The designer-confected band whose wholesome television show imprinted them on many millions of young Britons in the 1960s and early seventies had disappeared from public view as a foursome. Now they are back ... and the shock for the one-time fans is that they claim to be playing better than they used to (though that may be a matter of opinion).
With hair greying and laughter lines a little more pronounced, the members of the one-time "young generation" of the sixties are now all in their fifties.
"Hey, hey, we're the..." they joked with mock memory-loss.
Yet there are rewards as well as disadvantages to the ageing process. Where in 1966 the Monkees were the creations of television executives eager not for a pop group but a hit series for the young, today they are the ones in charge.
"We ARE the corporation," roared Peter Tork, the one with mop hair, with a giant grin. However, Davy Jones, the band's baby-faced lead singer, said it was not the money that mattered. "It's a case of enjoying what we do," he said. "The rewards are quite nice, it's important for alimony and kids' schools, but it's not the main motivation."
Billed as America's answer to The Beatles, they recorded 52 episodes of the television series but also sold 16 million albums, 7.5 million singles and notched up hits including "I'm A Believer", "Daydream Believer" and "Last Train to Clarksville", in a 39-month career.
It ended when Mike Nesmith paid $160,000 to get out of the group. Though Davy Jones, Mickey Dolenz and Peter Tork have reunited several times since, he had always refused to join in. Until now.
He explained his change of heart yesterday, at a launch party at the Hard Rock Cafe, central London, saying simply: "I just wanted to get back to playing."
Jones, Dolenz and Tork have reformed several times since, and toured Britain together in 1989, but Nesmith always refused to join them until last summer when all four got together to record a new album, Justus, to be released in Britain on 27 January.
On 7 March, they embark on a 10-stop tour of the British Isles and Ireland which continues in America over the summer. And a television special is also to be made.
Jones, the only British-born member of the quartet, said that despite the height of their fame being 30 years past he was still recognised everywhere he went. "People still sing `Hey, hey we're the Monkees' if they see me in the street."
Tork, jokily claiming the fame and adulation were the hard part, promised they would be much better than before. "We were all right to start with, now we're ferociously good."
Dolenz added: "There are a lot of people who have tried to catch the lightning and the bottle again. But it's a very tough job to do and nobody has been successful."
Ward Sylvester, their manager and the producer of the original television series, thought the Monkees reminded people of a certain generation of a happy time in their lives. But as the series was always being repeated, it was still capturing new generations. "They're remarkably evergreen," he said.
The Monkees only ever played one concert in Britain during their heyday - at the Empire Pool, Wembley, in June, 1967 - but there is 300-strong fan club. Kirk White, 44, a London council worker and the club's president, loves everything about them. "The television show, the music - it brings back memories of the Sixties."
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