Anyone up for listening to a mostly-forgotten NWOBHM power boogie trio from Wakefield? I knew it! Just pull up a chair, grab a pint of bitter* and ceremonially take your shirt off while I cue up Vardis 100 MPH. Now relax, lean into that headwind and thrill to the raw sound of 1980 and a genuine guitar hero wielding his axe.
I became aware of Vardis long before I’d ever even heard of the likes of Yorkshire’s more famous sons Saxon and Def Leppard. When I was 14 my dad was looking after a box of records for a friend who was in the process of moving away and I explored them**. I was drawn to 100 MPH by the band’s logo, which is a good one – I had no idea what an overdub was back then, or whether a total lack of them was a good thing, or not. I played it a couple of times and taped the title track for dissemination on mix tapes I made for fellow rockers and that was that.
I picked up my current, slightly tatty, copy about 4 years ago and I have been playing it at slightly increasing intervals ever since.
Recorded live in 1980 at the metal meccas of Slough and Lowestoft 100 MPH was a great calling card, showing a tough confident band playing out fast and hard. I believe them when they say there were no overdubs, but I suspect that there may well have been some other tinkering going on^ since the levels remain suspiciously constant despite being taped between three different gigs and nary a bum note, or an indistinct vowel across all 11 tracks.
Whatever. Does it rock? I think you know the answer to that one. Vardis’ sound isn’t quite the metal you might expect, rather it is a tough Quo^* boogie, powered by Gary Pearsons’s drumming and Alan Selway’s supple bass playing. What elevated from the pack though, then and now, was the undoubted star power of one Steve Zodiac – the all-Wakefield Johnny Winter-lookalike contest winner (1977-83). He was a hell of a guitarist – every bit as flashy and loud as you could ever want; more importantly this was a man who would rather than die than submit to the Tyranny of Shirts^^.
100 MPH is sadly not the great lost rock album we are all trying to find, it’s a bit more human and flawed than that. When it’s good, it can be great big uncomplicated, axle-grease-flavoured, tough fun – witness opener ‘Out Of The Way’, the mean ‘Situation Negative’ and ‘Living Out Of Touch’; my listening notes for the latter read ‘Good, attacking noogie’, WTF?! ‘Destiny’ has a fucking great biting riff, trust me, I’m a doctor.
Unfortunately though, certain tracks stretch the nascent band’s compositional skills a bit too far, take the average ‘Lion’s Share’ and the title track which has some great guitar but not enough tune.
But let’s not get into a negative situation here, 100 MPH is a decidedly ballsy, rocking debut and scientific proof that dudes without shirts on sound way better than those with. Plenty of bigger more successful bands would have killed for a slice of what Vardis had here on a shoestring budget.
The tides of success just never broke big for Vardis, I have yet to hear any of their studio efforts but the consensus is that were outshone by this live debut. So for now I’ll take this careening out of control LP for yet another spin around the block at an unsafe speed.
All hail Vardis! All hail noogie! All hail 100 MPH!
929 Down (without a shirt on).
PS: ‘Like wasp lightning in a bottle, grey’: If anyone can tell me what my notes for the track ‘Dirty Money’ mean I would be grateful. To me it sounds like a sentence about a picnic that has been computer translated into three random languages and then back into English.
*or a pint of heavy, for any northern barbarians tuning in.
**a signed copy of Killing Joke’s first LP, something by Splodgenessabounds and Alice Cooper Greatest Hits are the only other ones that I can remember.
^I would not be too shocked if there was a little bit of an Unleashed In The East thang going down here.
^*fitting, given that Vardis took their name from a misspelling of ‘Quo Vadis’. True story.
^^ToS for short. The capitals are all mine own.