Twenty years ago a chance meeting by members of pop dreamers The Wilsons led to us sitting on Pete Watson’s bed in his digs interviewing him about his days in The Action for my fanzine Something Has Hit Me. It was the first time anyone from the band had given their account since they ceased to exist in 1968. In 1992 their story still held an air of mystery, especially to fans such as us too young to have seen them in their mod glory days. We were all chuffed to meet Pete and more so that amongst his few possessions on display was his original 12-string Rickenbacker, such a vital component of their sound.
Buoyed by this discovery fellow interviewer Darren Brooker hatched an idea for us to write a book about The Action. I was always secretly sceptical how we’d achieve this although we did spend a day at the British Library pouring over every issue of the NME and Melody Maker published between 1965 and 1968 for any scrap of information; of which there was precious little. Although we’d set our sights low (a slim John’s Children book and Paolo Hewitt’s Small Faces magazine All Our Yesterdays being our main inspiration) there didn’t appear to be a huge amount to say nor much in the way of a pictorial record to be found. I asked in Something Has Hit Me for contributions which garnered slim pickings but I did receive a nice letter from one Ian Hebditch.
After interviewing Reggie King a year or so later our book idea was quietly shelved. I, for one, had no idea how to proceed with such a project and we weren’t the right people to attempt it. However, those interviews did in a small way plant the seed which led to the reformation of the band for occasional gigs for Rob Bailey and The New Untouchables between 1998 and 2004.
It was at that first reunion gig that Ian Hebditch wandered backstage and enthused how he followed the band at venues like the Birdcage in Portsmouth and the Marquee in the capital. As a friendship developed so did the idea to produce a book. Finally, after a decade of hard work and graft by Ian and Jane Shepherd, The Action: In The Lap of The Mods has been published after a launch party in London last month.
The event was held in two rooms; the first with a bar and DJs and the second with an exhibition of photographs from the book. It was in this room that most of the chat and mingling took place and it was fascinating to hear of people’s introduction to The Action. Some, like Darren's parents Gwyn and Ray, were original mods; others were Ultimate Action post-revival mods and fans; some had journeyed backwards from Mighty Baby and even The Habibiyya; whilst others had their first taste at the reunion shows. It was great to catch up with original members Pete Watson and Roger Powell, and meet for the first time later recruits Ian Whiteman and Martin Stone. Alan King now lives in New Zealand and of course Reggie King and Mike Evans are no longer with us nor, sadly, is Ian Hebditch who died before the completion of the book work leaving Jane to work tirelessly to complete the project.
In The Lap of The Mods is stunning. It looks beautiful and is obviously born out of a deep love and respect for the band. The hardback cover, quality paper and high-end production values are top quality and the design is first class. Flicking through it’s incredible to see so many previously unseen photographs and items of memorabilia. I go dizzy whenever I see a single piece of “new” Action related material; on first look this had my head spinning. The main 176 glossy-paged book is supplemented (in the special edition of 400 individually numbered copies) by a 96 page A4 sized diary compiled by Jane giving details of their gigs and movements and features hundreds of press cuttings. Finally, all housed in clothbound presentation slipcase, is a 7 inch single of the acetate they recorded of The Temptations’ “Girl Why You Wanna Make Me Blue” for their Decca audition on 31st May 1965. This is the earliest known – and previously unreleased - Action recording and although they get off to a wobbly start, once they settle down it gives a clearer idea of how the band would’ve sounded live than their George Martin produced singles that the band have claimed didn’t capture them properly. With Reggie’s vocals, the three-part harmonies and Pete’s 12-string, it’s real hairs on the back of the neck stuff and The Action to a T.
Now, all that would be quite enough. I was bouncing off the walls just holding the thing in my hands but once I got to read the text it took it way beyond a purely visual and audible nicety. I if thought there wasn’t enough to say, I was wrong; if I thought I wasn’t the person to write it, I was right. Ian Hebditch’s narration is superb. He was a mod who saw The Action 40-50 times in their heyday and they couldn’t have asked for a more understanding and articulate biographer. Ian vividly explains how the band’s path was inextricably entwined with the mod movement and how, as they developed in tandem, one subtle shift followed another until they both came to the end of the road. Contributions range from all band members to big names like Pete Townshend (“we were genuine fans of the band”), Sir George Martin (“to this day I am baffled they didn’t achieve superstardom”), Phil Collins (I know, but he has never missed an opportunity to champion the band and there’s no doubting his sincerity) to mods from the clubs but Ian’s own sharp analysis and recounting of prevalent attitudes is the key. His is the best first-hand account by a true mod of the era I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading. In addition, Ian's frequent descriptions of The Action playing the clubs are highly evocative and draw a clear distinction between them as a gigging band (who mods adored) and a recording group (who mods ignored).
The issue of the “superstardom” that eluded them – a frequent topic of discussion amongst admirers – is attributed to a combination of the material released; their focus on being a great club band; ineffective management; and the band’s unwillingness to compromise their principles. There was reluctance – a refusal even – to “play the game”. There was nothing contrived about The Action, everything was very natural. Their “image” wasn’t an image, it was who they were. If you look at their clothes, even when they flowed from mod to a more underground scene, there was never any sign of trying too hard and that was how they were as people and that’s how their music comes across; as genuine and honest. They didn't case any bandwagon and didn’t have a succeed-at-all-costs mentality. Ian draws an interesting comparison with The Move. When Tony Secunda failed to overthrow The Action’s management he turned his attention to a fledging Move who, initially, according to Mike Evans “he created in our image” (ever noticed how Carl Wayne nicked Reggie King’s hand-over-the-ear singing technique?) but were happy to do whatever it took, and it paid off commercially.
Over the years we’ve been blessed with so much additional Action material and to bolster the paltry five singles they released at the time: the extra songs Edsel uncovered; the Rolled Gold album; the Uptight and Outasight BBC collection on Circle Records; their live film; archive footage; the reunion concerts etc. Now, with Reggie and Mike’s passing in 2010; presumably no further recordings to discover; and Pete recently selling his beloved Rickenbacker, In The Lap of The Mods feels like the final chapter, but what a chapter it is with loads of new revelations. What a story, what a book, and what a band.
To order In The Lap of The Mods click here.
|The Action: Reggie King, Mike Evans, Alan King, Pete Watson, Roger Powell|
|Pete Watson, Monkey, Roger Powell|
|Ian Whiteman, Monkey, Martin Stone|
In keeping with the spirit of The Action - and to keep a few Goldhawk mods dancing - these were the 45s I played at the launch:
Sam & Dave - You Don't Know What You Mean To Me (Atlantic)
Rufus Thomas - Can Your Monkey Do The Dog (Stax)
The Bar-Kays - Knucklehead (Stax)
BB King - The Hurt (ABC-Paramount)
Jackie Wilson & Count Basie - Uptight (Coral)
Bob & Earl - The Sissy (Chene)
The Ronettes - Do I Love You? (Philles)
The Impressions - Meeting Over Yonder (ABC-Paramount)
Marvin Gaye - Baby Don't You Do It (Tamla)
Kim Weston - Take Me In Your Arms (Gordy)
The Action - In My Lonely Room (Parlophone)
Barbara Lynn- Oh Baby (We Got A Good Thing Going) (Jamie)
Etta James - Pay Back (Argo)
Gene Chandler - Nothing Can Stop Me (Soul City)
Major Lance - The Monkey Time (Okeh)
The Temptations - Girl (Why You Wanna Make Me Blue) (Gordy)
The Impressions - I Love You (Yeah) (HMV)
Maurice & The Radiants - Baby You've Got It (Chess)
The Lownley Crowde - Shadows and Reflections (MGM)
The Action - Since I Lost My Baby (Parlophone)
Marvin Gaye - Pride and Joy (Tamla)
The Spinners - Sweet Thing (Tamla Motown)
Barabara Randolph - I Got A Feeling (Soul)
Kim Weston - Helpless (Gordy)
Isley Brothers - This Old Heart Of Mine (Tamla Motown)
Four Tops - Baby I Need Your Loving (Motown)
Shorty Long _ Out To Get You (Soul)
Sam Cooke - Shake (RCA Victor)