Peter Noone, singer for the 1960s British rock band Herman’s Hermits, is that rarest of modern pop musicians. More than 50 years after his band’s success with hits such as “There’s a Kind of Hush," “Henry the VIII”’ and “Can’t You Hear My Heartbeat”, Noone, 74, has never stopped performing to enthusiastic audiences who grew up with the Hermits’ collection of radio-friendly hits. His contemporaries such as the Dave Clark Five, Peter and Gordon, Gerry and the Pacemakers, and scores of other participants in the British Invasion fell by the wayside long ago.
Why, then, is Noone able to ride the wave that began for him in 1964?
It may be that the songs by the Hermits have irresistible melodies that are so easy to sing along with. It may be that, despite his age, Noone is an easily recognizable personality who doesn’t look a whole lot different than he did back in the day. Or perhaps he has more in his background that many people realize.
In an interview with OnMilwaukee prior to his Aug. 8 show at the Wisconsin State Fair, Noone talked about his career and some of the reasons he’s still around.
Growing up in the northwest England city of Manchester, Noone was a child actor who landed a role in the popular British television soap opera, “Coronation Street.' His appreciation for music began at home.
“We were a typical Irish family that loved to sing at weddings, baptisms, funerals, parties,” he said. “I became the singer because I was the only one who could remember the words.”
He also developed a love for the music from American singers like Chuck Berry, Buddy Holly and Roy Orbison.
“We thought everything was born in America – the music, the movies, Broadway, all of it,” he said. "My friends loved music too. This was a time when England was safe for kids. We could go to the local youth clubs with no danger of alcohol or drugs being sold."
Demonstrating a poise and maturity that often takes years to achieve, Noone was 12 when he used his earnings from acting to buy a van and musical equipment, and form the group that would evolve into Herman’s Hermits.
“At first, we did folk songs on Spanish guitars," he said. "Once the electric guitar became available, we began to play instrumentals. I was so bad on guitar that someone said, ‘Why don’t you be the singer?’ Even though I knew all the words to the songs, I hid behind the microphone stand at first!”
When the British music scene was dominated by the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, record companies all scrambled to make records with the bands who drew teens to their live shows. RCA Records’ United Kingdom affiliate signed the Hermits to a recording contract and offered them a Carole King song, “I’m Into Something Good." The song was rushed into production and shipped to radio stations across the country.
“I think 'Something Good' was out two weeks after we recorded it, but that was not unusual back then,” Noone said. “All my friends had already made records but ours was the only one on the radio!”
Noone said Herman’s Hermits developed their own sound from the beginning, a key to their initial success.
“A band had to be distinctive, or they wouldn’t make it,” he said. "We were hired to open for the Beatles, the Stones and the Kinks because we didn’t compete with them. We were different."
Noone said that while the band enjoyed playing and being well paid for it, there was pressure that came with the success.
“In 1965 alone, we played 360 concerts, had five top ten records and made a film,” Noone noted. “And we were featured on television programs like the Ed Sullivan Show. We respected Mr. Sullivan and earned his friendship. He was a true gentleman."
When asked about his long career, Noone said part of it was being kind to fans.
“I had a good Catholic upbringing and was educated by priests. And having an older sister is as good a morals lesson as you can get,” he said. “Also, at a very young age, I saw how performers like the Everly Brothers treated the people who looked up to them. I never lost sight of that.”
He also said that some degree of talent has played a part in his life, but it all comes down to "Why me, Lord?"
“I’ve worked hard, stayed healthy and outlived my competition. I’m living the dream.”