Davy Jones: Actor and singer who shot to worldwide fame as a teen idol with the Monkees

 

Davy Jones was the young actor who most enjoyed and best understood the phenomenon of the Monkees that shot him to fame in the Sixties. Blessed with a great sense of humour and charming personality, he was better able to cope with fame and adulation than many of his contemporaries.

While his American Monkee pals Mike Nesmith, Peter Tork and Mickey Dolenz may have nurtured ambitions be taken more seriously as musicians, Davy was content to play the game and live up to his image at the genial English pop star. When he came back to London at the height of the group's fame he was besieged by screaming hordes of girl fans outside his hotel. He stood on a balcony at the Inn On The Park and addressed them by shouting: "I notice there's a lot of rubbish in the street...It's got to stop!" He knew none of them could hear a word he was saying.

The former NME journalist Keith Altham befriended Davy back stage at the Monterey Festival in 1967. "He was a chirpy little chap! We talked about Richie Havens, who we both liked. I also met him in the studios where the Monkees were recording their TV series. Davy was a very funny little guy. When I met him again in London he would sign his autographs as 'Peter Tork' or 'Eleanor Rigby.' He was also a great mimic who would cheerfully do his Cassius Clay routine: 'I'm the greatest!'"

Jones almost had a "John Lennon moment" when he supposedly proclaimed the Monkees were "bigger than the Beatles". But he later denied such claims and said he meant they "were tired." He was such a fan he'd hitchhike from New York to San Francisco to see them. Despite press attempts to whip up rivalry the Monkees and the Beatles became good friends. As far as teenybopper adulation was concerned The Beatles were happy to shift the burden on to younger shoulders.

David Jones was born in Manchester in 1945 and began his acting career at the age of 11. He had a brief stint in Coronation Street in 1961 when he played Ena Sharples' grandson. When Davy's mother died when he was 14, he quit acting for a while to train as a jockey at Newmarket. But he returned to acting when offered the part of the Artful Dodger in the West End production of Oliver! He also played the role on Broadway and at 16 was nominated for a Tony Award. When the cast appeared on Ed Sullivan Jones was spotted and offered a solo management contract.

In 1965 he auditioned for a part in the upcoming Columbia Pictures/Screen Gems TV series directed by Don Kirshner, featuring a young group of pop wannabes modelled on the Beatles. The Monkees would be America's answer to the Fab Four that led to them being labelled the "Pre-Fab Four".

Jones, then aged 20, beat 400 other applicants to join the cast of a show that proved an enormous worldwide success. Davy was later acclaimed as the most accomplished Monkee, as a singer and performer, by Kirshner's biographer Rich Podolsky. The group engaged in comedy slapstick sketches but also unleashed a string of No 1 singles including "Last Train To Clarksville"' and the Neil Diamond song "I'm A Believer" which was also a US No 1 in 1966.

Jones and the group would enjoy another six Top Twenty hits in the UK over the next two years, notably "A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You" and "Daydream Believer", on both of which Jones sang lead vocal, as well as "Alternate Title" and "Pleasant Valley Sunday". Despite gripes by critics that the Monkees were a manufactured group, they could all play their chosen instruments and Jones was particularly adept on drums and guitar. Together they pioneered the "boy band" concept, brought pop music into the entertainment mainstream and the band members, particularly Jones, were affable communicators in an age of often incoherent "rock stars".

"Davy enjoyed being a Monkee almost more than the others," Keith Altham recalled. "He wasn't really a frustrated singer or musician because he could do it all, but really he was an old- fashioned song and dance man. He was comfortable with the role of being an actor playing a pop star. He revelled in it whereas some of the others were kind of embarrassed, particularly Nesmith. Davy was the kind of artist who if you opened the fridge door and the light went on, he'd do five minutes. He'd walk on stage and say: "I'm Davy Jones' father. He'll be on in a minute...' He was showbiz to the tips of his toes."

When the group performed at the Empire Pool, London in 1967, their two-hour show was hailed by Melody Maker as: "One of the best pop shows ever presented in Britain... The Monkees are clean, loveable and remote and fill the gap left by the Stones and the Beatles. The diminutive Jones created a psychedelic freak-out at the climax by demolishing his drum kit in tribute to the Who's Keith Moon, seen cheering wildly in the audience and taking a bow.

When the TV series ended they made an experimental movie, Head, and The group continued as a trio when Peter Tork left in 1969. When Nesmith also quit, Jones and Dolenz teamed up with song-writers Tommy Boyce and Bobby Hart. Jones went on to play a cameo role in the US comedy series The Brady Bunch and also had roles in more stage musicals. With his boyish good looks intact he was able to head up occasional reunion tours, mostly without Nesmith. Jones also performed with his own band, and continued to enjoy his other passion, for training and racing horses in America and England.

Resuming his musical ambitions he released Just Me, an album of original songs in 2001, followed in 2009 by She, a collection of his favourite pop songs from the 1940s to the '70s. Last May he returned to Britain with the Monkees for their first UK tour in 12 years, billed as "An Evening With The Monkees: The 45th Anniversary Tour". They completed 10 dates, including shows at the Echo Arena, Liverpool and the Royal Albert Hall. Jones, who died of a heart attack, also made a memorable guest appearance with Tork and Dolenz on BBC TV's The One Show that year when he rolled around the sofa and groaned at early pictures of himself: "I look so young!"

Chris Welch

David Thomas Jones, actor and singer: born Openshaw, Manchester 30 December 1945; married three times (four daughters); died Indiantown, Florida 29 February 2012.

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