Noone preferred to sing “Cupid.”
“You are 17 years old and the public will easily believe it when you sing the lyrics about not being a good high school student who is pining for the girl who likes her guys to get straight A’s!” Most was correct as the song went to number 4 on the US singles chart in the spring of 1965.
There were so many successful British successful bands of that era that it was easy for overseas promoters to get them mixed up. Noone said it was not uncommon for concert promoters in Asia to put songs as “Doo Wah Diddy” and “Love Potion #9″ as Hermits hits on concert posters even though they were made famous by Manfred Mann and the Searchers, respectively. Noone and his guys didn’t want to embarrass their impresarios so they performed them. He told the Iridium audience that “Doo Wah Diddy” was a dumb song in his opinion.
Since the closing of BB King’s in Times Square there has not been a venue where name performers from the 1960s through say, the early 1990s, can play. Iridium and the Cutting Room are excellent small Manhattan venues but they lack the size to make pop concert economics work on a consistent basis. As western Queens continues to develop perhaps a club similar to BB King’s can open here.