Awaydays author Kevin Sampson, Interview November 2007

As soon as Proper Magazine heard one of our favourite works of fiction was to finally make the leap onto the big screen we got straight on it. Having previously banged the drum for Awaydays to be turned into a film we were pleased to see it finally get the funding after several false starts. 

Wools at Awaydays film set

We got in touch with the author Kevin Sampson as soon as we heard the news and he kindly asked us down to the murky side of Merseyside – Birkenhead North Railway station – where we witnessed filming of one of the standout scenes in the film.

Months after our exclusive interview with Kevin the national press got on the Awaydays bandwagon and it was well received by the people about whom it was made – the casual fraternity. It – along with Nick Love’s remake of The Firm –  also spawned another generation of match-going young chaps with one eye on the opposing fans and the other eye on their trainers and their cagoules.
It’s rare that a film with such a tiny budget has been so influential to so many young men.

Anyway, the full version of this interview, plus our own exclusive pics are featured in Issue 4 of Proper. Have a little taste of what it’s all about below though…

Thanks for talking to us Kevin, I’ll be topical to start with. You’re in the middle of filming “Away Days”. I remember when I first read it thinking what a top film it’d make. It must be dead gratifying to see it come to full fruition on the big screen.

Gratifying is exactly the right word… it’s been a saga trying to get the film off the ground. Came close so many times, but ultimately TV and Film in the U.K is largely run by people who have no real interest in working class culture. As your Gran would say to you: “If you want something doing, do it yourself…” So we did.

Myself and the ex keyboard player from OMD, Dave Hughes (who wrote the film scores for Lock Stock and Snatch and, lately, that Hogfather on Sky) set up an IES, which is a government initiative to finance low-budget film in the U.K. Basically a tax loophole, where people can invest in a way that they’re nailed-on to make money. More or less. But yeah, I’m ecstatic. All those years of hurt, and now….

“Come ‘ead!! These want it!!”

Often when books are converted to film they lose something in translation or certain bits don’t work as well on the screen as they do on paper. Have you had to rewrite much? 

It’s not so much a case of re-writing as having to be fairly brutal about what stays in and what gets binned!

You have, more or less, 90 minutes to tell your story, so you have to quickly get right to the heart of what that story really is. Awaydays touches upon many things; it documents the early days of the only major British youth movement not to have started in London. It gives a flavour of how much it means to young males to belong – to have an identity, and be part of something that matters so much to them that they will go to extreme lengths to preserve it. But above all it’s a growing-up tale. It portrays one of those great, meaningful friendships that all 17 year-old lads have, but that always, sooner or later, have to come to an end.

That became the heart of the story for the film adaptation – the way that Carty and Elvis are bang into each other, inseparable, all-time bezzy mates…up to the point that something has to break.

Having seen a few shots from a recent bit of filming I was pleased to see that for once a film involving terrace culture at last had a clue how important the gear was and still is. Have you had problems sourcing certain stuff? 

By Jove, yes! Really, really tricky. There’s some stuff I can’t go into because of ongoing struggles with certain companies.

We wanted a simple, core ‘uniform’ of green Peter Storm smock cagoules (the ones that had the pouch zip, armpit to armpit); Fred Perry t-shirts; Slazenger v-necks; Lois straights; and Samba, Nastase and Forest Hills as the main trainies. That’s a strong, easily identifiable look, so you’ll always know who’s who… but without the help of loads of you lot from the various Casuals websites who have either lent, rented or sold us your swag – and without an unbelievable, massive and beyond-the-call of duty amount of input from Gary Aspden at adidas, we might have struggled to have got the lads’ look as good as it is now.

I’ve got to say, they look boss. We deliberately cast them dead young so that the contrast between how they look (dandies with tarts fringes) and how they act (brutal) is something of a shock. It’s how it was; I was one of the 90 on the Ordinary to Middlesbrough, August 1977 and the look on those men’s faces was a treat. They obviously fancied their chances – they were men with moustaches and tattoos – we probably looked like rent boys… but you could see real unease with them. They were looking round at each other, obviously dead confused… who are these puftas. The Liverpool lads of that era were mainly all small, and the wedge haircuts made us look easy. Then you’d run at them and they genuinely were flummoxed.

I told our director that story, and he was made up. Wanted all The Pack bar the leader, played by Stephen Graham, to look baby-faced.

 Are there many familiar faces in the film? Stephen Graham is perhaps the best known?

 Stephen Graham is definitely the best-known actor. But for the lads, we wanted to find a new, young, Northern rat-pack… The Pack Pack. So it’s mainly new talent.

The faces in The Pack are played by Nicky Bell, Liam Boyle, Oliver Lee, Michael Ryan, Anthony Borrows… none of them a household name, yet. But there are good cameo roles from, for example, Rebecca Atkinson from Shameless, and Ian Puleston-Davies who plays Carty’s Uncle. (In the book, by the way, Bob is just his boss. I morphed him into a surrogate father figure for the film script… Carty’s Ma has died, his Dad is a reclusive shell, and Uncle Bob susses his ever-growing obsession with footy violence. Ian P-D is just amazing in that role…)

To read the second part of the interview, get hold of a copy of Issue 4 of Proper.

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