Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Herman's Hermits

The first thing that needs to be said about this band is that despite their squeaky-clean, cuddly extremely pop image, These boys could play. A group of quite capable musicians, they cut their teeth playing RnB covers in clubs while all in their teens. Hailing from Manchester, England, they got together in 1963 with original members Keith Hopwood and Karl Green both on guitar and vocals, bassist Alan Wrigley, drummer Steve Titterington and 15-year-old lead vocalist Peter Noone. Later on guitarist Derek "Lek Leckenby and drummer Barry Whitwam, both formerly of a band called The Wailers (obviously not THE Wailers) replaced Wrigley and Titterington. Green switched to bass guitar and Leckenby took over as lead guitarist. Shortly after, the group secured a contract with producer Mickie Most signing with EMI's Columbia Records in Europe and MGM Records in the United States. Bassist Green noted a resemblance between Noone and the Sherman character in the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoons. As the story goes, they shortened "Sherman " to "Herman" and called themselves Herman And The Hermits, shortened later to simply "Herman's Hermits". As good a story as any, I suppose. The band played on most of it's singles, including their first, 1964's "I'm Into Something Good" 

Despite the group's collective youth, they were seasoned practicioners of their craft. Noone himself was also an experienced actor at 15 having been on the hugely popular British soap opera Coronation Street. Under Mickie Most's guidance however, the emphasis was placed on their cute looks and non-threatening presence resulting in an exremely easy-listening sort of pop, much of which were confectionized cover tunes such as Ray Davies' "Dandy", Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World", Goldie And The Gingerbreads' "Can't You Hear My Heartbeat" and The Ray's' "Silhouettes". The group (particularly Noone) was even urged to exaggerate their Mancunian accents to further emphasize their cuteness.

Despite the fact that they were competent musicians, producer Mickie Most used session players on all of the band's releases utilizing Jimmy Page, Big Jim Sullivan, John Paul Jones, Vic Flick and other such mercenaries with contributions from the Hermits, particularly Derek Leckenby. The use of session musicians was a common practice at the time as it is today. Even highly respected "serious" bands such as the Yardbirds with their amazing guitarists and The Rolling Stones with multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones made extensive use of outside players. The fact is, Herman's Hermits  did much more of their own playing than they have gotten credit for.The following video illustrates the band's competence as they sail through the number flawlessly missing nary a beat despite the constant throwing of debris onto the stage.

In 1965 and 1966 the group rivalled The Beatles in chart success in the United States, but were not nearly as big in their native England. The band's management admitted deliberately aiming the group at the American fan base, and it showed. In 1965 Herman's Hermits were the top-selling pop group in America. The group was nominated for two Grammy Awards that year for the single "Mrs. Brown You've Got A Lovely Daughter", a song the band recorded as an afterthought in two takes, never intending to release it at all, let alone as a single.
In addition to recording music on the MGM label, the band also appeared in several MGM feature films including 1965's When The Boys Meet The Girls, 1966's Hold On, and the anthology Pop Gear. After releasing three more albums in 1967 through 1968 including There's A Kind Of A Hush, Peter Noone left the band.

After Noone's departure the band carried on for a while as The Hermits with Peter Cowap as lead vocalist. They recorded a few singles  with minor success in the U.K., as well as an unreleased LP. Eventually Hopwood and Leckenby started a music company, Pluto Music which was still in business as of 2011 specializing in commercial and animation soundtracks. Hopwood has since become a composer of television and movie scores. Green became a sound systems manager for concert venues in London. Whitwam continues to tour as "Herman's Hermits Starring Barry Whitwam". Peter Noone returned to touring as well billed as Herman's Hermits Starring Peter Noone", and is still seen hosting public television pledge drives.
Derek Leckenby died of non-Hodgkin lymphoma in 1994.

1 comment:

  1. Very cool. I will always remember this band from when they played "I'm Into Something Good" on the Naked Gun. Very underrated band in a way.