A brief chat with The Action’s legendary lead guitarist Pete Watson
The fact that we are still talking about The Action is testament to the massive impact they made on the mod scene. Hailing from Kentish Town and formed as The Boys in 1963, the band and its members are rightly regarded as an important part of our musical heritage.
Pete Watson joined The Action in 1964 as lead guitarist. Their reputation and audience grew rapidly, fed by the band’s raw energy and a mix of English Soul and thumping beat and they were soon signed to Paralophone with producer George Martin about whom Pete reminisced:
“He was great to work with, always had advice and ideas, I used to drive him round in my mini.”
It has often been said that The Action did not see the chart success they should have had in the 1960’s. We can all agree with that – but, in many ways that also misses the point of the band and Pete Watson’s time in it. To the mod subculture and those that cherish music that reaches into your mind, they maintained their purity. They were not a commercial band; they are a bedrock.
I caught up with Pete via email with his proud daughters who explained that the legendary guitarist has been unwell.
I asked what had driven his love for music and whether he came from a musical family.
“My mother and sister played piano, I always loved guitar, mainly Chet Atkins and Duane Eddy.”
Pete was self-taught:
“I watched Chet Atkins and Duane Eddy and copied them.”
Pete played a Rickenbacker 360 12 string (model 1993) a relatively rare thing to own in the early 1960s. Pete explained:
“It was a fab guitar to have, I loved owning it. I was 20 when I bought it it was my pride and joy, it cost 350 guineas!” (almost £8k in 2020).
Pete explains that the sound was punched through a “Marshall 100-watt amp.”
The mood at those Action gigs is often described in a reverential way. It had a major effect on creating their feel and sound – Pete recalled:
“The atmosphere, playing all over the country was amazing and the audience of course…the Marquee [was a favourite] every time, fab place to play.”
They often shared a stage with some of the most influential bands of the time; but which impressed Pete the most live?
“The Move were onstage with us, PJ Proby was great too.”
In between live shows there was a mad schedule of photo shoots, public appearances, radio and tv. So, how was it to be on ground-breaking music shows like Ready Steady Go?
“It was great, we met so many people, Sandi Shaw, Cathy McGowan the presenter, Peter and Gordon.”
The Action were noted as a mod band from the earliest days – did Pete feel like one?
“Yep!” he says with a smile; “I already owned a Vespa.”
The conversation turns to recording and what he liked most about it.
“The joy of being there all together making music at Abbey Road Studios, listening to all the playbacks and just having a great time.”
I ask which recording he is most proud of.
“I’ll Keep on Holding On is a favourite along with Since I lost my Babythey were great songs to record.”
The music press was full of Pete’s departure from the band at the time and we still ask why, given all of this, he left the band. His answer to this has remained emphatic over the years, and is said again to me:
“Rikki Farr was the problem, he got rid of me from the band.”
Pete has previously said that with a better or different manager the band may have had more success. He is also on record as commenting about the financial issues
that he felt Farr could have handled better. When he left the band, Pete returned to ‘civilian life’ away from the loud guitars and showbiz:
“I Worked in the Skinners Arms in St Pancras with my Mum and Dad as a publican.”
Our conversation returns to where we started – the affection that music lovers and mods still have for The Action. I ask whether he is surprised that the music has endured with people.
“I am really surprised; I think we are more famous now than we were back then! It’s amazing that we still have such a huge worldwide fanbase and all these Facebook groups!”
Lastly, I ask whether he still plays the guitar.
“Not any more, I had an accident with a band saw in 2016 and nearly took the top of my index finger off, I have no feeling in it now so I don’t think I’d be able to feel the strings, I will have a go one day.
© Robby Allen (The Kite Collectors)
Thank you to Luan Watson Morphitis and Ronni Watson for helping this to happen.
Copyright © Mods Of Your Generation, Robby Allen 2020, All Rights Reserved. No part of this review may be reproduced without the permission of the authors.