Herman's Hermits: A Retro Reinvasion
STAFFORD CENTRE -- 10/25/08: Blimey, mate! Last Saturday night at the Houston-area Stafford Centre was an incredible, retrofitted return to the musical influences that once resonated from the original British Invasion era in American rock music. Frontman Peter Noone of Herman's Hermits brought with him an entourage of fellow musicians to recapture moments from this previous mid-'60s style of pop-rock fare.
The set list from the show reads like a veritable radio city menu of Anglophonic music from this pivotal period. Noone (aka "Herman," for the group), along with the present Hermits, though not critically acclaimed until far later (much like The Monkees and others), nevertheless scored a pretty enviable succession of some twenty Top 40 hit songs and seven gold albums during the brief period of time that England-spawned groups so affected the American music scene, spanning the gap between Elvis Presley's more flamboyant rock-n-roll rhythms and the gradual evolution into psychedelic, Eastern-tinged, and harder-edged styles more apparent from the Monterey Pop Festival onward.
Filling a virtual void between the assassination of JFK and the eventual emergence of both the nuclear disarmament movement in the U.K. and the Vietnam War protests in the U.S., Herman's Hermits was one of a host of English "beat" groups to transverse both the Atlantic and the radio airwaves from 1964-67. Some, like The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, The Who, and The Yardbirds, went on to carry their impact well into the '70s and beyond.
At the same time, though, even now-lesser-known groups like The Beau Brummels, The Left Banke, The Hollies, Wayne Fontana & The Mindbenders, Lulu, et al, made important contributions during this transforming interval, as well. Unlike many of their fellow Brits, the Hermits penetrated the charts repeatedly on both sides of the ocean, and their trademark "traditional nice guys" image and sound established for themselves a permanent link as a supportive influence during the versatile experimentation of sixties popular music.
From the very first song out of the gate, "I'm Into Something Good," the band made it clear that the night was going to be very special. Truth be told, the music was only half of the act's enjoyable content. Noone is really quite the entertainer, using personal stories and stand-up comedy to segue through to the next song, which would then serve as a further exclamation point along the way to the show's final climax. His juggling of humor and singing was every bit as adept as his British accent is thick, and one could tell why this guy has been able to remain such a smashing success as a famous theatrical artist, too.
Replete with old "vinyl" days jargon and musical parodies of rehashed '60s covers by The Monkees, Tom Jones, and others, the Hermits punched-in almost all of their major hits throughout the show, including "A Must To Avoid," "Just A Bit Better," "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat," and "Mrs. Brown, You've Got A Lovely Daughter." The crowd came to its feet immediately for sing-along participation on "I'm Henry The Eighth I Am," arguably one of the most recognizable repeated-one-verse songs in rock history. They capped off the night with an emotional performance of their much-anticipated signature hit, "Hush All Over The World," which inspired in return a sea of swaying arms and handheld florescent glow sticks from the crowd to create a final hypnotic retro-effect to the show.
As a player thoroughly plugged into the former '60s music scene, Noone retains a pretty unique perspective on it all. As he recalls it, "The period was best represented by musical camaraderie and the mélange of all the diverse American music. A glance at an early Beatles LP will show a collection of all the influences. Country, R&B, pop. Herman's Hermits had the same influences, but were seven years younger than all the other Invasion bands and were always underestimated and thought to be un-cool. A night at the Duke St. James in London or the Bag Of Nails would find Jim Hendrix, Peter Noone, Georgie Fame, John Lennon, and others discussing music and laughing together...and I don't see that much any more. I was the only British singer who refused to sing with an American accent, which set us up for screaming girls, which, in retrospect, was an excellent idea. All the other British bands had American accents and made films in which they ran away from screaming girls. We ran slower...and let the fast girls catch us. Once again, a sign of our brilliance."
Remaining decidedly aloof from the '60s subculture and political landscape, Noone and the group steered toward their own personal direction, trading fairly common "Eve Of Destruction" topics about languishing, disposable relationships, and drug use escapism for messages promoting a more hopeful and lasting outlook.
"Herman's Hermits contributed nothing to music or culture," Noone said, "other than to prove that having a great time and playing songs about real relationships and romance was a good idea, and could endure...preferring to live a long and happy life, facing my own reality." Half-jokingly updating his nostalgia on being a teenaged artist back then, Noone continued, "I often reflect on the beautiful and naive themes of the '60s, such as 'all you need is love,' and now I insert my own second line, 'all you need is love...and an F-18.' I am from a time when people in the music business became involved because they loved music (not fame) and I am still a fan of all types of music. As a kid, I unknowingly became a fan of Texas music...Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, etc...and I still wander around loving the world, the music, and people. So much for the misanthrope."
Not only has he successfully outlived much of the competition (another part of his "brilliant" plan), but the present phase of Noone and company has also remained extraordinarily vibrant and exuberant, as was joyously displayed and celebrated in fresh fashion at the Stafford stop-over. Yes, even after all these years, Herman's Hermits are apparently still very much hooked-into that good "something" that launched them so long ago, way back in the day. END