It All Fits
Shop Around Ö pt 18

This is another way of looking at our last shopping expedition, where we looked at the groups bringing hard driving soul and new wave ríníb to the masses live in British clubs throughout the second half of the Ď60s - and the great untold story there.

We mentioned how Bonjo I of African Headcharge/On-U fame had toured with the Foundations, one of our first multi-racial groups. Well, I could have mentioned that another cult hero who served an apprenticeship touring with the Foundations was Ivan Julian, much loved rhythm guitarist with Richard Hell and the Voidoids. I love the connections here, especially when you off-set it with the story of his fellow Voidoids guitar virtuoso, Robert Quine, with his background as a Velvet Underground devotee, and electric Miles Davis disciple.

Ivan and the Voidoidsí contribution to recorded pop noise is frustratingly slim in volume (though naturally weighty in importance), but they are at least caught on celluloid in the Blank Generation film, which can be picked up on DVD nice and cheap. Just as in Smithereens, it features a wonderful performance from our beloved poetic punk pin-up Richard Hell. Here he plays a character on the make in downtown New York torn between his love for French journalist Nada (Bond-girl Carole Bouquet) and his desire to make it at last in the music business. Itís a lovely time capsule.

Another lovely time capsule is the anthology of Jimmy James and the Vagabondsí soul years (almost inevitably available on Castle/Sanctuary ≠ one day John Reed will get a knighthood for all the work he has done salvaging sounds from the Ď60s underground). Comrades of the Foundations, Jimmy James and the Vagabonds are distinguished by having had Pete Meaden as their manager following his spell with The Who. Meaden saw the group as a blank canvas to use for his mod revenge for the way he was betrayed. So he developed the group as the ultimate hard driving, hard working, soul revue ≠ or new wave ríníb as Meaden called the group - bringing the music to the mod masses with no ego, no distractions, no artifice, just straight forward passionate performances. And I canít wait to read more about this if Eddie Piller really does succeed in producing a Meaden biography.

When you consider Meadenís obsessive involvement, itís no coincidence that the first Jimmy James and the Vagabonds LP was called The New Religion (and I bet Ian Svenonius and his Nation of Ulysses have been taking note). Itís a great UK take on the US soul explosion, and of particular note for what are sensationally spirited soulful backing from the likes of Doris Troy, Madeleine Bell, and Goldie ≠ part of the great Wrecking Crew sort of session singer set around at the time. Itís easy to be snobbish about Jimmy Jamesí take on soul, the collection of contemporaneous covers, but they still sound like great pop to me. And Jimmy James and his group coming over from Jamaica and making that treasured isleís obsession with soul/ríníb more explicit than ever (though seek out Joyce Bond and the Winds Of Change too) makes for a great story. As does his successful Ď70s collaboration with Biddu, but thatís another story.

Featured on the Jimmy James set is their half of the live London Swings set from 1966. The other half came from the Alan Bown Set, who yup you guessed have a great anthology available through Castle/Sanctuary. The Alan Bown Set were another live mod crowd pleasing collective, providing hard driving ríníb. Their angle was having the trumpet of Alan Bown to the fore, juxtaposed with the gritty soulful blue-eyed soul rasp of Jesse Roden, which oddly makes them sound like the Jasmine Minks of 'Soul Station'. Their 'Emergency 999' is a Northern Soul gem, while better still is the 'Jeu De Massacre' track suggesting what the group could have achieved if the had let their imaginations really take flight like comrades The Action.
I need to re-emphasise the fact that there is a limited edition set of lost BBC recordings of The Action available on the Circle label, so please donít miss out. The Action were naturally head and shoulders above their contemporaries who were reacting to the impetus of the soul sounds coming across from the US. Itís long been said The Action were even better live than on record, and the sleevenotes here from Ian Hebditch state ďhard, driving, amphetamine-paced numbers from the Mirwood stable augmented Tamla and Curtis Mayfield compositions in sets that were delivered with electrifying precision, awesome power and absolute authorityĒ. By the way, check out the Mirwood Soul Story CD issued recently by Kent ≠ itís wonderful.

Anyway, on this collection, we hear The Action performing sweet, sweet soul music live on a variety of BBC shows in 1966 and 1967 to devastating effect. But best of all is the November 1967 where they have really taken the Motown thing into what is a beautiful West Coast thing, taking up the mantle thrown down over there by the Byrds, Association, Love etc. Thinking back to the early-Ď80s I was literally obsessed by the Ď60s mod uprising and soulful sounds, the beat noise, and the West Coast folk rock/sunshine pop thing, knowing there was a link, knowing that the underground mod groups had inspired Subway Sect, knowing the West Coast groups had inspired Orange Juice, that people like the Pale Fountains and Hurrah! were taking up the challenge, and now we have a definite link in this chain with The Action covering the Byrdsí 'I See You', and doing it even better.

But the astonishing thing for me on this lovely CD of The Action is the bonus live set recorded in 1998 at the Boston Arms in North London. I really hated the idea of The Action getting back together. It didnít seem a very mod thing to do. I was aware of this show. But have very bad memories of the Boston Arms anyway. Oddly I didnít even play this bonus CD until a couple of weeks after I got it, but I take it all back as apart from an intrusive sax it sounds fantastic and, rather like Richard Hell in Smithereens, much better than it ought to be. Reg King sounds better than I would have dared imagine, and the guitars and close harmonies are as gorgeous as ever. Oh well, I probably would have still hated it if Iíd been there, and Iím sure the bloke obstructing my view would have been a neanderthal. Iím trying to convince myself here children. And anyway how come no one has salvaged the one LP Reg King recorded under his own name? Anyone got a copy for me?

© 2005 John Carney