From the first minute, you could tell that Peter Asher’s show was going to be much different than just about anything that’s been seen in Buffalo over the past few decades.
As Asher – “Peter” of the Peter & Gordon vocal duo that had some huge hits in the 1960s – hit the stage with his band, one of the funniest men in the world suddenly appeared on the big video screen just above their heads.
It was Asher’s friend, Eric Idle of Monty Python fame, reading a funny introduction, calling Asher “one of the greatest things in the entire universe.”
The video image of Idle then interrupted the band as members started to play their first song.
“Where’s Gordon?” Idle demanded to know.
“He’s dead!” Asher yelled up toward Idle.
“He’s the only one I liked!” Idle exclaimed.
The exchange was the first of many special moments in a two-hour show that featured nostalgic ’60s music, audiotapes and videotapes, and fascinating stories about Asher’s interactions with a wide range of famous figures, ranging from the Beatles and the Rolling Stones to Ed Sullivan, Jackie Gleason and Sam the Sham & the Pharoahs.
Attending this show at the wonderful Sportsmen’s Tavern was like sitting in the living room with a long-lost buddy, hearing about the old times and catching up on stories missed over the past 48 years.
The music was fine. Asher, 68, is a good – not great – singer, and he seemed to be nursing a cold. But he and his band had the audience singing along with enjoyable renditions of songs that were hits for Peter & Gordon, Badfinger, the Beatles, Buddy Holly and other artists.
What made this show really special was Asher’s storytelling. The British singer really has had an amazing life, touched by one meeting after another with the world’s most famous entertainers.
A small, nondescript-looking fellow with an impish smile and gentle wit, Asher had the rapt attention of his audience as soon as he started telling the tales of his career.
A lot of his stories revolved around his friendship with Paul McCartney, the Beatle who was once engaged to Asher’s sister, Jane. McCartney lived for a while in the Asher family home in London. He spent a lot of time with Asher, writing three big hits for Peter & Gordon, talking music with Asher and welcoming Asher into his band’s inner circle.
At one point, Asher showed McCartney’s hand-scrawled lyrics to “World Without Love” on the video screen. He then played a brief audiotape of McCartney singing the song for him.
“I just found this old tape about a month ago, and this is the first time I’ve ever played this anywhere,” Asher said.
He later talked about the Indica art gallery, a business he ran with two friends in London back in the ’60s. One night, the gallery hosted an art exhibit by an offbeat Japanese artist. Asher invited a bunch of his music friends, including the Beatles, to the exhibit’s opening night.
One of the Beatles – John Lennon – fell in love that night with the offbeat artist, a lady named Yoko Ono.
“Some of the more cynical people have accused me of indirectly breaking up the Beatles by helping introducing John to Yoko,” Asher said.
That’s really not fair, Asher said, adding that he likes Ono to this day and does not blame her for the Beatles’ breakup.
The singer talked about the great times that he and his duet partner, the late Gordon Waller, had touring America in the ’60s as part of the British Invasion. They appeared on all kinds of TV shows, including Shindig, Hullabaloo, the Dick Clark Show, the Jackie Gleason Show, the Red Skelton Show and, most famously, the Ed Sullivan Show.
Sullivan was “quite aloof,” Asher recalled, but after he and Waller finished their song, Sullivan held out his left arm, a signal for Peter & Gordon to walk over to him and receive his congratulations.
“It was the only time Ed Sullivan said anything to us the whole time we were there,” Asher said.
He and his excellent band – keyboard player Jeff Alan Ross, bassist Bill Cinque, drummer Steve Aho and guitarist Brian Pothier – played two Peter & Gordon hits with Waller’s video image singing with them. It made for some poignant moments.
The band played 14 songs. Highlights included the McCartney songs “Woman,” “World Without Love” and “Nobody I Know,” the folk song “500 Miles,” Holly’s “True Love Ways” and Badfinger’s “Day After Day,” featuring a nice vocal from Ross, who often tours with the modern version of Badfinger.
Asher told some fun stories about his friendships and working relationships with James Taylor, Linda Ronstadt, Elton John, Mick Jagger and other musicians. He won three Grammy awards as a record producer for Taylor, Ronstadt, comic Robin Williams and others.
He also told stories about a few people he didn’t like, including the Beatles’ former business manager, Allen Klein. Asher showed a hilarious piece of video featuring the late John Belushi playing Klein.
As the show neared its end, Asher told about the time McCartney and Lennon were working on a new song on the piano in the basement of the Asher home. McCartney called to Asher to come downstairs and hear it.
It was called “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” and eventually, it became one of the biggest hit songs in rock music history. There in the basement, McCartney and Lennon played an early version for Asher. McCartney asked him what he thought about it, and Asher told him it was “very good.”
Asher said he sometimes cannot believe how his life has been filled with experiences like that one.
“I was in the right room at the right time,” he said. “I was lucky. ... I still am.”
Saturday night in the Sportsmen’s Tavern, 326 Amherst St.