I waited a long time for this. How long? Take your pick – 54 years since my arrival, give or take a fortnight; 41 years since New Clear Days; 39 years since the original split; three years since my last Vapors sighting; 22 months since my last hometown visit; 19 months since the first lockdown, that dreaded virus putting paid to live shows for an eternity. But it was worth it in the end. A homecoming for The Vapors, and me. And, to paraphrase Dave Fenton, this one just had to be the best.
The word intimate does a lot of legwork, but on this occasion it’s about right. The Civic Hall’s long gone and replacement G Live wouldn’t have the same pull, yet as Steve Smith suggested, here’s a venue just a few streets from the launderette above which the band rehearsed and kicked into shape many of the songs on the LP we were celebrating. Yep, it was an emotional night.
The price of its beer aside, I love the Boileroom. But you’ve got to get it right. Head to the bar when it’s packed, and chances are you won’t get that top spot back again. If you do though – even if the closeness of fellow punters after the last two years may give you palpitations – it’s a winner. Even then, there were times I couldn’t see Michael Bowes do his thing. But I bet he was smiling.
First up was Chris Pope and Mic Stoner, representing The Chords UK, 2021’s take on the cult late ‘70s/ early ‘80s outfit of whom Paul Weller’s professed admiration led to a Mod band label. But this was no Who copyist collective, having better tunes than many of the contemporaries lumped into that genre.
On this occasion, while just a two-piece they carried the on-stage energy of a far bigger unit, a description also befitting bass player Mic. And I say that respectfully. When he joked at one stage they were going down so well that they might just carry on for a couple more hours, I wasn’t going to argue. There were new-ish songs, including latest single ‘Hey Kids! Come the Revolution’ but also plenty of old school Chords classics, including ‘Maybe Tomorrow’, my highlight ‘Now It’s Gone’, and ‘The British Way of Life’. Probably So Far Away‘s title track and‘Something’s Missing’ too, but I’d played that LP recently, and often struggle to recall what’s in a set if I don’t write notes. Must be my age.
I had hoped to catch original Chords drummer Buddy Ascott and later arrival Kip Herring (I say later, but it was still four decades ago) elsewhere on this tour with The 79’ers, alongside Simon Stebbing (Purple Hearts) and Ian Jones (Long Tall Shorty). Reviews have been great, but it looks like I’ll have to wait until next time, some 42 years after the original band cringed across town at the Civic as soon-to-be ex-manager Jimmy Pursey led an ill-conceived stage invasion after a turned down request to jam with headliners The Undertones alongside fellow ‘Sham Pistols’ Paul Cook and Steve Jones the night both bands came to my hometown. All happens in Guildford, y’know.
Tonight’s headliners were also seen in some quarters as Mod revivalists early on, similar initial interest from The Jam a factor. To me though, both were more on the new wave fringes of punk, if we have to hand out labels. Whatever the tag, on this occasion Chris and Mic (also serving the Hot Rods these days) worked hard to win the assembled over, and succeeded. And there’s certainly no doubting their passion. A real sound from the street.
So it came to pass that The Vapors, 2021 style, wandered down from the dressing room at this Stoke Fields venue – The Elm Tree in my Guildford days – and on to the cramped stage (I’ve got tickets for Stone Foundation there next month, and I’m struggling to see how that octet will fit on there without a shoehorn and axle grease), warming up with debut 45 ‘Prisoners’ and Together’s title track then ‘King L’ before launching into side one of their wondrous first LP in this belated 40th anniversary tour show. And while I’d already caught the band a couple of times since their re-emergence, this was the best yet. Partly because it was a hometown gig and because of all we’ve been through (it fell 23 months after my last Guildford live shows, seeing The Selecter at G Live and The Wedding Present at the Boileroom in one brief return), and partly as it brought a rare chance to catch up with family and friends – my sister Jackie seeing them, while stalwart Al had his first sighting in 40 years – including members of an online faithful I’d not previously met. But also it was because of the way the band gelled on the night.
As mentioned here before, I was too young (sort of) to see the band first time, but loved the records, so 2016 at Liverpool Arts Club was something I never dared to dream happening. Then came Manchester’s Ruby Lounge in July 2018, both featuring the classic line-up’s Dave, Steve and Ed Bazalgette, plus ever-entertaining Michael on drums. But this topped those. I never got to see Howard Smith play, but it was great seeing Ed a couple of times back in situ. Yet this time, a four-piece involving Dave’s son Dan Fenton deputising on lead guitar pulled out all the stops. And while it never pays to over-analyse, evergreen Michael and Dan totally bring out the irrepressible youth in Steve and Dave.
From the moment they launched into ‘Spring Collection’ then ‘Turning Japanese’, I was sold, the latter inspiring a mad post-song verdict from an over-emotional fan down the front. He’s probably still telling people how ‘fucking brilliant’ it was a few days on. ‘Cold War’ and ‘America’ trod a similar path before the first of my major highlights, another Guildford-inspired song, ‘Trains’, as fresh today as ever, and ‘Bunkers’, as covered live by His Wooden Fish, the band I laughingly managed, their lead singer among the returning faithful tonight, up from the New Forest.
Before they metaphorically turned the vinyl over, we got soon-to-be released single, ‘One of My Dreams’, charged with emotion given that it was five years to the day of the official return at Dingwalls, Camden, a song held back from Together suggesting there’s still plenty in the tank all these years on. Again, I’ve said it before, this is no band content with past or near glory, but all about creating great music and re-interpreting what came before without losing the original spirit. And as Dave puts it on ‘Somehow’, I’d be obliged if they ‘don’t leave me now’.
Two tracks followed from 1981’s Magnets, another LP surely set for full play treatment soon – again a delayed 41 years on – ‘Jimmie Jones’ never sounding better to these ears and ‘Daylight Titans’ also delivered with plenty of verve. And then we got side two, Dan pointing at his old man during the timeless ‘News at Ten’, before further high-points (they all were) ‘Somehow’ (with plenty of audience participation), ‘Sixty Second Interval’, ‘Waiting for the Weekend’ (which never got the chart run it deserved, even if the album version was better), and always poignant LP finale ‘Letter from Hiro’.
There were times when the guitar got a bit lost, but there’s no doubting Dan’s abilities in Ed’s absence and I know every note anyway, so kind of heard what I missed in my head. What’s more, he does less heavy metal posturing these days, maturing into his role, and looked every bit an integral part of the band, at times seeming to be what Dave needed to get through, thus allowing Steve to do his own thing, in a left-handed legendary style.
The spot-on three-part harmonies also deserve a mention, and of course ‘Microwave’ Michael’s input, our sticksman spending a good part of the proceedings on his feet. I guess his view was obscured too. And that grin and the ability of his playing never fails to cheer even the miserable punters. Long may that continue.
There was still time for Together’s ‘In Babylon’, again proving the strength in depth and future promise, before curtain-closer ‘Here Comes the Judge’. On my last sighting in Manchester, travelling mate Steve C warned that we had to leg it somewhat to catch the last train from Piccadilly. It’s alright, this is definitely the last song, I assured him. But anyone who’s ever turned over ‘Turning Japanese’ or seen the band live knows I was tempting fate, the traditional finale never over-long yet certainly stretching the limits of endurance for those keen to avoid missing public transport down the years. But tonight, I was driving and in control of the situation, savouring every moment.
The next day it took six and a half hours to get home from Surrey, crawling through the West Midlands and Cheshire to Lancashire, but it was all worth it. Because I was there. And this one was different from the rest.
With thanks to Dan at Redd45Photos for use of the photographs copied here. For more of his splendid photographic images, head here.
The Chords play a full band set at the 100 Club in Oxford Street, London, on Saturday 19th February 2022, a launch for their album, Big City Dreams. To find out more, check out this website link.