The Vapors, some would have you believe were/are Punk. Some would describe them as New Wave. Some Mod-esque, Jam-esque or any other number of similar-esques.
Me however, I’ll just say that they were/are a power-pop band in the same mould as those fantastic bands The Chords, Rudi and my personal faves, The Moondogs. Want to know how to write the perfect three or four minute guitar pop song? Check out any of those aforementioned bands and most definitely The Vapors.
‘Discovered’ by Bruce Foxton of The Jam playing in a small pub, The Vapors were catapulted into fame, and briefly, the charts over a four year period in ’78 to ’82. Initially being offered the support slot on tour with The Jam, the importance of which for any band at the time cannot be overstated, and subsequently being picked up by a major label could have been the springboard to massive success. Instead, the old story of the bands souring relationship with the major label and the hits not coming as fast as required meant that the band folded after four short years.
So, here we are thirty four years later. A one song performance in Putney, London of their most well known hit, “Turning Japanese” signalled a reunion that turned up in Wolverhampton for one of only four dates.
So, here I am on a chilly Saturday night expecting a low turnout of middle aged men here to catch just one song. How pleasantly surprised I was. Walking in I see a near full Slade Rooms of punks, suedeheads, scooter boys and even a couple of psychobillys. A mixed bag of ages, styles and gender but all part of a very partisan crowd, who it soon becomes obvious, know every single song, hits, misses, sides both A and B.
Now, I could list the songs that they played but there is little point. Instead, of the two albums and four 7”s that they released I can tell you that four songs only were missing. “Lenina”, “Silver Machine”, “Spiders” and “America”.
Early in we get rarities and the third single, “News At Ten” and onwards towards a very strong middle of the set with the first single from the second album, the excellent “Jimmie Jones”. Between are strong album tracks and the odd single track. What becomes obvious as the set rolls along though is just how strong all of those album tracks are.
What also becomes apparent is that in the perfect three or four minute pop song, less is more. In Edward Bazalgette on lead guitar the band have a guitarist who can make a five note theme fill a verse and make it sound full. At one point I am reminded of that famous footage of the Buzzcocks playing “What Do I Get?” where Pete Shelley cries “Tricky guitar solo” before launching into a repeated one note solo and actually making it say more than the fretboard wizardry of a thousand Yngwie Malmsteen ever could. Less is very definitely more and it’s a rare skill for a lead guitarist to have.
In between song banter is very low key given mainly by Edward Bazalgette through a somewhat muted mic. A little light banter and generally just down to song introductions. Dave Fenton, vocalist and rhythm guitar rightly acknowledges though that “It’s been a long time since we’ve played Wolverhampton”. He also declares that when they decided to get back together for a short tour they “thought nobody would give a fuck” but that is quite obviously not the case. That they have been missed is without doubt.
The other quite obvious thing is how much they are enjoying these gigs and perhaps the member who most displays this is stand in drummer Michael Bowes. Now if I were to say that this guys smiles a lot then I’d be only nearly correct. This guy beams!!! He looks like someone who loves his job beyond belief and it’s infectious. Standing in for Howard Smith, Michael Bowes plays powerhouse drums which must make a change from his usual gigs (Joss Stone, Heather Small, Tears For Fears) and it looks like this is him letting loose a little. The other guys in the band seem to have a penchant for grabbing spare sticks and joining in on his cymbals but he is too busy smiling to care.
So, as the gig approaches a finale, almost all the crowd are singing the songs back at the band and so many seem to know every word. The bands biggest and most well know hit “Turning Japanese” is thrown out three quarters of the way through which pleased the young couple next to me no end! The hit that has probably made them pretty wealthy based purely on performance royalties (I even heard it that afternoon on TV) is played and quickly moved on from as though it is of less significance to the band than some of the album tracks. Well, it can’t be the “Light My Fire” frustration since the band have done four gigs in thirty four years.
A strong finish with both sides of the first single plus the catchy “Waiting For The Weekend” is received eagerly and enthusiastically by a very bouncy crowd yet again singing every word. Then it’s over. A long set of catchy, short power pop songs, intelligent lyrics, band members who are loving the gig… What more could I ask for on a cold Saturday night.
The good news is that the band are planning more gigs for 2017 and so if you love a good tune and want to leave a venue feeling more upbeat than when you entered…. Do your self a favour if they come back around these parts.
Reviewer – Mark Veitch