BY KEITH ALTHAM - FLIP’S LONDON EDITOR WHO LIVED WITH THEM DURING THEIR MAD, MAD VISIT TO MERRIE OLDE ENGLAND!
My first meeting with the Monkees in a San Francisco recording studio proved to be the key to my spending three days with the group when they arrived in London for their Wembley concerts. It was Mike Nesmith who waved me through the battery of photographers and reporters after their Press Conference in the Royal Garden Hotel, having remembered me from our meeting in their San Francisco recording studio.
Once up in the Monkees private suite on the 5th floor, where a squad of security men threw everyone out who tried to gain admittance, barring the chosen few, the Monkees gathered in Mike’s room. They held a quick post mortem on their reception.
“I thought things were going to get hairy when that guy asked us about LSD,” said Micky. “Your reply about being hooked on aspirins went down well,” said Mike, addressing Peter.
I asked a question which could have been construed as a possible interview, and Peter looked at me reproachfully, “Relax, Keith,” he smiled, “Sit down and relax—have a Coke.” Lesson number one—don’t interview the Monkees—talk to them!
“Lulu was in the room at the reception,” said Peter, “I wish she had come over and been introduced to us—I saw her on the Johnny Carson show and she was very good.”
Mike was a little concerned that all the pointed questions had been thrown at him. “I don’t understand why they always try and needle me,” said Mike shaking his head. “I have suffered more abuse at the hands of the English Press than anyone.”
I was able to enlighten Mike later—the reason is simply that he does not suffer fools gladly—in fact he does not suffer fools at all and, like John Lennon, sometimes his impatience gets the better of his good nature.
Davy trotted into the room as Peter walked out and observed that Mike’s steak had arrived but his had not. “Certainly,” countered Mike, “That’s because I’m a very groovy person and I get special service.” “But I’m groovier than you and I haven’t got anything,” retorted Davy. (All part of the Jones–Nesmith double act, folks!)
Peter sat on the bed, played his guitar and sang “Eleanor Rigby” until Mike asked him politely to desist and he went next door to see television. Five minutes later he was back.
“Do you realize that the English only have three channels on their TV and two of them are devoted to tennis,” he announced dramatically. “Incredible,” he added and staggered brokenly off into the corridor.
The Monkees had only just flown in from Paris where they had been filming a sequence for their TV series. “We weren’t recognized at all over there,” said Mike. “We did a marvelous chase sequence round the Eiffel Tower and caused a three hour traffic jam in the Champs Elysee. I got out of the car, took hold of the bonnet and the whole thing came off in my hand. By this time the Gendarme directing the traffic was out of his mind—unfortunately our camera man had run out of film at this point.”
Davy particularly enjoyed the two days in Paris and found it was relaxing not to be recognized everywhere you went—“It is one of the few places we can really get some peace and quiet,” he told me.
Enter genial Bob Rafelson, their manager, who cheered everyone with the news: “They have just removed half of our security guard because of a shooting in a flower shop across the way.” Next upon the scene some minutes later was ‘Alf,’ Mike’s personal chauffeur who said they would have to leave the back-way to get to the rehearsals for the concert at Wembley. “Can we stop by the flower shop to see the dead people?” Mike asked sweetly.
I travelled down to Wembly [sic] with Davy’s friend and advisor Basil Foster, who used to look after Davy when he was a stable boy. “We used to go out shooting for rabbits in the marsh-land,” recalled Basil, “Davy was so small I wouldn’t even let him beat the bushes in case he sank in the mud and we lost him.”
At the Empire Pool Arena, the Monkees quickly clambered on stage and began testing the equipment. Davy took hold of a bass and began running through a figure which showed quite clearly he has the basis of a good musician.
“Davy has the soul for a good musician,” Peter told me quite seriously, “He just can’t play anything! Really that’s not as silly as it sounds—he is just beginning to pick up instruments, drums and bass but he has the right feeling for them and the aptitude to learn. You can’t teach some people music in a million years but Davy is a natural musician.”
Davy’s consternation as they plugged in the electric bass was a study, ‘I won’t blow up will I’ and Peter devoured a seemingly bottomless bag of potato crisps while Mike fiddled furiously with his amplifiers. Micky was engaged in talking colorfully into his dead microphone which apparently worked, for it suddenly came to life, much to Micky’s embarrassment, as his words bellowed out through the 10,000 seater stadium!
After the rehearsal, Mike invited me to take a visit with him to Radfords where they were putting the finishing touches to his $9,000 mini-car which is a beautiful beige colour, fitted with stereo tapes, sun roof, flashing lights, a dash board which would embarrass a supersonic jet, three kinds of horn, blacked out windows, and a no smoking sign.
“I can put up with the smoke getting in my eyes,” said Mike, “I can put up with the smoke getting in my sweater and making it smell but when they go for the ash-tray and the end of the cigarette falls on the floor, it’s all over.”
This next paragraph should be headed “I rode with Mike Nesmith and lived!” for we took out the sonic-Mini which does speeds of up to 110 mph and made London to Hayes at a speed I prefer to forget. Mike took over from our test pilot on the return journey. His comments were as follows:
“Holymathorogod was that 7000 revs… she goes like a scalded cat… am I going to surprise one or two drivers back home… this is the most exciting moment of my life… aren’t these airplane seats something?… I’m going to surprise you—I drive like a little old lady.”
Should you happen to see a little old lady driving a souped-up mini like a scalded cat—that was Mike Nesmith that was!
We finished our journey back at the garage and Mike got a call to ring the hotel where it was discovered that Micky had been chased through a plate glass window by fans in the lobby on his return from Wembley. Mike hastily repaired to a Pub for some liquid courage before returning. In conversation we learnt of Mike’s search for the perfect machine and how he now had seven cars.
“I’ve got a dashboard in one of my big American cars which can operate the doors of the house from 20 miles,” he announced. “The doors will also open to the spoken word ‘Love’” The house incidentally is called ‘Arnold!’
We collected Alf and drove back in our Austin Princess to the hotel. On the journey back the newspapers were announcing the Stones’ sentences in their now famous drug case.
“That should make them the greatest martyrs since Joan of Arc,” said Mike, and that night he and the other Monkees wore black arm bands on stage in support of the Stones.