British ‘Punk’ Films: Awaydays v. Bombed Out.
The Poster for Awaydays.
I recently watched a British Independent film called Awaydays, which stars a highly bankable Liverpool actor, Stephen Graham, who also brilliantly played Al Capone in HBO’s Atlantic Boardwalk.
Awaydays has been described as a coming of age film, taking place in the Punk era (at the start of the film it establishes the action as taking place in “November 1979”). The film tells the story of a crew of violent football hooligans in Liverpool, over a superb soundtrack including Joy Division, Echo & The Buynnymen and (pre-Midge Ure) Ultravox; all bands I saw in the real Eric’s Club, which is also depicted in the film.
It’s on the basis of its soundtrack, gritty Liverpool story line, the 1979 date and even using the locations of Probe Records and Eric’s Club that I’m classifying it as a Punk film for the purposes of this article. (And I’m calling my Bombed Out screenplay a film, as that is what I soon intend it to be!)
Awaydays had been highly recommended, mostly on account of the soundtrack, although it had also been heavily criticised by other people I know. I didn’t watch the film while I was writing the book and screenplay for Bombed Out, as I didn’t want to be influenced by the work of others.
Some scenes in Awaydays are set in Eric’s Club, where I was a member and played many times, so I was particularly interested to see how they had presented the club. In the Bombed Out film, which is a fictionalized account of the real story in my book, I veered away from properly naming anything, to underline its role as fiction, but obviously a fictionalized Eric’s and Probe feature in mine too.
Awaydays received some bad reviews, but that didn’t stop me looking forward to watching it recently.
What did I think?
I have to answer that question from two perspectives, which lead to totally different answers.
1. As a former musician, member of Eric’s and a Punk, who still loves the music of the time.
With this hat on, I thought the film as a representation of the Liverpool Punk period and Eric’s club was pretty terrible. To see a mock-up of Eric’s with a fucking glitter ball raised my hackles.
Why do that?
The band onstage also grated. The singer looked like he’d got the wrong club and should have been in the (then-flattened) Cavern across the road with the Beatles, even though they were playing a cover of an early Echo & The Bunnymen song.
Seeing the drummer on a high drum platform also caused a moment of wonder, as that definitely wasn’t the case with Erics’ real-life tiny drum platform (See Cramps photo above).
They got the local feel for the club right though, with the red colouring, brickwork and the arches etc.
The Probe records scene where a Pete Burns-styled character gets headbutted by the protagonist also jarred. Back then Pete Burns would not have gone down without a massive fight, which he was likely to have won on his own turf.
And then there was the real problem for me. Two problems actually.
Football Hooliganism and Punk
Shoe-horning 1980s football casuals into the Eric’s and Punk scene of 1979 really pissed me off. Eric’s closed in March 1980 (my band, Nightmares in Wax, played the penultimate show), and at that date footy casuals were not the regular clientele – or I was never aware of seeing them, and I was down there a lot. I am happy to be persuaded otherwise if people have photographic evidence (it would be interesting social history).
But certainly from my own memories of living in Liverpool at this time and the early 1980s, the football fighting crew as dressed in this film were a later sartorial arrival.
Stuffed with music I love, I actually felt the soundtrack was inappropriate for a lot of the film. It preceded the era depicted in the film (I mean the early 1980s even though it said it was set in November 1979) by a couple of years. OK, it doesn’t mean these kids weren’t listening to it some years later, of course, but it was still discordant for me, looking at the 1980s styles in the film over a Punk and New Wave soundtrack from 1979, pretending it was all happening at the same time.
But only a tiny fraction of people in the world would criticize these things. Most were not there, and wouldn’t give a shit. It’s just that I was there and I do give a shit.
I was really impressed by the music they were able to get together for the film’s soundtrack. I read a great article by the writer/producer, Kevin Sampson, about how they went about securing that amazing selection of tracks on a measly GBP 10,000 music budget.
Sometimes the soundtrack worked beautifully to set the mood and tone of the film, but not often enough for me; although I can definitely understand why they’d include the music they’d been allowed to use.
Music-wise, I could never hope to get a budget that would buy me all the Punk and New Wave tracks I would want on a best-case basis for Bombed Out, but I have something else. Former Liverpool Punk and New Wave band musicians who have already collaborated with me on musical ideas for the film, which would give it a massively authentic musical feel.
2. As a Filmmaker, who is trying to get his own film of the time, Bombed Out, made.
Once I realized the low-budget nature of the film (in the UK, its budget of GBP 1,000,000 rates as a low budget film), I became much more appreciative of it and the way it was shot in particular. The producers had to recreate a feel of early late ’70s early ’80s Liverpool on a shoestring, and I felt Awaydays did this superbly.
In the opening credits I quickly spotted something: a boat sunk in a dock. This told me the film-makers had used a location I too would use for Bombed out, namely Birkenhead docks.
I walked around the same area when I was back in Liverpool recently, camera in hand, and thought: “This would make a fantastic location for some of Bombed Out.” Clearly the Awaydays producers thought the same.
I also saw a swing bridge and other features in the Birkenhead docks area in the film, as well as a great view of the Liverpool riverfront from there, all of which had made me think about using them for Bombed Out on my recent locations hunt.
Awaydays isn’t really a Punk film, regardless of its soundtrack and the depictions of Eric’s, Probe Records and the purported date of 1979. In contrast Bombed Out will most definitely be a Punk film.
Bombed Out as A Punk Film.
The story in Bombed Out is actually set in the Liverpool Punk and New Wave music scene, and will be the first proper British film about Punk. Its unusual take on the Punk movement – its positivity, creativity and (above all) the Empowerment of Punk described in Bombed Out will make it a more authentic homage to the music and to the time.
So in conclusion, I’m really happy to have finally watched Awaydays, and was massively impressed with what the filmmakers achieved on such a small budget. It gives me hope that I can get Bombed Out made too.
Watch this space…
Buy a signed copy of Bombed Out! here: http://www.bombedoutpunk.com/buybook.php