Peter Noone talks. He talks and he talks and he talks, uncorking one bouncy, bemused observation after another, all in a clipped Manchester accent that makes everything he says — to these American ears, anyway — ring with the self-deprecating wit of a Brit who italicizes with flair.
Gabbing on the phone for more than an hour, the once and forever Herman's Hermits frontman touches on everything from his love of John Lennon ("he was a funny guy") to his good genes and great health ("but I don't go to the doctors, because they might find something wrong with me") to his unending annoyance with cellphone users. ("The world has gone all weird, like, people are constantly, -always with that invisible third person.") And folks whose arms flop into his seat on airplanes, encroaching his space. ("Some of your body is in my seat! This is not gonna work for me!")
And plastic surgery. He can't stand plastic surgery.
"Show business is loaded up with all these ridiculous people who think we don't know that they just had a couple of chins taken away," says Noone, 65. He much prefers the natural look employed by, say, Mick Jagger. "I'm pretty proud of him, because he didn't do all that botox and eyejobs and everything, he just let himself fall to bits gracefully." Or Paul McCartney. "He's got those wrinkles and everything, and why not? Much better than showing up with, 'Oh, look, the Hindenburg disaster on your face!'"
While Noone talks, he's hoofing around Santa Barbara. He had planned to work on a show with '70s heartthrob David Cassidy and Monkee Micky Dolenz, "but David isn't feeling well. You know, he's getting on now, he's got to take care of himself a little more carefully. We're all amazing specimens."
Noone and his garrulous good cheer will breeze into the Capital Region this Saturday, when the "60s Spectacular" with a line-up of vintage acts plays Proctors. Besides Noone and his band, the bill also includes the Happenings ("See You in September"), Jay and the Americans ("This Magic Moment") and Mary Wilson of the Supremes ("Baby Love"),
Noone was, is and will (by his reckoning) always be the guy singing "I'm Into Something Good," especially if that something is a seven-minute punk-inflected jam to "Henry VIII, I Am." He is eternally optimistic and, some might say, eternally young. "They're lying when they say that, or they need a quick trip to LensCrafters," he quips. "I know I look much better in the dark." You mean, he doesn't have some painting stashed in the attic that's aging in his place?. "No, it's a CD. It's an album, an old album."
"Dorian Gray" picture or no, Noone has been plying his boyish naivete for a long time. He made music and got paid for it at 13, recorded "Something Good" at 15, became a bright-eyed pop star almost immediately thereafter. With his wavy blonde hair and chirpy sense of fun, he wooed the radio masses without worrying what anyone else thought. He never cared about the critics. He still doesn't.
"We don't want them to like us. We're not the intellectually stimulating band. We want to be the fun band," he explains. He then sharpens this point and pokes it at his interviewer, adding: "We don't want you to come to the show. We want people who like us to come to the show."
Back in the early days, exactly four people showed up for all their concerts: "Margaret, and three other girls." Over time, those gals were joined by others. And then others. "And so we found our following, and a lot of them stayed around, and we got new ones." Eventually, he coined a word for them: Noonatics (rhymes with "lunatics"), some of whom are now getting long in the tooth.
"They wheel a lot of people in," he says. Especially at casinos, which generally seat people first-come, first-served. "The first ten people in line are in wheelchairs....Do you know how unlucky it is to even sit in a wheelchair?"
This reminds him: He hates golf carts. Walks instead. Pities the people who scoot around in airports. Backstage with his bandmates, they rib each other mercilessly, trying to keep fit. "We'll say, 'You fat bastard!' We keep talking to each other: 'Oh, look, there's a whole inch of fat hanging off the back of your trousers! No, you can't have a cookie!' And you know, we're getting fitter and fitter."
"I don't look like an older codger yet, but it's coming. And believe me, when it's walker time, I'll still be singing 'I'm Into Something Good.' You can't stop me. That's my hobby. I found a hobby that people pay you to do."
And no, he doesn't mind the "round and round and round" of constant touring. Here he launches into a mind-over-body riff that sounds about half showman's bravado, half Norman Vincent Peale. It's the power of positive thinking, he says: "One day you're at Mohegan Sun (in Connecticut), and the next day you're in San Diego. How are you gonna do that? Most bands can't do that. We can do that because we believe it's possible."
Every now and then, Noone's iPhone rings — emitting the sci-fi tone that sounds like a whining Theremin. (No, he doesn't answer it.) He has different ringtones for different friends, and different pictures for different friends, and he likes to mix them up — putting the wrong face on the right ringtone. "I amuse myself," he says.
He does a lot of that. "It's panglossian — the whole affair is. I've always been naive and optimistic about what may transpire. So, you know, little things amuse me, and I wade in the really shallow pool of intellect," he says. "Life is easy for me no matter what."
He's performed in the region a few times, most recently at the 2010 '60s Spectacular. He likes Schenectady: "I love everywhere. Everywhere's got something for me. I'd walk around every town." Wherever he goes, he peppers his shows with local patter and wings it with the set list, shouting out titles from the group's memorized store of about 300 tunes.
Besides those Herman's Hermits songs — "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" and "I'm Into Something Good," of course — they'll dip into all sorts of tunes from all sorts of eras. Johnny Cash, the Beatles, you name it. "We just jump in there and do whatever feels right at that moment."
On his own songs, Noone likes to go Method. "That Stanislavski theory works for singers really well," he explains, and he isn't kidding. "In my Stanislavski theme, I have to pretend I'm the person in the song onstage, so I have to actually believe I'm singing to Mrs. Brown about her lovely daughter. I have to believe it — or otherwise, it's just a dirty old man song, isn't it?"
Same goes for "No Milk Today," about a sad lad singing about his absent lady, and "Henry the VIII, I Am" — well, sort of. He doesn't actually believe he's a decapitating 16th-century English monarch. All the same, "it's silly, and all the audience can sing it. It's one verse ad nauseum, and how can it not be brilliant?"
Anyway, "Innocence is good stuff. Remember, nostalgia is forever," he says. "It just keeps being replaced with new nostalgia."