Peter Noone, lead singer of the 1960s British rock band Herman’s Hermits, is the rarest of modern pop musicians. More than 50 years after his band’s success with hits such as ‘There a Kind of Hush’, ‘Henry the VIII’ and ‘Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat’, Noone, 74, has never stopped perform to enthusiastic audiences who grew up on the Hermits’ collection of radio hits. His contemporaries such as the Dave Clark Five, Peter and Gordon, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and dozens of other participants in the British invasion fell by the wayside long ago.
Why, then, is Noone able to ride the wave that started for him in 1964?
Hermit songs may have compelling melodies that are so easy to sing along to. It may be that, despite her age, Noone is an easily recognizable personality who doesn’t seem much different than she was back then. Or maybe he has more to his past than many people realize.
In an interview with OnMilwaukee ahead of his Aug. 8 show at the Wisconsin State Fair, Noone opened up about his career and some of the reasons he’s still around.
Growing up in the city of Manchester in the North West of England, Noone was a child actor who landed a role in the popular British soap opera ‘Coronation Street’. His taste for music started at home.
“We were a typical Irish family who loved to sing at weddings, baptisms, funerals, parties,” he said. “I became the singer because I was the only one who could remember the lyrics.”
He also developed a love for the music of American singers like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison.
“We thought it was all born in America – the music, the movies, Broadway, all of it,” he said. “My friends also loved music. It was a time when England was safe for children. We could go to local youth clubs without the risk of selling alcohol or drugs.”
Showing a poise and maturity that often takes years to achieve, Noone was 12 when he used his acting earnings to buy a van and musical gear, and form the band that would become Herman’s. Hermits.
“At first we were doing folk songs on Spanish guitars,” he said. “Once electric guitar became available, we started playing instrumentals. I was so bad at guitar that someone said to me, ‘Why don’t you be the lead singer?’ Even though I knew all the lyrics to the songs, I hid behind the mic stand at first!
When the UK music scene was dominated by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, record companies all rushed to make records with the bands that attracted teenagers to their gigs. The British subsidiary of RCA Records signed a recording contract with the Hermits and offered them a song by Carole King, “I’m Into Something Good”. The song was rushed into production and shipped to radio stations across the country.
“I think ‘Something Good’ came out two weeks after I recorded it, but that wasn’t unusual at the time,” Noone said. “All my friends had already made records but ours was the only one on the radio!”
Noone said Herman’s Hermits developed its own sound early on, a key to its initial success.
“A group had to be distinctive, otherwise it wouldn’t make it,” he said. “We were hired to open for the Beatles, Stones and Kinks because we weren’t in competition with them. We were different.”
Noone said that while the band enjoyed performing and being paid well for it, there was pressure that came with success.
“In 1965 alone, we played 360 concerts, had five top records and made a movie,” Noone noted. “And we were featured on TV programs like the Ed Sullivan Show. We respected Mr. Sullivan and earned his friendship. He was a real gentleman.”
Asked about his long career, Noone said part of it was being nice to the fans.
“I had a good Catholic upbringing and was educated by priests. And having an older sister is the best possible moral lesson,” he said. “Also, at a very young age, I saw how artists like the Everly Brothers treated people who looked up to them. I never lost sight of that.”
He also said that a certain degree of talent played a part in his life, but it all comes down to “Why me, Lord?”
“I worked hard, stayed healthy and survived my competition. I live the dream.