Caught by the River

Caught by the Reaper – Reggie King

25th October 2010

Gone Away. By Kevin Pearce.

We’ve lost some good people recently, so I’m hoping that stories circulating about Reggie King being dead prove to be wrong. Nevertheless, reflecting on Reggie’s life and legacy is a useful reminder why we do what we do, and love what we love.
It is impossible to overstate the importance and impact on my life of The Action, the group I first heard via Edsel’s compilation at the start of the 1980s. It is easy to forget how little in the way of obscure old music was around at the time, and Edsel releasing collections by The Action and The Creation was a major event. It was also perfect timing. The Action, in particular, fitted in perfectly with other things I was obsessed by, such as Dexys, Vic Godard, The Jam, Orange Juice, Byrds, Velvets, and old soul singles.
What was extraordinary was that The Action was a group with such a perfect sound and look, but up until that point they had been a mere footnote in pop history. I think it was then I realised that the writers of ‘official’ histories were idiots. It seemed absurd that in the 1960s a nation turned its back on The Action when it so perfectly took the then current ‘60s soul sound, blended it effortlessly with the cutting edge guitar format, and made it their own, with Reggie King’s extraordinarily cool vocals on top. The beauty of Reggie’s singing being he seemed to make it appear exquisitely easy. He rejected the growling, grunting, sweating, straining blues fakery of his London contemporaries, and came up with this very natural, smooth style that perfectly fitted the group’s sound and the mod ideal.
The Action’s George Martin-produced Parlophone era material has attracted great acclaim in the past 30 years or so, and quite right too. The Ultimate! Action compilation was probably my most played record in the 1980s. And life took a strange twist when my own path unexpectedly crossed Reggie’s. This would have been early 1988, I guess. My mum had been going to a local college on a government adult training scheme, and she’d been talking about this guy there, a bit of a dandy, who claimed to have been in a group in the ‘60s. No one really believed him, and it all seemed like a scene from a John Sullivan sitcom. That is, until one day, she mentioned his name was Reggie King, and alarm bells went berserk in my head, and I went to fetch my Ultimate! Action LP.
Well, to cut a long story short, my mum arranged for me to meet Reggie. To say life hadn’t been kind to him would be an understatement, but he looked great. The same hair, the same gear. And he was a true gent, with loads of great stories about the ‘60s, and thoughts about success and the pop process and its cruel ways. He even sat there singing snatches of the old songs, which was magical. I leant him my (by then) battered Action records, which seemed bizarre. He had to go around someone’s house to listen to the records, and he signed and lovingly repaired the sleeves, which was sweet.
Of course, as the years passed, we found out a lot more about Reggie and The Action. Some of the mystery may have disappeared, but the emergence of the lost recordings from 1967/68 and the BBC Uptight And Outasight set added to the legend. As things progressed, the Motown and Mirwood covers may have given way to The Association and Coltrane, but that’s the way we would have gone in the ‘60s too I like to think. We learnt much more about what happened next when Ian Whiteman joined the group, and from Iain Sinclair we discovered more about Martin Stone and what he did next. We began to become aware of what an important part Mighty Baby played in the world of music, and were heartened that they stayed close to Reggie King, playing on his ill-fated solo LP which finally was reissued in 2006.
By then Reggie had performed with The Action in a series of reunion shows, and had even made new recordings. Somehow that seemed unlikely when I met him back in 1988, and it’s great people made all that happen. I realise now I’m older than he was when I met him, and I understand a lot more about life and the strange twists it can take. I remember vividly Reggie stating it didn’t matter what people thought of him, or what had become of him, because he had been the best and no one could take that away.
Reggie was the best. The music he made with The Action is without equal. The group’s sound and his vocals remain one of the wonders of the world, and never ever cease to delight. And it is for that reason I am hoping stories of his death are wrong, and that this is a celebration not an obituary. We lost Mike Evans from The Action recently, and it would be cruel to lose Reggie so soon after. Time will tell.
Meanwhile, oddly it is not a song by The Action I have on my mind today. It’s one from his solo set. It’s the standout song, You Go Have Yourself A Good Time. Well, what can you say? It breaks your heart. It’s so sad. And there’s Doris Troy belting it out on backing vocals. “You ain’t got nothing to fear”. Bless you Reggie wherever you are, and thank you. I’m not going to sit in listening to your records. I’m putting on my best striped scarf, and heading out into the winter sunshine. Hopefully I’ll see you down the road.

[audio:|titles=05 Since I Lost My Baby]

(Sadly, Reggie’s passing has been confirmed. 5 February 1945 – 8 October 2010, R.I.P.)