Sixties icon returns with intimate acoustic performance
Darlings of a generation, Herman’s Hermits scored big on the pop music charts of the U.S., England, and beyond in the mid 1960s. With hits like “I’m Into Something Good,” “No Milk Today,” “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am” and many others, the group from Manchester, England, rivaled the Beatles in popularity. Fronted by youthful singer Peter Noone, the band landed 18 of its songs on the American Top 40 charts, earned five gold records for albums released between 1965 and ’67, and starred in three popular motion pictures.
Peter Noone left the group in 1971, but has sustained a career as a musician and actor. In fact, he got his start as an actor even before his recording career began. “I went to the Manchester School of Music, but I was not enjoying the music thing,” he admits with a chuckle. “It was all a bit ‘Vivaldi and Germans.’” A new television network had recently launched in England; Granada Television sent a talent scout to the school. Noone recalls the scout’s brief: “‘We’re looking for an 11-year-old kid who can play ‘The Holly and the Ivy’ on the piano.’”
Noone fit the bill — sort of. “I was 14,” he says, “but I looked 11.” So he landed the job, and it soon led to others. “Every time they were looking for a boy to play any kind of role, I’d get every job.” He even landed a three-episode role on Britain’s top-rated television soap opera Coronation Street. The beloved program has been on the air since 1960, and remains popular after airing more than 10,000 episodes. “It’s still number one,” Noone laughs, “even without me in it.”
But the actor-singer would go on to bigger things. When Herman’s Hermits released their debut single, “I’m Into Something Good,” in August 1964, Noone was still a few months shy of his 17th birthday. But the song catapulted him and the band into the spotlight. And there they would remain for the next several years. With their catchy, singalong tunes and an undeniably cuddly front man as a focal point, Herman’s Hermits defined what would come to be known as bubblegum pop.
But Noone’s talent had always been deeper and wider than Herman’s Hermits’ singles might suggest. After leaving the group, he went on to a solo career that leveraged his musical and acting skills. He released singles and albums on his own, appeared on television, and toured internationally as Frederic in Gilbert and Sullivan’s comic opera The Pirates of Penzance.
Underscoring the fact that his musical tastes were hip, he led a power-pop group, the Tremblers, in the early 1980s. And in the early ’00s he collaborated with New York City multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, and critics’ darling Richard X. Heyman on a well-regarded EP, Heyman, Hoosier & Herman.
His roots were never far behind, though. Today, Noone hosts a popular segment on Sirius XM’s ’60s on 6 station, and the program’s title, Something Good, is an obvious nod to his first hit single. And since the ’80s, he has often appeared fronting a group called Herman’s Hermits Starring Peter Noone.
And then came the Covid era, with its social-distancing measures, turning limited seating into a surprise opportunity. Noone recently embarked on a stripped-down, intimate tour that brings him closer than ever to his fans.
He approaches the smaller venues with the same respect he would if they were concert halls filled to capacity: “It doesn’t matter how many people are in the audience,” says Noone, noting that these up-close-and-personal performances are very much like the ones he used to do at the Cavern Club in Liverpool, the famous haunt that helped launch the Beatles.
“You would have a bunch of good songs and some good repartee that you could use with the audience,” he recalls. “You’d do some research about the place you’d be playing, and be a thing called an entertainer. And that’s what I always strive to do.”
So after more than a half century of performing, what keeps it fresh? “I’m still trying to get it right,” he says, only partly in jest. “I try to sing the songs better every time.”
Noone says he works really hard to keep his voice in shape, remembering advice he received early in his career. He doesn’t recall who said it — “some really cool, old singer” — but he keeps the message in mind. “‘You know, Peter,’” he was warned, “‘If you can’t sing, you have to stop. And some people don’t.’”
The Center for Arts & Entertainment (125 South Main St., Hendersonville) hosts “An Acoustic Evening with Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits” in two socially distanced shows at 2 and 7pm on Saturday, May 8. Tickets range from $49.50 to $75 (the VIP package includes a CD and a T-shirt). For more information, see the thecenterae.org.