This is the twelfth in a series of guest articles that have been submitted to The Monkees Live Almanac in celebration of the group's 50th Anniversary in 2016.
Aged ten living in the suburbs of London I was aware of The Beatles’ music from listening to the radio but was too young to connect with their personalities. Television was the favored medium for the creation and exposure of teen idols and for several years I shared my dedication to David McCallum from The Man from U.N.C.L.E. with my best friend.
When the Monkees show first aired on British television at the end of 1966, I was thirteen, but the youngest in my class and my schoolmates had already moved on from pop music to folk rock and bands like Fairport Convention. My best friend preferred Elvis and like many others thought The Monkees were a phony group. I soon learned to keep quiet about this new interest.
As I watched The Monkees with my younger sister I realized that this was something different from anything that the BBC had produced for children. Was there a script? Some dialogue seemed improvised. "Breaking the fourth wall" (not that I knew the term at the time) was done but with a light touch and not too often.
And then there were the interviews at the end of some of the shows giving more insight into their personalities. The pace and energy of each episode was infections, thanks to clever editing and tricks. The lack of both excessive sentimentality and cynicism. The silly plots but the occasional episode that was so good that we could not wait for the next one. Perhaps unusually, I never had a favorite Monkee. I was just intent on watching all of them.
By the time the show came to an end I was in my O-level year. A diary entry records that Davy Jones appeared on a chat show called Dee Time in June 1968 and talked a little about their film, Head, and said, without a reason, that there would be no more TV shows. Apparently he came across as unaffected and sincere, but upbeat, and I don't think I was too concerned about The Monkees' television series coming to an end. However, if British fans did not subscribe to the fan magazine Monkees Monthly, they didn't get much information about the group’s activities after 1967. The trade papers such as Disc and Record Mirror, which had been full of articles about the group for the last year, were no longer interested in The Monkees as presumably they were no longer good for sales.
Oddly enough, I don't remember The Monkees receiving too much coverage in Britain. I recall that their singles were not played on radio as much as would be expected. Even then they were not hip enough for the pirate radio stations, and BBC Radio One, the main pop music station, did not seem to like them. At least that is my recollection.
I had started to build up a small record collection beginning with the first Monkees LP which cost 38s 6d, about £2 today, but quite a lot of pocket money at the time. My dad had some 78 records and an old gramophone but this was soon replaced by a basic record player. He was quite musical and played the banjo ukele and sang in the church choir. My brother was the only one to inherit musical ability, unfortunately.
I missed The Monkees' next two albums and the Wembley concerts passed me by, which was possibly a good thing as my parents would not have allowed me to go alone. My interest in the music increased with the release of the single "Randy Scouse Git" (or "Alternate Title," as it was called in Britain), which I thought was extraordinary (and still do). I listened to other groups as well and even at the time realized how lucky we were that year with the quantity and quality of music from both Britain and America. That is how I remember the Summer of Love.
Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn & Jones Ltd. came out in the winter of 1967 and I played it as often as possible. I couldn't believe that no one else seemed to appreciate these songs with their interesting lyrics that were not just about love, and were even a bit rebellious, in a safe way. Luckily for my parents’ sanity, real life intervened and for the next eight years A-levels and University took over, but I kept alert for news on The Monkees.
As mentioned previously, the trade papers eventually stopped covering the group, but after 1968 this may have been partly due to lack of news as the publicity machine in America had ground to a halt after Head and Peter's subsequent departure. I didn't know anything about the 1969 concerts and television appearances in America until much later. Latter albums like The Monkees Present and Changes were not released in the UK. Sitcoms such as The Partridge Family seemingly replaced The Monkees in the USA, and other teen idols such as David Cassidy and Donny Osmond replaced our four boys who were by now older and starting to feel the effects of the previous few years. I did hold on to the feeling that something good must come from all that promise and something did, which was as accessible to British fans as those in the USA.
Many in the music industry had flagged Michael Nesmith as the most musically talented member of The Monkees. In 1970 he released the first of three albums which led some Monkees fans, including myself, in a new direction into a long-lasting interest in country music, and specifically what became country rock. The British press were quite complimentary about the Nesmith solo albums, and his live performances in Britain in 1974 and 1975 were well attended. I was in my last year at University in 1975 studying Veterinary Science. Needless to say I kept my trip to Theatre Royal, Drury Lane a secret as there seemed no interest in alternative country music among my friends.
The concert was a slightly strange experience for me as I was not familiar with The Prison, and apparently the band was made-up of British musicians. Michael seemed more relaxed in the second half which he performed solo. What impressed me as much as the music was the telling of the story of The Prison which showed Michael’s skill as a great storyteller.
The latter Nesmith solo albums were all acquired but the blue, red, and white trilogy have pride of place and even on release their quality was realized by some music journalists.
In the 1970s, Davy Jones and Micky Dolenz were busy with various live performances, mainly in America, but there must have been something in the press to alert fans to their appearance in Harry Nilsson’s The Point at the Mermaid Theatre in London in December 1977. A part was written for Micky at Davy’s insistence. Davy played the main character, Oblio, and the mixture of song and dance with special effects and a bit of ad-libbing from Micky (when a stage hand dropped something backstage, Micky said, "There are people trying to sleep out here!") was ingenious. The show was successful and the run was extended.
After performances of The Point, Davy and Micky came out to meet fans who had waited around in hope of an autograph. Things were not too happy for them personally towards the end of the run of The Point but there was no obvious sign of that when they came out to sign books and album covers. Head had just received its first showing in the UK and Davy explained that while it was not the movie he would have chosen to make, it was being shown to college students during lessons in filmmaking techniques. He also said that Michael and Micky had contributed to the script, and that his immediate plan was to go back to performing cabaret-type shows. I was impressed by how polite and straightforward he seemed.
Micky stayed in England for a number of years and after directing a short drama titled Story Without a Hero for the BBC, he produced and directed numerous other shows including Metal Mickey, Luna, and From the Top. Later, in 1982, Micky (now known as Michael Dolenz) wrote and directed the stage version of Bugsy Malone which featured a young Catherine Zeta-Jones, premiering in front of the Queen Mother at Her Majesty’s Theatre.
And then, in early 1997, the brand new Monkees album Justus arrived in the UK. This release surprised both fans and music critics and there was a mixed response from both, but I loved this album from the first listen and still believe it to be their best. From the opening track, the revised "Circle Sky," to the finale "It's Not Too Late," here were four individuals who were able and willing to bring their life experiences together and perform at the top of their game.
The "Justus" tour of the UK in March 1997 seemed more bumpy as it was marred by some "mean spirited," to use Michael’s words, press coverage and by the seemingly underlying tension within the group during this run of shows. All of these things didn't effect our response to The Monkees' performances and certainly the twice sold-out Wembley concerts were deemed very successful. Unfortunately I had read the Evening Standard review first in which the previous show was compared to a train or car crash with the audience watching in disbelief. While I disagreed wholeheartedly with their assessment after seeing the show for myself, I think one problem might have been due to the large venues they played while in the UK. The Monkees seemed distant and they stood apart from each other on the stage with little interaction between them. The large video screens inside the arenas did help, though, and everyone was able to get a close-up look at the group at some point.
The first act with just The Monkees playing was effective and the songs from Justus were not out of place. The highlight for many was "Listen to the Band" that segued into "Porpoise Song" and then back again. These performances later became historical as British fans were lucky to see all four together live in concert for what turned out to be the final time in the group's history. This was The Monkees as a rock band and while they succeeded in this endeavor, the performance was just a touch too intense.
In 1998 the ABC Special and the Disney documentary were finally shown on UK television. By now the individual Monkees were mainly working in the USA after touring there as a trio (sans Michael) in 1997.
During the late 1990s and early 2000s the British fan clubs kept fans up to date with Monkees news and releases in the UK. Band 6, which had expanded its membership after the 1997 UK tour, organized annual conventions where like-minded Monkees enthusiasts could gather to watch videos and listen to tribute bands.
In 2001, a British Monkees tour was announced for October, but Michael was not going to be taking part this time around. The attack on the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11 understandably resulted in these shows being postponed until March 2002. By that time, Peter had left the tour so we were treated to Davy and Micky at Wembley. The duo turned in an energetic and good-humored concert with more interaction than in 1997. The London Times reviewed the Wembley show:
"The group billed as The Monkees now contains only two original members...What Wembley got was singer Davy Jones, looking as boyish as any graying fifty-something in black leather strides has a right to, and Micky Dolenz, drummer/singer - similarly trousered. Accompanying them was a highly efficient eight-piece band...The Monkees possess some of the most innocently thrilling tunes in pop."
In 2003 Band 6 ceased production, though they continued to have an online presence.
The UK concerts in 2011 were a pleasant and unexpected surprise, especially as I had younger relatives who were quite interested in going as they had watched the reruns of The Monkees' television series. As we walked across Hyde Park to the Albert Hall in the evening sun the sight of the Monkeemobile was slightly surreal. Media coverage of the tour had been much more sympathetic than in 1997. In fact, some television interviewers "came out" as old fans of the group and seemed almost overwhelmed by meeting them in person!
The Albert Hall has a warmer ambiance than Wembley with better acoustics, and there was a more relaxed feel to the performance. The excellent visuals on the big screen behind them complimented the music and while both Micky and Peter did play throughout the show, they were supported by a great band. This was the concert in which the Head soundtrack featured heavily, and it seemed to work nicely in this context. The audience was very enthusiastic and were even familiar with the more obscure songs. Davy seemed full of energy; no one could have believed that this was the last time we would see him perform in England. I did think, however, that this might be my last ever Monkees’ concert.
And then, on February 29, 2012, came the news through the internet and national television that Davy Jones had died suddenly of a heart attack just after riding his beloved Gray Arabian horse. British fans were able to share their grief through websites and by the kindness of people filming the memorial concert given in New York City by friends and family.
Now that we had lost the sole British member of the group it looked as though the 50th Anniversary in 2016 would not be something that British fans would be celebrating. It seemed unlikely that there would be any further activities by the group. We should have known better! Thanks once again to American fans posting clips on YouTube, and of course to websites like The Monkees Live Almanac, we were able to follow the events of the next four years starting with the 45th Anniversary of Headquarters and a new round of concerts with Micky, Peter, and Michael. At last they had a manager in Andrew Sandoval who appeared to have both their interests and those of the fans at heart. It was also great to see members of The Monkees' families in the recording of Good Times! and at the shows.
In 2015 Peter and Micky came to the UK for two concerts in the autumn which included one at the Mosely Folk Festival. I was hoping for Glastonbury in 2016 as I was not able to attend any of the shows in 2015. That was not to be but 2016 seemed to be an almost perfect conclusion (?) to The Monkees' story, perhaps encapsulated by watching video of Michael's final bow at the Pantages Theatre in Hollywood last September.
And here we are in 2017. If any of The Monkees should visit the UK as individuals or as a group, we will be ready to support them. But for now, thanks to everyone involved in making 2016 such a worthy 50th Anniversary of "our" group, to their families, and finally to Micky, Michael, Peter, and Davy for allowing us to share part of the last 50 years with you.