If you’re over thirty and liked pop music as a kid, you recall the Herman’s Hermits, five near-boys with thick British accents who caused female hearts to flutter. They had such hits as “Henry the Eighth,” “Can’t You Hear My Hearbeat?,” “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter,” and others.
Where are they now? Hordes of fans, long-timers and new ones, flock to what is known as “nostalgia shows,” and the Herman’s Hermits are often at the top of the bill. Now there are only four (Peter Noone, “Herman,” left the group), and two are not originals. Yet feelings evoked by the familiar music, played in the same way, are none the worse off for any of the group’s changes.
The Herman’s Hermits have survived. They are very much alive and living on the tour circuit. So alive that they’ve toured non-stop for over 25 years. Nostalgia buffs have groomed their kids to listen and enjoy; and the two original members, Derek “Lek” Leckenby, the lead singer, and Barry Whitham, the exuberant drummer, want nothing else.
Originally The Heartbeats, the Herman’s Hermits began in early 1964. In an interview, Whitham explained that he and Leckenby were in a band that was breaking up and Peter Noone, Karl Greene, and Keith Hopwood (the other originals) had a band that had dismantled that same week. The two groups fused into one.
“It was more involved but that’s what we say in a quick interview,” Leckenby said.
Assured there was time if he wanted to tell the story, Leckenby continued, “Barry’s right. Their band wanted two more musicians. The manager wanted it tighter and had worked with Barry and me on our band. He’d asked us before to join, but we said no. Our band was better, we were involved, and didn’t want to change midstream. But we broke up the next week, so we did it then. After The Heartbeats, we were Herman and the Hermits, then Herman’s Hermits.”
“The manager got someone up from London to see us since the band had reformed,” said Whitham. “He liked what he saw and took with him a demo of ‘I’m Into Something Good.’ Soon after, we went to London to cut the record.”
Watching these guys was like being privy to a well-formed, long-standing marriage. One would talk, pause, then the other picked up the thought and ran. No time to wonder if he was on the same track, since years of mental mixing assured him he wasn’t interrupting, just simply taking his turn at the thought. They’d laugh and talk simultaneously, tease and joke with specific words lost in the mesh, but the general sense of the interplay was that they enjoyed themselves and each other.
Whitham continued. “Then, suddenly we were on the road, in the studio, people took our pictures. And we were doing interviews.”
“That was over 25 years ago,” Leckenby added. “And we’re still doing it.”
Where did the name come from?
“It started with Karl Green,” Leckenby answered. “Karl was in a band, Pete Novack and the Heartbeats, and they wanted a name change. Once they were in a pub and the Bullwinkle Show [Rocky and Bullwinkle] was on, with a chap called Sherman Peabody. Karl decided he looked like Peter. Since he mistook the name for Herman, he said, ‘Let’s call the band, Herman something. Herman and . . . the Hermits.’ I suggested we change it to Herman’s Hermits.”
It was intriguing to sit with these men and recall what they once looked like. Their physical changes were a contrast for the sameness of their music. When they sing now, the sound is hardly altered from what it was in the sixties. But they do look different. They have progressed with the years, bell bottoms have been replaced by tailored jeans. Their bodies are filled out from post-teenagers to men of their early forties, and their hairstyles are no longer “Beatles bobs” but more like two businessmen.
They look better. Leckenby was bearded, wore glasses and most often a hat, ostensibly to cover a bald head. He had a kind, ready smile, and seemed more of a well-established record executive rather than a performer. Whitham was tall and very lean, impish, like an aging mischief-maker who never lost a knack for the preposterous. His nickname is “Bean,” for his lankiness and his head for pulling pranks.
They’re both fathers and husbands. They juggle career, hectic travel schedules, and everyday hassles and pleasures of home life. They are the personification of the yuppie generation.
If the Herman’s Hermits want to go on doing what they’ve proven they do best, the numbers prove that they’ll always have an audience. Yea, yea, yea, cuz they’re the ones we lo—ve! They’re the ones we love!!