Awaydays tells the story of Carty and his entry into a mob of young Birkenhead proto ‘casuals’ called the Pack who follow the fortunes of a unnamed Merseyside football team that is clearly Tranmere Rovers.
The provincial setting makes a refreshing change from the usual well ‘ard Cockney geezers dishing out beatings before and after a match. The film also attempts to go beyond any simple Scallies with Stanleys storyline and the fight scenes actually always manage to push the plot forward. The two lead characters, Carty and Elvis are far more developed by screenwriter Kevin Sampson than the usual one dimensional booze, birds and battling types normally portrayed in this kind of thing and their complex friendship actually takes centre stage over the aggro.
Carty is an art school dropout and a regular on guest lists at the local cool clubs, Elvis is enigmatic, charismatic and temperamental and realises the futility of the Pack lifestyle. He’s also very probably gay.
Together they spout hazy philosophy, buy Bowie bootlegs and talk about moving to Berlin. And not just to team up with some German hoolies.
The film is uneven and occasionally suffers from its meagre budget, although not the soundtrack. Amazingly enough, the money set aside for music by film production company Red Union, only stretched to ten grand and as someone who briefly worked in film and television, I’m amazed that they secured so many top flight tracks with so little cash, securing as they did the likes of Echo and The Bunnymen, The Cure and Joy Division.
Not only does the music sound great but it is also used with a fair amount of flair.
There’s a great sequence where the Pack turn a corner to face an older, scruffy crew and then proceed to punch, slash, kick and headbutt them into submission, which is accompanied by The Light Pours Out of Me by Magazine. Somehow it works perfectly.
The music of Ultravox! runs through the spine of Awaydays and is used most effectively as the film opens (it’s also reprised later) where Carty, on a visit to the grave of his dead mother, suddenly realises he is late for something else. He rushes over to some bushes, changes in a matter of seconds into a green cagoule, jeans and pristine white trainers and goes on the sort of run often described by sports commentators as lung bursting.
To catch a football special train which the Pack are just about to board on their way to one of their many awaydays.
And these scenes are cut to the fantastically thrilling Young Savage, a hyperventilating three minute classic released early in the summer 1977.
Today, of course, Ultravox, are remembered by most of the British public as a Live Aid act, a multi-million selling band who during the 80s scored an incredible seventeen top 40 singles in Britain, the most successful of these being Vienna from 1981. But Vienna and all the albums that followed mean nothing to me as my interest in the band ended with the departure of John Foxx.
The band started out as Tiger Lily, a post glam outfit whose first official gig was at the Marquee supporting The Heavy Metal Kids. A year or so later they released a single originally intended for one of those awful softest of soft core sex comedies that were strangely popular in Britain at the time, a version of the song made famous by Fats Waller, Ain’t Misbehavin’, though George Melly’s take on the song eventually replaced their efforts on that particular film. Within a year or so of that they had morphed into Ultravox!, the exclamation mark referencing Neu!.
Like the still underground punks, Ultravox! were fed up with the ocean (topographic or otherwise) of meandering and obtuse progressive rock of the day and they initially concentrated on writing a set of short songs that fused some of the best pre-70s pop from Roy Orbison to the Velvets with Roxy Music, David Bowie and Krautrock.
Early in ’77, their first release Dangerous Rhythm, was hailed by Sounds as the best and most confident debut single since Anarchy in the UK although many other critics were quick to sneer at their efforts and no real critical consensus was reached on their self titled debut album. As most groups did at the time, Ultravox! quickly re-entered the studio and began recording album #2, Ha!-Ha!-Ha!.
Unlike many of their contemporaries, this was an LP that was actually better than their first, an adventurous collection of songs that took inspiration from the recent past (the aforementioned art school glam and krautrock), the present (punk) and also looked forward to electronic synthpop, album closer Hiroshima Mon Amour being one of the earliest tracks by any British band to feature a drum machine.
Again like most groups of the time, a single was released from the recording sessions that didn’t find a place on to the album. This was Young Savage, which in Sounds, Tim Lott summed up thus: ‘One tone vocal over double shift RNR rhythm, sharp point classic new wave, acid brilliant guitar break energy injection power chorus 78 rpm cocaine brain speed cocktail ZOOOOOOOM!’
There’s not a lot I feel I can add to that description.
Introduced by Annie Nightingale on The Old Grey Whistle Test this is a song that also features on the Awaydays soundtrack, Slow Motion from the Conny Plank produced 1978 album, Systems of Romance, by which point Ultravox! had become Ultravox: