The Vapors

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This article is about the band. For the archaic illness, see Vapours (disease). For other uses, see Vapors.
The Vapors
The Vapors.jpg
The Vapors, 1980. Left to right: Edward Bazalgette, David Fenton, Steve Smith, Howard Smith
Background information
Origin Guildford, Surrey, England
Genres New wave,[1] power pop[2]
Years active 1978–1982, 2016–present
Labels United Artists, Liberty
Members David Fenton
Edward Bazalgette
Steve Smith
Michael Bowes
Past members Howard Smith
Bob Heard

The Vapors are an English new wave and power pop band that initially existed between 1978 and 1982. They had a top ten hit with the song "Turning Japanese" in 1980, which reached No. 3 in the UK Singles Chart,[3] and No. 36 in the US Billboard Hot 100.



Based in Guildford, Surrey, an early version of the band was playing the Three Lions pub in Farncombe when The Jam's bassist Bruce Foxton spotted them. The familiar line-up of David Fenton (songwriter, lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist), Howard Smith (drummer), Edward Bazalgette (lead guitarist) and Steve Smith (bass guitarist and vocals) took shape before Foxton offered the band a few gigs and agreed to jointly manage them with John Weller (father of Paul Weller).[1] The Vapors were then offered a prestigious slot supporting The Jam on the Setting Sons tour in 1979.

The band signed to United Artists, releasing their first single, "Prisoners" at the end of 1979; but it failed to chart. Their second single is the song for which the group is best remembered. "Turning Japanese", was produced by The Jam's producer Vic Coppersmith-Heaven. It reached the top three in the UK at the same time that "Going Underground" was at number one. It was also a top ten hit in Canada and New Zealand and reached the top of the charts in Australia. It scraped into the top 40 in the US, something The Jam never managed to achieve.

"Turning Japanese" was believed to euphemistically refer to masturbation,[4] although Fenton (the song's author) denied that claim in an interview on VH1. He did, however, say he wished to thank whoever first came up with that interpretation, as he felt that the salacious rumour about what the song "really" meant may have been what made it a hit.

Follow-up singles "News at Ten" and "Jimmie Jones" both peaked at number 44 in the UK Singles Chart.[3]

The band released two albums: New Clear Days (the pun on "nuclear" being intentional) and Magnets. The first was more clearly in the "traditional" new wave style of music, while touching on social issues such as the nuclear threat as well as love themes. The second album was more lyrically varied, with themes including alienation and many dark lyrics about apparently psychotic characters, including the opening track, "Jimmie Jones", which name-checked cult leader Jim Jones. Sales of the second album were poor and the band broke up soon after its release in 1982.[1] Fenton alleged in a later interview with Record Collector magazine that lack of record label support was the chief reason; apparently their intended seventh single "Red Flag" was cancelled without explanation.

Of note is that the band's two Smiths were unrelated; the group's name was originally spelled "Vapours", but they removed the u to seem like an American band; and record producer Harry Cowell was the band's drum tech for a while.


After 34 years of inactivity, on 30 April 2016, Dave Fenton, Ed Bazelgette and Steve Smith took to the stage at the Half Moon in Putney. With a guest drummer standing in for Howard Smith they played Turning Japanese and then left the stage. Rumours of a reunion were rife and on 10 June a short four-date tour in October and November was announced on the band's new Facebook page. With Howard Smith unable to tour, Michael Bowes stepped in on drums.

Following the success of the shows in Dublin, London, Liverpool and Wolverhampton further dates were announced for 2017, including an appearance at the Rebellion Festival in Blackpool.

The band[edit]

The musical journey didn't end for frontman Dave Fenton when the band went their separate ways in 1982. He eventually returned to the legal profession in the early 90's, concentrating on the legal aspects of the music industry and from 1999 spent the next 17 years as a London-based in-house solicitor for the Musicians’ Union.[5][6]

Edward Bazalgette is a television director. His credits include a 2005 BBC documentary about Genghis Khan and two episodes of Doctor Who in 2015.[7][8]

For many years Howard Smith ran an independent record shop, People Records in Guildford, the band's home town.[9][10] Steve Smith formed Shoot!Dispute with friends from the Ubz who managed to do two John Peel sessions, a Janice Long session and also played at John Peels week at the ICA. They also toured as support to Bruce Foxton. Following that Smith joined London Rap/Rock band 1ST who appeared on MTVs rap show YO


Studio albums[edit]

Title Album details Peak chart positions
New Clear Days 44 41 25 62
Magnets 39 109
"—" denotes releases that did not chart

Compilation albums[edit]

Title Album details
Turning Japanese:
The Best of the Vapors
  • Release date: 1996
  • Label: EMI Records
  • Formats: CD, cassette
  • Release date: 7 April 1998
  • Label: Collectables
  • Formats: CD, cassette
The Best of the Vapors
  • Release date: 5 August 2003
  • Label: EMI Records
  • Formats: CD


Year Single Peak chart positions Certifications
(sales threshold)
US Dance
US Main
1979 "Prisoners" New Clear Days
1980 "Turning Japanese" 3 7 9 36 34 1
"News at Ten" 44
1981 "Waiting for the Weekend"
"Jimmie Jones" 44 39 Magnets
1982 "Spiders"
"Isolated Case"
"Civic Hall"
"—" denotes releases that did not chart


  1. ^ a b c Stephen Thomas Erlewine. "The Vapors | Biography". AllMusic. Retrieved 6 August 2014. 
  2. ^ Larkin, Colin, ed. (2006). "The Vapors". Encyclopedia of Popular Music (4th ed.). Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-531373-9. 
  3. ^ a b c Roberts, David (2006). British Hit Singles & Albums (19th ed.). London: Guinness World Records Limited. p. 582. ISBN 1-904994-10-5. 
  4. ^ Stewart Mason. "Turning Japanese – The Vapors | Listen, Appearances, Song Review". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  5. ^ Jake, McDade. "MUSIC LAWYER DAVID FENTON". Retrieved 22 March 2015. 
  6. ^ Wyatt, Malcolm. "Waiting for The Vapors Return - The Dave Fenton Interview". writewyattuk. Malcolm Wyatt. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  7. ^ "Edward Bazalgette". Retrieved 2015-09-13. 
  8. ^ Wyatt, Malcolm. "Back and Beyond with the Vapors - The Ed Bazelgette Interview". writewyattuk. Malcolm Wyatt. Retrieved 22 November 2016. 
  9. ^ "Venue". Record Store Day. Retrieved 2015-09-29. 
  10. ^ "Howard Smith". Retrieved 2015-09-29. 
  11. ^ "Chart Stats – The Vapors". Chart Stats. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  12. ^ "Results – RPM – Library and Archives Canada – Top Albums/CDs". RPM. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  13. ^ "New Zealand charts portal". Hung Medien. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  14. ^ a b c "The Vapors | Awards". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 January 2014. 
  15. ^ "Results – RPM – Library and Archives Canada – Top Singles". RPM. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  16. ^ "New Zealand charts portal". Hung Medien. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  17. ^ "The Vapors Album & Song Chart History – Hot 100". Billboard. Prometheus Global Media. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 
  18. ^ "BPI Searchable Database". British Phonographic Industry. Retrieved 18 August 2011. 

External links[edit]