Belfast Telegraph

In those teen years with Davy I too was a believer

The death of pin-ups brings a shock of memories plus a kind of sweetness with the pain. The news that Davy Jones, frontman of the Monkees and owner of the cutest, most Bambi-like eyes in pop at the time (although my best friend Susan and I would never have permitted that analogy as we watched him on the small screen from my family sofa in Kent) had died at 66 of a heart attack in a Florida hospital on Wednesday eclipsed the headline stories about benefit cuts and transported me right back to my first year at grammar school in the amount of time it took the band to sing the intro to Hey, Hey (We're The Monkees).

He summed up an era for me, the pre-pubescent time when you were imagining French kisses and wanted a target, when music was poppy without being trite, when anything was possible.

The Monkees were a boyband only in the sense that Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones were in their 20s when they auditioned for the job.

In other ways, this band was much more integrated and authentic than most of the pretty all-male bands around today. This was in no small measure because of their playlist, as the suits - Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider - behind the Monkees were clever enough to realise that, if the music was great, success would follow.

So I'm A Believer, their 1966 hit with Micky Dolenz on lead vocals, was written by Neil Diamond and shifted more than 10 million copies. The Monkees produced a gorgeous version of Goffin and King's Pleasant Valley Sunday the following year, with Mike Nesmith's (learnt) guitar riff perfecting this paean to suburban bliss. But in the heyday, it was only Davy that Susan and I cared about. What we didn't realise was that David Thomas Jones, born in 1945 in Manchester, had been a child actor with a notable CV, including a cameo in Coronation Street as Ena Sharples' grandson. But TV was the clincher in the relationship between Davy Jones and me.

The Monkees series (September 1966-March 1968) seemed to have a bit of a formula, with Davy always meeting some colonel's daughter, the gang gatecrashing some cocktail party to which they weren't invited, and then (most importantly to us) a romantic interlude, often on a ridiculously sandy beach. There was also a subversive thread running through the episodes that made them look like off-cuts of the Beatles' movies.

Then there was the music. Who can forget Davy Jones singing I Wanna Be Free which was so seductive we ignored the fact it was about commitment-phobia.

After a year or two of fandom, I learnt that the Monkees were coming to London. I had to see them and dragged my mother, my aunt and my younger cousin all the way to Wembley. We heard the noise of the fans, a kind of urgent thumping familiar to anybody who's attended a big sporting event, from half a mile away. On arrival, we made our way to seats that seemed about the same distance away from the stage.

Lulu was the support act, and she sang (and shouted) in her Glaswegian accent. Jimmy Saville, in bright yellow as I recall, was MC and then there they were, my heroes, onstage and breathing the same London air as me. How's about that then?

It was amazing for although miniature, the Monkees were real and visible and in the middle was Davy himself, singing the hits and looking angelic yet seductive in that almost sailor suit outfit. So we heard a rougher, live version of the greatest hits, from Alternate Title to A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You, to Last Train To Clarksville to What Am I Doing Hanging 'Round, and, of course, I'm A Believer.

On the way out, it was frightening to an 11-year-old to pass the bodies of genuinely hysterical teenage girls. Beatlemania wasn't a unique phenomenon. And anybody who dismisses the Monkees as somehow unworthy of inclusion in the Sixties Hall of Fame is blinkered.

The Monkees' upward trajectory may have faltered when they did their own creative thing, aided and abetted by Frank Zappa - and Head (1968) was the result - but Peter Tork was recruited from the Greenwich village music scene, Mike Nesmith was (and is) a musician, Micky Dolenz and Davy Jones were actors with a good sense of comedy, timing and more than decent voices.

The last Monkees live tour was cut short, and I shall always regret the fact I didn't hop over to Cardiff last year to catch Davy, Peter and Micky.

It's sad that Davy Jones' death came so far down the News at Ten as he and the Monkees were important.

It's no accident the word 'believer' recurs in their oeuvre; they represented a new generation that had love and understanding.

All together now, "Hey, hey, we're the Monkees, People say we monkey around, (But) we're too busy singing to put anybody down..." With Davy gone, I feel as if I've lost part of my growing up.


From Belfast Telegraph