by Ian Hebditch & Jane Shepherd with Mike Evans & Roger Powell
Fame’s lottery has no caller, no bran tub and obeys no known physical laws. The fickle finger flexes, flicks its nail at a nondescript bunch of talented youngsters, and leaves the other thousand hopefuls awaiting their turn, sometimes forever. Today, even the small talents who are prepared to work themselves to death for fame and fortune have a chance at the big prize. It’s not the present day which interests us, however. It’s the untrammelled electric storm of 1960’s Britain, and just one of its young bands, The Action.
The indicators all seemed to be there. A tough, tight-knit unit which learned its chops by ear, from original imported USA recordings. They honed their R n B/Soul covers, poured their hearts into their performances, attracting a dedicated and loyal following in the clubs that were the stamping ground of the young and the stylish. They weren’t alone in their love for this taut, irresistible music, and they played alongside many of the bands who would find the success that The Action was sadly to be denied.
Perhaps it was the paucity of original songs that held them back, or that their apparent fan base was a little too localised to admit a wider audience. Whatever the reason, it seems a cruel irony that The Action’s destiny was to be thwarted, and it’s taken nearly fifty years from the first single release to see a worthy tribute to them.
‘In the Lap of the Mods’ is a surprisingly dense, wordy volume, illustrated with as many publicity photos, candid shots, promo labels, gig posters and record covers as could be mustered. The early life, professional career, changes within the band both in membership and material, and disappointing aftermath, are detailed with impressive thoroughness. Their reformation in the 90’s under the auspices of the New Untouchables organisation proved welcome to old fans and young alike. The many reminisces of the old fans do sometimes begin to read like the entire history of Portsmouth’s Birdcage Club, but happily disprove the old adage that ‘If you remember the 60’s, you weren’t really there.’ How people can give a blow-by-blow account of individual gigs at over forty years’ remove, when most of us have difficulty remembering a gig we attended six months ago, is a still, and remains mystery to this writer!
Publicity photos are always a joy to look through, set firmly in place and time, their desperate attempts to sell their subjects as one thing, with their true nature lurking below the surface gloss. The awkward, besuited and bow-tied poses of ‘Barry and the Boys’, from their days backing the mercurial Sandra Barry, have a school boyish quality to them that may have been intentional. Their later transformation into a waist coated, cow licked beat combo, with a bonfire of guitars, is about as convincing as the Rolling Stones’ attempt in the same period. No harm done though, as their Mod threads were on the way, and it’s in this crazed, urgent time that image and music were as one. There’s still a reluctance to love the camera, but with a confidence born of playing to a discerning audience to buoy them up. The rare splashes of colour in the photos are very welcome to those of us who feel that monochrome is cool, but colour far more revealing, in an age when British life was literally stepping out of the black and white and into a new found glorious multichrome.
The Action may never have another book written about them, but this bright, affectionately written tome would make future projects a little superfluous. Tributes from such luminaries as Sir George Martin C B E, Phil Collins and Pete Townsend are good reading, even if they leave you even more puzzled as to why The Action ended up a footnote when others became household names. If you’re already a fan, you’ll shrug at the hefty price tag at the thought of what you’re getting in exchange. I’ll leave you with just one thought; if you know a great band, don’t keep them to yourself.
Scenester1964 – 26/11/12