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'I was the first exploding drummer': Herman’s Hermits' Barry Whitwam speaks ahead of 60s shows in Wolverhampton and Birmingham - including hilarious tales of touring with The Who, meeting Elvis and his mate Don Powell

By Kirsten Rawlins | Music | Published:

He was 'the first exploding drummer' when The Who rigged his seat with gunpowder, helped save Keith Moon getting arrested for indecent exposure, met the Queen's Mother and came face-to-face with Elvis.

Clockwise from bottom left: Elvis, Harry Lisberg (the band's manager) and Barry; Barry and Slade's Don Powell; and Barry and The Who's Keith Moon

Herman's Hermits' Barry 'Bean' Whitwam has lived an exciting life during his 54 years in rock 'n' roll.

The Mancunian drummer was just 18 when his band reached number one with their debut single I'm Into Something Good, which saw the group soar to stardom. This also meant they were surrounded by crazed fans - some of whom would even run after the lads with scissors, hoping to get a lock of their hair, and hang on to the back of their limo as they left gigs.

See Herman's Hermits perform I'm Into Something Good here:

Herman's Hermits I'm Into Something Good

Barry, now aged 71, first learned to play drums at the age of 11 after convincing his mother to buy him a mismatched second-hand set for £40. He'd been influenced by the likes of Chuck Berry, Elvis and Ringo Starr, whose records he would buy and play alongside till he'd perfected their styles.

He left school at the age of 15 to become a ladies' hairdresser, as 'the guys in (his) class were going into engineering or working in garages'. But he soon left the salon to pursue a career in music once he'd begun playing regular shows with his band - not without bargaining with his father though, who insisted he must practise for eight hours every day, much to their neighbours' delight.

Barry said he had struggled to get on at first, adding he's not sure how he 'got away with' playing in front of audiences - until a remark from a friend saved him.

"One of my mates came up to me and said ‘I didn’t realise you were left-handed’. I said I’m not," laughed the father of two.

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"He explained the way I had it set up was for left-handed players.

"I changed it all around and got on like a house on fire."

See the band play Something Is Happening in 1968 here:

Herman's Hermits - Something Is Happening (1968)

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After hitting the big-time with their first release, Herman's Hermits toured the US where Barry had to learn exit strategies in order to avoid crazed fans who would wait outside venues to mob the group as they left.

"We had a big limousine with a boomerang on the back and kids would run after it, jump and hang off the boomerang. I remember the driver trying to go as fast as possible, trying to get them off," Barry added wryly.

"The once I came off stage the wrong side and by the time I’d realised the car had left without me.

"I went out the back door and a load of kids came running after me, so as a guy in his car drove past I begged him to let me in.

"We got away and he asked me ‘where are you staying?’ to which I said ‘I don’t know, but I think I know what it looks like if I were to see it’.

"He drove me round for two hours before I found it."

This success also saw the group tour America alongside fellow 60s icons The Who - an experience which has left Barry with an array of hilarious tales to tell. One of these many adventures saw the Herman's Hermits drummer share a 21st birthday party with Keith Moon at which they 'decorated' the room with a huge cake fight, causing $25,000 worth of damage.

Barry Whitwam

"We’d had a few drinks and Keith went to eat a fork-full of cake but I stopped him and said that last year someone tried to poison us, so not to eat any," explained Barry.

"He put the fork down then decided to flick cream at Karl Green (Herman's Hermits bassist) which hit him in the face. Everybody laughed apart from Karl, who stuck his finger in a cake and flicked it in Keith’s face. That was it - everybody started and within minutes that room looked like the inside of a cake. It was up the walls, on the ceiling and all over the carpet.

"During all this, Keith went over to Karl and pulled down his trousers. Karl returned the compliment but also pulled down Keith’s underpants as well.

"The police officer assigned to guard the room saw Keith’s private parts and promptly pulled out his revolver pointing it at his manhood and tried to arrest him for breaking the law in Michigan State.

"We gathered round Keith, pulled up his pants, apologised to the officer and pushed Keith out of the fire exit.

Barry and Keith Moon at their joint 21st birthday party

"Poor guy tripped over the pavement and smashed out his two front teeth. He spent the rest of the night in the emergency dental hospital."

The crazy behaviour didn't just took place behind closed doors either; a prank from one of The Who's entourage on stage at a show saw Barry fall victim to 2lbs of gunpowder.

"There’s a scene in Spinal Tap… Well, I was the first exploding drummer," laughed Barry.

"The Who used to use a lot of pyrotechnics and explosions. Well, this was at the last show on the tour on Hawaii. As usual, they went on first.

"After this, someone put 2lbs of leftover gunpowder under my seat, which I didn’t spot.

"The last number was Henry VIII, and on the very last beat there was a huge explosion. It scorched all the back of my clothes and hair - it was like an atom bomb going off.

"It was brilliant touring with The Who. Keith was a bit mad: he’d only need to have a few beers and he’d turn into the Moon Loon."

While the band were in the US, the band were invited to meet Elvis on the set of his film Paradise, Hawaiian Style in 1965. Only Herman's lead singer and Barry changed their flights to accommodate.

The original Herman's Hermits line-up, with Barry at the front

"We were booked to fly home the next day, but that night after the last show we got a telephone call from Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis' manager, saying that Elvis Presley would like to meet Herman’s Hermits on his film set at 2pm the next day," added Barry.

"We arrived on the film set just before 2pm and Col. Tom met us and told us that Elvis had just gone out for a ride.

"Just then we heard what at first sounded like thunder coming from down the beach a long way off. As the sound got louder, we could see about 13 motorbikes side-by-side coming towards us. Elvis was in the centre of the riders as they roared onto the film set. What an entrance. I was spellbound.

"All together we had about two hours with Elvis and talked about our tour of America. What a guy. A real gent. It was wonderful.

"I told him I’d grown up listening to him. When I saw the first clip of him in Jailhouse Rock, that's what got me into rock ‘n’ roll.

L-R: Elvis, Harry Lisberg (the band's manager) and Barry

"I think he wanted to know why five lads from Manchester were selling more records than him at the time. Between 1965 and ‘66 we sold more records than anyone else."

Another highlight of Barry's career was meeting the Queen's Mother at the 1970 Royal Command, for which the band spent months learning to dance.

"I’ve never been so fit all my life," he laughed.

Barry will play alongside the current line-up of Herman's Hermits at Wolverhampton Grand on Saturday, February 3, for The Sensational 60s Experience show.

He has plenty of memories of performing in the Midlands back in his heyday - and is also friends with Bilston drummer Don Powell from Slade.

Barry with Bilston drummer Don Powell, of Slade

"Don Powell’s brilliant, he’s a complete nutter - some of the stories he’s got to tell…," chuckled Barry.

When asked if he could recall a show played in the area in his heyday, Barry told of a gig with unbelievable consequences at Birmingham Ice Rink.

"The ice was in a big circle and all the fans were wearing skates," Barry explained.

The current Herman's Hermits line-up

"Through the night, the bouncers put people up on the stage - but because they were wearing skates, they chopped all our wires to pieces like spaghetti."

When Herman's Hermits play the Grand, they will be joined by fellow 60s legends Mike D'Abo (former Manfred Mann singer), Chris Farlowe, The Fortunes and New Amen Corner.

The same line-up will also perform at The New Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham on March 2.

Though they've known the others for many years, Barry and the members of New Amen Corner now have a history of playing tricks on each other, from Barry nailing their shoes to the floor, to his attempting to fly a drone over their drummer - before the tour promoter caught him, that is.

"Last year they got hold of this product called Rain X, which you put on your windscreen and it makes it waterproof, so the rain just runs off it," added grandfather-of-seven Barry.

"They used it to write something very rude on the front of my van. I didn’t notice it for weeks until it started raining. I can’t tell you what it was, but it sent the neighbour’s face pale."

Finally, talking ahead of the Midland shows, Barry said the gig will see the groups perform their greatest hits, with Herman's Hermits doing a meet and greet at the end where fans can talk to the act and have items signed.

"I just want everyone to have a good night and for everyone to enjoy themselves," said Barry.

"We will."

For more information on the Wolverhampton show, or to book tickets, click here

For more information on the Birmingham show, or to book tickets, click here

Kirsten Rawlins

By Kirsten Rawlins
@kirsten_Star

Online Entertainment Editor for the Express & Star and Shropshire Star. E-mail me kirsten.rawlins@expressandstar.co.uk, or phone 01902 319368

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