Reg King: Soulful lead singer with the underrated but influential mod band The Action

Pierre Perrone
Wednesday 10 November 2010 01:00 GMT

The mod band The Action appeared on the epochal TV show Ready Steady Go! and made some of the finest singles of the mid-Sixties with the Beatles' producer George Martin. Yet, despite building a strong reputation as an entertaining live group,with a great line in soul and rhythm'n'blues covers showcasing the warm, rich voice of their frontman RegKing, they remained underrated also-rans behind The Who, Small Faces and The Creation.

However, they influenced severalof today's biggest stars, including Phil Collins, who was an obsessive fanand guested with them at the 100 Club in London in 2000, two years afterthey reformed – prompting the singer-drummer to comment, "for me, itas like playing with the Beatles". Paul Weller said, "Reg King stands as one of the best of the white soul singers. The Action had it in their soul."

Born in 1945, King took up music in his teens, gigging in north London pubs with his childhood friend, the drummer Roger Powell. By 1963, they had joined lead guitarist Alan "Bam" King – no relation – and bassist Mike "Ace" Evans. Billed as the Boys, they backed the British pop singer Sandra Barry on the Reg King composition "Really Gonna Shake", a single for Decca, in March 1964. Much like the Fab Four, they then served their apprenticeship playing eight hours a night for several months in the rowdy nightclubs of Germany, and released their own 45, "It Ain't Fair", also written by King, on Pye at the end of the year.

In 1965, with the addition of rhythm guitarist Peter Watson, they became The Action and were signed by Martin to his newly-formed Air production company. He had great belief in them and produced their five singles licensed to Parlophone, the EMI label he had previously headed.

Issued in October 1965, the band's first 45 paired masterful interpretations of "Land Of A Thousand Dances", the R&B standard penned by Chris Kenner and popularised by Cannibal & the Headhunters – The Action's cover preceded Wilson Pickett's hit version – and "In My Lonely Room", the Holland-Dozier-Holland composition Martha & the Vandellas had taken into the US Top 50 the previous year, and was well received. For the A-side of their second single, they again adapted a US Motown hit, the Marvelettes' "I'll Keep On Holding On", and covered the Temptations' "Since I Lost My Baby as the B-side of their third release, the harmony-laden "Baby You've Got It", originally done by The Radiants.

Their repertoire – also including the Vandellas' "Heatwave", the Ronettes' "Do I Love You" and "You Baby" and Bob & Earl's "Harlem Shuffle" – proved ideal to showcase their blue-eyed soul singer, and made them a popular live act, breaking the attendance record at the Marquee club in London. "It's American rhythm-and-blues without the blues; it's sort of rhythm and soul," King said at the time.

However, by 1967, the scene had shifted towards acts writing and recording their own material. Accordingly, The Action composed both sides of their fourth single, the catchy "Never Ever" b/w "Twenty Fourth Hour", though for their final release, the psychedelic "Shadows And Reflections', they called on outside writers in a last, unsuccessful bid for commercial success. While in a state of flux they recorded an experimental album which became a freakbeat favourite when it was eventually issued as Rolled Gold in 1998.

King left The Action at the end of 1967, though he remained on good terms with his former bandmates, who continued as Mighty Baby and helped him make his self-titled solo album for Andrew Lauder's United Artists label. The 1971 album also benefited from the input of star players such as Brian Auger, Mick Taylor and Steve Winwood, and members of BB Blunder, a group King had briefly joined.

"Gone Away", the elegiac closing track, was included on the All Good Clean Fun sampler alongside Brinsley Schwarz, Hawkwind and Man, but King's album sank without trace, though it was later hailed as a lost classic and issued on CD in 2006. The Mod Revival of the late '70s, as well as '90s Britpop, reawakened interest in The Action and led to a comeback. A video, In The Lap Of The Mods, told their story and documented their appearances at mod rallies and other New Untouchables events organised by Rob Bailey.

King last performed with The Action at Modstock in 2004. The following year he guested on the Billion Pound Project album masterminded by the DJ, producer and Spearmint bassist Andy Lewis for Acid Jazz Records. He died of cancer, 10 months after Mike "Ace" Evans. The New Untouchables will host a tribute to The Action at the Charlotte Street Blues Club in London on 13 November.

Reginald King, singer, songwriter, multi-instrumentalist: born London 5 February 1945; (one son); died Belvedere, Kent 8 October 2010.

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