Wednesday, March 19, 2008

the action

THE ACTION was ottawa's first punk band. They existed from the late 1977 to 1981. here is a comprehensive history of the band.

In April of 1977, brothers John and Paul Fenton formed a band in Ottawa, Ontario. After pulling in a drummer, the clueless
trio started a straight ahead rock group, doing atrocities by the likes of Bad Company and Status Quo! They decided to audition singers for the yet unnamed group and gave Paul's friend Ted a try. He failed the first audition miserably, but was persistent and asked for a second shot. "He told me later that he went up to his parents' cottage and screamed his head off for two days," says Paul. He got the job! At this point the Fentons still also had their kid brother Michael on bass, but he had to quit when school started back up in the fall. They found a new bass player in Rick McDonough
and became THE ACTION!

John had them rehearsing five days a week, it was always 10 - 5 and members had fines docked from their pay for not showing up on time! Paul recounts, "Ted was still in the hole after our first payday, from a week or gigging at the notorious Green Door club." A friend of Paul's, who worked at a local record store, gave him a tape of this new punk rock music from England. The band listened to it and was very impressed with the fresh and energetic sound.

"We still kept quite a bit of our roots intact, though, The Action were heavily influenced by the Stones," says Paul. In a 1977 interview, Ted Axe had this to say about the British Punk influence: "Our repertoire consists of almost all British songs 'cause the Brit punk is the best's got kick, it's got balls, it's real street-bred music, which is what rock'n'roll music is all about..."

"Our first few gigs and TV appearances were really fun 'cause people didn't have a clue what punk was all about. We were definitely the first punk band in Ottawa..." The line-up, now with appropriate 'punk' names, consisted of Ted Axe (lead vocals), Rick McDonough (bass), Paul and John - now sporting the surnames Phantom (guitars) and Shot Spot McDonald (drums). After making a demo tape in the early fall, the band took a trip to Montreal where they signed with a management firm called New Wave Productions. The company was friendly with Montreco, a new label run by mid-sixties singing star Tony Roman. "He had a plan to exploit this new punk sensation to all the Zellers and K-Mart retail stores" says Paul. When Rick McDonough suddenly decided to leave, they got Michael Fenton back in the band. He was still only 17 years old at the time. "The session was crazy! Tony invited all the Montreal media to it. We performed 'live' on stage in Tempo Studios," says Paul. The EP was released with a die-cut black and white sleeve with the words 'punk rock' emblazoned on it! "Actually there was a short run of records with a photo that slipped into the sleeve. We had them taken off the market when we saw how hideous the picture looked." The twelve-inch had four songs: three originals plus cover of "Waiting For The Man." There was the short and punchy "TV's On The Blink", a song that Axe wrote the lyrics for after his own broke! Another one was and ode to city living called "Downtown Boy", with moronic lyrics like: "You're an uptown girl and I'm a downtown boy and we look good together, all of the time." The insane "Do The Strangle" finishes off the record and features some wild dual lead guitar work reminiscent of the MC5.

The Action caused a stir in early December when they played at a local high school. The principal, D.W. McGahen, filed a complaint with the Ottawa-Hull district American Federation of Musicians that the band's conduct on stage was unsuitable. He cited their obscene gestures which included Ted's faux vomiting act and their "unacceptable" stage dress. He was later quoted as saying that the performance "was an embarrassment to the school." Shortly after the record was released, the band opened up for The Stranglers when they played Ottawa on their first North American tour. They also gigged a lot in Montreal, even headlining one big show at the Windsor Hotel with many others on the New Wave Management roster.

Nineteen-seventy-nine began with their recording of a follow-up. The session yielded four songs: "Seafood Mama" (about one of their roadies catching crabs), "Let You Down" (about their unhappiness with Montreco), the high-speed "Press Pig" (about the press) and a slow, Doors-ish tune called "Zona Rosa." The songs were never released. Montreco did manage to issue a sampler LP - Permanent New Wave, but the label went out of business shortly afterwards. By summertime, the band had been offered a supporting slot on tour with the Ramones. "This could have been the big break for the Action," says Paul, "as far as our feelings toward our management went. We broke ties with them after this but unfortunately New Wave Management didn't do their homework on the necessary visas and we were turned away from about three border crossings attempting to get into the U.S. and finally we had to cancel our tour. That was the last straw." They never recorded for another record company or in a real studio again. They did, however, perform for a live CKCU-FM radio broadcast from the Rotters Club in Ottawa.

Paul: "It was run by an Englishman named Stuart Smith. It was a pretty neat place and anything went! It was downstairs from a Lebanese restaurant. Before the shows, they would show cult movies with a film projector. Waitresses would actually serve booze in the bathrooms and smoking pot was done openly at the tables. A lot of cool bands from New York and Toronto would gig at the Rotters Club. We were the house band and we used the club as a rehearsal pit during the day. Our 'pay' was food in the restaurant upstairs, and beer and recording sessions at Stuart Smith's 'studio'." Later on in the year, Andre Action took over on drums. They kept playing and rehearsing at the Rotters Club and Smith eventually became their manager, booking them on a tour of southern Ontario. "We opened for Teenage Head at Larry's Hideaway in Toronto and played some clubs in the London area," says Paul, "really, though, the tour was depressing. Lousy accommodation, top put it mildly, and the audiences were apathetic. A little while after this, we put the Action to rest, for the time being, anyway."

In the early fall of 1979, Michel and Paul relocated to New Windsor, MD in hopes of trying the music scene there. By November, they'd decided to move back to Ottawa and reform the Action. After their dismal tour, John left the group and music altogether. They became a quartet, with Paul handling all the guitar duties. In 1980, they hit Montreal again, did
some rough demos and started playing at the newly re-opened Rotters, which was now under new management.

A live tape culled from a show at the '80's Club that January has them performing none of their early material save for "TV's On The Blink", concentrating on newer tunes like "Klepto", "Rich Kid", and "Jealousy" (which was written about John's decision to leave the group). '81 marked their final year. They added another guitar player, Freddy G, to fill out the sound. Ted Axe, who by this point had become very influenced by David Bowie, was taking them into a more artsy direction. "At a few gigs he would be on LSD and would be acting quite eccentric! Really though, the band's direction and his direction were going different ways. We were heading in a rock'n'roll direction, and he was going towards
more art-rock," says Paul. "The final 'divorce' came on the way to our last gig, when I fired him in the car on the way to the gig."
the above was taken from THE ACTION'S website. click the link to see a bunch of pictures.

here are two of the songs from their 12" on MONTRECO records.

the Action - TV's on the Blink

the Action - Do the Strangle

thanks to Mark Nolan for the link to the mp3's.

also check out IAMBLURB since i'm treading on ground they've already covered.


MH said...

"He had a plan to exploit this new punk sensation ..."
Love the honesty of this!

James said...

Cool! The Action were a fantastic band and it is a shame that they never went any further. I bought the first EP when it came out, including the ugly photo insert. Also have a tape of the Rotter's Club show which was broadcast on CKCU, as well as demos of the songs that were to be on the album. All really good stuff. I saw them live once at the Carleton U Pub, but never caught them at the Rotter's despite having gone there a couple of times.