As I am new to the board, I would like to take this moment to provide a bit of an introduction. I have been a record collector for as long as I can remember. I bought my first records at the age of three (Spider-Man vs. the Man Wolf – a comic that came with a 45 rpm record of the story- and I still have it). As much as I feel that having a system that presents an enjoyable listening experience is important, I find that stereo systems are a very individual thing. I don’t want a linear flat system. I want a stereo system that makes the music I listen to sound good to my ear. I want a system (and chair) that allows me to relax while listening – something that makes me want to play record after record without fatigue. Moreover, I want to experience as much music as possible, both in terms of what is on actual recordings and in terms of a variety of recordings. I also find there to be a joy in the hunt for new recordings to listen to. These recordings do not have to be expensive, and some of my all-time favorite records cost little or nothing.
One of the groups that I discovered randomly and have been going back to on a regular basis is the British Pop band The Action from the middle 1960’s. Everyone knows the Beatles. The Action was the ‘other’ great British pop band produced by George Martin and was a very key part of the mid-1960’s mod movement along with The Who, The Kinks, and The Small Faces. All of these groups did their best imitations of American soul music, with varying degrees of success (listen to the first LP by The Who and you can hear Roger Daltry’s best James Brown imitation). The thing that separates The Action from other bands in Britain at the time was that they didn’t try to emulate American artists, but worked on having a soul sound of their own. Moreover, Reg King, their lead singer, was an amazing vocalist and excelled in an emotional vocal performance beyond. I would even go so far as to say that King was one of the greatest blue eyed soul singers of all time. Unfortunately, there is very little of The Action’s work that is available, as they never put out a long-playing record while they were still a working band in the 1960’s. The entirety of their output consists of a number of very expensive singles on the Parlophone label. Luckily, there are a couple of compilation albums, which collect the entirety of their singles. The first of these compilations of The Action was put out on vinyl by Edsel Records as Ultimate Action (also available on CD), which was cut by the famous George Peckham (of “a Porky Prime Cut” fame). In the early 2000’s, the same material was released as Action Packed! with another vinyl reissue in 2015. I haven’t heard the latter issue, but my preference would be for the Porky copy, as I view him as one of the truly great mastering engineers and I don’t think the record could be cut better than by him. These singles really stand the test of time and I have regularly returned to listening to them over the last 30 years or so.
In 1995, an LP of material recorded between 1967 and 1968 for the Reaction label was released in 1995 as Rolled Gold. Listening to this material, it is pretty clear why it was never released at the time of recording. Simply put, music in Britain had moved beyond emulating American soul artists. The Psychedelic Era had taken over Britain with Jimi Hendrix’s Are You Experienced?, The Beatles’ Sgt. Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band, and The Rolling Stones’ Their Satanic Majesties Request. The Action hadn’t changed with the times and the music business passed them by.
In 1998, the original lineup of The Action reformed for a concert on the Isle of Wight. The band then played regularly over the next six years. At one of these concerts, Phil Collins sat in and played drums. After the experience, he is quoted as saying “For me it was like playing with the Beatles”. In 2014, Circle Records put out a compilation of live recordings from the BBC. The recording quality of these performances varies greatly from outstanding to really poor (My understanding is that at least a couple of these recordings were made by Phil Collins recording the TV with a tape recorder when he was a boy – he was a huge fan). The thing that makes this compilation worthwhile and recommended is the second (bonus) disc, which contains a complete concert by the reformed group at the Boston Arms in London in 1998. The bonus disc material is not available on the LP version. Not only were they still a very tight band, but Reg King was in fine voice. Reg King passed away in 2010, but hopefully, he will not be forgotten and will live on through his music.