Wembley Pool is a massive stadium. It seats 10,000, and every one of those seats shivered and shook on June 30, July 1 and 2, when the Monkees were in residence for their five concerts—five sell-out sensations, which just couldn’t be beaten for excitement, production, scream-provoking brilliance… well, just call it a Parade of Talent.
We were there, backstage and in front. We noted that the boys never worked at less than one hundred per cent efficiency. They sometimes gave the impression of making things up as they went along, but really it was a wondrously-planned production in which everything fitted just right. Some fifty thousand fans were there over the three days. Maybe a million more couldn’t make it. So as a souvenir for the first Lucky Lot and as a bit of compensation for the Miserable Million, here’s what actually went on on that amplifier-littered stage.
We’re concentrating on that last super-smashing show on the Sunday night. But the dramas had started on the very first show. For the boys were late. The traffic had caused the trouble and it’s the very first (and probably last!) time they’ve ever kept an audience waiting. It was left to Jimmy Savile (Savile was later revealed to be one of Britain’s most prolific sex offenders), in his short-trousered pink and white suit, to keep things ticking over… accompanied by his Frankenstein-Dummy “mate”. He did well, especially coping with ten thousand throats all chanting “We Want The Monkees”.
Behind the stage, on a lower level, was a canvas-screen dressing-room where the Monkees made their quick changes of costume. There wasn’t time for them to nip round to their main Pool H.Q…
For speed, and quick changes were the essence of the whole thing. But let’s dig deep into the last show of all. Starting with Peter Murray arriving on stage, in blue blazer and a sun-tan. He urges fans to take their seats… earlier in the interval he’d said: “If there’s ANYTHING you want to do, do it now”. There are adjustments to the blue-canvas tunnelling through which the boys will finally appear and bound on stage.
The excitement is unbearable; the suspense killing. The screams reach a crescendo. There’s a sort of fanfare over the speakers. All eyes glued on the stage. And suddenly in a flurry of red velvet suits there they are. They cavort on stage and the noise is deafening. They go through a little bit of informal tuning up, testing equipment. Mike gestures that one of the amplifiers is not quite right twiddles with a knob. Above them is a massive projection screen. We wonder, at first, what that’s all about. We soon find out.
And at a signal from Mike, the boys launch into their great “I’m A Believer”. Davy has picked up Peter’s bass guitar, plucking away happily. Peter is at the organ—he has a mini-piano near at hand too. Davy looks a little stern-faced right at the start. They look out at a sea of waving arms. Micky spares a thought for those behind the group on a built-up tier—blows kisses madly and energetically from behind his drums. Mike concentrates intensely on the neck of his guitar, smiling occasionally as the audience reaction builds to a new climax.
A fantastic start. And into “Last Train To Clarksville”. Davy throws his tambourine high in the air—fails to catch it. Explains to Micky, who laughs in sheer disbelief. Davy finds another tambourine. Davy, Micky and Peter sing… and an attendant hands out cotton-wool for the sensitive ears of the photographers up near the stage. A shower of messages are thrown onto the stage by fans. Another Monkee hit powers to a finish. Mike steps forward for an announcement we can’t hear. Peter flashes his widest grin. Davy tries to communicate with Mike by sign language.
And it’s into “You Just May Be The One”, Mike singing, Micky head-shaking so that his hair fluffs out more than usual. Mike ploughs on through this lovely number, left leg jerking to the beat. By now the cheering and the screaming and the response is almost uncontrollable. Same thing through a Sunday Night Special… “Sunny Girl Friend” is added, Micky singing for this particular show.
Then a personal favourite of mine—“Auntie Grizelda”. Peter singing most of the way, having ditched his guitar. Davy moves over to a piano-bass, playing booming notes with his right hand, left hand supporting him. Peter in fabulous form, swinging his arms, whipping up excitement, suddenly pointing—and suddenly getting a wave of screams from where he points. Wowee, we thought. How much longer can the boys keep this hectic pace going…
Then the ultra-beautiful “I Wanna Be Free”, featuring Davy. And the screen is used for the first time. As the lyrics are unfolded, to fantastic acclaim, colour slides are used, showing Davy on the beach, playing with children, on a horse—a special slide of Mick Jagger is included, too. Davy clutches two mikes then, to fantastic screaming, slides down on his back on stage, out of sight of us in the front. His expressive face reveals the sincerity of his performance… a tiny figure, holding a massive audience in the palm of his hand. Peter moves back, out of Davy’s personal spotlight. Shouts of “Davy, D-a-v-y-”… as the Jones boy coils in the mike lead and picks up tambourine again.
Next it’s “Sweet Young Thing”, Mike singing, Micky grinding out a dramatic beat on snare drum and tom-tom, then Davy and Peter come in on the vocal. Peter and Davy jump up and down, athletically and together, like twin jack-in-the-boxes. Unbearable, now, the excitement. And on to a final curt “yeah” from Mike on the last notes, which triggers off an informal conference between Mike, Peter and Davy as screams, applause and cheers wash over them.
“Girl I Knew Somewhere” was no less effective. This up-tempo piece, with Peter on bass now and Davy on tambourine. The boys’ white polo-neck sweaters contrasted with the red of their suits. On to a short thump of an instrumental finish, Davy looking a trifle anxiously at Mike as the last chord is struck.
On to “Mary, Mary”, Davy retreating to the piano-bass again, with Peter on organ. Mike handling the main vocal line with his rather stern facial expression accenting his sheer concentration—and an ear-breaker of a scream when Davy flew to the centre for a few quick dance steps.
And then the beat is continued as the boys prepare for their actual solo spots. Film extracts flash on to the big screen—the boys in top hats, in Stone Age gear. Davy on maraccas [sic], waving wildly, then moving on to drums as Micky moves right forward to grab the mike. Davy and Peter go off stage, leaving Mike and Micky operating in a riot of comedy. Micky takes a photograph of the posturing Mike; then Mike grabs the camera. Then Mike photographs the photographers. Micky does his teeth-chattering bit, raising the roof. And off goes Mike, leaving Micky strutting around the stage, shouting “hello” and blowing kisses, a curious high-shouldered sort of ambling walk.
He introduces Peter’s solo spot on “Banjo CrippleCreek”. On comes Peter, in white woollen sweater, white slacks. Armed with his banjo. His left foot bounces in tempo as he shows astonishing skill on his Blue Grass-style banjo picking, singing too. Then a quick “thank-you” and he pretends to shut out the deafening screams by clapping his hands over his ears. And it’s on to Mike’s turn…
He wears a white-pleated jacket, electric blue trousers, open neck shirt. Grabs the microphone, plays a harmonica lead in to “Can’t Judge A Book By It’s [sic] Cover”, later taking up three maraccas [sic] in each hand, shoulders flying as his whole body shakes. Wild blues, country-style. He goes into a Groucho Marx-type stooped walk across the stage. He plays to all parts of the audience. Then ends, coat flaring out, Mike hanging limply forward.
And it’s on to Davy, who sings “Gonna Build A Mountain”. A grey-suited figure, bell-bottom trousers, little dance steps works in. His index finger leads in the members of the Echoes, who are providing the backing during the solo spots. He flings off his coat. Screams. He slides across the stage. He sinks to his knees. More screams. Hysteria now. Mike comes on, does a funny little dance routine with Davy, who vanishes from sight as Mike introduces Micky.
It’s Micky “James Brown” Dolenz. He wears a brocaded white three-quarter length coat that he’d bought in London after the opening night. Striped black trousers. He postures round the stage, combing his hair. Flickering lights add to the effect. He sings “I Gotta Woman”, a real wildie of a number. He flings off his coat, revealing an orange shirt. He flings himself around, sliding, hurling, jerking. On comes Mike, holding a black cape which he throws round the shoulders of the apparently exhausted Micky. Off they go, then Micky suddenly throws off the cape, slides back to the microphone and goes on singing. Again Mike puts the cape round Micky, again Micky chucks it off, this time somersaulting back to the microphone. One fan got through the guard of commissionaires, Micky reaching forward and touching her hand. Lucky girl!
We’ve had the lot—music, singing, comedy, drama, everything. But as the hour shows up on the clock, there’s still more. There’s “Alternate Title”, the boys returning on stage together (as the Echoes slip away), in white suits (double row of buttons) and orangy shirts. They sing, in ad-lib style, “Happy Birthday” to a fan-friend there in the front block. Mike tries to explain that they’ll do more numbers if only the audience will let them be heard. Mike says, that he’d rather the main screaming came at the end of a song rather than during it.
Davy tries to get a bit of hush. No joy. Into their current hit, eventually. Davy singing, Peter on organ. Slides, in colour, flash with precision-timing on the screen. Davy sings specially for those there behind the boys. He kneels, then almost lies down. Everything raises the roof. He carries a tympani drum down to the centre of the stage and Micky comes down to hammer out short phrases on it—Davy literally smashing the cymbals on Micky’s drum kit as the rhythm builds. A positive frenzy of noise, then, as Davy starts hammering the tympani, Micky retreats. This is surely it—the finish. The boys look tired… as well they might.
Yet there is still even more. They always close with “Stepping Stone”, accompanied by another burst of colour slides—each one earning a separate cheer and scream. And this is where the stage really bursts into colour and visual excitement.
Multi-coloured lights flicker and change. Davy on piano-bass, Mike crouched by the amplifiers, producing wailing guitar sounds. Davy ends with his maraccas [sic]. And the show ends with incredible excitement. Then, quite abruptly, it’s a quick “Thank you” from the boys, they turn, waving and smiling then nip downstairs to make a fast getaway. In a rather dirty, old, blacked-out van.
But they left a lot behind. They left an exhausted audience, memories of the most staggering pop performance ever. The boys had worked unstintingly for more than seventy minutes. They’d given their all to please their knocked-out fans.
I’ll never forget it. Never. Those Magnificent Monkees.