By John M. Borack
As the lead singer for Herman’s Hermits, Peter Noone was one of the original “British Invaders,” as well as one of the most successful: the Hermits scored 18 Top 40 hits in their career, including nine consecutive Top 10 placements between January 1965 and April 1966. Songs such as “I’m Henry VII, I Am,” “There’s a Kind of Hush,” “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter,” and “No Milk Today” remain staples of oldies radio, and Noone is constantly out on the road performing them and other ‘60s favorites to old and new fans alike under the banner “Herman’s Hermits Starring Peter Noone.”
Peter Noone recently released his first new music in many years, a collaboration with Los Angeles-based power pop duet The Red Button (featuring singer-songwriters Seth Swirsky and Mike Ruekberg). The new song, titled “Ooh Girl,” is a plaintive, jangly, ‘60s-inspired treat that recalls some of Noone’s previous work while still sounding wholly fresh. (It’s currently available as a download only via Apple Music, iTunes and Amazon, as well as being available on Spotify. More info can be found at Noone’s website, www.peternoone.com.)
Goldmine spoke with Peter Noone about the new recording, his days with Herman’s Hermits, his late 1970s power pop combo The Tremblers and more.
Goldmine: First off, how did you hook up with the Red Button and come to record the song, “Ooh Girl?”
Peter Noone: I have a friend who works for Alice Cooper —Toby Mamis— and he connected us. The guys in the Red Button sent me a copy of their record and we all liked “Ooh Girl”; we thought that would be a perfect song (for me). It was a big attraction to me because it sounded like a Herman song, y’know? There was a lot of enthusiasm, and things get done when people are enthusiastic. They said, “Come to the studio and record it,” so I got in my car, went to the studio, recorded it, got back in my car and mixed it while I was on my way home. We put it out, you know, like the old days when things just got done.
GM: So there’s no fussing over the production, just get it done and get it out.
PN: Oh, yeah. You know, it’s a different world now. So the thing is that you can put it out, it didn’t have to go through an A&R department and all those things that ended the record business. And so now you just put it out and if people like it, great, and I can instantly get it to all the people who already like Peter Noone. So the whole thing was just a full-on, enthusiastic experience: I liked the song, I wanted to sing the song, I went to the studio, we chatted and we had fun recording it. Everybody was kind of up and happy and that’s how great records get made, I think.
GM: Aside from it sounding like a ‘60s sort of song, was there anything else in particular about the song that attracted you to it?
PN: Well, I liked (the lyrics): the idea of this guy who stays in bed while his girlfriend goes to work; I thought that was very appealing. (laughs) Six o’clock, she goes early as well. So he’s probably a bass player in a band and he’s got a gig late at night.
GM: Do you foresee any further collaborations with the Red Button?
PN: I hope so. People seem to like it; they like the sound of the mutual cooperation, so we’ll see what happens with this one. You know, nowadays I don’t know about sales anymore. I don’t know whether that’s part of the record business, but I would like a million listens. I’m sort of not jaded by the music business at all. Once upon a time music was free, remember; for the first listen you’d go to…well, in my case, I would go to the Wimpy Bar in Manchester where each table had a jukebox and people used to press a button and put on “Runaway” by Del Shannon, and the person who played it didn’t go around the restaurant collecting money from everybody. He played it for himself and we all got to listen to it for free, and that’s how music used to be. I don’t know what happened that suddenly somebody decided that it was worth lots and lots of money before you even heard it.
So I think if it gets a million listens, I’m sure the writers get paid every time it gets played on Spotify; they might not get paid as much as they used to, but they’ve got much more access to the world now. There’ll be people in Bolivia who will be able to listen to it, and those countries that didn’t have a stamp when the record business started, like Slovenia and half of Africa, will be all listening to music they couldn’t get access to before. It would be like living in West Hollywood without a record store within 50 miles of you. The world has turned back to that.
But it’s funny: I was in Athens, Georgia and there was this perfect little record store there and I went and bought a load of records. I couldn’t believe it, I was just so enamored by this whole thing; they were selling vinyl and stuff like that. But they had this whole section of CDs and I thought, “Well, I’ve got a CD player, look at this! Wow, I didn’t even know Joe Walsh made a solo album, Analog Man!” I ended up buying about $1,000 worth of CDs from this poor kid in Athens who’d never heard of Herman’s Hermits – “Oh yeah, it’s over there under ‘H’.”
GM: Athens, as I’m sure you know, is the home of R.E.M. and it’s a big college town.
PN: Yeah, yeah. And Manchester Orchestra, who I like, they’re from Georgia as well. I bought that record while I was there, and I became a fan. It just caught my eye because they were called Manchester Orchestra. I thought it was a Manchester band (laughs) and it was a band from Georgia. I loved it, that little town; it was like a hippie town from California, 1967.
GM: More and more of those types of stores are popping up that specifically sell vinyl; you can go to almost any town now and find at least a couple of record stores.
PN: Well, you know, I think of vinyl as a souvenir. It’s not a record; there’s music inside it, but it’s got all this information in this beautiful package. It’s a souvenir of the person’s work.
GM: And it’s something tangible that you can pick up and hold in your hands, and you can read the lyrics and read the liner notes.
PN: Yes, exactly! I started a vinyl collection of anything that I appeared on; I was on an Elton John record and I got a credit on the back of a Buffalo Springfield album. I started collecting (things like) that and eventually what happened was when we left England, we stored all our records and they all got destroyed. So I had to start all over again, and it’s kind of fun. I went out and bought the first Traffic album, Mr. Fantasy, and you know what, it’s a souvenir. I hold it and I play it. And while I’m playing it I can remember where I lived when I played it the first time, with the JBL studio monitors on the floor with all that bass…and it’s all from that period, you know?
GM: You’ve released plenty of fine music after Herman’s Hermits—a bunch of cool singles in the early-to-mid-’70s, The Tremblers LP and 1982’s One of the Glory Boys album, to name a few. Does it ever bother you that people still associate you mainly with the work you did in the ‘60s with the Hermits?
PN: You’ve got to go with what people want to hear. People ask me, “Why don’t you do these songs in your show?” Because the show is Herman’s Hermits Starring Peter Noone. If I do one of those, I’m going to have to drop one of the Herman’s Hermits songs and we’ve got a lot that people want to hear. Remember, I was in an “oldies but goodies” show when I was 22, so I didn’t have the same feeling as Ricky Nelson. I wouldn’t rather drive a truck—I want to sing my songs as long as people like them because I like my songs. Maybe Ricky Nelson didn’t like his songs. I love my songs. I get to sing ‘em every night and I’m like, “Wait ‘til I do ‘Henry the VIII’ and see their faces,” you know what I mean? A lot of people think it’s stupid stuff, but nah, I like ‘em. I may be in shallow waters intellectually in my paddling shoes, but I don’t give a sh*t, it’s music.
GM: As long as you like it and it moves you, then obviously the performances are going to reflect that.
PN: And every now and then I’m singing “There’s a Kind of Hush” or “The End of the World” or something like that and I see a couple of people in their sixties hold hands and reconnect because that song means something to them. That’s what I care about, and you know, people pay me for it and it is my hobby.
GM: Going back to The Tremblers album, it’s now seen as sort of a lost power pop classic, with guest shots from the likes of Dave Clark, Steve Allen (20/20), Bill Pitcock IV (Dwight Twilley Band), three of Tom Petty’s Heartbreakers, three members of Elton John’s band, Phil Solem (The Rembrandts), and the late Phil Seymour. What are your thoughts about the album today?
PN: It was great fun making it because all those people brought something to the studio with them. How to explain that, though: once upon a time in Herman’s Hermits, we had this song “Wonderful World.” We were doing a tribute to Sam Cooke. And we started (recording) and Jimmy Page was there, and he said, “Let’s put this on it.” And he played the guitar and used a wah-wah pedal for the first time and we all stood there in awe of this new guitar player. He didn’t ask for a piece of the songwriting; he threw all his good ideas into the musical pot.
It used to be like that and that’s how it was in The Tremblers. I wasn’t supposed to credit (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers’ guitarist) Mike Campbell because he was under contract (elsewhere), but he turned “Steady Eddy” into another song. He should have been the co-writer, but he never asked for anything, he just gave it to me. And the same for everybody on that record. It was all a blast. In retrospect, I think we did everything a little bit too fast; that’s my only problem with the record. (At the time), everybody was turning into third-rate Bad Company-type bands, so we tried to go the 100% pop route, which meant faster, but that might have been an error.
GM: Well, I know there are plenty of people who would love to have The Tremblers album re-released with the unreleased bonus tracks that were recorded for the proposed second album. There is still a market for that sort of vintage power pop.
PN: Yeah, you’re right. You know, I’m a big fan of that. I see Phil Solem and Danny Wilde from the Rembrandts now and then and they’re a fantastic live act. Very enthusiastic. And that’s one thing that’s missing today. It’s like I always say: if you want to see what show business was once like, watch The Beatles when they announced them at Shea Stadium. They run from the dugout to center field where the stage is, faster than any baseball player in the history of the game, and they plug in and they go “1-2-3-4” and they begin to play. But yeah, maybe one day we should put all that Tremblers stuff out… and let people rediscover it.
GM: Music fans are always on the lookout for a new discovery, whether it’s new or older material.
PN: Yes! It’s interesting because I did a show and on the bill was this band called 1910 Fruitgum Company. They had this “1, 2, 3” song that was fantastic, but I don’t ever remember hearing it in the ‘60s because it wasn’t a hit in England. I said, “Wow, you guys are good!” So I rediscovered a song. It was a hit by them…
GM: “1, 2, 3, Red Light.”
PN: Yeah, great little song, great performance. So hey, I’m an old man and I’m discovering stuff for the first time because of seeing somebody live and then being able to plug their name into Google.
GM: Speaking of older music, how did you hook up with Sirius/XM for your “Something Good” radio show? I listen all the time and it’s a lot of fun.
PN: I did a benefit show in New York and showed up on my own with just a guitar player, and we did a load of fun songs. About halfway through the show I saw the ferry go past—it was at the Port of New York—and I sang “Ferry Cross to Jersey.” They thought that comedy genius. (chuckles) Afterwards, the producers walked over to me and said, “Would you like your own show on Sirius XM?” and I go, “Yeah, why not?” We’ve got these 300 songs (to choose from), so you pick out songs and we do 18 two-minute chats. Never asked about money, you know, it’s not like a Howard Stern deal. I do it for my own amusement.
GM: You’re on the road quite a bit throughout the year—what drives you to keep performing after all these years?
PN: Whew…well, I’ve got about 27 years left on my mortgage. (laughs) No, that’s just a joke. It’s my hobby and it’s an adventure still, every day. I still want to win those gigs, you know, and the people in my operation know that I’ll never quit on stage. If it’s not going well, I’ll try to pull something out. We look forward to train wrecks, (especially) when I can recover. Once we were (playing) and a train went in front of the stage—a slow train—and I had a harmonica with me. Luckily we all ended up in the same key and we did “Folsom Prison Blues.” And it sounded even more like Johnny Cash because we didn’t know it well…so it’s not a train wreck as much as a train arrival. We have lots of moments like that. People shout stuff out and we do it. Obviously, you get stuff like “Free Bird” shouted out all the time, and we play one second of that, which is quite enough… (laughs)…we have fun on stage, you know?
GM: I think the audience feeds off the fact that you’re having a good time onstage, so they have a good time as well.
PN: I think so. And we’ve played the same places over and over again and people say they’ve never seen the same show twice, which I like. That’s pure entertainment value, I think.
GM: Final question: what do you feel is the definitive Herman’s Hermits song?
PN: I think “No Milk Today,” probably because it’s about Manchester. It’s written by friends of ours (Graham Gouldman) who was in a band from Manchester (10cc), the arrangement was done by (Led Zeppelin’s) John Paul Jones who was a friend of the band and in the band for a bit, and I think it’s a very well-made record. And it’s about our town, so I think when we made it we were totally immersed in the actual record.
Actually, I think “I’m into Something Good” may be better than “No Milk Today,” only because of the age of the people on the record. You know, it was two 16-year-olds, a 17-year-old, an 18-year-old and a 20-year-old geezer. And that says quite a lot about the music business in those days. Everybody was much younger, remember.
GM: And you had bands like The Box Tops, with Alex Chilton singing “The Letter” at 16-years-old, sounding like
PN: Yeah. And Steve Winwood and Dave Davies. And George Harrison, when you think about it now. At the time we thought he was old, but he was really quite young.