Every artist has to start somewhere. Even though some musicians seem to be born with the ability to play their instruments perfectly, you don’t get to become an Olympian athlete without some practice. And before Phil Collins was tapped to be Genesis’ latest drummer, he was just a mild-mannered kid in the British mod scene.
When Collins was first coming up, the mod scene sprouted loads of different bands, typically mining the same type of R&B from America repackaged as the British Invasion. Although iconic acts like The Who were born and bred in this scene, Collins’ all-time favourite band never really had their time in the sun.
When asked about his favourite band, Collins singled out The Action as his top pick, giving him the drive to be in a band when he was young. Despite having some experience in theatre when he was a child, Collins gravitated towards the Mod scene and was struck by The Action’s stage presence. He said, via Music Times: “In the 1960s, I was going to The Marquee Club, and I discovered them one night. I went to see them every night they played. I’ve since got to know them”.
While the rest of the English scene was tapping into blues a la The Rolling Stones, the Action were pulling from soul roots. Across their catalogue, the band was instrumental in bringing a soul element into rock and roll, covering classics by Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and the Temptations and incorporating them into their signature sound.
As the band soldiered on through the ’60s, they fell into one pitfall after another. Despite some phenomenal shows, the band had problems with management that led to the once five-piece outfit devolving into a quartet after lead guitarist Pete Watson was convinced they weren’t going anywhere. By the time the band finally secured a record deal, their unique flavour of rock and roll-themed soul had gone out the window, replaced with the psychedelic sounds of the late ’60s.
Although the band’s style had little to do with the kind of progressive rock that Genesis would create, you can hear their influence in some of Collins’ solo work. As much as Collins could sing in complex time signatures, the Action’s soulful side is what informed him to cover soul music later on, like his version of the Supremes’ ‘You Can’t Hurry Love’. Since the Action wasn’t performing slow blues jams, Collins’ love for them allowed him to write something like ‘Sussudio’ later down the line as well.
After calling it quits in 1969, not every band member faded into obscurity. Rhythm guitarist Alan King went on to form the band Ace, which had a top ten hit with the soul-infused ballad ‘How Long’. And with the help of Collins, the band reunited in 2000 for a few one-off shows, including a performance where Collins sat behind the drum kit. When asked about the experience afterwards, Collins said (via The Guardian), “I got to play drums for them a couple of years ago at the 100 Club, and although the edge had gone and it was nostalgia, for me, it was like playing with the Beatles”.