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The Brits Are Back : Barry Whitwam of Herman's Hermits says the band has made more than 60 American tours. Next stop is North Hollywood.

July 29, 1994|STEVE APPLEFORD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Steve Appleford writes regularly about music for The Times.

NORTH HOLLYWOOD — The British Invasion of the mid-1960s didn't last long. By 1970, the Beatles were gone. The Who never made it past the '80s. And now only the Rolling Stones and the Kinks still release albums with any regularity and fanfare.

That's not to say other survivors of the U.K.'s capture of the American pop charts haven't kept busy. Take Herman's Hermits, whose massive hits "I'm Into Something Good," "There's a Kind of Hush" and "Mrs. Brown, You've Got a Lovely Daughter" still echo on oldies stations all over the Western world.

"We've never stopped touring," says drummer Barry Whitwam, an original member of Herman's Hermits, who emerged from Manchester, England, in 1964. "I think this is the 67th tour of America."

The band's current road trip lands them at the Palomino in North Hollywood for two shows at 9 and 11 tonight. And for most of each set, the quartet will focus on the old songs, smooth pop from "Silhouettes" to "I'm Henry VIII, I Am," that made them regular visitors to top-10 singles charts. in the U.K. and America.

"When we first recorded (the songs), we were frightened to death to go into the studio," says Whitwam, 48. "Now we're confident, 30 years on. We enjoy playing them, as authentically as we can." He laughs. "There were mistakes on the records, but now there's no mistakes."

The sort of audience Herman's Hermits now find during tour stops at state fairs, clubs, casinos and other venues is also a bit more mixed, crossing generational boundaries, than the throngs of teen-age girls that greeted them in the early days.

"I've seen kids of 5 years old singing 'I'm Henry VIII' and 'Mrs. Brown,' and I've seen their grandparents singing along," Whitwam says. "If you get a few thousand people singing the songs you made, it's a tremendous atmosphere."

Until last May, Whitwam was sharing that experience with founding guitarist Derek (Lek) Leckenby, who died June 4 of non-Hodgkins lymphoma. Leckenby, who was 51, battled the disease for two years. "It seemed stable, but about four months ago he was getting a bit more ill," Whitwam says.

In his final show May 29 at an outdoor festival outside Seattle, Leckenby played his guitar while sitting on a folding chair, too weak to sing. But he still earned a standing ovation, according to band manager Julie Smith. "He was a brilliant guitar player who never got the attention he deserved for the simple reason that Herman's Hermits were known for softer pop," Smith says.

*

Another original member of the band, guitarist Keith Hopwood, is set to rejoin Herman's Hermits and fill Leckenby's spot after the summer tour. In the meantime, Paul Downing, 48, is filling in. (Others performing in Herman's Hermits on this tour are singer-guitarist Rod Gerrard, 48, and singer Keith Roberts, 38.)

Before he died, Leckenby had helped Herman's Hermits finish a new album of 12 songs in a Liverpool studio. Like their never-released "Whale of a Tale" album, the new project reflects the band's current interest in country music, with such new titles as "After the Rain" and "Ghost Town."

"It's more country rock than the old Herman's Hermits kind of groove," Whitwam says. "Before we actually formed Herman's Hermits, we had a country-rock sort of feel. But when we did our first record, 'I'm Into Something Good,' that was the direction we were advised to go in. It made sense, really. You have a hit record, go with it."

That record was just the first of 22 singles and nine albums released by the band, selling more than 60 million throughout the world.

"Our image was very clean, the boy-next-door kind of image," Whitwam adds. "That's possibly why it came off in America, too."

The original lineup, led by singer Peter Noone, started to break apart in late 1971, when Noone left to pursue a solo career. Hopwood followed in 1973 to build a sound studio. Bassist Karl Green left in 1983 to raise a family.

But it was Noone's departure that signaled the end of the band's string of pop hits. "It's a shame, really," Whitwam says now. "Because when you break a successful combination up, it's usually that none of the two parties will see the same kind of success that you had together. He never had another hit record of his own after that, and we've not."

Even without any new chart-toppers, Whitwam says the lifestyle he is enjoying now with Herman's Hermits, taking their music on the road for 200 shows a year, is ultimately satisfying.

"You get to this age, you can have some fun with it. There's no pressure. You just do what you enjoy. If I wasn't doing it with Herman's Hermits, I'd be doing it in another kind of band. The road is in my blood."

WHERE AND WHEN

Who: Herman's Hermits.

Location: Palomino, 6907 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood.

Hours: 9 and 11 tonight.

Price: $10.

Call: (818) 764-4010.

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