Formed in Kentish Town in 1963, the frontman of The Action was singer Reg King, a natural lunatic in the Keith Moon mould. He and the band originally came together as The Boys, to back singer Sandra Barry.
The Action sought out the best of American soul music and played their discoveries to hip audiences everywhere.
At Portsmouth, a phalanx of mods on scooters would meet their van outside the city limits and escort them to the gig as if they were royalty. They were sacked from a support slot with The Who by Kit Lambert for being too good.
No less a figure than George Martin spotted their innate musicianship, and he recorded a string of near-hit singles with them, in which underground soul covers like Land of a Thousand Dances and I’ll Keep On Holding On, gave way to band compositions, Never Ever and Shadows and Reflections. The latter was particularly gorgeous, paying homage to the softer harmony sound of the likes of The Association, percolating through from the West Coast.
Although an LP was planned, and readers of Rave magazine were even invited to design its cover, the band imploded at this point, and Watson jumped ship.
It was not until 1981 that – rediscovered by such ‘new’ mods as Paul Weller, who wrote their liner notes – The Action finally released an album – The Ultimate Action.
Finally, in 1995, Brain records issued a CD, The Lost Recordings 1967/68. Demos for the never-released album Rolled Gold, they capture perfectly the point when mod was becoming hippie, a mix of the tuneful and the other-worldly when all was fresh and hopeful.
The recordings show the added musical dimension of new arrivals Martin Stone and Ian Whiteman. Whiteman brought a jazz sensibility on keyboards and flute and saxophone, while Stone was already a blues legend from his guitar work on the first Savoy Brown LP.
Reg King had already left by the time the band became Mighty Baby and demos from late 1968 eventually emerged on the 1985 Actions Speak Louder Than LP, mistakenly attributed to The Action, and with a picture of that band on the cover.
Some are embryonic versions of the songs which emerged on Mighty Baby, released in 1969, an archetypal product of the London underground, on the independent Head label, produced by DJ and scene maker Guy Stevens – who banned lan Whiteman’s flute; “I don’t record flutes” – and with a startling sleeve designed by Martin Sharpe of Oz magazine.
The band became a fixture at open-air festivals. Live, their music stretched out into infinity on set-piece jams like India.
On their day, Mighty Baby was the nearest Britain ever came to The Grateful Dead – with better singing and with the same ego-less charm. Of course, on a bad night, they were almost unlistenable.
The original Action line-up of the band reunited on August Bank Holiday 1998 at Ryde Town Hall on the Isle of Wight as the highlight of a mod rally.
Though somewhat rusty, and balder and broader than thirty-odd years before, the band swung with a passion. and played much the same set that they would have done in 1966.
Mike Evans passed away in January 2010. Reg King died on 8 October 2010.
Alan “Bam” King