The former child TV star was part of the British Invasion that conquered America, chums with Keith Moon, Brian Jones and John Lennon, recorded with Bowie, and still tours and tells tales on his Sirius XM show “Something Good With Peter Noone”
In the early 1960s, while studying acting at the Manchester School of Music and Drama, a young Peter Noone—using the stage name Peter Novak—landed the role of Stanley Fairclough on the British soap opera Coronation Street. Though Noone enjoyed the acting gig, music was his first love and, after a chance encounter with a band called The Heartbeats (whose lead singer failed to show up), Peter reverted to Noone, and became the lead singer of the group.
After seeing The Beatles play Urmston Show in 1963, Noone was determined that if his group practiced enough, they too could be successful. “If you want to be in Pete Novak and The Heartbeats…” Noone told the band “…you have to quit your day job so we can practice all day and be good enough to be like that.” Half the band left immediately.
Luckily, Noone pressed onward. The remaining members of The Heartbeats joined up with a local band called The Wailers, and formed Herman and the Hermits. With the help of manager Harvey Lisberg and producer Mickie Most, the band evolved into the pop group Herman’s Hermits.
Hit after hit followed for Herman’s Hermits—“There’s A Kind of Hush”, “No Milk Today” and “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”, to name a few, were singles spinning on every teen’s turntable (if you didn’t own at least one Herman’s Hermit’s single, I know you’re lying.) They played sold out shows before thousands of fans, and appeared on every television show imaginable. In April 1965, Noone’s face was featured on the cover of Time magazine’s “Rock ‘n’ Roll” issue. They had officially outsold the Beatles.
I sat down with Peter Noone to discuss his multifaceted career, beginning with his appearances on Coronation Street, and ending…well, the thing is, Noone has never stopped. He’s currently touring the States, and by March of next year will begin the U.K. leg of the tour. “I’m always on tour,” Noone tells me matter-of-factly. “I do one hundred concerts a year. This year I’m doing one hundred and eight and next year I’m doing one hundred and eighteen. It’s what I do.”
PKM: You started out as a teen actor. What set you on that path?
Peter Noone: What happened was my school sent me to a school of music because I think it was clear that I was going to be in the music business somehow, probably some sort of musician. So they sent me to a school called the Manchester School of Music. While I was there, a man came from a new television station that opened. Once upon a time in England they only had the BBC, and then they decided that it was a monopoly, and they gave licenses to three companies to open channels on the television. Around the corner from the school was a thing called Granada Television which was an independent television company, and they came to my school because they needed a kid who could play the piano. When I got the job, I became a member of the union. (You couldn’t be in the union without a job and you couldn’t get a job without being in the union). So, I sort of walked into the union. Then, because I was in the union, every time they wanted a twelve- to sixteen-year-old kid, they used me. I even played an Indian!
PKM: Wow! How did that happen?
Peter Noone: There were no Indian kids in the union, so I got the job as an Indian. Then I got onto Coronation Street which was a big, big show, like 28 million people watched it twice a week. All the time I was in little bands, little groups, we called them. You know, we had a skiffle group that turned into an instrumental group called The Cyclones that turned into me walking into a youth club. The government had set up these things called youth clubs where teenagers eleven upwards could go and listen to music and be safe, and I walked into one of those places basically to try and pick up girls. There was a band on and they were called The Heartbeats and their singer didn’t show up. The bass player from the band walked over to me and said “You know lots of songs” ‘cause I was famous for having a big record collection, and I said “Yeah.” And he said “Do you know this song, do you know that song?” And I said “I didn’t say I could sing them, but I know them.” And he said “Would you help us out because our singer (Malcolm, his name was) hasn’t shown up.” So I said “Yeah, okay.” That night, after the concert, they asked me to replace Malcolm in the band, and I said “Yeah”. So I joined the Heartbeats and they gave me a new name. I was called Pete Novak.
PKM: Where did that surname originate from?
Peter Noone: It was like a mixture of Peter Noone. There was a ‘No’ at the end of Noone, and Novak sounded like a more rock ‘n’ roll name than ‘Noone’. This was before George Harrison and all those people with normal sounding names. Until then it was Billy Fury and names like that.
PKM: What year was this?
Peter Noone: Around ‘62? I was 14, so yes, ‘62. So bit by bit, I became more and more a member of this group to the point that after about a year I was the leader. I wasn’t just the lead vocalist, I was managing the affairs of this group. I was the one who rented the van and drove the van because everyone was drunk and I was only 15. Soon we started to get more money at the gigs than we spent doing the gig. For a while we were doing it because we wanted to play gigs, every band is like that, and then some time in the middle of 1963 it turned into, we got more money being in the band than we could spend, so we bought a van and we bought equipment and we turned sort of semi-professional. Everyone was working. Most of us were at school, but one guy had a job, and I was a part-time window cleaner, I sold programs at Manchester United football ground, I sold newspapers on the street, and I did all those jobs that every kid was doing.
We saw The Beatles in a field in August 1963. The Beatles had just made it, I think they had just one record. We’d seen them before but they just hadn’t had the same kind of impact. Where they played was called Urmston Show, like a fairground, one of those county shows where there would be a ferris wheel and all that stuff. And in the middle of this field were The Beatles playing live. We didn’t know they were playing there. We were at my grandmother’s house and we heard a band playing and crossed the field, and there’s The Beatles! They were so good that I was inspired. I thought “Wow, look at that! They know how to do it” and I said to everybody “If you want to be in Pete Novak and The Heartbeats you have to quit your day job so we can practice all day and be good enough to be like that” and half the band left immediately.
Peter Noone: You know, when the bass player saw The Beatles and they played the first song, he said “We’re fucked.” So he quit the band and we moved on. We stopped going to school and concentrated on being a band.
PKM: When you saw The Beatles, was that the pivotal moment where you decided to focus on your music, rather than acting?
Peter Noone: Nah, I never wanted to be an actor. I always wanted to be in a band and be a singer. I wanted to be a musician, I just ended up being accidentally paid to act even though I had no inclination. I just thought it was a good way to make money to finance a band. So I didn’t want to be an actor, I didn’t like the people in the acting class at school; I liked the musical guys. You know, you looked in the acting class and everyone was serious and emoting, but if you looked through the window to the music room they were playing Chuck Berry and everyone was laughing and having a good time, so I wanted to be with those guys. Seeing The Beatles, we realized that you could put a small operation together and be good. The day that we saw them (they were on in the afternoon), John Lennon was the lead singer and the other three guys were his backing band. I mean it wasn’t like what The Beatles became. What inspired us was that it was a small operation. They had this great sound with a limited amount of stuff because they were very talented, and they looked good and they were all laughing. I got a picture of John standing there talking to little boys, little 13-, 14-year-old boys who were fans of The Beatles.
PKM: That’s so cool!
Peter Noone: Yeah, and it was inspirational to me because I’d been to loads of concerts. You know, I’d seen The Everly Brothers and The Stones, and The Merseybeats and The Undertakers and all the local bands in Liverpool, but they were just that little bit more fun. It wasn’t serious like Elvis Presley and that –[sings intro. to Heartbreak Hotel] it was all fun and light and happy.
PKM: Do you remember any of the songs The Beatles played that day?
Peter Noone: Yeah, they did “Fortune Teller” and the same songs that everybody did, you know, “Chains”, I think “Please Please Me” was their record, and they played “Love Me Do”. It was that period, August 1963. I only remember August 1963 because I found my ticket. When my parents died, I went back to their house and I found my ticket to the Beatles concert. You know that box where you keep all the backstage passes and stuff? I had tickets to see the Stones and Bo Diddley. So I have the ticket. It was The Beatles and Brian Poole and the Tremeloes “Twist and Shout” ‘cause they both had that song. It just sort of turned the corner for us because we’d seen them at The Cavern [in Liverpool] but we’d never seen them with that sort of high energy show business vibe that they had.
“When the bass player saw The Beatles and they played the first song, he said “We’re fucked.” So he quit the band and we moved on. We stopped going to school and concentrated on being a band.”
PKM: A bit out of their usual element, so to speak. It’s cool that you have that documentation of the concert and those photographs of John Lennon.
Peter Noone: I didn’t know I had them, even. You forget all that stuff, but as the internet grew and people managed to connect to each other properly, all that stuff became available again. In fact, I took a picture of it with my phone and I put it in my iTunes photos folder, so I’ve always got it now. And then I put it in the cloud, so no matter what happens, if my parents’ house burned down, I would still have a picture of that concert. You know, I have this radio show on Sirius XM and I’ll talk about hanging out with Brian Jones and a listener will say “I’ve got a picture of you and Brian Jones!” And I’m like “Send me the picture!”
PKM: I listen to your radio show all the time. I think it’s really cool!
Peter Noone: Oh good, I’m glad! It’s fun. I have to come up with 18 two-minute stories every week. I preempt them all by saying “Some of the stories I tell may be true.”
PKM: Growing up in Manchester, what kind of music did you listen to?
Peter Noone: Only American music, I didn’t have any English artists. I don’t know why. My sister had English records. She had Billy Fury and Adam Faith and Bobby Rydell and stuff like that, and I didn’t. I had Buddy Holly, The Everly Brothers, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam Cooke, all the leaders of the game, really. She had Elvis, so I got Elvis without spending a nickel, but I brought in Ray Charles and Sam Cooke and all the popular American singers.
PKM: Did you come from a musical background?
Peter Noone: Sort of, in the same way as Paul McCartney. My dad was in a big band, and played the trombone only semi-professionally. My mother had no musical knowledge at all, but my grandfather played the organ in the church, and he even played the feet thing (Editor’s Note: pedalboard) like Steve Winwood, and my grandmother was the choir mistress. All Irish families…you know, people who came to England looking for a potato, played music at home to entertain each other which was part of the culture. If somebody died, or if someone had a baptism or a christening, everyone would have their one drink a year and sing a song. It was just what we did. So, I had an auntie who played Fats Waller and I had my granddad who played all those religious songs and my dad who liked Frank Sinatra and Woody Herman and big band stuff, so we shared music all the time at our house.
“All Irish families…you know, people who came to England looking for a potato, played music at home to entertain each other which was part of the culture. If somebody died, or if someone had a baptism or a christening, everyone would have their one drink a year and sing a song. It was just what we did.”
So, that’s the real musical background, and if you went into a car in those days, whatever was on the radio, you had to listen to it. My dad made us listen to every song ‘till the end. “Give the lads a chance” he would say (laughs) “Oh dad, this is terrible.” “Give the lads a chance,” you had to listen until the end. So everybody in the car heard the same music, and we got to listen to everything. My grandmother liked to play Elizabeth Schwarzkopf operas and my grandfather liked to play 1930s swing music, my father liked the big band era and my mum was into South Pacific and all that stuff… There was quite a lot of classical music, although I didn’t know it was classical music at the time. I thought it was Pop music because my parents liked popular classical music, you know like The Proms, as we call it in England. Land of Hope and Glory and stuff like that.
PKM: So you were exposed to some diverse music genres.
Peter Noone: There was nothing else in our world except music. Everybody worked in those days. You know, my grandparents got up in the dark and went to work. When my sister and I were very young, my parents went to university because they’d missed out on university during the war, so my mother went to Cambridge and my father went to Edinburgh University and we lived with my grandparents who were great! Because they’d be asleep every night at nine o’clock and they were deaf! So you could play rock ‘n’ roll and you could get girls over and everything and they didn’t even know. You didn’t need permission because they didn’t know.
PKM: So you and your sister were partying and they didn’t have a clue.
Peter Noone: My sister was better at partying than I was. I was just sort of this very young kid listening. I liked the music more than anything. I mean, she’d bring these girls over and play Joan Baez…odd things like that and I was like “Oh, no. What’s this about?”
PKM: Do you remember your first record purchase?
Peter Noone: Oh hell yeah, of course I do. I got Eunusto Concerto which is some Italian record…don’t remember the person’s name, and then I got Danny and the Juniors “At the Hop,” which was the weirdest weirdest record, and The Marcels’ “Blue Moon”, because it was early 45s and they were affordable. I think it was six shillings, so I could afford them, and I would go and buy loads of them. I had fantastic records. Then I discovered long players and all my money was spent on records. I had the best record collection in town. There was a little club in Manchester that asked me to be the DJ because I had all the records. I had no microphone, they just wanted me to play my records ‘cause I had Dion and the Four Seasons and all those records that weren’t hits in England. None of those records were hits in England, which was really weird.
The end of rock and roll was the day that you needed to be eighteen to get in to see a band.
PKM: You were only 15 when Herman’s Hermits formed. Were your parents concerned about you going on tour?
Peter Noone: No. I don’t think they knew what I was doing, to tell you the truth. In those days we were massively independent. Once upon a time we were safe everywhere. I mean the world was safe, and hardly anything bad happened. Nobody ever got murdered in our neighborhood, nobody even got divorced in our neighborhood. Nothing happened. My grandmother was the great protector of the neighborhood. There was a rumor that she burned somebody’s house down because they were misbehaving and everyone was afraid of her.
PKM: Just a rumor, I hope!
Peter Noone: She probably didn’t burn the house down, but she kept the thing going. She would help me beat people up, she was a good lady! So our neighborhood was safe, and it was so safe that my sister and I, on the first day of some holiday (remember my parents were at university so when they weren’t at university, they wanted to do things that young people do), my sister and I would get on our bikes and cycle 60 miles to my other grandmother’s house in Wales. We said goodbye to my parents and they didn’t hear from us until school started again. We’d send a postcard but my grandmother lived in a village in Wales. We had no electricity, no water, certainly no phone and we were safe. They expected to see us in September.
PKM: So they were used to you going away for long periods of time.
Peter Noone: Everybody was in those days. My parents sent me on a cruise to Africa with the school. They wanted me to experience everything. It was a different time. Nobody understands that it was very safe, and that’s why you would go to a youth club in those days…all those youth clubs were safe. There were no drugs, there were no child molesters. Do you know what I mean? It was safe everywhere. Everybody forgets that The Cavern had a junior Cavern. There was no alcohol. It was Coca-Cola and tea! The end of rock ‘n’ roll was the day that you needed to be 18 to get in to see a band.
PKM: What was the major turning point for Herman’s Hermits. When you realized that you had made it as a band?
Peter Noone: We used to play at this place in Bolton called the Cellar Club, and we got a bit of a following there. We had a fan called Margaret. She would go to The Cavern to see us in Liverpool and she would sit on the front of the stage. All I know was that her name was Margaret, I don’t know anything else about her, but that was the beginning of a following. Then we got about six girls who would come and see us, and then we had ten girls who would come to every gig, and we realized that we could create a following, really. We didn’t know what you called that, but we had people who would regularly come to our gigs. We started to work more and more because we weren’t expensive. We took any date that anybody had, you know my sister’s friend who had a hairdressing salon, we’d do a show there. We just wanted to play.
The turning point was we saw this show and the Everly Brothers were on the show, the Rolling Stones were on the show and a guy called Mickie Most was on the show. He did a guitar solo and kneeled down, and we said “He is the coolest guy we have ever seen” because the songs weren’t very good, the singing wasn’t very good but he managed to connect to the audience. He was like a rock ‘n’ roller, and we decided that he should be our producer.
“We went through this horrible thing where the people that we’d grown up with and built this band with – some of them had to leave.”
He came to see us at The Beachcomber in Bolton, and he said to our manager, “I want to sign him, but get rid of the band.” I said “No, it’s a band. We’re Herman and the Hermits.” Mickie said, “Well, I can’t make a record with these guys” and I said “So what do we do?” he said “Well, get rid of him, and get rid of him, and get rid of him” and we went through this horrible thing where the people that we’d grown up with and built this band with – some of them had to leave.
The bass player had to leave and the drummer had to leave. Keith Hopwood became the rhythm guitar player, and Karl Green became the bass player. We put together a new version of Herman’s Hermits, and went to record. We weren’t sure what we were doing, but we thought we were making a surf record. We recorded “I’m into Something Good”, and it was a number one record in England and that was it, we were off and running. But the turning point was seeing Mickie Most on that show. At the end of the show, the Stones came out of the stage door first, you know, like all groups do, guys in groups stand around the stage door if they know somebody in the band. The Stones came out and got on the bus, and then the Everly Brothers came out and chatted to everybody, and they were so kind and pleasant. Then Mickie Most came out and he opened the hood of his car. He wasn’t even on the bus and he put his guitar inside the front of his car. We’d never seen that before! He opened the door for his girlfriend and she got in the car and he waved at us and drove off. It was a Porsche, so we didn’t know that Porsches had the engine in the back and the trunk in the front. So we were like “That is the coolest guy we’ve ever seen”. We were kind of impressed with him in the show and that he was above average intelligence, kind of old fashioned, but cool. So he became our record producer, and he and I became best friends right from the very beginning. We understood each other’s limitations and were able to…you know, I would say “You know that reverb on “Walk Right Back” by the Everly Brothers?” and he knew exactly what I was talking about.
PKM: When you were working with Mickie in the studio, were there any conflicts? I heard that when he was producing albums for The Animals he didn’t allow the band much creative control. Is that true?
Peter Noone: That’s not true, that sounds like Eric Burdon, you know? Grumpy old man stuff. Eric’s my neighbor and my friend and I see him a lot, but he’s never happy with the situation, so you know, he’s just a grumpy old man. He was a grumpy old man when he was young. You know, “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”? Allen Klein found that song and gave it to Mickie Most. I know Eric goes [hums the opening bassline of “We Gotta Get Out of This Place”] well, you know what? That worked. The record was a number one record, so maybe it was all okay.
PKM: Okay, I was just curious.
Peter Noone: I got on great with Mickie. Mickie always said that the most fun he ever had at recording sessions was with us, Herman’s Hermits. We always had a load of fun. We were just energized by being in the music business and grateful to be given a shot at being in the same room as bands like The Who and The Animals. In that studio The Who would come in and The Animals would come in and we’d listen to their stuff. Eventually, we’d get to go and work at EMI Studios, what’s called Abbey Road Studios now, and we’d see The Beatles and they’d ask us how we were. Mickie Most got us to a good place, and he got The Animals to a good place. Remember, The Animals were falling out right from the beginning ‘cause Alan Price was falling out with Eric and he said he wrote the song [Editors note: House of the Rising Sun]. Once bands get involved in the business aspect of things, they always fall apart, don’t they?
PKM: They do, unfortunately. In 1965, you and the Hermits visited the States for the first time. What was your first impression of America, and of New York?
Peter Noone: Actually we first came in 1964. Towards the end of 1964, we did a high school in Allentown, Pennsylvania and we didn’t play a note because they introduced us and the whole audience came on stage. The entire high school joined us on stage, there was no security. We didn’t know that we were even famous in America. I think it was just because we were English or something.
Then we came and did a real tour, we did the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars, and it was with Little Anthony and the Imperials and Ike and Tina Turner, so by the end of the tour we knew all about America, really. Eighty-four days on a bus. Not a bus with beds, a bus with seats, like a Greyhound bus, and we went around with those guys. We knew more about America from Little Anthony and The Imperials than we did from anybody else. You know, their America.
PKM: What was your first impression of America?
Peter Noone: I had always been a Yankophile, so I was not surprised. It was exactly as I’d expected it to be. You know, my dad would say to me “Look at these guys. It’s dinner time and they’re still doing business, and they’ve all got their Samsonite briefcases.” My dad was a bit of a world traveler so he would say “Americans are different than English people. They think business even when it’s not nine to five. I’m very happy that I’m not one of those.” My dad called them hustlers, but now in England they’re called entrepreneurs.
PKM: In past interviews you’ve named John Paul Jones and Jimmy Page as contributors to some of the Herman’s Hermits songs. Did you contribute to other bands who were also recording in the studio at that time?
“I think just being in the control room and cheering people on, and them saying “What did you think of that?” is part of the process. I’m a believer that even the woman who made the sandwiches is part of the record.”
Peter Noone: Yeah, I think I did a bit. Not anything that made the session better, but probably more fun. I was on a couple of Donovan songs and Jeff Beck, just shouting and clapping hands and stuff. I was there for a load of sessions. I think just being in the control room and cheering people on, and them saying “What did you think of that?” is part of the process. I’m a believer that even the woman who made the sandwiches is part of the record, because that’s how you feel when you make a record, you know, the driver, the roadie, all those guys are on the record, really.
PKM: What were the Donovan songs that you contributed to?
Peter Noone: I think I’m on “Mellow Yellow” and “Barabajagal”, the one that Jeff Beck plays the guitar on. I was also on Jeff’s “Hi Ho Silver Lining”, and I was there for a lot of Who stuff. The Beatles never let me in the room because I was just a kid and I was a pest. I used to see John Lennon at EMI, which is now Abbey Road Studios, and I’d say “What are you fellas doing today?” and he’d say “Recording.”
PKM: In other words, “Piss off”.
Peter Noone: (Laughs) Exactly.
PKM: So basically you contributed to some backing vocals and things like that.
Peter Noone: Yeah, just contributing by being there when they were made. Jimmy Page was there for “Wonderful World”, and made it into a hit. If he wasn’t the guitar player on that, it wouldn’t have been a hit. He just happened to be there and he had an idea and “Okay, put it on, let’s listen to it.” That’s how people were. Remember, music was a shared experience once upon a time, until somebody decided that it was worth billions of dollars and “My idea is worth a lot of money”. His idea was worth getting it on a record. I think we gave him twelve pounds and he was grateful. I’m sure he wishes he’d done a better job now, but he was great at the time.
PKM: “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” was an obscure song before your band recorded it. Where did you first hear that song?
Peter Noone: It was in a play on the television called The Lads, with Tom Courtenay. We recorded it was because Keith Hopwood got this Gretsch Country Gentleman that made that sound. It was really for country music, I think it was supposed to sound like a banjo, and we copped it. It’s nothing like the original because we made up new words for it, because music was a shared experience. We never said to the writers, “Hey, we’ve re-written your song, we want half of the credit”, that’s just not who we are. We just wanted songs to go on the radio, we didn’t think that we’d ever get paid. I’m still shocked when I get a royalty check for something I did in 1964. If I had been a plumber, all I’d be getting was complaints now about my work from 1964 “It’s leaking!”
PKM: What was a typical recording session like for Herman’s Hermits?
Peter Noone: At the beginning it was casual, and of course it gets more serious the more demands you get from the label “We need an album!” and “You owe us this much material!” At the beginning, we were just kids conducting an experiment, but once you’ve got the compound, you have to manage it, really. Remember, like the Sex Pistols, we did not have a plan, we just made records. We didn’t think that a hundred years from now, we’d be like Del Shannon, you know, somebody that we admired. We never thought that we’d get into that league.
PKM: You mentioned that you’re a Who fan. What are a few of your favorite songs?
Peter Noone: I liked the early Who a lot. “Substitute”, “Pictures of Lilly” and “Happy Jack”, that period.
PKM: The Who also accompanied you on a U.S. tour. What was it like being on tour with them?
Peter Noone: We brought them to the U.S. because all of Herman’s Hermits were fans of The Who. Every year we brought our friends on tour with us. One year we brought The Animals, one year we brought Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, we brought The Hollies…they didn’t make it, though. Everybody else made it, really. The Who were nice people, and Roger is my favorite rock & roll singer. He’s right up there with Tom Jones and Eric Burdon.
“We would pre pay for any damage done to the hotel. For Keith’s birthday party, we had our road manager tell the hotel manager “They’re gonna destroy a room, which room would you want them to destroy, and how much would it cost to redecorate it?”
PKM: I had read something about you being Keith Moon’s minder for the duration of the tour…
Peter Noone: I had to take care of him. They thought that I would be a good influence on him because I was more experienced in mayhem and managing it so that people wouldn’t get hurt. You know, we would pre pay for any damage done to the hotel. For Keith’s birthday party, we had our road manager tell the hotel manager “They’re gonna destroy a room, which room would you want them to destroy, and how much would it cost to redecorate it?” They always found a room, usually a room that really needed redecorating. We bought one hundred cakes, and we bought a room, and we just threw cakes. Everybody was in their underwear, and it was that English…you know, not cool underwear, but everybody was into it. We just threw cakes until Keith fell over and knocked his tooth out. He was a party pooper.
PKM: Do you have a favorite story about your adventures with Keith or The Who when you were on tour?
Peter Noone: I’ve got loads of pictures, but we all look a bit drunk. Every day with Keith was great because he was two different people. He was this really smart, bright, intelligent guy, and then this looney guy jumped out. There were two people in there. All of The Who were taking care of each other, it was a real group in the pure sense of it. John was always watching out to make sure that Keith didn’t die. We taught them how cherry bombs worked. We were old-timers to them. Even though we were younger, we had been on ten American tours when they came with us, so they expected us to teach them the tricks of the trade. I mean, the first person who blew up a toilet with a cherry bomb was Bobby Vee! On our first tour, Bobby Vee and his band threw the cherry bombs into our cars!
PKM: That must have scared the hell out of you.
Peter Noone: I mean, we’re English, so we’re not used to noise!
PKM: You have mentioned in interviews that you were always trying to lose your bodyguard. What kind of trouble did you get into when you were on your own?
Peter Noone: I wanted to go and see bands, and they would always say “It’s not safe”, but it always was. I got a cop to drive me to Atlantic City to see Sarah Vaughan, and I would be back before anybody realized I wasn’t there. I wanted to hang out with James Brown, I didn’t want to just meet him, so you had to lose the bodyguard. I was never into trouble. I wasn’t interested in groupies, I was only interested in sophisticated girls, so I kept out of trouble. I wasn’t interested in faffing around with losers. A lot of musicians were into that, but it had no appeal to me.
PKM: Speaking of getting into trouble, what were your views at the time on the drug revolution of the sixties?
Peter Noone: We kind of watched from the sidelines. You know, the Stones threatened me one night. There was some Carnaby Street resin around, and Keith and Andrew Oldham came and found me and said, “If we ever find out you’re doing drugs, we’re gonna beat your face in” ‘cause they knew I was friends with Brian (Jones) and there were all kinds of drug paraphernalia around. Remember, I was 16 and everybody else was able to go to a pub and all that stuff and I wasn’t, and what I noticed early on, was all the guys would be in one room smoking pot, and all their girlfriends would be alone in the other room, so I would spend a lot of time with their girlfriends.
PKM: So it worked to your advantage.
Peter Noone: You know what I find with people who smoke dope and do heroin, they’re pretty boring to me. And people who do speed drugs aren’t much fun, they’re not sexually active. So I guess I was just a calm peaceful person looking for nice girls.
PKM: Out of all the Stones, you said you hung out with Brian Jones the most?
Peter Noone: Yeah, because he was like me. He was a nice sort of well-educated English gent. A grammar school boy, they’re called. I got on with him because he was a bit of a chick magnet and he was very pleasant because we only ever talked about music. You know, we didn’t talk about money or politics or any of those things, just about music. He was into all different kinds of music, so it probably included my music. You don’t have to like it, but you have to know about it. So I got on with Brian because he was a free spirit.
There’s one in every band that I was attracted to, like I got on great with John Lennon because he was chatty, and he was a mean English chatty, which I liked. Acid wit, I call it. You know, the first thing John Lennon said to me was “That’s a nice suit, Hermit, do they make it in your size?” he always called me Hermit, which was funny, and he would buy me drinks. We’d go to the Ad Lib and he knew that I was too young to drink, so when they came around (it was a two-drink minimum), and he said “He’ll have two cokes, and I’ll have two Bacardis.” When the waitress brought the drinks, he took one of my cokes, and he gave me one of his Bacardis. That was the drink of the season then.
PKM: The last Hermits album Blaze featured several co-writes from the band members. Do you feel the band was maturing and branching out at this point?
Peter Noone: Yeah, but it’s all just coincidental, really. The guys had always written pretty good songs, it’s just that we were struggling for material. We had very small egos about songwriting, so we would play the songs to Mickie and if he didn’t like the first four bars, he would say “Next”, and some of the songs on Blaze got past “next”. We got less and less material to choose from, so they were the best songs that were available at the time. Some of them they had played to Mickie before and he had said “Next”, but this time they got past him, you know, that kind of stuff. We were struggling by then to find good songs.
PKM: In 1971, you recorded a version of “Oh! You Pretty Things”. Did Bowie play piano on that track?
Peter Noone: Yeah, he was the only person who could play it. We tried it without him and then we had to bring him in to play it like the demo. He came to the studio to play it to us, and we said “No one else can play that, you have to play it!” so he sat down and he played it. We had to do it in bits and pieces. He couldn’t play it all the way through.
PKM: In 1980, you formed a new wave group called The Tremblers. Many critics loved that record. Why didn’t you go on to record a second album?
Peter Noone: Well, what happened was that we were trying to be Herman’s Hermits in another generation. We were trying to be what Herman’s Hermits would have been if we’d have carried on, sort of like the eighties Stones. We said “Let’s pretend that we never stopped and we’re now up to this part of this, what sort of songs would we record?” and It was good because some of the Heartbreakers played on it and there were really happening musicians who were into the idea of making this record. I got Nigel (Olsson) and Dee (Murray) from Elton John’s band to play on a few tracks. I got Dave Clark from the Dave Clark Five to play tambourine, you know, it was all fun stuff, in the same way that the Herman’s Hermits group was fun stuff.
We went into the studio to make the follow-up and it was really a struggle. (Tom Petty and) The Heartbreakers had made it, Elton John’s guys were on tour and we were struggling about getting material together. I got a phone call asking me to be in Pirates of Penzance on the tour, and I thought “That sounds like a good idea”, it was loads of money on the time. So off I went for a six-week tour with Pirates of Penzance which went for three years. I was on tour on Broadway for a year, then I went to England for a year, and then I toured Australia and New Zealand for a year. After three and a half years, the music business had changed, all the tracks being recorded with The Tremblers were now not appropriate.
PKM: Did the Tremblers ever go on tour?
Peter Noone: Yeah, we only toured. We played at My Father’s Place, and those kind of places. We had a good little run there. We got a van, and one guy had the equipment. We cheated a bit because we had a van and a BMW, so some of us went in the BMW and the equipment and the roadie went in the van. We drove all around America, we went everywhere, Seattle, even. All over the place.
PKM: Did you enjoy going back to live acting?
Peter Noone: I enjoyed being told what to do. I feel very comfortable on the stage with actors because they all know what to do, and that had an appeal to me then, but now I like being on stage and not sharing the set list with the band, because that makes them more enthusiastic. So I just shout out songs as I go along. We know about 300 now. We always do “Henry VIII” and those hits but I like to keep the guys unaware of what the next move is, whereas in a play the director tells you what to do and where to go and where to stand, and “Move now”, and that’s the opposite of being in a band.
PKM: I’ve seen clips on Youtube. You sing everything from Johnny Cash to the Sex Pistols. In terms of not having an organized set list, were you influenced by the Sex Pistols in a way?
Peter Noone: I’d say I’m a fan of the Sex Pistols. My favorite track of all time is “Bodies” from Filthy Lucre just because it’s a perfect recording of a fantastic audience…I mean, perfection. Also, Davy Jones’ “Daydream Believer” is perfection and that’s a completely opposite kind of record, wouldn’t you say? I think the influence from the Sex Pistols was, I thought that like Herman’s Hermits, they knew that music and fashion were not related. Music is fashion. People will wear what the musicians wear. Once a fashion person started dressing The Beatles, that was the end of The Beatles, and the Sex Pistols knew that music would be the fashion, and fashion would follow the music. So Herman’s Hermits were like the Sex Pistols in the sense that we actually knew that we were not fashionable.
Peter Noone does a snippet of the Ramones and the Sex Pistols in this concert clip from 2011:
PKM: You’re currently on tour. When and where are you playing your next show?
Peter Noone: I’m always on tour. I do one hundred concerts a year. This year I’m doing one hundred and eight and next year I’m doing one hundred and eighteen. It’s what I do. I’m playing in the Georgia State Fair on Friday, then I’m in Rhode Island on Saturday…and it just goes on and on.
PKM: I’ve seen you play guitar. Do you play any other instruments?
Peter Noone: I hate to tell you, I started off on the trombone, and I also had a piano accordion. I play the guitar on stage, but in England on the tour, I play the piano on stage, because people know me as a piano player in England. I play “Oh! You Pretty Things”, “My Sentimental Friend”, “Silhouettes”, so I play all the songs that have piano on them.
PKM: What bands are you listening to these days?
Peter Noone: Oh, I still like the Stones, I have odd days where I play nothing but the music by one person. I had a Rolling Stones day this week. You know, my daughter is a musician, she’s in Nashville and she did a session and these guys played on it and I went and brought their record. I fell in love with the band, they’re called Steelism. I think musicians are in better shape nowadays, you just have to be different like it was in 1964. If you were like The Beatles, you couldn’t make a go of it. There’s only one Beatles.
Every one of those bands from my time that made it were totally different and unique. The Who are not like The Kinks, The Kinks aren’t like the Stones, The Stones aren’t like Herman’s Hermits, and Herman’s Hermits are not like The Kinks, The Stones or the Beatles. We were all totally different and unique and we all had to appeal to the same audience, basically the same demographic, but remember that demographic included different types of people. They just had one thing in common which was their age. Now people try to say “Well, they’re sixteen so they’ll like this kind of music” No, it never was like that. Everybody tries to give something a statistic. I was a statistic once, you know, ‘Baby Boomer’. I’m supposed to be retired now, aren’t I? If I go by the demographic and the statistics, I’m supposed to be retired in North Carolina playing golf. Anyway, I’m okay, I’m not gonna do that, I’ll probably die on stage going “Euuughh!”
PKM: Don’t say that!
Peter Noone: Why not? It’s a good place to go. That’s not as bad as seeing the words ‘Your startup disc is full’.