Saturday, 3 October 2015

Hey, Hey, it's The Monkees at Moseley Folk Festival!

The Monkees - Sunday 6 September, Moseley Park, Birmingham
The final day of the tenth Moseley Folk Festival saw glorious, late summer weather and a spectacle of equally dazzling music - some of it definitely folk, some stretching the definition to the limit. On the unarguably folk end of the spectrum, we had veteran performers Martin Carthy and Dave Swarbrick.

With a more contemporary feel, but still very much in the English folk tradition, The Unthanks had reinvented themselves once again, this time with the big, fulsome sounds of their new Mount the Air album. Trumpets and strings augmented the haunting vocals of the Unthank sisters ... with the occasional burst of clog-dancing, of course.

Angels from the realms of glory? No, it's just The Polyphonic Spree
At the less folky end of things was that jubilant troupe of pop rockers from Dallas, The Polyphonic Spree, whose numerous members filled the stage in their white choir robes to share with us their joyous symphonic rock. This helped the sun-drenched, well-chilled crowds prepare their ears for the headlining act ... The Monkees.

Now, I suppose you could argue that the Monkees' music is so much a part of popular culture that it has become a kind of folk music. Hits like Last Train to Clarkesville, Steppin' Stone, Pleasant Valley Sunday, A Little Bit Me, A Little Bit You and I'm a Believer had the enraptured audience joining in. Footage from the original Monkees TV series was projected at the back of the stage while Micky Dolenz and Peter Tork impressed us with their exuberance (not bad for a couple of septuagenarians) and their musicianship (not bad for artists who were famously said not to have played their own instruments.)  Micky sang in his distinctive and still powerful voice and played some rhythm guitar, his drumming duties taken care of by Peter's son, while Peter sang and switched between guitar and keyboards. A kettledrum was provided for Micky to play on his Randy Scouse Git (Alternate Title) while Peter's songwriting and guitar skills were showcased on several numbers including his For Pete's Sake (which some will remember as the old end credits music from the TV show) with its message of love, peace and freedom.

The Monkees about to be railroaded by the last train to Clarkesville
Perhaps the Monkees' songbook has passed into folk memory. A rerun of the series in the 1980s might account for some of it, as not everyone enjoying the performance in Moseley was old enough to remember the original airings but, regardless of age, everyone seemed to know all the lyrics. Micky joked, "You may know this one, but please don't join in ... it puts me off," before launching into Daydream Believer. Of course, everybody joined in. 

In an unexpected climax to the evening the numerous members of The Polyphonic Spree were invited back on stage to join in a rendition of the theme from The Monkees' 1968 film musical Head, The Porpoise Song, with its fitting if bizarre refrain: "but the porpoise is laughing, goodbye, goodbye, goodbye ..."

If you had suggested in the late sixties, as my big brother Phil and I watched The Monkees monkeying around on black and white TV, that one summer's evening five decades later we'd be standing in a park in Birmingham singing along with Micky and Peter well ... we would have called you a daydream believer. But now you know how happy we can be.

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Tony Gillam is Senior Lecturer in Mental Health Nursing at the University of Wolverhampton, a freelance writer, trainer and musician. He is the author of 'Reflections on Community Psychiatric Nursing' (2002) and 'Creativity, Wellbeing and Mental Health Practice' (2018).