Davy used to borrow records by stars like Bobby Vee and learn their songs off by heart. Bobby Vee specially… it was always an ambition of Davy’s to meet the American star.
Then, when he’d learned the songs properly, and maybe run through them for the benefit of his sisters, he’d go along to the local hospitals and offer to sing for the patients.
Says Davy: “Looking back on it, I realise now that they weren’t too keen. But I got in quite a few times and the patients didn’t seem to mind. Maybe they thought I was even younger than my nine or ten years and that it was very surprising that I was able to learn a whole song off by heart.”
But if there was no show-business background in Davy’s home, there was music. His mum was a good pianist and sister Lynda and Davy would join in, along with dad, on sing-songs. Sometimes they were persuaded to take part in local concerts, maybe for charity. They’d sing popular songs of the time, with little Davy piping in on solo bits. Certainly he had no fear of facing an audience. If anything, he was over-confident. And quite definitely he was cheeky with it. At school, there were regular productions of plays. Again, Davy found it tough going because he was so small, “I couldn’t have many leading parts because I was so much smaller than the other kids. Once I was a shepherd in a Nativity Play, which I enjoyed, but I forgot my one important line and all the others got at me for wrecking the production.
“Then we did ‘Tom Sawyer’ and that was okay. He was a small kid and I was tailor-made for the part. It was a long part to learn but I think it was appearing in that that made me sure that I’d like to be an actor. Only trouble was I didn’t know who to go to get some help. My family were most impressed. There were about a thousand pages of dialogue to learn and I didn’t fluff any of them.”
Earlier, we said that Davy was good at football. He showed a sort of basic skill which could have been developed. Despite his size, he was playing in the Under-14 and Under-15 teams when he was only thirteen.
That was all right when there was a master in charge. But in the kick-around “unofficial” matches Davy was either ignored completely OR he was kicked around unmercifully.
After his kids’ school, Davy went on to Varna Secondary Modern School in Higher Openshaw—aged eleven. He was a bit nervous about going up with the older boys but he made up for that by being one of the cheekiest boys in class. It meant spending out more and more money on his clothes and sports equipment, but Davy’s dad was determined that mere lack of money wouldn’t hold the boy back.
The highspot [sic] of each year was the annual holiday. Said Davy: “We were such a close-knit family that going away in a party for just a couple of weeks was something out of this world. I remember how dad used to have to save up right through the year. Maybe we’d want a new radio or something well, the holiday always came first. We went to Lytham St. Anne’s, near Blackpool, and stayed in a nice boarding house, with a bathroom and a toilet INSIDE, and every day was a new adventure.
“Dad took charge on the beach, organising games among the sand-dunes. And we never went short of ice-creams or sweets. We were a complete family. We all had this great respect for our mum, especially because she was not very well even at that time. She was in and out of bed, and suffering a lot, for years before she died. Yet you’d never hear her complain about anything. Sometimes she looked so tired that we’d insist she stayed in bed and we took her up her meals and her drinks.”
Davy had several schoolboy crushes, naturally enough. But the one that embarrassed him most was over one of the teachers. She actually taught science and biology, subjects that didn’t mean much to Davy. But she was young and pretty and Davy constantly peppered her with questions. She’d catch him looking at her and then standing up to ask some new query and she’d say: “If that’s the way you behave, then I think you should stay behind after school, Master Jones.”
A punishment for most of the kids. But a pleasure for Davy who could then talk to his favourite “crush” in peace and quiet. It only lasted a few months. The other boys twigged what was going on and started taking the mickey… which made Davy realise it was all a bit silly!
Anyway, there was Davy doing fairly well at school and enjoying his sporting activities. Something strange was to happen soon, but we’ll leave that over for a later instalment. To keep the Mike Nesmith ravers happy, we’ll switch over to America and see how Mike was doing right at the start of his musical career in school.
In charge of his choir at high school was Mrs. Analee Huffaker, known to Mike as “Huffy” and known to everybody in the district as a real nice lady. Talk to her and you get quite an insight into what sort of guy Mike was at the age of sixteen. He’d joined the choir in his first year at high school… a skinny lad, who kept telling his teachers that he was “plain ugly”. But “Huffy” says: “I didn’t think he was ugly a [sic] all. He had this slightly pensive look, a wistful look. He looked like he was trying to prove something to himself. I mean it nicely when I saw he had the kind of face you couldn’t forget.
“We used to have dozens of boys come through the different classes every year. Sometimes you’d have trouble remembering their names, Not so with Mike. I remembered him from the very first day.
“And I knew from the start that he had a very real talent for music. I placed him as a first tenor in our selected concert choir, which really was quite an honour for a new boy. You could trust Mike to learn a part thoroughly—there was no hesitation when it came to proper rehearsals. His intonation was great and he had an ability to harmonise. I’d say he was, even then, a natural musician with a good ear and a keen sense of rhythm.”
“Huffy” liked to analyse her students. She felt that Mike WAS basically a very shy person but sometimes tried to cover up by being a bit loud—and by trotting out joke after joke, to try and get the attention of the rest of the class. She says, with a little laugh: “I often used to warn him to quit acting the monkey. Now he’s a Monkee by profession and successful all over the world. This is very logical and right. He had so much talent.
When he left school, he still wrote to “Huffy”. Long and poetic letters. But they’ll keep until next month, when we carry on the story of the fantastic Monkees.