Listening to Unknown Pleasures, Pink Flag or other post-punk staples, a fan of that genre would be forgiven for wishing they were back in that seminal era. Late 70s north-west England, downtrodden but full of visceral doggedness and a music scene that throbbed defiantly. Awaydays, a new indie film based on Kevin Sampson’s 1988 novel, will serve as a severe reality check for those dreamers.
Set in Tranmere, Merseyside in 1979, the film depicts a grey, grim and utterly hopeless northern England terrain peopled by pack males and their miserable, post-war dinosaur kinsmen. We are introduced to 19-year-old Paul Carty (Nicky Bell), from the right side of the tracks and seeking to sink his teeth into something more expressive than his job as a junior civil servant. He’s smart enough, artistic and good with the ladies, yet still needs the acceptance of the Pack, a gang of vicious football hooligans. Indoctrination comes after an encounter with gothy local lad and Pack stalwart Elvis (Liam Boyle) in Erics, a famed rock club (during a cameo by The Rascals). Elvis takes quite a shine to our Carty, setting in motion a peculiar bond which is as much characterised by a strong need for emotional companionship on Elvis’s part as it is by Paul’s desire to become a full-blown member of the Pack.
And so ensues a series of -awaydays’ in which Paul accompanies the Pack on train journeys to away matches. Once off the platform, the group engage in full-scale gang warfare with fans from the opposing team, and, remarkably, win each altercation. Very quickly, Paul becomes not only the most enthusiastic member, but also the most brutal, forcing Elvis to make half-arsed attempts to rein him in.
The film plays like a series of hard life lessons that our protagonist must overcome, amid a backdrop of confinement, dole queues and spilt blood. It’s not exactly what we need right now, and the emphasis on the musical landscape of the novel is a sideline to the football hooliganism. Tracks by Joy Division, Ultravox and Echo and The Bunnymen are used with varying impact, and even lift the mood once or twice, but other than that, Awaydays is heavy stuff, reliant on pathos and moody scenes of characters looking out over the Mersey rather than providing any real resolution or moral.
Released May 22