By the time music’s British Invasion reached Roanoke in the spring of 1965, there were storm clouds on the horizon.
Unlike the winds of change that were rocking society at the time, these were real storms with thunder and lightning and torrential downpours.
Peter Noone, frontman for the popular ’60s British pop band Herman’s Hermits, estimates that he and his group have done approximately 100 concerts a year for the past 50 years. He remembers few as vividly as the show scheduled for May 20, 1965 in Roanoke.
“The whole thing was just this massive mess,” said Noone, reached by phone this week at his California home. “It was just one of those ones that stick out.”
It was billed as the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars and featured such acts as Freddy “Boom Boom” Cannon, Bobby Vee and Little Anthony for an outdoor concert at Roanoke’s Victory Stadium, a venue that was used mostly for football until it was torn down in 2006.
Civic centers in Salem and Roanoke would not be built until the late ’60s and early ’70s, so there weren’t many indoor options to move the concert, for which promoters had sold 15,000 tickets. Jack Fisher, a WROV disc jockey at the time, was scheduled to emcee the event for longtime Roanoke promoter Pete Apostolou.
The show was originally billed as rain-or-shine, but when the rain began to fall at 5:30 p.m. and continued for hours, the situation deteriorated. With water pouring down on wires and outlets set up on a metal stage, the performers feared electrocution.
“When [Apostolou] came up to us, it was like his life was passing before his rain-soaked eyes,” said Fisher, who now makes his home in Spartanburg, South Carolina. “It was the biggest crowd he ever could have wanted. He could have made a fortune that night.
“What he got was the storm of the century. Pete came up to us to try and get [Herman’s Hermits] to plug in [their amplifiers]. They loved us, but they didn’t love us enough to kill themselves.”
Apparently, the crowd didn’t take out its anger on Noone and the Hermits.
“Dad laughed it off but people wanted their money back,” said Roanoker Nick Apostolou of his late father. “There were even some death threats.”
It says something about inflation that tickets for the concert were $3.
“We felt bad for all those kids who had bought tickets,” Noone said this week, “so we said, ‘What can we do to fix it this? We can’t give everybody’s money back. That’s not what they want. They want to see Herman’s Hermits.’
“In 1965, we sold more records than anybody in the world, including the Beatles.”
It was mutually agreed upon to reschedule the show for June 13 — 50 years ago this month — and many of the original ticket-holders returned under more pleasant conditions.
“I was there both times,” Roanoker Maggie Drewry said. “I remember that I was wearing a madras skirt the first night. It rained so hard that the colors ran everywhere.
“The fact that it was at Victory Stadium tells you how big it was; I don’t remember any concerts at Victory Stadium before that.”
Noone hosts a weekly program, “Something Good with Peter Noone,” and has been known to talk about his Roanoke experience on Sirius XM.
His recollection was that Wayne Fontana was scheduled for the first Roanoke date and was to sing a Major Lance hit, “Um, Um, Um, Um, Um, Um.” When the second date came along, Fontana wasn’t on the card, but Lance was available and performed the song himself.
“Bobby Vee was supposed to be the headliner for that [first] show,” Fisher said. “You always had to have an obligatory British group. The Hermits were the group that was booked.
“By the time they got to Roanoke, they had three hits, all in the top 10.”
Those hits were “Mrs. Brown, You’ve Got A Lovely Daughter,” “Silhouettes” and “Wonderful World.”
The Roanoke Times estimated the crowd for the make-up concert at 7,500 — roughly half the original projection — but fans got the Hermits for approximately 40 minutes instead of the 15 minutes or so that they would have had as part of Dick Clark’s group.
Just last year, Noone and his group played the Harvester Performance Center in Rocky Mount, and he is scheduled for a return visit there Nov. 5. Other than Noone, only drummer Barry Whitwam remains from the original Herman’s Hermits lineup.
Fisher, who was at WROV from 1964-70 and later worked as a disc jockey in the Philadelphia area, has worked on the beginning of a memoir that devotes several pages to Herman’s Hermits and their trips to Roanoke. It will be available on Amazon in August as “a fictionalized account of my life,” he said.
Fisher also taught a nine-week course last year at Furman University on the music of the 1960s and how it affected the culture. Each week was devoted to a different year, and he’s starting a similar program this coming fall at Wofford.
“I don’t just play music,” said Fisher, who had turnaway enrollment for the class for last year. “I play a lot of music but it is history. Of course, there are a lot of anecdotes in there, too.”
He has been struck by the way Noone has kept in touch with him over the years. At the time Noone came to Roanoke in 1965, he was 17.
“What’s interesting about Peter was his love for Roanoke, which I’d say was pretty unique,” Fisher said. “Peter and his group sincerely felt that it had short-changed this massive audience.
“This guy played all over the world. The Hermits were one of the biggest groups of the ‘60s. That he remembers Roanoke, Virginia, after 50 years is fascinating.”