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Casuals: the movie

Filed: Monday, 2nd January 2012
By: Staff Writer

Against a backdrop of recession and few prospects, the Casuals emerged from the early 1980's to become the folk-devils of their time. KUMB recently caught up with author, publisher and producer Cass Pennant to chat about 'Casuals' - the new movie from Urban Edge Films.

The late 1970s and early 1980s were a time of massive social upheaval for Great Britain. The incoming Tory Government, led by 'Iron Maiden' Margaret Thatcher had their feet well under the table following the 1979 general election landslide, but their policy of smashing the unions and making savage cuts to public spending saw riots break out throughout the nation.

Toxteth, Brixton, Moss Side and Belfast (albeit for other reasons) burned as a nation's disaffected youth - skint, criminally ignored and left to fester at the end of a near 3,000,000-long dole queue - took to the streets in protest. UB40's 1981 track 'One In Ten', which told of a Government that valued economic welfare ahead of social, was the soundtrack to a summer of discontent.

Against such a miserable and depressing backdrop the possibility of a youth culture based around incredibly expensive, imported clothes emerging would appear rather unlikely. But that's exactly what happened as the Casuals, a sub-culture weaned and nurtured on the football terraces of that period in time, was born.

The actual birthplace of the movement remains hotly-disputed to this day, as revealed on Urban Edge Films' engrossing new DVD 'Casuals'. The City of Liverpool has claimed bragging rights for many years - Liverpool FC's frequent excursions into Europe during the late '70s/early '80s is often cited as the original source of new, exotic labels arriving in the UK.

However some of the sub-culture's avid Southern converts have distinctly different memories. Recalling one particular subterfugal foray into the away supporters enclosure during a West Ham v Liverpool encounter at the Boleyn Ground during the movement's embryonic stages, one former Hammers casual recalls how, "they were still all dressed like miners - donkey jackets and great big Dr Marten boots."

For Cass Pennant, who recently formed Urban Edge in 2010 following several successful years as an author and publisher of more than 50 books, the Casuals were simply a progression of youth culture that began with the Mod movement of the mid 1960s, continued through the original skinhead era in the late '60s and spawned from the Mod revival of the late 1970s.

Pennant - who cites Gabbici, a favourite of Northern Soul devotees as his label of choice from his early formative years - refers to the subject of the film as 'the last working-class fashion subculture'. "It's a film about all of us. At some stage we're all into clothes, [youth] cultures and different things," he says. "The social story behind it comes out clear; how the working class dressed smart for their pride.

"But it meant different things to different people. For some people it meant fitting in, for other people it meant 'we're as good as you'."

Although the rave generation that immediately superseded the Casual movement could perhaps stake a legitimate claim to the title the fact that basically nothing has followed since to stir the nation's youth from its collective stupor is a fairly damning indictment. Even the recent 'riots' - basically opportunists on the rob - were a pale imitation of those from 30 years earlier.

Unlike today, where Pennant says "it's easy" to keep up with the latest trends and fashions from across the globe due to the internet, back in the day there were very few outlets from where new designs and labels could be sourced.

"It's extremely difficult to be original," he surmises. "The whole thing about fashion was not having [the] money to buy the thing, it was all about [being] a fashion stylist and the way you wore it. Fashion stylists were really connoisseurs that inspired everyone else into copy-catting. But it wasn't all about having a credit card, having the money and saying 'I can have that the next day'.

"With a credit card and the internet you can have anything tomorrow. The whole story [in 'Casuals'] is [that for] every item of clothing they wore, there was a story behind it.

"Whether they were poor, never had anything for years and years and with their first wages went out and bought what they wanted to buy, not what their parents dressed them in. Or an adventure where they went across Europe to get that item of clothing. You wouldn't bother today; you'd just get the credit card [out]."

Such resourceful individuals, such as entrepreneur Robert Wade-Smith would take an empty van (and several thousand pounds in cash) to mainland Europe and fill it with goods - such as Scousers' favourite Stan Smith's and the much sought after, exclusive adidas Trimm Trab - to sell at his shop back in Liverpool.

Wade-Smith has no doubt as to where the phenomenon began. "Liverpool was number one from 1979 to 1982," he asserts in 'Casuals'. "But it was also [selling] three times as much as Manchester which was number two. London was well down the list."

Whilst Liverpool may have loved its footwear, Pennant reveals how back home in east London it was not the much-feared ICF (Inter City Firm) who first introduced the new look. "The under fives started the Casual movement," he says, explaining how the hardcore old guard initially failed to warm to what they considered to be basically a feminine look. (For the uninitiated, the Under Fives being effectively the youth wing of the ICF - the spotters, the foot soldiers, the up-and-coming vocal, prominent element of West Ham's 'firm'.)

Their sartorial approach - which predominantly leaned towards tennis and golf-based sportswear from labels such as Sergio Tacchini, Ellesse, Fila and Lacoste - and that of other London-based clubs gave the terraces their own unique look and soon spread like wildfire across Britain. The irony being - Pennant nods in agreement when I present the suggestion - that the individuals wearing them were reasonably likely to end up in a tear-up, wearing items of clothing that could cost two-weeks' wages; often a broken bone was favoured over a torn tracksuit top.

Unusually - and perhaps a unique attribute of the Casual movement in terms of youth culture - was that there was no particular genre of music associated with it. Teddy Boys had Rock N'Roll, the Mods leaned towards Motown and Soul, the Punks their own very British take on the New York Dolls' 'protopunk' sound - but what about the Casuals?

"Jazz Funk", suggests Pennant, although tastes amongst the nation's Casuals were eclectic. "As well as Soul and Jazz Funk influences we got into the early Rap acts," adds modculture.co.uk. One group who did try to present themselves as a Casual band were Accent, four Chelsea fans who, as lead singer Mick Habeshaw Robinson recalls on the DVD, managed to wangle a live gig at Stamford Bridge ahead of a match in 1984. "We got a polite round of applause," he says. That was as good as it got for Accent who promptly disappeared into musical obscurity, albeit with a great party anecdote.

Whereas youth cultures of the past tended to create a particular dress code and stick with it, the Casual movement broke the mould. Constantly evolving instead; "as seasons changed, so did the clothes," Pennant affirms. Whilst polo shirts and tracksuit tops may be fine for June, the harsh British winter commanded a different approach; polo's were replaced by roll necks - such as the classic Fila worn by Pennant in the film - whilst companies such as Burberry and Aquascutum, quintessential British fashion houses were very much in vogue (and often even less affordable than their Italian counterparts).

Of course, one-upmanship was a core theme of the Casual's approach to their clothes. "There was a lot of posing going on," recalls narrator Peter Hooton, former lead singer of Liverpool band the Farm. That desire to eclipse all of one's peers manifested itself in some hardcore casuals travelling to continental Europe on shopping trips just to procure the latest designs - even then, most only had a shelf life of a matter of months once the labels cottoned on to the demand and began enlarging their collections.

The Falklands conflict helped greatly in returning what had been a previously unpopular Conservative Government to power at the 1983 general election and in the absence of any major international conflict immediately thereafter, the Thatcher administration chose to wage war on football's hooligan element instead. New legislation led to the incarceration of several leading characters from the scene - including Pennant himself - effectively ending organised football hooliganism and, with it, the Casual movement in one fell swoop. The subsequent rave generation's baggy look was the complete antithesis of the casual approach.

Although it's always been there - brands such as Stone Island have seen to that - so it was that the sharp, streetwise casual look was largely replaced, briefly revived by the British indie scene of the mid-90s but most recently re-invigorated by the slew of '80s-based films of which an appearance by Hammers fan Danny Dyer almost appeared to be a contractual obligation for a while.

The Business, Nick Love's 2005 Costa Del Sol-based gangster flick starred Dyer and Tamer Hassan, a good friend of Pennant's (and a Millwall fan to boot). The Casual look was gloriously revisited for Love's thriller - and from that spawned a new generation who ape the fashions of their father's generation.

"Mod Casuals, Casual Mods or even Modules", suggests Pennant when attempting to label the new breed of fashion conscious youngsters. "The first time he saw me dressed up like this, he said I look very dapper," tells one of the new breed during the film, when recounting a conversation with his proud dad. However the revival isn't for everyone. "I've still got a wardrobe-full of Harrington jackets," bemoans one old-school casual. "But I wouldn't wear them because 17-year-olds are wandering around the streets in them..."

"When we discovered the Casual Mods in Brighton and Worthing, then found them in London and the North East," continues Pennant, "I felt I'd missed their generation as they were all under 17. They're not in pubs, they're under the radar. The difference is, they're not just buying it, they're experimenting, that's the key.

"They tried their own ideas. That experimenting had gone with the internet and the easy 'quick-fix'. There's the men's magazines, that's what they look like, they dress exactly how they've seen it in the shop front and catalogues. They all look like clones. But there's a new generation come through that's got what the old [Casual] generation had.

"All the [youth] cultures before that I knew, they wanted to get as far away from their parents' fashion as possible. But today's generation are actually inspired by their parents. So I had to re-title it because it was no longer true that it was the last working class subculture.

"There's a new generation coming through that have all the characteristics of the old generation because they're experimenting, trying different things and have their own style. Like they say in the film, they've got their own twist to it, you know? I think that's very important, because that makes the documentary not just an untold story but very relevant to today."

As we're leaving the West Ham United Supporters' Club rather closer to the start of West Ham's clash with Barnsley than anticipated (our interview turned into an extended 90-minute chat for which I shall apologise again given that Cass was attending the match with his son, who was on short-term leave from the Royal Navy), he spots a classic kelly green Fila Settanta track top being adorned by one of the younger punters.

"There's one," he says, with a degree of affection that's evident amongst all those interviewed in the movie - Pennant's first as a film-maker.

"I've no background for making a film - I'm known as the book person. So there's another story there, in making Casuals, that there's never been a better time - if you believe in a project - to make your own movies. And I think Casuals shows that."

'Casuals', the movie is out now on DVD priced £14.99. For more information - including details on how to order a copy - visit casuals.tv.

Please note that the opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, nor should be attributed to, KUMB.com.

Your Comments

by Mark Bailey
05:01PM 12th Jan 2012
''I was going abroad grafting in 1983, there was a small crowd of us at Arsenal, also some Tottenham, and West Ham. Although West Ham had the top fighting firm in the '80s it was well known that Arsenal were the top dressers.

I went to an away match with West Ham once, away to Everton in '83. I needed to keep it low because I was Arsenal, so I wore a crew-neck cashmere, baggy jeans, and navy blue trim-tram. Baggy jeans hadn't reached West Ham yet, and some of the Under Fives were singing the Madness song - Baggy Trousers at me. They were wearing tracky tops, but still in their tight Lois jeans.

East London were always a year or two behind Arsenal and South London in their clobber, that's why we could never drink in their clubs in the early '80s, they would know by our clobber that we weren't East Londoners.

And as for the Mancs and Scousers, we used to meet them on the boat and big European train stations, etc. Yeah they started grafting abroad a couple of years before us, but they were still wearing drain pipe jeans and army jackets in the early '80s.

Arsenal (Miller, Seabrooks, Barratt, Brynn, McGinley, Me, Sissons, Metcalfe, the Black lot from Walworth, etc.) were the innovaters of the designer sportswear fashion, and then Italian designerwear in the early-mid '80s. If Cass gets to read this, he will know its true. ;)

Chip - South London Gooners.''

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