West Sussex musician is lead singer as The Vapors release first album in 39 years

40 years after their debut, The Vapors are back together again with a brand-new album – their first in a little matter of 39 years.

Friday, 8th May 2020, 10:23 am
Dave Fenton

Lead vocalist/guitarist Dave Fenton, who moved to Worthing a couple of years ago, is joined by bass player Steve Smith, who lives near Brighton, and drummer Michael Bowes, who lives in Crawley.

Recorded at Steve Levine’s studio, the album will feature “more pop songs about war, famine, suicide, mental health, dementia and having fun,” Dave says. “We are so grateful to our fans all over the world who have made this dream come true.”

Best known for their worldwide hit Turning Japanese, the band released two albums in the early 80s and then pretty much disappeared when very quickly everything seemed to be going against them.

However, they started performing again four years ago and haven’t stopped... until now. They had a packed schedule lined up this year including a couple of months in the States from the end of July to mid-October. Now pretty much everything is on hold, apart from the new album Together which comes out on May 15.

It all marks 40 years since the release of their debut album New Clear Days and the massive success of their biggest hit Turning Japanese. Together is the band’s first studio work since Magnets back in 1981 and features 12 tracks on CD and ten on vinyl. It is available on https://slinky.to/TogetherTheVapors.

“Now we have started playing together again, it is like we never stopped. We started playing together again in 2016 and we have been playing the stuff from the first two albums for the last three or four years. We are playing more and more gigs every year, and all the old songs still sound very fresh to us. It wasn’t at all difficult to write some new songs in the same vein. The new ones sound like they have been around as long as the old ones.”

Success for the band first time round, in late 79 to early 80, was very sudden. Turning Japanese was their second single. It hit number three in the UK singles chart in 1980, number 36 in the US Billboard Hot 100 and number one in Australia. Whether it is actually about what many people think it is about has remained a topic of conversation ever since. Dave insists it isn’t – though when the now legendary interpretation was first suggested to him, he admits he was so impressed he wished it was true.

There was a time, in fact, when the band alternated in interviews. One day they would say it was; another day they would say it wasn’t. What’s for sure is that its success changed their lives.

“We just toured constantly for about a year after that, and then when we came back home, the management said ‘Where is the next album?’ The second was written in a bit of a rush. It was called Magnets and it was a bit gloomier. It was about people that attract other people and sometimes it is evil people that attract other people.”

Sadly it was to be their last album. Originally discovered by The Jam bassist Bruce Foxton and co-managed by Paul Weller’s father, The Vapors split after just one year. Everything was going wrong: “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.”

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. 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: “It was just outside factors that we could not control. Our record company didn’t even believe in us, and our management had left… It was easier to walk away rather than trying to find a cure.”

Instead, Dave went into a legal career, including 17 years as a lawyer for the Musicians’ Union. After taking early retirement, Dave moved to Worthing.

And until the coronavirus shutdown, everything was taking off nicely.

“I love it. There is just no pressure on us. We just love doing it. If it stops being fun, we will stop, but I hadn’t realised we had so many fans. With so many fans, I don’t think we will ever be able to walk away from it now.”


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