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Steve Zodiac / The Vardis NWOBHM journey to The 100 Club

Vardis released their debut album 100 M.P.H. in 1980. Entering at number 52 in the U.K. album charts, the record would become a foundation block in the New Wave Of British Heavy Metal, propelling the band to even greater heights. To this day, the live recorded L.P., guaranteed no overdubs, is considered an old school Heavy Metal Classic.

Vardis: 100 M.P.H.@100 Club (Steamhammer/SPV)

Release Date: Out Now

Vardis guitarist/vocalist Steve Zodiac, from his home in Greece, spoke with MetalTalk’s Steve Ritchie, as the band were unleashing 100 M.P.H. @100 Club, the new live landmark album recorded at London’s historic 100 Club on 13 March 2020.

“The 100 Club was the only venue back in the day that we never played in London,” Steve Zodiac told MetalTalk. “I mean, we did every venue in London over that sort of five/six-year period from ’78 to ’86, and that one gig stuck out as the one I’d never done. Yet my heroes from yesteryear have all played it, Chuck Berry or the Stones, all these great blues players. I think in the ’70s, it was seen as a punk/new wave sort of venue.”

Vardis - 100 MPH at the 100 Club cover
Vardis – 100 M.P.H at the 100 Club.

It was with great foresight that Zodiac arranged the 100 Club gig when he did, as the U.K. was about to roll into that first devastating lockdown. “I was offered two dates in March, Friday the 13th and Saturday the 14th,” Zodiac said. “Saturday night is the night for fighting, but Friday 13th just made me focus. But for us, it was bloody lucky because, on the 14th, all of London town and the rest of the country started full lockdown. I flew back to Greece on the 16th, and any later than that, we just wouldn’t have got out at all.”

The seed had been sown in Steve Zodiac’s mind for 100 M.P.H at The 100 Club some years earlier. “When we got back together for the reunion thing in 2014, I didn’t want to play the track 100 M.P.H,” he said. “It was bad enough trying to learn all the other songs after 27 years out of the game, and the 100 M.P.H song just seemed too much of a daunting prospect at that time.

“But I thought, if I do ever play that track live, well it will have to be at the 100 Club because I just like the wing of it, you know, and it just sat there in the back of my mind for ages and ages.” The 100 Club was somewhere “a lot of Metal bands and a lot of traditional rock bands never bothered with,” Steve says. “It was always the Marquee as THE the club, for rock bands anyway. So we never did it.”

Working with bassist Roly Bailey and drummer Joe Clancy gave Zodiac the motivation and desire to move ahead. “Vardis are very free form in a lot of ways,” Steve says. “We have the songs and the structure, but when we are live, we like to go off on the old school sort of freeform. Roly and Joe are into that, and we have this nice chemistry going. I said, you know what would be nice to have a crack at, is this 100 M.P.H thing at the 100 Club.”

Vardis - 100 MPH at the 100 Club cover
Steve Zodiac, Vardis

Steve Zodiac did not realise he wanted to be a musician until he skipped school with a couple of friends to see The Woodstock Movie. “Alvin Lee, and that man at the end, doing the Star-Spangled Banner. I looked at that, and I thought I have got to learn how to play the guitar. I have to do it.”

With personal family problems in Steve’s life at that time, the guitar proved the perfect tool and inspiration to bring focus. “It became an obsession. I literally practised every day, and I say this now to anybody that wants to learn to play the guitar. It’s like learning a language. If you do a little bit every day, you’ll get there. It might take two or three or four years, but you will get there.”

Family records of Little Richard and Elvis and B. B. King, though the ’60s and ’70s of T-Rex, The Faces, Sweet, Slade, Purple, Sabbath pushed Steve to “sit in my room and try to figure out what was going on.”

Steve and his friend Andy met a neighbour, Eric Stockley and those Tuesday evening lessons helped feed Steve’s obsession. “I always wrote words, though. I always had poetry in my head and melody, but I don’t know where that came from. Maybe something in my childhood triggered that.

“I’ve always written songs, looking back, and especially on acoustic guitar. When I get with the guys and crank up the amp and flash it out, it turns into this rock ‘n’ roll Metal or punk, whatever you want to call it. That’s how it worked, really, from then on. I never looked back.”

Vardis - 100 M.P.H cover
Vardis – 100 M.P.H – 1980

The Vardis history goes back to ’73. They released an E.P. and made the independent charts before there was a British Heavy Metal scene. Did it seem like a scene at the time? “Not really,” Zodiac says. “I think then, if you had long hair, you listened to all types of music. The Stranglers, Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, or whatever it was. There were people who were into all music, not just heavy rock.

“The music press wanted to pigeonhole everything into sections, and I did not. I actually have a lot of admiration for the punk movement, on reflection. I think it was necessary.”

Punk was edgy, rock ‘n’ roll with an attitude and Steve thinks it brought a new concept of understanding the music, a do it yourself philosophy. “The concept that you could go to a record pressing plant and knock out a few hundred records,” Steve says, “was a whole new understanding of the record business.

“There used to be a great company called Pinnacle Records. We made our record, pressed it and got them to distribute it. That is how it got into the indie charts and got noticed, but without the punks breaking the glass ceiling on the major labels, we would have had no chance.”

Returning home from playing a gig one Friday night, the band turned on BBC Radio and John Peel to hear their song playing. Peel had made it the record of the week, and he kept playing Vardis songs. “I love that idea that he took chances,” Steve says. “He backed so many artists who were unknown, and a lot of them went on to be well known, and some even great.”

1980 and Vardis played the infamous Heavy Metal Barn Dance in Bingley Hall, with Motörhead, Saxon, Girlschool and Angel Witch. A memorable session on the Friday Rock Show also happened. “Tommy Vance and Tony Wilson, what great guys,” Steve says. “They were enthusiasts, and I keep using that word, but it is important. Without that enthusiasm for rock music, I really do think this is where the music business goes astray, and that’s why certain individuals in the music business cause problems, as they did for me in the end.”

In ’82, Steve was on the Sounds Magazine World Top 15 Guitarists list. A UK tour with Slade and a headline European tour supporting the Quo Vardis album was to follow. A quote that the record label wanted Steve to sound more like Van Halen jumps out at the time things started to turn to crap. As some might say, the band were then chewed up and spat out by the record industry.

“That was partly, I think, this idea that unless you get onto the sort of mega level, the pressure they apply to push you into that mega level is counterproductive,” Steve says.

Photo of Lemmy
Lemmy, Motörhead.

“That’s where Lemmy and I had a good understanding. He used to say Motörhead are rock ‘n’ roll, I’m a rock ‘n’ roll bass player, and I was the same in my attitude.”

Steve’s wife Irene worked closely with Motörhead in PR at that time. “It was a real struggle for them to get recognised in those days because they did not slot easily into these pigeonholes that we now know. They just seemed to want to do that to everybody. That’s why, in a way, I have a lot of respect for punk music because that attitude of punk is really part of the Vardis thing.”

Kevin Riddles, from Angel Witch, recently told MetalTalk how pleased he is that people still talk about the bands from the old days, and plenty of people still talk about Vardis. Is Steve proud?

“It’s incredibly humbling in a way,” Steve agrees. “When I walked out on the music industry in ’86, I think I had completely switched off from it because I knew my direction and what I was trying to do. I moved completely away from the music industry as it was.”

Zodiac moved to education, developing sound engineering courses with City and Guilds, BTech and Westminster University at degree level.

As a creative, was it difficult for Steve to be away from creating music? “I never stopped writing,” he says. “I never stopped putting pen to paper and twiddling around on the acoustic, but with no real ambition to do anything with it.

“I was actually still being very creative because outside of the BBC really, in those days, there was no way you could get trained to be a sound engineer.”

Steve did not stay in touch with anyone from Vardis, and with no social media presence, it was only when he had to create a LinkedIn profile for the City and Guilds that drummer Gary Person got in touch.

Having resurrected the band, Steve says it is a lot more fun than the two or three years leading up to ’86. “There was a lot more manipulation going on then,” Steve says, “but now I do it because I feel I need to do it again, and I am enjoying it. I actually believe the energy of rock music is timeless.”

Steve tested his theory when the band played the Uprising Festival at Leicester O2 with Napalm Death. “There were all these younger bands there and the Nu Metal scene,” Steve says. “I was asked to play it, and I said I would love to play to a non-nostalgic audience to see what would happen and would they go for it. And, by God, did they. I thought this is what rock ‘n’ roll is about because it’s infectious.”

Terry Horbury, Vardis
Terry Horbury, Vardis

The album Red Eye was released in 2016 and was a well-received success in a very difficult time, with Terry Horbury’s terminal illness. “I have no idea how Joe and I got through that period,” Steve says. “To see Terry literally disappearing in front of our eyes over a very short period, towards the finishing of the album, was heartbreaking. He was such a lovely fellow, a true pro and a true, genuinely nice man.”

The backing tracks were completed, and there was more that both Steve and Terry wanted to do vocally. There were delays, “SPV were fantastic, they did not pressure me,” but the album was finally finished and released.

But for Steve, with the loss of Terry, he still sees it in some ways as unfinished. “But, I still love the album,” Steve says. “It stands apart in its own way as hard-rocking, again, that diversity in the sound. I was getting more bluesy, and my voice has obviously matured from the old days.”

Red Eye stands as a solid memorial to Terry Horbury. “I have to say to anybody out there that’s my age or pushing 60, get that screening done,” Steve says.

The new 100 M.P.H, live at The 100 Club, is a fantastic listen; the recording quality puts you almost in the room.

“Ethically speaking, we had to play the whole of the 100 M.P.H album, and a lot of the tracks we had not done live since ’85. It was a real challenge to learn the complete album. But then, to make it of real value and real progress for this band, to show that we are pushing the Vardis sound, I wanted to play a selection from all the other bits and bobs over the years that we’ve done.”

The show evolved into a two-hour set to run over a double album. Joe Clancy, “a brilliant engineer,” pointed out that not many live albums are released from one gig, as usually, it is from a number of shows or a full tour.

“When I look back,” Steve says, “I sure the original 100 M.P.H album was from a couple of gigs. In retrospect, that put a lot of pressure, especially on Joe and Roly, to really go for it. But I think the ‘guaranteed no overdubs’ sticker helped.”

The atmosphere of the evening is captured beautifully in the recording. With people also travelling to the gig from Europe, and at a time where there was little guidance from the powers that be over the impending COVID-19 problems, there was almost a feeling that this could be the last gig for many people for some time.

“You could sense that there was a mood in the country,” Steve says, “and the whole world that, yeah, this could get really bad for everybody. As we know now, it did for over a year in terms of lockdown for all of us.

“We went on stage a 9 pm and came off at 11 pm. We were probably the last live music to walk off stage for the next 14 months, and you could sense it was a special night for those guys who turned up. They were up for it, and we were up for it. We thought, yes, let’s do it.”

Vardis - At The 100 Club, London
Vardis at The 100 Club

When I mentioned to people that I was to interview Steve, most said, “Wow, what a great guitarist he is.” On this latest live album, there is perfect evidence of that and Vardis fans, both old and new, all have a special place in Steve’s heart. “Thank you for all your support,” Steve says, “and I hope you enjoy the 100 M.P.H album as much we did recording it, and I’m sure if you enjoyed the original 100 M.P.H, you will definitely enjoy this one. I am pretty confident of that. In fact, I can guarantee it.”

Having lived in Greece for a few years now, where his wife’s family are from, Steve Zodiac is the epitome of someone who lives his life by the morals and values of the music he loves and is inspired by.

How do you successfully negotiate punk and ageing? The correct answer, apparently, is to move to the Dodecanese islands.

Double CD DigiPak and 2LP Gatefold, 140 g, black vinyl from smarturl.it/VardisLive

Exclusive CD/LP Bundle with a shirt only at the Steamhammer shop shop.steamhammer.de/artists/vardis/store

100 M.P.H – Tracklisting:

CD1
1. Out Of The Way 3:10
2. Steaming Along 3:21
3. Paranoia Strikes 2:10
4. Situation Negative (Boogie Blitz) 5:37
5. Red Eye 3:41
6. Dirty Money 3:06
7. Mods & Rockers 5:25
8. Don’t Mess 2:55
9. Shoot Straight 4:22
10. Move Along 5:35

CD2
1. Destiny 3:05
2. The Lion’s Share 3:04
3. Radio Rockers 3:38
4. The Loser 5:47
5. Head Of The Nail 3:45
6. Jolly Roger 4:33
7. Let’s Go Again 3:21
8. 100mph (I won’t Go To Hell) 9:15
9. If I Were King 5:20
10. Living Out Of Touch (encore) 3:17

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