Peter Noone and Herman's Hermits playing Hagerstown
British singer-songwriter Peter Noone wasn’t even old to drive by American standards when he burst into the musical scene as part of the 1960s band Herman’s Hermits.
And although he became a teenaged heart throb in the States by the age of 15, Noone was already a veteran of screen and stage in his home country.
Through it all, Noone said he took it all in stride.
Today at age 69, he’s still touring the world and singing those songs that he made famous, “Henry VIII,” “I’m Into Something Good,” “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” and slew of others. Fans who were teenagers at the same time he was, still come to their shows, bringing their children and grandchildren.
During a telephone interview from Florida where he was performing, Noone insisted that he doesn’t want to called a singer-songwriter, instead he wants to be known as an entertainer.
And on Sunday, March 26, Noone promises he’ll be entertaining the crowd with Herman’s Hermits at The Maryland Theatre in downtown Hagerstown.
Music was such a norm growing up in Manchester, England, that Noone never knew that all families were not musical.
“I was from a sort of amateur musical family. There used to be a time that there was nothing else to do if you didn’t have music,” he said. “I think my grandmother had a radio in the kitchen type of thing. Everybody used to have a piano. In my family, we had a piano. My grandparents had a piano. My grandfather was the church organist. My grandmother was the choir mistress at the church. And my Auntie Mary played Fats Waller on the piano. My dad was a trombone player. And his brother was a trumpet player. And every time there was a wedding or a funeral, christening, a baptism, we created our own entertainment. You couldn’t get a band and a DJ. That was part of life in that Irish/English family — music. All my friends around me had similar situations if they were lucky. The rest of them watched TV.”
But his family had other plans for him.
“I think I was supposed to be a doctor. I have no interest in being a doctor, but when I got to school everyone decided I should learn Latin,” he said. “There was two types of school: classical education and modern education. Classical was language and (students) worked to be a doctor in biology, and chemistry and mathematics. I think I was supposed to do that. I was good at music. I was good at entertaining using music as a vehicle. This priest at my school, Father Murphy, his name was — I bet he’s still alive — he suggested I go to a college of music at night because I was sort of good at music. And I went there.”
That school was Manchester School of Music where he was awarded the Outstanding Young Musician Award. His first gigs weren’t for music, but acting, because the school had drama and elocution classes.
“And I get me a job on the television, which gave me the money to finance a band, and to finance a group and start something in somebody’s loft,” he said. “And you got three guitars doing the Kingston Trio, and eventually we turned into a band.”
One of his early acting gigs was on “Coronation Street,” a British soap opera that debuted in 1960 and continues today. Noone admitted that every once and awhile, he has turned on the telly to watch the show, but he doesn’t recognize any of the actors anymore.
“Only Ken Barlow (played by William Roache) is still alive. He was my teacher in the thing. My father in the show died. My mother in the show died. All the main characters — because I was in it during the beginning — aren’t in it any more. And they were all brilliant,” Noone said. “Nobody realizes how brilliant they were. They used to go on television in front of 25 million people live. If I made a mistake they would cover for me. No one knew I had forgotten my lines because they would say ‘Weren’t you supposed to go off to school?’ And I’d be, ‘Oh right, I’m off to school.’”
Noone used those talents again when he starred in the former American daytime drama, “As the World Turns,” in 2002. He said that turn on a soap opera was “much more scary.”
“Because I’m not good at learning lines. Most soap operas in America, they change the lines 10 minutes before you go on screen,” he said. “Once again that’s an underestimated art. To walk on the television, remember the lines and know the story. It takes me a long time. It’s like learning a song. My way to learn to things is slow and old-fashioned. Those guys (say) ‘These three pages have been taken out.’ I had panic attacks because I couldn’t learn this in 15 minutes. It takes me 15 days. I enjoyed it because of the fear factor. It’s like a comedian. If you’re not standing on tiptoe along the edge it really isn’t going to work. I was good in it because I was able to use my fear in my character.”
Noone always kept a toe in acting because it was beneficial to his musical career.
“Being an actor as well frees you up onstage because they’re all things you use in a band. You need acting skills. You need to know about the Proscenium (stage). You need to know about the Fourth Wall. You need to know about all that stuff that you can use,” he said. “Being in the band helps you when you’re in the theater. And being in the theater helps you when you’re in a band. And being in a movie helps you. I did all those things because they’re work. And some things I enjoy most more than others. My favorite thing to do is live concerts. The easiest thing for me to do every day is a concert. Isn’t that weird? Some people would think it would be easier to lay out by the pool. But the most easiest thing in my life is doing a concert, everything else is kind of difficult.”
And being with a band is exactly what he’s been doing with Hermit’s Hermans since 1963, and when they rose to fame a year later after being discovered by British manager Harvey Lisberg.
“It’s what I do,” he said of performing. “If you’re fortunate enough to have a job you enjoy and you can look forward to being on stage and singing your songs. I love my songs so it makes it easy. I get a chance to show them all off to these people. It’s like having a good stamp book. “
Music keeps him young
Looking back at his younger self, Noone said he got through those years because he had a teenaged mindset.
“You don’t take yourself that seriously when you’re 15,” he said. “When I look back I realize that all the other people were much more professional as me, all the people around me like The (Rolling) Stones and The Beatles. But they had seven years ahead of me. They were more mature. It wasn’t a competition. The fact that I could be in the same business as them never seemed impossible. Now I look back, what was I thinking? You were 15 and hanging out with 22 year olds, making suggestions and getting beat up for saying the wrong thing. I was a kid and I think that was an asset because I didn’t take myself seriously.”
The Beatles were already on the music scene and had led the British Invasion in the U.S. Noone said he and the band became friends with the members of The Beatles, who also became the group they tried to immolate when it came to careers. Whatever The Beatles did, they tried to do the same thing, just as The Beatles did with their idol, Elvis Presley.
“The Beatles said they were always in the shadow of Elvis Presley. Someone would say ‘Do you want to do a commercial?’ and they would say. ‘Did Elvis Presley ever do one?’ They looked at him as the person who did it right. Then we came along. Right in front of us was The Beatles. We would ask, ‘Did The Beatles do that?’ If it were a commercial, ‘Have The Beatles done one? No? Then, we’re not doing that.’ We had this amazing leader. They were the perfect band to follow. They did everything right.”
Noone credits his longevity in the industry to realizing his strengths and weakness. His strength, he said, has been being about to entertain.
“When you first get a hit record, people ask you what are you going to do after you stop having hit records? I think, I’m going to try to be an entertainer like Danny Kaye or Dick Van Dyke. I think it’s under rated the word ‘entertainer,’” he said. “I think probably The Rolling Stones are great entertainers, they’re also great musicians. But you don’t go, ‘Oh great musicians,’ you say ‘That’s a great band to watch and to listen to.’ I became one of those people. I like to work and I enjoy my songs. So there’s no other reason for that. What am I going to do if I don’t do this? It’s too late to become a doctor now. I’d have to go to India to become a doctor or something. I’m just going to be me and I’m really happy with it. I got another 10 years for sure. If I’m healthy for 10 years then we’ll take a look. But I’ve been saying another 10 years for another three years already. If I think those 10 years extended by one day, and today is the day. I feel good, I still enjoy my songs, I sing them better then I did on the records. That’s good as long as I can do that I’ll do it.”
Noone might have a long list of song credits — for himself and other entertainers from David Bowie to Debby Boone — but he never thought that was were his true talents were.
“When you first come in a band you come up with ideas with a friend. That’s always the way it was,” he said. “I wasn’t as good as Lennon and McCartney or Rodgers and Hammerstein. I’m really an entertainer, not a songwriter. I want people to think of me as an entertainer not a musician. There’s loads of great musicians but there’s not loads of entertainers.”
To this day, “I’m Into Something Good” remains Noone’s favorite songs he’s penned.
“It stayed around a lot longer than anybody expected it to do. It’s been in movies. It’s in an English movie. It just keeps showing up. It’s in Disney movies,” he said. “It’s just great. I was 16 when I made the record. And you can hear I was 16. The only person who couldn’t hear I was 16 was me. I thought I was like 25 on the record, you know what I mean. It’s a story about a 16-year-old man. So it really works very well. I always look forward to doing that. We always open the show with that with it, which is very bizarre, just because it sets the tone for the evening.”
Noone has been thankful that he’s still been in good health after all these years and able to do what he loves.
“What has always happened since 1963 is that people are always pleasantly surprised. ‘Oh they’re much better than I thought they were.’ That’s all I care about. It’s like I have another 100 years. I want people to enjoy the show and invite us back,” he said.
To reach that goal, once again, they turned to their musical heroes, The Beatles.
“We only have one rule in the band. Like The Caravan (Club) . We’ll only ever come back if you offer us more money. And Bob Willis well I’m going to start low yet. He meant it as a compliment. He meant I’m going to have you back a lot. ... We accepted that because we wanted to play there often. Because The Beatles had done it we wanted to do it. And The Beatles are great, they had a bunch of contracts with the Caravan and a load of places in Liverpool (England) right before they made it. And they played every date they signed a contract for. They’d go from “The Ed Sullivan Show” to the Liverpool Town Hall for 40 pounds. For $60 bucks, because they were gents. Luckily, they were right before us. And they didn’t do anything wrong. They were gentleman. They were funny. And they were good guys. We aspired to be as great as them. It was always nice to have them in front of us. They were nice to us. They were friends to us. They loaned us their equipment, which was nice because bands don’t do that anymore.”
Keep on keeping on
Noone said he and Herman’s Hermits have no plans on slowing down any time soon. They’ve booked dates recently for 2019, and intend to keep their commitments.
“We were lucky that we didn’t record any songs we didn’t like — and we had a load of songs. That’s a legacy,” he said. “And you know people come to the concert and say ‘I know this song, but I didn’t know it was yours.’”
Hopefully, he said, they’ll be around for another 50 years.
As for that legacy question, again, Noone remarks with a tongue-and-cheek answer.
“Legacy? I hope I die with loads of money,” he said. “I have no plans to die yet.”