These Hermits are not in hiding

Sixties band Herman's Hermits, along with The Animals and The Marmalade, will inaugurate a new amphitheater in Afula.

Hermans Hermits 88 224 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Hermans Hermits 88 224
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Geoffrey Foote distinctly remembers the first time he saw The Beatles. It was December, 1962 and the British teen guitarist and member of a group called The Chasers went to the Oasis Club in his hometown of Manchester. "Everyone was talking about the German band called The Beatles. 'Love Me Do' had just been released, and everyone thought [The Beatles] were from Germany because they had spent so much time there playing in clubs the previous years," recalled Foote from his home in England. "It was unbelievable - first of all, they were a band with no front man or lead singer; that was unheard of at the time. And they were incredible. I went straight home and practiced." Foote must have spent a lot of time going over his chords, because soon enough, he joined British Invasion favorites Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders (known for their hit "Groovy Kind of Love"). And for the last 30 years or so, he has played guitar in the current edition of Herman's Hermits, a lightweight Fab Four with a dozen memorable hits from the '60s ranging from "I'm Henry the 8th" to "No Milk Today." While their lineup no longer includes pixie front man Peter Noone, the Hermits still pack the crowds in, performing upward of 200 shows a year. Featuring original drummer Barry Whitwam, the band will be inaugurating the brand new Afula Amphitheater on June 9, right after Shavuot, along with co-headliners and '60s veterans The Animals (also sans lead singer Eric Burdon, but with original drummer John Steel) and The Marmalade ("Reflections of My Life" - a staple on Israeli radio). PROMOTER REUVEN Lev, an Afula DJ specializing in '60s music, explained that the actual members are less important than the fact that these are the same bands that have been performing as a unit for decades. "Even if it's not all the original artists, it's important to remember that these are the original bands. Most of the members have been playing together for more than 30 years. There's no other Animals or Marmalade out there touring. And just as important, they'll be playing only the hits that everyone knows. There's no new material," he said. Lev has been trying to organize the show - which he touts as "'60s music for 60 years of Israel" - for over three years, ever since he and a friend traveled to Europe to see a show featuring Herman's Hermits, The Animals and The Tremeloes. He approached band members after the show and talked about a possible performance in Israel. "For me, it's a dream come true. Instead of playing their music, I'm playing them," said Lev, sounding every bit like the '60s music fan he is. "Younger people don't realize, but in our day, there weren't many TV appearances or video clips, you could only hear your favorite groups. I think there's a curiosity, after hearing these songs all our lives, to see what the musicians look like. It's a great opportunity for our generation to see our musical idols." What is it about the rock & roll from the '60s that will attract music fans of all ages to a show featuring quaint bands lacking almost all their original members? Both Lev and Foote say it's the music, stupid. "The '60s musically were a breakthrough. It's been the base ever since. Even today, most music is based on, remixed, or remade from music made in the '60s," said Lev. "The '60s were the best thing that ever happened," added Foote. "We were teenagers growing up then, and of course every generation thinks that theirs is the greatest. But when you look back, it was really something special. People always say they don't write songs the way they used to - every generation says it. But it really was a big boon then - so many good songs." Foote added that the proof was in the pudding, when he looked out at the audiences at Hermits shows and saw parents, grandparents and their children and grandchildren in the crowd enjoying the music. "Lots of young people are into '60s music - look at American Idol and their British Invasion-theme episodes," he said. SPEAKING OF American Idol, Peter Noone has made a guest appearance on the wildly popular series, but is conspicuously absent from the band that's identified primarily with him. "There had been talk in the '80s about getting back together, but it never came to fruition. Now Peter is not allowed to use the name Herman's Hermits in the UK. In the US, he tours as Herman's Hermits featuring Peter Noone, and we're Herman's Hermits featuring Barry Whitwam," said Foote. Foote's introduction as a Hermit came about when he was writing songs in the early '70s and shared the Hermits' producer, Mickie Most. When Noone left the band in 1972, the first song they recorded was Foote's "She's a Lady." "It was the first single after he left and it was a pretty big hit in Europe. I got to know the band quite well, and within a few years, they asked me to join," he said. Since then it's been roadwork for Foote, with constant touring and playing the hits like "A Must To Avoid" and "I'm Into Something Good." According to Foote, each country the band plays in has its own most popular songs, which leads to a regular revision of the set list. "In the UK, the most popular song is 'I'm Into Something Good' while in Germany it's 'No Milk Today,'" said Foote. When I tell him that I grew up with "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" and "I'm Henry the 8th," he replied that those songs weren't even released as singles in Europe. "What we do is get a list of the our 'top 10s' according to the country we're appearing in and tailor our show according to that," he said, adding that the only time he was previously in Israel in 1978, accompanying his wife who was doing dinner theater in Tel Aviv and Haifa, he regularly heard "No Milk Today" on the radio. WHATEVER THEY play, Herman's Hermits, along with The Animals and The Marmalade are sure to take fans back on a nostalgic trip. According to Lev, the initial response to the show has been very positive. "People didn't believe the bands still existed. The first news about the show was released on April 1, so some people thought it was a joke," he said. The venue also potentially contributed to the level of disbelief, as Afula is not known as a cultural center and may have been the inspiration of the Animals's song "We Gotta Get Out Of This Place." But Lev is dead serious about it. "For Israel's 60th birthday, Afula is inaugurating a new amphi-park, it's a beauty, on par with the Ra'anana park, and we wanted to do something special to put it on the map," he said. With his '60/60' vision, Lev might just have found that specialty.