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After the Beatles, the Action were the most impressive band signed to EMI by George Martin during the mid-'60s. That they never managed to chart a single in the space of two years with the label, even as lesser bands sold tens of thousands of records with seemingly no effort, is one of those great ironies of mid-'60s English rock & roll.
The band started out in North London during 1963 as quartet called the Boys, and cut one single as a backing band for Sandra Barry before getting their own shot at immortality on the Pye label with a single "It Ain't Fair." The Boys went out of existence in 1964, but didn't split up, instead reconfiguring themselves as a five-piece. The original lineup, Alan "Bam" King (guitar), Reg King (vocals), Mike Evans (bass), and Roger Powell (drums) added Pete Watson (guitar) and rechristened themselves the Action in 1965.
In this lineup, they developed a tougher, harder sound that quickly made them favorites among the mod audiences. The Action had a sound similar to the Small Faces but without as heavy an attack on their instruments or an outsized persona such as that of Steve Marriott to dominate their image. They were discovered by George Martin, who signed them to his newly-founded AIR Productions in 1965 and got them a recording deal at Parlophone Records, where he'd formerly been the head of the label.
The Action debuted with an excellent single of "Land of a 1000 Dances" b/w "In My Lonely Room," which failed to make the charts. The group's failure to register with the public is even more astonishing to ponder several decades later, when one can appreciate precisely how well their music has aged, right from its beginnings — the debut single and other early songs such as "Baby You've Got It" and their cover of Curtis Mayfield's "I Love You (Yeah!)," are irresistible dance numbers, performed with genuine flair and inspiration, not to mention an authentic white soul sound from Reg King that was as credible as anything emanating from England at the time (or since) — their version of "Land of 1000 Dances" is maybe the only one ever done outside the United States that can be taken seriously, with no apologies or explanations needed or asked for.
The Action's second single, "I'll Keep on Holding On" b/w "Hey Sah-Lo-Ney," released in early 1966, was just as good a record (the B-side in particular a solid dance number) as their first, but saw no greater chart success. The group maintained a serious following among the mods, as competitors of the Who and the Small Faces, but they couldn't get a break with their records. What they needed was the exposure that a tour opening for the Beatles might've given them, and, given their connection to George Martin and EMI, this wasn't out of the question, but still wasn't meant to be — though one could hardly have imagined Lennon and McCartney (et al.) objecting. As it was, they never got beyond playing clubs.
Watson exited the lineup in 1966 and was succeeded by Martin Stone, formerly of the Savoy Brown blues band and Stone's Masonry, without altering their sound. If anything, the group evolved along with the music they loved — by late 1966 and early 1967, the Action were doing smooth soul-styled material, ballads with a sweet, smooth lyricism ("Since I Lost My Baby") and even a few notable originals ("Twenty Fourth Hour") with a funkier beat, all a step or two removed from the R&B stylings of their early period.
The group's sound was changing in more profound ways, however, and by mid-'67, the Action had evolved from soul into a progressive folk-rock-based sound, and were eager to experiment with it; they'd started out sounding like the Birds and ended up influenced rather more by the Byrds. EMI, however, didn't appreciate the arty, psychedelic sound that the group tried for on their intended sixth single, "Little Girl," and the group was dropped from the label's roster. For decades after, there were rumors of the existence of an unreleased Action album lying in the EMI vaults, but no such record ever turned up in the search for material.
Late in 1967, still eager to pursue their new sound, the Action added keyboard player Ian Whiteman to the lineup. Reg King subsequently left the band to pursue a solo career, and Whiteman took over the outfit that remained, rechristened Azoth. The band had hooked up with Giorgio Gomelsky, and cut a huge amount of material as demos and potential releases while under his management. They eventually transformed themselves into a pure psychedelic outfit, Mighty Baby, that had a sound far removed from that of the Action.