At the time, nowhere near as cool or trendy as many colleagues’ recent ‘First Times’ featuring the Who, Beatles, and Rolling Stones and, for years, I would claim the first gig I attended was the Small Faces at Tottenham Ballroom but, as liking the music of Pisces, Aquarius, Capricorn and Jones Ltd started to lose its rather nerdy associations, I was able to step up and say “I was there, at Wembley Empire Pool, when the prefab four made their London concert debuts”. Despite the attempts to make them a TV-friendly pop band, the four actors/musicians did have some input into the style of music they recorded and you could always hear the influence of West Coast bands like The Byrds and that jangling sound they brought to their music.
Now, at this point I should be honest and say I really don’t remember much about the concert at all and, if it wasn’t for the power of the internet, this would be a very short article! I do remember that I went with my mate Jim, though which Jim eludes me. I had two very good friends at the time, both called Jim, and it was definitely one of them – but I can’t remember which and, since they both grew up to be pro-Brexit, right-wing Tory supporters, we no longer speak, so I can’t check.
One thing I can remember is that I was particularly disappointed to discover that Jimi Hendrix, who had been opening for The Monkees in the U.S, would not be accompanying them to the U.K. Instead of the wizard of the fretboard and his guitar pyrotechnics we would be getting the princess of pop and her shouty songs; Lulu would be the support act for the U.K! It was a bit of a comedown though, to be fair, Lulu did make a lasting impression for her entrance at the show I saw – she ran out on stage and promptly fell on her backside. I don’t remember much about her performance, though I do remember being begrudgingly impressed that she put on a good show, especially as no one in the audience really wanted her there. The few males that were present would almost certainly have preferred to see Hendrix and the predominantly female audience weren’t interested in anyone who wasn’t a Monkee.
Another thing I remember quite clearly was the sheer noise of the place. Why we thought it was a good idea to go to a ‘concert’ where we should’ve known that we had little to no chance of actually hearing anything, above the screaming of teenage girls, has remained one of life’s great enigmas. The internet tells us that their concert dates were the 1st & 2nd July, a Saturday and Sunday, and that they did two shows on each of those days. I think I was at the Sunday gig and, given that I was 14 at the time, it would’ve been the earlier of the two shows, I expect. I remember that the whole thing was a bit of a zoo and we had to queue for quite a while to get through the doors. Strangely, I can also remember what I was wearing at the time, though this is largely because it was what I wore whenever I went somewhere I thought was fashionable and ‘happening’ for about a two-year period around this time. A pair of cheap Levi jean copies, that were very obviously not Levis, and a long white polo neck jumper with big pop art panels on the front, one red and one blue! Needless to say, I thought this was a cool look. Also, needless to say, I don’t think anyone else shared my opinion. Possibly not helped by the fact that this was July! One thing that reports at the time mentioned, and which I can now vaguely remember, is that, when the band ran out on stage, they were wearing light-coloured suits and Mike Nesmith and Mickey Dolenz both had black armbands. We found out later that this was a gesture of solidarity for Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, who were facing drug charges at the time. Being a nascent Stones fan, this confirmed to me that the Monkees, or at least two of them, were way more ‘hip’ than many of my friends suggested.
Again, by checking on the internet, I can tell you that the set list for Wembley (and it would seem they played the same list at all four gigs) was as follows –
‘Last Train to Clarksville’, ‘You Just May Be the One’, ‘The Girl I Knew Somewhere’, ‘I Wanna Be Free’, ‘Sunny Girlfriend’, ‘Your Auntie Grizelda’, ‘Forget That Girl’, ‘Sweet Young Thing’, ‘Mary, Mary’, ‘Cripple Creek’, ‘You Can’t Judge a Book By the Cover’, ‘Gonna Build a Mountain’, ‘I Got a Woman’, ‘I’m a Believer’, ‘Randy Scouse Git’ (‘Alternate Title’, as it was known in the U.K at the time), ‘(I’m Not Your) Steppin’ Stone’.
I’d say that’s a pretty impressive set list, even if we couldn’t hear it. Contrary to the popular belief that the music press gave the band a hard time, due to the allegations that they couldn’t play their instruments (they weren’t allowed to play on early recordings but played live from the very beginning), they got a good reception for the Wembley concerts. Music writer Keith Altham, writing in Flip magazine at the time, described them as “one of the hardest working bands I have ever seen”.
I do remember being particularly impressed with Mike Nesmith and that big, white 12-string Gretsch he played and, looking back on it and seeing the set list, you can see the country/roots influence he and Pete Tork brought to the band. Interestingly, though I moved on to other, possibly more sophisticated musical tastes as I progressed through my teens and into my twenties, I never stopped having an interest in The Monkees and, once Nez left to pursue his own musical ideas I followed with him, lapping up the music he would put out with the First, and Second, National Band.
Not a bad first gig memory to have. Just a shame I don’t have a bit more of it…
There aren’t any clips from the London shows but this is a compilation from the same European tour.
I always claim my first concert was Creedence Clearwater Revival, when it was actually Val Doonican.