On Thursday I waxed poetic about a recent concert featuring The Rascals, The Turtles and Herman’s Hermits and left off at intermission. Here’s the rest…
I wondered why Herman’s Hermits was set up as the sole act past intermission, an obvious headline ploy (as if the posters didn’t make it clear enough). As the lights dimmed after intermission, a huge Union Jack dropped down across the upstage scrim in tandem with explosive fanfare and British anthems blaring. But when Peter Noone hit the stage with four younger, energetic musicians dressed as if it was 1964, my question was answered. The British were coming…again!
Peter Noone is 62 but looks like he’s in his mid-40s and sings like he’s in his 20s. In reality, by the time he was twenty, Herman’s Hermits were just about done. But on this night in a packed auditorium, the only sign of age was in the crowd; the band was on fire and gave the songs a boost they never had in their original form; for the most part they sounded as good or better.
Noone led the band through an entire catalogue of beloved songs, and as each one played two points dominated my thoughts. First, every one of these tunes was melodic, crisp and fun, and he and the band played them with such enthusiasm and life that they should just hit the club circuit and win over a whole new generation of fans; ones who avoid “oldies shows” like the plague. And second…my God, this was a prolific band!
When people talk about the great bands of the ’60s, Herman’s Hermits seldom enters the discussion. Why not? For starters, just look at this string of singles – five Top Five hits…in five months! A dozen singles in the Top 15 in just over two years. Amazingly, in 1965, they outsold The Beatles in the United States!
And in addition to their own great material, Noone filled out the show with tributes both sincere and funny. Peers like Freddy and The Dreamers, Peter and Gordon and Chad and Jeremy got their due with excellent cover versions of some of their hits. But Noone’s funny between-song banter and occasionally randy storytelling also gave him an opportunity to imitate artists from Mick Jagger to The Sex Pistols (!) as the band launched into segments of “Start Me Up” and “Pretty Vacant”. There was also a running gag about The Turtles being old men, although like Peter, Mark Volman and Howard Kalyan are also 62 (their birthdays are a few months apart). It was just banter between and about old friends, playfully mocking them for being asleep in the limo before it gets to the hotel and wondering if it was their set list taped to the floor “because there’s only four hits on it“.
Like many UK groups from the pre-Beatles era, there’s a strong music hall influence bleeding through their material, whether it’s vaudevillian jokes about dim people requesting “She’s A Muscular Boy”, or the bounce in pop chestnuts like “Dandy” and “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat”. Until Noone pointed it out, I hadn’t realized that part of the charm about Herman’s Hermits was the unrelenting joy in their songs. Maybe “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” is a little sad, but only “The End of the World” is truly morose. The rest can’t help put a smile on your face.
He also wove in a couple of tracks from his underrated skinny-tie era album with The Tremblers and cheekily made up a song about his lifelong dream to be in this very theatre on this very night. By the time the vocal participation challenge went out to the audience during “I’m Henry VIII, I Am”, he had the entire crowd in the palm of his hand (not that there hadn’t been a few eating out of it since the moment he walked onto the stage). Knowing the show was closing with “There’s a Kind of Hush”, the audience was on their feet mid-song, providing Noone and band a lengthy standing ovation for what was truly a dynamic ninety minute show. The post-show autograph and merch line was enormous, and Noone graciously shook every hand and signed every item.
Some bands from long ago trot themselves out for these events to get a little adulation, connect with their glory days and make a little coin (sadly, perhaps for the first time in their career). Peter Noone and his new version of Herman’s Hermits might be a nostalgic act because of their catalogue, but their presentation, energy and musical chops were fresh and vibrant. No doubt they could kick the ass of a lot of current pop acts.
I’m not certain if Peter is writing songs these days, or even if he’s entertaining cutting new material in addition to bringing the old hits to his loyal fanbase of Noonatics. But he’s talented as hell, is a consummate entertainer, and he’s proven time and time again that he can deliver the goods. The Hermits era speaks for itself. The Tremblers album from 1980 still sounds wonderful. And as recently as 2001 he guested on pop wunderkind Richard X Heyman’s ep titled Heyman, Hoosier and Herman and nailed it with “Hoosier Girl”.
Someone get this guy and this band into a studio, get them the right material, and have at it. Something tells me we’d be into something good.
Peter Noone website.
Grab that Tremblers album!