The Vapors: Waiting For The Weekend
(Cherry Red Records)
Released 13th August 2021
This is a 4CD boxset, rounding up Guildford band, The Vapors’ 20th-Century activities. Their two albums, New Clear Days and Magnets, are fleshed out with a host of extras that include many alternative versions of the material from both of those records and three previously unreleased tunes. Also present is a live set that catches them in November 1979 at the Rainbow, London. Ian Canty steams right in.
The initial version of Guildford new wave outfit, The Vapors was formed around singer/guitarist Dave Fenton in 1977, but by 1979, he had decided the band was in need of a complete overhaul. Putting a possible legal career on ice, he got together with drummer Howard Smith and guitarist Ed Bazalgette, late of local band The Ellery Bops, with Steve Smith from another Guildford group, The Absolute, completing the line-up on bass. This version of The Vapors played their first gig in March 1979.
The new aggregation quickly made up for lost time. The Jam’s bass player, Bruce Foxton had kept an eye on the band from early on and he offered the band support slots, with The Vapors serving as the opening act on the Setting Sons tour. Through this, they came to be identified by some as part of the mod revival, though they weren’t actually a mod outfit per se. Jam manager, John Weller was as impressed as Foxton and the pair decided to manage the band. To this end, they helped secure the band a recording contract with United Artists, home of Buzzcocks and also The Stranglers, another set of Guildford locals.
Prisoners, their first waxing, came out towards the end of 1979. It missed the charts, but generated enough exposure and good press that the band could be excused for looking forward to 1980 with a sense of optimism. That optimism was well-placed, because it would be their next single, for which The Vapors would forever be associated in the general public’s consciousness. Issued in early spring, Turning Japanese was pretty much an all-conquering chart force. A number one in Australia, it reached the number three spot in the charts in their homeland and also made a sizeable dent in both Canada and the US.
The debut album and associated single tracks make up most of the first disc of Waiting For The Weekend. Though perhaps not having anything quite as immediate as Turning Japanese among the other ten tracks featured, this was a strong record that deserved to do better than only scraping into the top 50 in the UK. You could say the same about the excellent News At Ten single too, which stuck at number 44 like the LP and Jimmie Jones 45 later on. Here, The Vapors possess the type of heady buzz that was midway between Buzzcocks and The Jam.
The album starts with Spring Collection, coming complete with a neat, sarky lyric concerning fashion victims, plus a power-packed rhythm and sharp guitars. It really is a top way for a band to begin their first long player. Vic Coppersmith-Heaven, The Jam’s trusted studio whizz, is on hand to ensure proceedings go with a bang and the band always sound full of fizz.
Turning Japanese comes next and then we’re into the tense paranoia of Cold War. The choppy chord progression of Trains impresses and Bunkers takes a slight reggae rhythm influence, speeding it up to 100 miles per hour, so it comes off like a frantic R&B tune. An unusual and enticing number, it’s got some nice and prominent bass playing too. News At Ten does everything right as a follow-up for Turning Japanese, in that it doesn’t ape the formula, but still produces something inherently catchy.
Fitting into the edgy sound of post-punk at first, Somehow glides along with purpose, before hitting a golden chorus and Sixty Second Interval takes the pace down a notch well. The LP finishes by knitting the classic rock & roll concept of living for the end of the working week, with relationship strife on Waiting For The Weekend and the tidy power-pop of Letter From Hiro, which builds up gradually and in epic manner.
In summary, on New Clear Days The Vapors present themselves as a sharp, cohesive unit with plenty to say and a pretty smart way of saying it. The bonus cuts on this disc include the crunchy first single Prisoners/Sunstroke, the single versions of News At Ten and the now horn-enhanced Waiting For The Weekend, plus an edited take of Turning Japanese. There are also their b-sides with Turning Japanese flip the live Here Comes The Judge and the simple but effective Billy being memorable. This section of the set ends with a previously unreleased demo Move, which is sparky and spikey enough in classic Vapors style.
When it came to record the follow-up album, things had changed at United Artists, with legal wrangling over the company’s name. As a result, EMI, who were the parent label to UA, shunted The Vapors over onto the Liberty imprint. Added to the air of uncertainty, John Weller and Bruce Foxton had to bow out of the band’s management, with The Jam being one of the biggest bands in the UK by this point in time and taking up all of their time. These changes did not work in favour of the band and to cap it all, the emergent new romantic/electronic craze was at odds with their tense new wave sound.
Coming in a striking sleeve designed by Martin Handford, later to create Where’s Wally? would you believe, Magnets arrived in March 1981 and makes up the bulk of disc two here. The record begins with Jimmie Jones, a song about the US cult leader, who led his followers to a mass suicide in Guyana in 1978. This was released as a 45rpm too (the single edit is a bonus on this disc) and despite the subject matter, the 7-inch gave the band another sniff at the charts, before stopping tantalisingly short of a Top Of The Pops appearance that could have turned it into a bigger hit. Spiders comes next and this song had preceded Jimmie Jones as a single. Its mid-pace funk rock stylings perhaps confused fans and as a result, it missed the charts completely.
On Isolated Case, the band seem far different, without the tearaway vim that saw The Vapors through New Clear Days. Rhythmic and jagged, it is not without merit and you have to give them credit for not resting on their laurels. Civic Hall, concerning an incident when Fenton was set upon by the police, is almost in a jazz/reggae setting and the bitter Live At The Marquee throbs with restrained might. Daylight Titans represents a good progression from the first album, edgy and tight with the bass driving it onwards.
Can’t Talk Anymore is a bit more like their previous material, albeit with the tempo slowed down and Lenina is a freewheeling piece of late-period new wave. The dirty reggae lope of Silver Machines (don’t tell Hawkwind!) gives way to a decent punk-pop tune and the reflective, gently psychedelic title track brings the album to what is a pleasantly mellow conclusion.
Magnets is certainly a more uneven recording than New Clear Days, but it still was one that offered plenty of potential and some original ideas. The bonus efforts appended to this disc include the single takes of Jimmie Jones, Daylight Titans and Spiders. Galleries For Guns is in the tradition of fine flipsides that The Vapors had developed and a rather low-key six-minute interview with Dave Fenton closes things out.
I can vaguely remember the music press ads for Magnets doing the band no favours whatsoever. It looked from the outside, to even the fifteen-year-old me, as though the record company had lost interest in them by the time it was released. As it turns out, it seems that I was near enough to the mark. Despite the brush with the charts with Jimmie Jones, the Magnets album missed the charts altogether, Liberty dropped the band and they split up in 1982.
If Waiting For The Weekend hadn’t already established that we are firmly in fan territory, the third disc here is set aside for alternative versions of the New Clear Days-era tracks. The band were polished enough that even their demos of Spring Collection and Bunkers sound lucid and almost complete, if maybe a tad more basic. There’s a weird background drone, bongos and some mixed-down keys on the alternative cut of Turning Japanese, which also has a rather odd drop-out section too.
The instrumental version of Somehow starts ultra-basically, but soon zooms onwards with zeal and the rough mixes of Letter From Hiro, a riffy Cold War (prefaced by a drum count in) and Waiting For The Weekend are all decent, the latter probably being my pick, as it really takes off. The demo of Prisoners positively rocks; I think I prefer this take to the single cut and Wasted flourishes in a less worked-on form. This disc ends with an instrumental take of Turning Japanese, if you feel in the mood for karaoke.
The closing chapter of Waiting For The Weekend opens up with seven rough mixes from the time of the Magnets LP. Jimmie Jones, in this form, is close to the released version, but taken a touch lighter sound-wise with a “choir” backing vocal showing up more. Civic Hall leans back on its reggae roots and Live At The Marquee seems to have a bit more bite than on the album. Galleries For Guns sounds good in both rough mixes, but the big interest here would be, I imagine, Secret Noise, a previously unreleased offering. The tune comes running out of the blocks with drum-led gusto and incorporates a jangly guitar successfully into The Vapors’ nervy modus operandi.
Waiting For The Weekend ends with an eleven-song live set recorded at The Rainbow, London on 3rd December 1979. This is taken from the tour supporting The Jam, the day before the Woking Wonders themselves were captured for the BBC’s In Concert series. This showing was subsequently released on The Jam BBC Collection about 20 years back. Going back to The Vapors, Caroline, a breathlessly punky number that was never set down in the studio by the band at the time, kicks off the set with a bolt of pure energy.
The sound is pretty good throughout the gig, the rest of the set being made up of both sides of the Prisoners single and some of the material that would make up New Clear Days. What is immediately evident is that this is a convincing performance of a band that were on the rise, with Sunstroke and an atmospheric Sixty Second Interval, in particular, being given fine run-outs. Feisty versions of America and Prisoners bring the curtain down majestically.
In recent years, The Vapors have reformed, with Fenton, Bazalgette (sometimes deputised for by Dave’s son, Dan) and Steve Smith joined by the powerhouse drumming of Michael Bowes. To their credit, they did not want to be seen as merely a nostalgia act and the band released their well-received third album, Together, in 2020. They’re back on the road soon to celebrate the 40th anniversary of New Clear Days. They were on sparkling form when I saw them back in 2018, so I would imagine they still offer up a tasty proposition on stage.
Waiting For The Weekend has everything you could really ask for. It is good to hear the two albums again, as both have their strengths and depths, with New Clear Days being a classic 1980 collection. The alternate versions are worthwhile and add to the boxset’s comprehensiveness, with enough variance to keep things interesting. Perhaps these items don’t often trump the released takes, but it is cool to see their development and the different areas The Vapors explored before hitting on what they felt was right. The inclusion of three unreleased tracks also sweetens the deal and I very much enjoyed the live set, where the band are clearly coming into their element as a live entity.
This is an exhaustive and excellently compiled set, which puts forward the case of The Vapors well. The only real gripe I can think of is, perhaps, that the sleeve notes could have done with more detail about the Magnets era and the eventual end of the band, but I suppose that is being a little picky. The Vapors were a band in a hurry, but they had a lot of good qualities. These are captured on Waiting For The Weekend very well indeed, showing them as vital new wave presence.
The Vapors are on Facebook here and their website is here.
All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here.