Interview with Howard Smith made with questions
from fans 24-25th of September 1997. Updated on the 6th of
January 1998 with some follow up questions and some new, enjoy.......
Question: The videos for Turning Japanese and Waiting For The Weekend, were they ever broadcasted and are they still existing?
Answer: There were few TV outlets in the UK for
videos when these were made. I remember seeing Turning Japanese
on TV here but not the others. We also did a video for Jimmy Jones,
directed by Julian Temple who did the Sex Pistols movie. The Turning
Japanese video was directed by Russell McCahey who directed the film
Highlander. I have copies of all three. VH1 sometimes shows a clip of us
doing Turning Japanese from a German TV show we did in Hamburg,
someone gave me a tape of that.
Question: Which countries did you tour?
Answer: We toured the US three times and once in
Australia. We never played live in Europe although we turned down supporting on
a Queen tour. After we toured with the Jam, which was great, we felt
we should always try to do our own shows.
Question: Is there a tape of seventh single to be, Red Flag, also when you were doing the two albums, did you record any songs then, that not made it on to the albums?
Answer: There was only a rough demo of a few of
Dave's new songs and they didn't get recorded properly. I have a few demos
of other songs and we sometimes played live songs that never got recorded
in the studio - some were pretty good too, especially Move and Caroline.
Question: Are any more cd's planned, with
Answer: I'm not sure EMI would put out another
CD although the current compilation is selling reasonably well. We'd have
to scrape together everything else to make another CD and the overall quality
wouldn't be good enough.
Question: Do you play anything these days, as a hobby?
Answer: I haven't played drums for a long time. The last gig I played was the last night of our last US tour which finished in San Francisco and I'm happy to leave it at that ! Dave Fenton has recently gone back to working as a solicitor, Ed Bazalgette works as a tape editor at the BBC, Steve Smith still plays in bands and does some sound mixing etc., and I work for the songwriter/publisher organisation PRS where I'm manager of the Membership Dept. Occasionally I see Ed who was a good friend before the band got going, but I haven't seen the other two for a few years now.
Follow up: Do you have any idea how we could contact them for an interview?
Answer: Dave Fenton & Steve Smith are members
of PRS, who will forward mail to them if you want. c/o PRS, 29/33 Berners
St, London W1P 4AA. I can forward anything you want to send to Ed.
Question: When and why you started playing music?
Answer: I started playing drums at school, playing
in and organising a band formed with school friends. Later Ed joined this
band before we went on to join the Vapors.
Question: What bands were you in before the Vapors? Tell us about some of your experiences in the London underground scene in the late 70's.
Answer: I was in the band at school mentioned above. This then turned into another one with some other friends that played gigs in our local town and later when this band broke up Ed and I joined the Vapors. There were alot of groups around at that time, being the post punk era when everyone wanted to be in a band, inspired by Punk e.g. The Clash, etc.... The Stranglers also came from Guildford and The Jam from neighbouring Woking and the Cure from out near Horley. We supported or played gigs with The Beat, Dexy's Midnight Runners, The Chords, Stiff Little Fingers, and of course, The Jam at this time, although we always preferred to play our own gigs than support someone else.
Follow up: What were the names of these bands?
Answer: Steve was in a band who played the Pubs
round Guildford called Absolute (I think he played drums though !) and
although I never saw them, Dave was in a band called the Little Jimmies.
Ed and I were in a couple of school bands playing covers mostly although
Ed wrote a couple of songs, firstly Smart Alec then Ellery Bops.
Question: When did you meet the other members of the Vapors?
Answer: I met Ed while at school through other
musicians. I also knew Steve Smith when he played in other bands in our
home town. I met Dave just prior to joining the Vapors.
Question: What was your audition like, and did you audition other members?
Answer: I didn't audition for the Vapors.
- I knew the others and they needed a drummer. No-one actually did an audition
Question: Which of the Vapors already existed before you joined, and which did you have a more active role in putting together?
Answer: I have forgotten the names of the previous
drummer, bass player and guitarist. I think Ed actually did a few gigs
before Steve and I joined but there was just a short period of time between
us all joining.
Question: In 1987 a former member of the "earlier, heavier" line-up put an add in the Atlanta paper saying that he'd moved to Georgia and was auditioning people to restart the band. I called. He had a lot of sour grapes, that I'd like you to address. He claimed that his line-up had co-written and recorded New Clear Days but that David Fenton had used a legal manuver to get everything in his name. So they quit and he gradually replaced them and their replacements with members of "the road crew." I thought it was just the complaints of somebody who lost out just before the band hit the big time, but I'd like to hear what you have to say.
Answer: There was never any dispute over Dave having written all of the songs. None of the band had anything to do with being roadies - we just played in different bands beforehand. Dave wrote some excellent songs, all that was needed was good musicians to play them. The earlier line-up which I saw a couple of times were pretty good, they might have made it anyway but they decided to leave. I think the guitarist may have been asked to leave but I'm not sure about that.
Follow up: Did all four of you remain the line up until the last show in San Fransisco or were some of the members replaced?
Answer: From the first demos that got us the record
deal to the last gig in San Francisco the lineup was the same, us four
Question: How was your working relationship with David Fenton and the other members?
Answer: We all got on very well. In trying to explain
things as they were there's been a misunderstanding about the relationship
between Dave and the rest of the band, so if you've read that there were
any problems, that's rubbish.
Question: How did you write the songs, did you work on them together or did Dave Fenton bring most them in pretty much complete?
Answer: From the time I joined probably about 10
songs were already written. Nevertheless these changed prior to recording.
The other songs came from messing around with musical ideas mostly from
Dave, but also from Ed and Steve and then Dave would come up with the words.
Question: How did your association with the Jam begin?
Answer: Our association with the Jam came from
Bruce Foxton seeing the band playing one night in a local pub. Steve gave
him a demo tape and it all started happening from there....
Question: How did it feel to be unknown playing small clubs, then touring internationally, then off of the charts in such a short time?
Answer: It did feel strange with things happening
so quickly. In April 1979 we were struggling to get gigs, a year later
we were on Top of the Pops and at number 3 in the UK charts. It was such
a whirlwind that I don't think any of us had much time to think about it,
to be honest!
Question: Do you have any interesting tour stories you'd like to share?
Answer: I'd have to think about "tour stories". But it was a great adventure touring in the US and in Australia at that time.
Follow up: Now that you've had time to think about your great adventure I want your tour stories. Interesting people you met ...things that you did. What was the worst gig you ever played? The best gig?
Answer: I suppose we must have done about 200 live
shows in the 2 and a bit years. Although we headlined our own shows mostly
we also played gigs with some great bands - The Jam of course, and others
of that time. A band call The Records who I thought were pretty good who
we did a couple of gigs with. Stiff Little Fingers at the Hammersmith Palais
was the first big London gig we did. In Australia we were supported on
one gig by INXS who, as this was 1980, would I'm sure have been interesting
but I don't think we actually saw them. The Flaming Groovies, in San Francisco
a couple of times. Dexy's Midnight Runners and the Beat in one off gigs
in England. The time we played with Dexy's was at an EMI sales convention,
at a hotel near Heathrow and they obligingly let off the fire alarms which
meant all the guests had to file out of the building ! There was the occasional
pop star coming backstage at gigs, but the best part was meeting fans after
shows and having parties back at the hotel. We always had a party after
gigs resulting in us having about 2 hours sleep each night but it was worth
it you could catch up sleep while travelling. The travelling itself actually
gets you down after a while, but the fact that you are travelling around
visiting great places is a great feeling.
Question: As a big fan, I think that your songs
are deeper than most bands. Ironically I think one of the reasons that
you couldn't successfully follow up Turning Japanese was that people
who didn't get past the chorus mistook you guys for a novelty act.
Answer: I think it is true that the big success of Turning Japanese handicapped the band. There are a lot of good other songs recorded, but Turning Japanese did have a slight bubblegum attitude to it and that may have put a few people off checking out the other records.
Follow up: Everybody I know who's really listened to both CD's is hooked!!
Answer: Great, did I get the compilation right
then or missed a couple of better songs ?
Question: After you left the band. What did you do the next day? The next week. Did you start another band or did you get out of music? What have you been doing with yourself since? Any details, any interesting stories?
Answer: When the band broke up I realised I'd been really lucky to have been in a successful band and decided to give up playing but stay in the music business. I started at PRS in 1982 and am still here, moving up the ladder.
Follow up: Why did the band break up? Who made the decision to brake up the band and how did the others take it? Did you know at the time that the San Fransisco show would be your last or did you break up afterwords?
Question: We'd just come back off a good tour in
the US. We'd also just done Top of the Pops with "Jimmy Jones",
so in a way things were starting to improve. But we were getting on each
others nerves a bit. I got married in July (4th) and came back from California
earlier than the others who wanted to hang around for a bit. Ed was best
man at the wedding and Steve and Dave came. I think a deterioration in
relations with EMI and the fact that Dave's new songs weren't coming off
the production line quite like they had before led to some frustration
and consequently the split. I was round at Ed's flat when Dave called him
to saying he wanted out. That was it really.
Question: Are you still in touch with any of the other members of the band or do you know what they've been up to since?
Answer: I still see Ed occasionally. The others
I haven't seen for a few years.
Question: As far as your discography we have two LPs and a half a dozen B-sides. We're starved for more material. Are there any other Vapors recordings inexistence? Or, any other recordings featuring you or any other members of the band in other settings? The guy from the "earlier, heavier line up" also claimed that New Clear Days was the second album, he said the first was simply titled The Vapors, I've never heard of this from anyother source. Does it exist?
Answer: In putting together the compilation CD
for EMI I chose quite a few b-side songs, and my personal favourites from
the singles and albums. There are a few other songs besides these but if
you have all the vinyl then you have almost everything that we recorded.
There was no earlier album called the Vapors.
Question: What are the lyrics to Wasted? I love that song. But I can't figure it out.
Answer: I don't know the lyrics to Wasted,
although it was one of my favourite songs and that's why it's on the EMI
Question: I, of course, cannot conclude without asking this question. Will you ever get back together and write some new great songs for us?
Answer: I talked to Ed last year about this, and
he probably would I think given the right circumstances. I don't think
I would and I'm not sure about the other two. EMI asked me whether we would
be interested in doing Turning Japanese live for VH1 to tie in with
the compilation release. I said, ask the others and didn't hear back from
them about it.
Question: Why the name the Vapors?
Answer: Dave wanted a name which was a bit ethereal
Question: What was the story about not featuring America and Cold War on the U.S version of New Clear Days ?
Answer: It was just a case of the label deciding
that they wanted a couple of changes for the US release. I have a copy
of the Japanese New Clear Days which has more photos on an inner
insert, which is quite interesting. Maybe someone it was the Iran thing
going on in the early eighties, I can't think of any other reason.
Question: Do you know of any more "odd" promos, like the Turning Japanese White Vinyl rectangular 7 X 10" Single, or 12" Jimmie Jones 33 1/3 rpm?
Answer: I'm surprised you've got these ! They are
the only promo specials that I've seen...
Question: Are there any Live Vapors recordings lying around waiting for us to hear them.......
Answer: I've got a couple of tapes, I'd like to
have them released properly...I'll be contacting EMI to see if they are
interested and if not whether they would license them for release by another
Question: Galleries for guns sounds like it was done "live" in studio, Who's playing the piano at the end?
Answer: It was Steve playing piano at the end of the song. There was always the temptation to add instruments in the studio, and even I had a go on congas and a steel drum on a couple of songs.