Sunday, October 4, 2009

Where the Action Is

The Action were one of the best truly Mod bands of the '60s - not a contrived image here. The soulful singing of Reg King propelled them to a level above mere Tamala-Motown copyists into a whole other league, perhaps equal to that of the Small Faces, but without the corresponding record sales, unfortunately. Although a great deal of their singles were covers, the Action added their own style and sound to the tracks - high energy, excellent musicianship and tight vocal harmonies as well. The term "underrated" is often overused; however, I find it very appropriate here.

Formed in the Kentish Town section of London in 1963, The Action were first known as The Boyfriends (and later The Boys), serving as a backing band for a female vocalist Sandra Barry. The line up consisted of Reg King (vocals), Alan "Bam" King (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Mike Evans (bass), Roger Powell (drums) and later Pete Watson (lead guitar). When Barry began a solo career, The Boys carried on, releasing one single on Pye records comprised of two Reg King originals, "It Ain't Fair/"I Want You."

In 1965, The Boys became The Action, a name very much in line with the pop art monikers of the time, such as The Who and The Creation. As their reputation began to grow, The Action began filling the Marquee and Scene Club, treating audiences to their dynamic stage show. Eventually they came to the attention of Beatles producer George Martin, who signed them to his AIR (London) Production company, which led to a Parlophone contract. Their first single contained Chris Kenner and Martha & the Vandella's covers - "The Land of 1000 Dances" and "In My Lonely Room." Their next A-Side, a brilliant interpretation of The Marvellettes' "I'll Keep Holding On," should have been a smashing success, as it is probably the best British blue-eyed soul cover of a Motown hit. Another of their best singles was their final one for Parlophone, "Shadows and Reflections," released in June of 1967. Around this time The Action began recording demos for album of original songs with a psychedelic edge, which was originally entitled Brain. The album did not see the light of day until 1999, retitled Rolled Gold. An amazing collection as it stands; one could only imagine how it would have been if the songs had been fully realized in the studio.

With the disappointment of Brain being shelved, Reg King departed for a solo career, and the other members (with additions of Ian Whiteman and Martin Stone) continued as Mighty Baby, recording two albums of West Coast influenced psychedelic jams, which were extremely spiritual in tone. All the members of Mighty Baby (save one) converted to the Sufi sect of Islam, and soon found playing "amid a sea of beer and dope," as Martin Stone put it, to be incongruous with their beliefs.

For an introduction to the Action, I recommend the compilation Action Packed! on Edsel. From there, pick up the lost album, Rolled Gold. For completists, Circle Records released a 2 CD set of BBC appearances and a reunion concert from 1998, entitled Uptight and Outasight (which includes the Action's audacious cover of John Coltrane's "India"- how could one not love a band that would cover Coltrane?). From there, you may want to check out Mighty Baby's eponymous debut and Reg King's solo album, with guests Mighty Baby, BB Blunder and Mick Taylor (of the Stones).

(References: NME Originals: MOD, The liner notes to Action Packed by Alan Robinson, and the Mojo Special Edition: Psychedelic!)

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