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NEW Wave band The Vapors enjoyed fleeting international success when their single Turning Japanese became a chart hit in numerous countries. Yet just two years later they broke up amid record label strife. A year on from an extraordinary reunion, frontman Dave Fenton tells all to EDWIN GILSON.

MOST bands have a record label horror story – and if they don’t yet, there might be one lurking just around the corner.

The Vapors’ story could act as a cautionary tale, exemplifying the way in which bands can fall from grace with just one change of circumstance. Their recent comeback after more than three decades, however, adds an uplifting and life-affirming chapter to their biography.

Not long after the breakout success of their offbeat, excitable single Turning Japanese – which charted at number three in the UK and number one in Australia – the major company EMI bought out The Vapors’ label United Artists. That might not seem like a big deal to you or me, but in the music industry it can spell disaster for a young, promising group. So it proved with Fenton and co as they geared up to release their second album News at Ten.

The Vapors’ initial rise in profile had begun when they were spotted by The Jam’s bassist Bruce Foxton at one of their gigs. For a while, John Weller [father of The Jam’s singer Paul] and Foxton co-managed the band. After their initial success – including a tour with The Jam – it seemed like The Vapors would go on to enjoy a rich career. That is until fate intervened.

“The band didn’t split apart because of disagreements within the band,” says Fenton. “It was all due to external circumstances. When EMI bought out United Artists, everyone who signed us up originally had gone. We were inherited by EMI’s civil service.

“Before then we had been able to walk in the door and talk to anyone, including the managing director [of United Artists]. We went to see our new A and R man the day after the follow-up single to Turning Japanese came out and he didn’t know it had even been released.”

Another blow arrived when Foxton and Weller Sr were forced to drop their management duties because of their commitments to The Jam, who were at number one in the charts while The Vapors were just two places behind with Turning Japanese. “John said they couldn’t afford to do both things,” says Fenton. “Nobody was left in charge.”

The last straw came after the same A and R man cancelled their recording sessions suddenly– after taking the members to the pub and not saying a word about it. “The other final straw was when the BBC went on strike as we were due to play Top of the Tops,” says Fenton, with a laugh of the finest gallows humour. Now, Fenton claims that the reunited band – featuring original members Ed Bazalgette (who’s also a TV director currently working on BBC Two’s Versailles) and Steve Smith but sans drummer Michael Bowes – are just as good as the first incarnation.

He adds that he hadn’t thought about The Vapors a huge amount in the decades since the band split – he was too busy doing his job as a music lawyer. There was one constant reminder of those halcyon days, though – “the gold discs sitting in the toilet”. After taking voluntary redundancy, Fenton wasn’t sure what to do with himself until Smith got in touch with an invitation to play a one-off gig. The Vapors haven’t looked back since.

“This is something I can continue to do until I drop,” says Fenton. “It doesn’t feel like work.”

The Vapors, Ropetackle Arts Centre, Shoreham, July 29, 8pm. For more information visit ropetacklecentre.co.uk or call 01273 464440