Sunday, 24 October 2010
MEMORIES OF REGGIE KING
I don’t know where to start. I’ve sat here all day trying to think what to write. What can you say when you wake up to find reports that your all-time favourite singer from your all-time favourite band has died?
What I have done is play The Ultimate Action three times, Rolled Gold once, Reg King once, Missing In Action once, “It Ain’t Fair” by The Boys, and I’ll get to the rest later. I humbly suggest you dig out a few too.
I first met Reggie in 1994. Dave Edwards, to my eternal gratitude, put me on to him and I sent Reg a copy of my Something Has Hit Me fanzine asking if he’d be interested in being interviewed. I received a slightly bonkers letter back from “Reginald King” suggesting we meet for a chat when he could tell me about Jimi Hendrix, John and Yoko, Eric Clapton and Robert Plant. I didn’t want to know about them.
I’d only seen a handful of pictures of Reg back in his Action heyday so had no idea what to expect when I turned up at his flat in Thamesmead on a dark winter’s night. I buzzed. The door eventually opened. A little chap in big glasses, sporting a mullet, wearing a waistcoat too small for him answered the door. He looked like a down-at-the-heel Cliff Richard or Mike Read. “Are you Reggie?” He was. He invited me in and we chatted for an hour and half until he started itching to get to the pub and I made my excuses and left.
It was one of the greatest evenings of my life. Sat amongst piles of yellowing newspapers and rubbish, drinking milky tea, we went through the Action in detail as he kept unbuttoning and buttoning his waistcoat and quietly belching. He was fairly nuts and his memory was obviously shot to pieces for more recent events (he lent me some photographs which he said were a year old – they must’ve been at least 15-20 years old) but his recall of the early 60s was incredible. No one had paid him any interest for 25 years yet he was talking as if events had happened yesterday.
The thought of an Action reunion seemed like a ludicrous idea to me but it eventually happened and Reg reveled in it. Having the band back appeared to give him some purpose and focus and if his expectations were unrealistic it was lovely for him to see the high regard he was held in. I saw him a few times at those gigs including a memorable all-nighter in Spain when he was sat with a very young leggy lady straddling him and snogging his face off. “I’ve still got it” he said on the journey home. It certainly looked that way.
The last chat we had was backstage after a gig in 2004. I tried to convince him that The Action’s “Since I Lost My Baby” was/is better than the Temptations’. He wasn’t having any of it, complaining – incredibly - that he was never happy with his vocal, but at least I made him believe I thought it was. It is. It’s the greatest Motown cover ever. Reggie said in 1965 of The Action, “it’s American rhythm-and-blues without the blues; it’s sort of rhythm and soul”, and he was exactly right.
Reg was to my mind the finest soul singer this country ever produced, and The Action - a bunch of white kids from Kentish Town – produced some its finest soul records. But that wasn’t all. The later Rolled Gold material showed a comfortable progression with the times and there are tracks on Reg King that can also send a shiver.
Earlier this year Mick Evans died (see here) and now, it's been confirmed, Reggie died on the 8th of October. I still don’t know what to say without sounding like an idiot. Maybe I’ll go and play “Since I Lost My Baby” again, or “Wasn’t It You”, or “In My Lonely Room”, or “Something Has Hit Me”, or “Gone Away”, or, or, or…