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Invasion history

Peter Asher recounts his role in 1960s British pop music in a one-man show.


Peter Asher, one half of 1960s pop duo Peter & Gordon, is scheduled to bring his his touring one-man show Peter Asher: A Musical Memoir of the ’60s and Beyond, to Oklahoma City for two performances at The Blue Door. - JOE CARDUCCI
  • Joe Carducci
  • Peter Asher, one half of 1960s pop duo Peter & Gordon, is scheduled to bring his his touring one-man show Peter Asher: A Musical Memoir of the ’60s and Beyond, to Oklahoma City for two performances at The Blue Door.

Interviewing breakout pop stars in the 1960s, music journalists all seemed to want to know one thing.

“If you look at any old Beatle interviews or our interviews, or anybody’s interviews,” said Peter Asher of the duo Peter & Gordon, who recorded several hit songs in the mid-’60s including “A World Without Love,” written by Paul McCartney, “the one question we all got asked, always, was ‘What are you going to do when this is all over?’ because it was an absolute conviction that a career in pop music was two years or thereabouts, and that would be it. They all said, ‘What are you going to do when you go back to being a boatman or whatever you were?’”

Asher, who began entertaining as a child actor, followed his years performing with Gordon Waller in Peter & Gordon with a stint as the head of the artists and repertoire (A&R) division of The Beatles’ Apple Records label, then as a manager for musicians including James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt and Joni Mitchell. The musician-turned-music executive discusses his decades in the industry in his touring one-man show Peter Asher: A Musical Memoir of the ’60s and Beyond, scheduled to make an Oklahoma City stop for two performances 8 p.m. Jan. 9-10 at The Blue Door, 2805 N. McKinley Ave.

A Musical Memoir illustrates Asher’s stories with photographs, film clips and live musical performances, and the show is slightly different every time.

“Even though I tell the same stories, exactly how I tell them changes,” Asher said. “I find myself remembering little different bits of information even as I tell the stories. I make it clear to the audience, too, that if anybody has a question or anything, heckling is welcome.”

Asher’s stories and songs span more than 50 years, but the show is about two hours long with an intermission. Deciding what to include and what to omit, especially after new relevant videos are discovered, is an ongoing process requiring frequent tweaking.

“There’s a lot of ground, there’s a lot of time to try to cover,” Asher said. “It’s been about a decade of changing and developing and adjusting.”

The same could be said of the 1960s, a decade of significant cultural, political and social upheaval with implications carrying into the present day. While people today are aware of many of the major personalities and prevalent ideals of the era, Asher said many Americans are surprised to learn how much of the British Invasion influencing U.S. culture in the mid-1960s was propelled by the influence of American exports. Asher, who calls himself “the world’s biggest Woody Guthrie fan,” said British rock musicians at the time were heavily influenced by American folk music, jazz and R&B.

“I still don’t think Americans realize how much our interest was all based on our admiration and longing for America,” he said. “They don’t realize how different things were in Britain in the ’50s. It was post-war depression and rationing, bombsites and black-and-white. We looked across at America, and it was all glossy and Technicolor and amazing. Then when we discovered the music, and it was, like, wow. … Essentially, the whole British Invasion, the mystery about it, the most astonishing thing is it really consisted of us falling in love with your music, learning it and selling it back to you.”

Ever-present past

In addition to multiple McCartney-penned hits (McCartney dated and was briefly engaged to Asher’s sister, actress and author Jane Asher), Peter & Gordon charted in the U.S. by recording songs written by Americans Buddy Holly (“True Love Ways”), Del Shannon (“I Go to Pieces”) and Phil Spector (“To Know Him Is to Love Him”). After dozens of years apart, Waller and Asher reunited in 2005 and continued performing together until Waller died in 2009.

“When Gordon died,” Asher said, “I had to go, ‘Does that mean that I’m never going to sing these songs or tell these stories again?’ I started to consider whether I could put together something that might be fun to do on my own.”

A Musical Memoir is the result, but while Asher said a book based on the radio show he hosts on SiriusXM’s Beatles Channel, Peter Asher: From Me to You, is in the works, he has so far refused offers to publish his memoirs in written form.

“I was approached by a publisher,” Asher said, “and I said, ‘No, I’m not going to write my autobiography’ because everybody who worked at the Beatles’ Apple has written a book. I mean everybody — my assistant at Apple, the doorman at Apple, literally, I’m not kidding. They’ve all written books, and I just didn’t want to get into that sort of gossipy area.”

He said he admires the scholarly approach author Martin Lewisohn has taken in books such as The Complete Beatles Recording Sessions, but Asher, for the present, would rather have his show in its current live and malleable form because he still wants the opportunity to fix any errors he makes in remembering his own history.

“This way, if I get something wrong, I can just go, ‘Oh, OK. I’ll fix it,’” Asher said. “With a book, you’re saying, ‘This is exactly what happened,’ and having read some of the existing books, I know how much of the stuff in them is wrong. … A lot of it is anecdotal and guesswork and so on, and I try to stay clear of it. In this context, of course, there’s the tendency of everybody to go, ‘So then I said to John,’ and ‘Then I told Paul,’ and this ‘I was the fifth Beatle’ nonsense. I would like to make it clear I was not the fifth Beatle.”

By reminiscing onstage, he offers others the chance to remind him of things he has forgotten.

“In the course of it, you do find yourself remembering other stuff,” Asher said. “Somebody just yesterday emailed me about seeing Peter & Gordon at the roller rink in Alexandria, Virginia, and I suddenly I kind of remembered it. I actually had a mental picture of this weird, low-ceilinged roller rink that we were onstage at in Alexandria, Virginia.”

The idea that some pop culture moments could live on only in dim memories might seem alien in the 21st century.

“Now all this stuff would be so heavily documented,” Asher said. “Any gig you mention, there’d be 20 people putting the film up on their phone online in seconds. … Nowadays, of course, everything’s recorded to death whether you like it or not.”

But at least people have stopped asking Asher when he will give up on music and go back to his day job.

“People don’t ask that now,” Asher said, “but then, definitely, it was a tacit assumption that every pop star was a flash in the pan. …The ‘rock ’n’ roll will never die’ thing, that’s where that came from because people were saying that it would. That’s why it needed defending, and of course, it did not die.”

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