From the Cass Pennant production team comes the multi-award winning short film Beverley, set in Leicester in 1980. The film begins in the urban city centre where Bev lives with her parents Caroline and Travis, younger sister Jess and autistic brother Carl. This is an economically depressed environment – consistent with The Specials’ ‘Ghost Town’ in many ways, although amongst the shuttered empty shops within the network of council housing and their frequent red lights, is a vibrant social multicultural community. Bev feels at home here drifting in and out of houses, listening in to the incessant noise of drinking, socializing and sound systems. All of that changes when her father comes into money and moves the family to middle-class white suburbia…
Beverley Thompson is the real life inspiration for the film. She spoke to TAL’s Choppy about growing up in the 80s; her love of music, especially reggae and 2 Tone ska; and about being a girl involved in football, fashion and fighting.
First of all, how did the Beverley film project come about?
I contributed to ‘Casuals’, a documentary on football terrace fashion. Cass Pennant was the producer and Alex Thomas was the cameraman. I told Cass I had a good idea for a film – my story of being a mixed-race Rude Girl moving from the black community to white suburbia. A year later Cass interviewed me in depth and out of those interviews Alex wrote the script… and the rest is history.
With the film Beverley, what are you trying to convey to the audience?
There’s no single message. We wanted to explore a certain era in social history, the sensitive issues of race, gender and class under the emergence of Thatcherism. The film is also a personal journey of a young person trying to make sense out of the nonsensical. Love, family, politics, loyalty, violence… it’s all in there. It was important to make the film about a mixed-race female, yet everyone can identify with feeling vulnerable and wanting an equal shot in life.
How do you feel about the portrayal of your character in the film, is it difficult to watch yourself being played by an actress?
In real life I was only 12 when the events in the film happened, Laya Lewis plays me as if I was 16. I think Laya is an amazing actress and did a great job with the character. Filming was emotional. It was on location in Leicester, filming on the streets where I used to hang out as a kid. Plus my Dad is dead so it brought back the loss. It was surreal.
How do you view music and culture these days comparing it to the 80’s?
The music I grew up listening to was either talking about the struggle of the underdog in life or love. Music was a means of expressing emotions anger, sadness and hope. In the early 1980s 2tone and Punk were political and belonged to distinct sub-cultures, it was protest music. Now music is purely about entertainment, it doesn’t make you think about the wider world and how it is self-centred and image driven. The gatekeeper of the music/media industry control what the mainstream are exposed to. Music is censored.
Which five style items and labels define the 80’s for you and why?
There’s leg-warmers and ra-ra skirts that we associated with the mixed up ’80s, but I’d say dreadlocks – they were about as anti-establishment as the punks’ Mohawk – white activists, like black Rastas, grew dreadlocks as a form of defiance. I wore Aquascutum, a British label, more exclusive than Burberry. It made me feel aspirational straight away you knew I had money and money was equated with success. Also the European labels like Benetton, Lacoste, Fila all became massive as we started to travel and appreciate design.Clothes were statements of how ‘cultured’ you were – tennis wear and golf jumpers on a 15-year-old made you feel important, even if you weren’t. Trainers were no longer for PE. We stopped wearing shoes and started wanting the latest footwear. Adidas Gazelles are iconic of the mid 1980s.At the end of the 1980s it was the mobile phone and filofax. I was the first female I knew with a mobile phone, a Motorola. I was 20 years old.
Would you swap growing up in the late 70/80s and all that entailed, for growing up now?
I wouldn’t swap to be young in today’s society – kids are great with technology, but they’ve missed out on the freedoms we had as kids. Big groups of kids could play out from dawn ’til dusk, in tight knit communities, where adults were like extended family. We weren’t allowed to be in the house! There were ‘gangs’ but no guns and knives were carried. If they were, it was for bravado, rarely used and never fatally. My own kids have experienced multiple deaths of their friends and a whole generation are in prison serving long sentences.
Today’s Politics? How do you view the rise of the far-right EDL, UKIP, etc., and how would you tackle it?
Today’s politics are an insult to our intelligence. The UK is a corporation run by puppet masters. The far-right – EDL, UKIP, etc. – are smokescreens created out of ignorance and frustration. Bullying the weak and vulnerable sickens me to the core. Islamophobia has stopped me watching the evening news and reading newspapers. if I had it my way I’d call an international strike until every human being is paid the same rate for their time and energy, ending the massive gap of the 1% and the rest of us. I’d also end world debt and fair trade would be mandatory. I’d get rid of most the laws, replacing them with a vow not to intentionally harm anyone or anything. Government would not exist. I think history has proved that they cause more harm than good – people don’t need governing, we are free! Let’s get rid of the slave masters.
In the Casuals Documentary you mention it becoming easier to move into the Soccer Casual scene early 80’s after being a Rude Girl, was this down to Leicester City having a multiracial Firm at that time and not having to deal with right wing skins?
Yes, I was in to fashion so the clothes were my ticket in. I was lucky to wear all the latest stuff and compete with the older men in the firm when it came to my garms. The leader of the Baby Squad was a Black guy, which made me confident enough to feel I could stand in a rowdy pub with some tough looking white guys and feel part of the team. We looked forward to teams like Millwall playing Leicester so we could battle with their racist hooligans.
At TAL a few of us were into the Two Tone scene around 1980, it seemed to be around a two year movement surprisingly, would you put that down to the rise of the Football Terrace cultures?
The 2tone bands went off to the USA. By the time they came back it was all New Romantics and Soul to Soul. Some sold out – think FUNBOY3! The music industry wanted cheesy pop. Political music didn’t get radio play, so didn’t feature in the charts or mainstream. it died a lonely death. The football terrace scene reflected Thatcherism – individualism not community, politics was about business not society; people’s values changed and consumerism killed off socialism.
In the tradition of Ska, do you still see that as class, the working class and the need to unite together, rather than separate along racial and religious lines?
Ska started in Jamaica and came to the UK with the immigrants after WW2. It was a sound for the rebels, before that Jamaicans listened to USA imports or Calypso. Ska was music for the underdog and young people identified, regardless of skin tone. The style represented the ‘working man’ – jeans, work boots and braces and a short haircut called the skinhead.
What would your favourite Ska band be at the time?
2tone (Ska is 1960’s) was the answer to my prayers. I remember seeing The Specials on Top of the Pops – a mixed culture group – with moody Terry and crazy Neville. It was love at first sight for me. They get criticised for all the Prince Buster covers but they gave 1960s Ska to a new audience. I also have loads of respect for Selecter and The Beat.
What would you consider your top five albums to be?
I guess the soundtrack to my life would be CarWash Disco music. The Specials both albums; Sade’s first album; Gregory Isaccs’ Night Nurse; and Skinnyman ‘Council Estate of the Mind’. I like music that makes me want to get up, whether to dance or bang my head against the wall! My favourite song of all time is ‘A Change Is Going To Come’ by Sam Cooke the anthem of the civil rights movement.
Did the Baby Squad have any infiltration by the far-right? I remember Celtic played a friendly against Leicester after a couple heroes of both clubs – Neil Lennon as a player and Martin O’Neil as manager – joined Celtic. That night a few of us had some run–ins with Leicester fans who were definitely far-right in their attitudes and they knew Celtic had a left-wing reputation. Obviously that was not in your era of activity, but was there ever any problems like that when you were around the casual scene?
Leicester was the headquarters of the National Front and is a similar town to Luton where the EDL started – years ago it was aimed at Blacks now its Asians – pure bullying. I never witnessed anything in the Baby Squad. No doubt racism existed, but it certainly wasn’t accepted and would’ve been undercover. BSquad wasn’t political with a big P, it was more about money, reputation and feeling part of a group that was willing to fight a common ‘enemy’. It was the powerless for a few hours playing at being powerful. Now, in 2016, look at our world leaders, same bullshit but their weapons are of mass destruction – we had a Stanley knife and a clenched fist. At worst, you’d ruin your outfit and get a nose bleed!
How was the relationship with any other female peers in other mobs from other teams?
Ironically there was only one other girl who got close to the action. She was a punk/skinhead – a nutter – we weren’t friends but would hang about waiting for the madness to commence! I hung out with other young lads – too young to play with the big boys – we talked clothes and football battle heroes. Black guys like Cass Pennant from the ICF and Barrington ‘One Eyed Baz’ from the Zulus – Birmingham’s firm – were legends, as Blacks were a minority on the terraces, which were filled with angry white guys full of rage.
For us there’s always been a link between football, music, fashion and politics. Moving into the Casual / Terrace scene in the 80’s which bands influenced you at that time?
The Smiths were big but I’ve always loved black music, reggae and soul. I liked a bit of Madonna, she was fresh, but mainly Gregory Isaccs, Aswad, Lovers Rock – I like sound systems too – Saxon Coxsone. Anything with lyrics and a good bass line will get me dancing tho’ but Reggae is rebel music so that’s where my heart belongs.
You’ve been involved heavily with two, key, iconic, modern English subcultures: 2 Tone and Soccer Casual. A path travelled by many of your generation. How do you compare the two?
There were similarities in that they were passionate, anti-establishment vents of the young. You wanted to aspire to principles of equality – better wages – even if it was only to be a Poser. Socialism wasn’t fashionable and Thatcher’s youth were fickle. The difference showed how time never stands still, it moves in circles; the bust was over and the boom was starting. 2tone was ‘Ghost Town’ and rioting; Casuals was Wham and saving up to get a ticket to watch a game in Porto. It’s like, ‘HANDS UP WHO DON’T WANT MORE MONEY?’ Consumerism took over.
Do you have any regrets about your time in the mob? Or the scenes you were into?
No regrets. Isn’t life an adventure? Mine certainly is, and those days were a big influence on me. I learnt so much about loyalty, justice, strategy, ambition. I learnt to be strong. I gained the tools that made me cope with difficult times in my life. Being a woman in a man’s world is tough, but being a mixed race woman is even tougher- yet I’ve gained respect in places angels fear to tread !
Do you still get to the odd Leicester match? How do you view the modern game? With Leicester flying high in the Premiership, do you think it will be able to maintain its reputation as a local family club, or will big money corrupt it and the working class be priced out of the game by the present success?
I was more interested in what happened before and after the game than the actual football match. Leicester have done amazing though, I’m very proud of the team. I was travelling back to London from Nottingham the day Leicester celebrated winning the Premier League and the train was packed with all races, class and ages; men, women and children wearing LCFC colours – what a celebration of multiculturalism. I hope the club do right by the fans. Leicester is definitely back in the game
We really like the Stone Foundation a mix of soul, funk and a touch of ska, quite refreshing. How does it feel to have a track dedicated to you?
I am very honoured to have inspired the ‘Beverley’ track. I met the guys when they were supporting The Beat we hit it off straight away – They went off and wrote the song in one go and its perfect. I got to watch SF at the jazz cafe on my birthday. They performed the song and everyone was dancing, it was great.
What does the future hold for you? Any other projects in the pipeline?
I’m writing a script based on the early 1990s and the whole war on drugs bullshit. That’s an important topic to me as the policing of crack cocaine devastated the black community. There are talks of Beverley becoming a feature film – there’s a lot of support behind the film, as its a powerful concept. It’s like Bob Marley said, “You only know how strong you are when theres no other option but to be strong.” That’s me all over.