Herman’s Hermits / Post-Music Hall
Image from Herman’s Hermits Greatest Hits album cover
Although one can never underestimate the significance and influence on rock of such seminal genres as blues, swing, and country, the institutions of the Music Hall (in the UK) and Vaudeville (in the US) are often overlooked as precipitant forerunners. In the industrial North of England the Music Halls particularly flourished, offering comedy and communal songs that served to bind, empower, and raise the spirits of the working class.
A once-dominant source of entertainment in the Manchester area, Music Hall music and humor continued to linger on into the 20th century, morphing into new forms and arenas. Lancastrian George Formby emerged from this tradition. His ukulele-driven comedic songs brought him super-stardom on film screens and stages in Britain, while establishing musical aesthetics that the nation would inherit into its subsequent home-grown popular music.
By the time the Brit-beat invaders were unleashed in the early ‘60s, Formby’s patented cheeky humor and quirky tunes were coursing through the creative veins of new generations of young Brits. Nowhere was this influence more apparent that in Herman’s Hermits, Manchester’s first major rock phenomenon.
Fellow Lancastrians The Beatles were similarly influenced by Music Hall humor (e.g., “Your Mother Should Know”, “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band”), but their primary inspirations—as with other major Brit-beat bands The Rolling Stones, The Animals, and The Yardbirds—came from across the Atlantic, from ‘50s rebel-rockers like Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry, and Gene Vincent, and/or from the raw bluesmen who preceded them.
Herman’s Hermits, conversely, were the most obviously English of the invaders, and their sound and character bore the hallmarks of traditional Northern Music Hall fare. Their manager and producer Mickie Most encouraged the band to avoid the R&B inclinations of their peers and to embrace a simple pop sound that would accentuate the boys’ English (Mancunian) accents through sing-along, vocal-highlighted songs.
Despite having already acted as a regular character on the famous Manchester soap opera Coronation Street, Peter Noone was only 15-years-old when he took the vocal reins for the Hermits. No stranger to the spotlight, Noone’s irrepressible comedic stage presence and exaggerated Mancunian accent elicited Music Hall era nostalgia for English audiences, while being just plain cute to American youths who could not get enough of the new Brit-beat exports.
Playing adroitly to character, Herman’s Hermits brought the sound and personality of Manchester to American shores, scoring consecutive number one hits on the US charts in 1965 with “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter” and “I’m Henry the Eighth, I Am”. The latter was a revision of an old Music Hall standard that dated back to 1911, and Noone needed little encouragement from Mickie Most when tattooing his regional identity to the recording by deliberately exaggerating his accent in mock-homage.
Herman’s Hermits’ time at the top would prove to be short-lived, though they earned the distinction of actually outselling The Beatles during 1965. More significantly, they established a distinct Manchester pop sound and identity that were soon picked up and developed by fellow locals Freddie and The Dreamers (who stressed the comedic side of the post-Music Hall school) and The Hollies (whose own melodic and harmonic songs over the next decade became equally influential in rock history).