The Vapors took to the stage in San Francisco in 1981. They didn’t know it was to be their last gig for 35 years.
As lead singer Dave Fenton, who brings the band to Shoreham’s Ropetackle on Saturday, July 29 at 8pm, recalls, things started falling apart soon after that California gig – a sad ending for a high-impact band.
Originally discovered by The Jam bassist Bruce Foxton and co-managed by Paul Weller’s father, The Vapors split after just one year, following four singles and two albums, achieving their biggest hit with Turning Japanese which reached number three in the UK charts, number one in Australia and entered the US top 40.
Taken from the now iconic album New Clear Days, the song regularly features on 80s, punk and New Wave compilation albums and has been used in films including Charlie’s Angels.
“We started off signed to United Artists, and then they got taken over by EMI,” Dave recalls.
“Everybody we knew got made redundant. We just became part of the great EMI civil-service conglomerate. We went from the open-door policy of United Artists to the closed-door policy of EMI, and we lost out. They were not working for us anymore.
“And at that time John Weller and Bruce Foxton decided that they could not manage both us and The Jam. The Jam were at number one and we were at number three. Our careers were just too divergent at that point.”
Clearly the pressures were starting to build.
But another factor was a strike at the BBC, with Top of the Pops disappearing for a while. It was all working against the band.
“Not only had we lost the record company and lost the management, they were not showing us on BBC. The final thing was we went along to rehearsals to play to the A&R man, and we sat in a pub and everything seemed fine, and he went back to the office and cancelled the session. We felt let down. For me, it felt easier to leave the band than to carry on.”
But the point was – and this explains how they have been able to pick it up – they didn’t split because of any friction within the band.
There was no animosity that the band would ever be carrying forward.
“It was just outside factors that we could not control. Our record company didn’t even believe in us, and our management had left…”
Instead, Dave went into a legal career, including 17 years as a lawyer for the Musicians’ Union.
“I am 64 now, and when I got offered a voluntary redundancy, I took it, partly with this in mind.
“We did try to get back together in 2001, but everyone was so busy it just wasn’t possible.”
Eventually they managed four gigs last year. It was great to be back in harness at last and rediscovering all the music afresh.
“It was really nerve-racking to start off with. I spent the entirety of last year trying to relearn the songs. I couldn’t remember the chords, and I had to work them out again. And I had to get the lyrics online!
“But it is weird the way things have come full circle. We did a lot of songs about war. We did a lot of songs about Reagan and Thatcher and the Cold War scenario. And now here we are with May and Trump and almost exactly the same scenario, and it scares me what he is doing with the Russians… So now I am singing stuff that is still as relevant now as when I wrote it 35 years ago.”
Box office for the : 01273 464440 or ropetacklecentre.co.uk.
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