The Ashers of Wimpole Street

Last night we decided on the spur of the moment to head over to the Dakota Jazz Club and Restaurant in downtown Minneapolis for the first of Peter Asher’s two nights at the club. Asher was one of the principals in the sixties British Invasion duo Peter and Gordon. His show is titled A Musical Memoir of the 60s and Beyond. The Star Tribune’s Jon Bream previewed the show, calling Asher the Forrest Gump of rock. I think Al Kooper is the Forrest Gump of rock, but the appellation underestimates the talent that led to long and varied careers for both Asher and Kooper.

Asher’s show recaps his career in a sort of VH1 Storytellers format while drawing on the resources of an excellent multimedia presentation displayed on monitors around the room. The presentation includes video clips of Asher’s late partner, Gordon Waller, allowing for re-creation of several of the duo’s hits with Peter and band performing live.

Asher generously recalls that Gordon had the looks, the voice, and the taste for rock that helped launch them as a team, but it was Paul McCartney who gave them their first hit, a worldwide number one: “World Without Love.” McCartney was rooming across the hall from Asher on the third floor of the Asher family home at 57 Wimpole Street, the Asher family putting him up while Paul was dating Asher’s sister Jane and the Beatles were in the first flush of their success in the United Kingdom.

The first half of the show covered the birth of Peter and Gordon from the time the two were high school students to the time they went their separate ways. After a brief intermission, Peter picks up the story with his hiring by the Beatles to head up A & R for Apple Records, in which capacity he signed James Taylor. Seeing the signs of disintegration at Apple, Asher left to manage Taylor’s career and go into record production — a second career that brought him his two Grammy Awards.

Peter reunited with Gordon in 2005 at the request of Paul Shaffer for a benefit concert in New York. Seeing the effect of the performance on their old fans, Asher modestly recalls, he discovered that there was “nothing wrong” with revisiting the old songs. The show is a totally satisfying walk down memory lane performed with style and wit. Backed by a four-piece band, Asher himself is a generous and engaging performer. If you have the chance to catch tonight’s show, I urge you to go. I predict you will thank me for sending you. (Jon Bream reviews the show here. We loved the show right through to the end. I would ask Asher not to change a thing.)

The Ashers’ house on Wimpole Street loomed large in the show. Peter recalled that John Lennon came over one day to meet up with Paul. The two of them went down to the music room in the basement of the house for about an hour to work on a song. When they were done, they called Peter down to listen to it. The two of them sat on the piano bench to give Peter the first performance of “I Want To Hold Your Hand.”

They asked him how he liked it. He recalls himself saying: “I thought it was very good.”

We stayed around after the show to talk with our old friends John and Judy Borger. They enjoyed the show too. Asher graciously took a spot at a table in the back of the room to sign posters and discs for fans. I took the opportunity to get a picture with him. He stayed til the room emptied. I think he would have turned out the lights and locked the door if Dakota proprietor Lowell Pickett had asked.

The band members came out and talked to audience members as well. We told bass player Bill Cinque how much we enjoyed the show and asked where they were headed next. He said they weren’t on a traditional tour; he wasn’t sure what the next gig was. He did know that they were booked for five nights in May at Feinstein’s in New York, a night or two at the RRazz Room in San Francisco, and at various Beatlefests possibly coming soon to a venue near you. Bill ran back to the dressing room to present us with a copy of The Amazing Adventures of a Marginally Successful Musician, his humorous memoir cum self-help book.

Bill talked about the Buddy Holly tribute show that Asher produced for PBS in connection with the tribute album recorded in honor of what would have been Holly’s seventy-fifth birthday. (Asher also talks about it as part of the show. It is to be rebroadcast during the next PBS fundraising week.)

When Asher recruited Leland Sklar — “the world’s best bass player,” according to Bill — to play for the PBS show, he found a place for Bill by enlisting him to vocalize with the beautiful young backup singers. Bill suggested that those into pattern recognition would realize he didn’t quite fit. “That’s the kind of magnanimous man he is,” Bill said, and I think that’s the quality that shines through Asher’s terrific show.

JOHN adds: Wow. What a great post! I’m sorry I missed the show. It seems weird to say that the British Invasion was underrated, but I actually think that could be true. “World Without Love” is a good example. Peter and Gordon have been mostly lost in the shuffle, I suppose, like a number of other British groups of that amazingly compact era, but “World Without Love” is a great popular song. Here it is, for those who haven’t heard it, or would like to hear it again:

And, hey, while I’m at it: I liked “I Go To Pieces,” too: