The Action - Shadows And Reflections: The Complete Recordings 1964-1968 (Grapefruit, 2018)
Many incredible mod rock bands came out of the UK in the 1960’s, The Who, Creation and Small Faces to name but a few. All of the above mentioned groups have had their works compiled and released in multi-disc collections. However, one of the very best mod rock bands of the period have until very recently been conspicuously overlooked. Thankfully Cherry Red Records have filled the gap with the incredible, comprehensive four disc set “Shadows And Reflections: The Complete Recordings 1964-1968” which amasses the group’s complete originally issued tracks, a mere six singles, five produced by Sir George Martin and originally released on the Parlaphone label, the sixth belatedly released on the German Hansa label in 1969, as well as a 1964 single released under the group’s original moniker The Boys. Compiler Alec Palao has done his usual magic by rounding up all things related to The Action, resulting in a staggering eighty-six tracks spread across the four discs, of which a full twenty five have never before been released in any format, including fifteen new stereo mixes done by Palao.
Disc one opens with the previously mentioned Parlaphone singles which showcase the band’s R&B roots, consisting mainly of covers of well known US titles, beginning with the group’s 1965 debut pairing Chris Kenner’s “Land Of One Thousand Dances” a huge hit for Wilson Pickett in 1966 with the Holland/Dozier/Holland composition “In My Lonely Room” originally recorded by Martha Reeves & The Vandellas on the Gordy label. As with The Action’s other singles, the songs went down well in live shows but failed to sell in numbers as UK record buyers opted instead to purchase the American versions. This problem plagued the band throughout their time at Parlaphone from 1965-1967, with none of their releases charting despite the quality of the recordings, including the sole band penned single, “Never Ever” b/w “Twentyfourth Hour” which hit record shops in 1967. The Action’s final single appeared in Germany in 1969 with “The Harlem Shuffle” originally released by Bob & Earl in 1963 but probably best known for the version recorded by The Rolling Stones on the a-side and a band original “Wasn’t It You” on the flip side, although the a-side was recorded in April of 1966 and the b-side in August of the same year. Next up are three tracks which first appeared on the 1980 Edsel Records compilation LP “The Ultimate Action” followed by a track that debuted on the b-side of a 1984 Edsel single. “Just Once In My Life” which rounded out the Edsel compilation, while the Phil Spector/Carole King/Gerry Goffin penned “Just Once In My Life” is presented in a new mono mix. The first disc is rounded out by five BBC session tracks recorded in 1966 and 1967 the final cut being a tasty take on the title track of this box set, a 1967 single a-side written by Larry Marx and Tandyn Almer.
Disc two presents Palao’s new stereo mixes taken from the original master tapes, consisting of all the tunes released by Edsel with the exception of the band’s debut single, for which no multi-tracks exist and thus are only available in mono versions. The sound is crisp and clean, giving record buyers an entirely different take on the recordings of The Action’s original quintet, Reg King on lead vocals, Pete Watson on lead guitar, Alan “Bam” King on rhythm guitar and vocals, Mike “Ace” Evans on bass and vocals and drummer Roger Powell. The band became a quartet with the departure of lead guitarist Pete Watson in August of 1966, “Come On, Come With Me” being his final recording. Alan King took over lead guitar duties, something he was never really comfortable with. The disc also contains two rehearsal takes, four backing tracks and an alternative take of “Just Once In My Life” the final seven tracks being previously unreleased mono recordings.
The group was dropped by Parlaphone in 1967 but carried on recording an album full of demos intended to be released under the title “Rolled Gold.” Disc three contains the “Rolled Gold” recordings, recorded between mid-1967 and 1968, but not released until 1995, as well as the tracks that made up the EP “Action Speaks Louder Than” recorded in 1968, but unreleased until 1985. The Action decided a change in sound was called for, so the core of Reg King, Alan King,, Mike Evans and Roger Powell was joined by keyboardist/flutist Ian Whiteman and shortly thereafter by lead guitarist Martin Stone. The change in personnel resulted in a very different sound. The band began to devote more time to instrumental arrangements and writing original material than previously, resulting in Reg King’s role in performances being decreased considerably, which did not set well with the frontman and was more than a bit confusing to their older fans. The group’s influences changed drastically as well, with works such as John Coletrane’s “India” becoming a staple of the band’s live shows. Among the highlights of the “Rolled Gold” demo recordings are a rare, four and a half minute take on the psychedelic classic “Brain” which has a three minute edit that has been included in nearly all previously issued versions of the “Rolled Gold” sessions and the previously unreleased full length version of “Really Doesn’t Matter Anymore” which runs more than thirty seconds longer than previously released versions. A couple of other tunes of note are “Icarus” a three minute keyboard and guitar fueled bit of gorgeous psychedelia topped off by Reg King’s gorgeous lead vocals, Martin Stone’s restrained guitar and Mike Evans’ booming bass line and the heavy rocker “Strange Roads” a three and a half minute vehicle for Martin Stone’s fuzzed out lead guitar and an incredibly heavy performance by the rhythm section of Evans and Powell. The latter is a true tour de force by the band. Lastly, the three and a half minute “Climbing Up The Wall (See Me)” is yet one more excursion into heavy psych with Stone’s wah wah and Evans’ thundering bass dominating the tune interrupted briefly by an absolutely gorgeously delicate flute interlude by Ian Whiteman. The “Rolled Gold” demos are dominated, in large part, by Martin Stone’s lead guitar, giving the bad a truly psychedelic sound. Why no label picked up these demos and either released them as is, which was the case with releases like Rainbow Ffolly’s “Sallies Fforth” or sent the band back into the studio to flesh out the recordings is baffling, but with no takers, vocalist Reg King left the band, which returned to life as a quintet of lead guitarist Stone, rhythm guitarist Alan King, bassist Mike Evans, drummer Roger Powell and keyboardist Ian Whiteman with Alan King assuming the lead vocalist position. The five tracks making up “Action Speak Louder Than” are all credited to Ian Whiteman, with the band sounding incredibly different without the familiar vocals of Reg King. “Only Dreaming” is a fiery three and a half minute piece of psychedelia with prog leanings, Stone’s fuzz guitar once again dominating the sound, but Alan King’s vocals are absolutely sublime and Stone’s solo that plays the song out is truly stunning. “Dustbin Full Of Rubbish” shows off Whiteman’ on keyboards and flute, with his electric piano solo especially tasty and Alan King’s ethereal vocals especially lovely. “An Understanding Love” is a nod to the band’s r & b roots with acoustic guitar and gorgeous vocals leading up to a Stone solo that, while understated, rocks, complemented by Evans’ increasingly heavy bass line and a lead guitar outro by Stone that makes one wonder why these recordings did not bring The Action the attention and record sales they had long deserved but never received. “My Favourite Day” is dominated by Whiteman’s majestic Hammond organ and the dreamy vocals of Alan King before Stone Stone enters the mix with a luscious lead guitar line, the perfect counter to Whiteman’s organ. “A Saying For Today” is a space rock number with Alan King’s vocals and Stone’s fuzzed out guitar further proof that The Action had perfected their transition from purveyors of American rhythm and blues to full blown psychedelic rockers and is an obvious bridge to the life the band took on in 1969 when they morphed into the formidable Mighty Baby which released their classic s/t debut LP later that year.
Disc four lives up to its subtitle “Extra Action” rounding up tracks from throughout the band’s entire lifespan, opening with their debut single released on the Pye label under the group’s original moniker, The Boys, showcasing their rhythm and blues roots, with acoustic guitars and Reg King’s lead and the band’s harmony vocals dominating the sound. The three tracks making up The Action’s original demo recordings for Decca are next up, and are again dominated by Reg King’s vocals and some absolutely stunning, yet restrained lead guitar by Pete Watson. Consisting of two Holland/Dozier/Holland and one Curtis Mayfield cover the tracks are prime examples of The Action’s delicate melodies and vocal harmonies, and are wonderful reminders of why Parlaphone would soon sign the band, leading to the string of sonically superior yet commercially unsuccessful singles produced by Sir George Martin. A stalwart Ready, Steady, Go live rendition of a medley consisting of “Land Of A Thousand Dances” and “Uptight (Everything Is Alright)” gives the listener an idea of the energy the band emanated to their loyal following although this was never converted into record sales as original tunes had, by this time, become industry necessities on vinyl. Four live BBC recordings follow, the highlight being a simply stunning Eastern and jazz influenced cover of John Coletrane’s “India” complete with mesmerizing flute, insistent piano and acoustic guitar as well as Reg King’s sporadic utterance of the song’s title. This song which was a staple of late period gigs by The Action, was often stretched out to as long as thirty minutes. The disc and box set closes with eight mixes of the band’s early recordings which made their first appearance on Edsel’ Records’ 1990 compilation CD “Ultimate Action” which is considered by many as the definitive mix of these tunes and in the case of “Shadows And Reflections: The Complete Recordings 1964-1968” serve as wonderful counterparts to the original Parlaphone mixes featured on disc one, a most fitting ending for this incredible collection.
The set, compiled by Alec Palao, comes housed in a 52 page hardbound book style package with two discs tucked in the front cover and two in the back, stacked and secured by tiny plastic clips. The collection opens with an introduction by Lois Wilson, followed by an extensive essay by David Wells, and includes an incredibly informative section “The Action In The Studio” penned by Palao which details the recording sessions of the band. The Action has never sounded so good with the songs mixed and remastered by Palao with the aid of Shel Talmy and Wally Sound. The project was coordinated for Cherry Red by John Reed and the full color book is chock full of photos of the band, as well as original single release artwork, master tape boxes, vintage posters and other wonderful bits of memorabilia and complete track by track annotations. “Shadows And Reflections: The Complete Recordings 1964-1968” is without question the last word on the band’s music and history. Many, many thanks to the wonderful folks at Cherry Red Records, UK for the obvious tender loving care that went into this package on their Grapefruit Records imprint. It may well be the best box set released in 2018 and will be of interest to fans of 1960’s rock, especially of the mod variety, rhythm and blues music, as well as pop and psychedelic rock. In other words it will have a place in the collection of virtually all fans of the music of its day and I cannot stress how essential and comprehensive this collection is. It is absolutely the last word in all things related to The Action. Be sure to get your copy before the set goes out of print or you will forever regret it. Of that I can assure you.
- Kevin Rathert
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