Liverpool acts and casual fashions

Band performing on stage

The Farm © Mark McNulty

Liverpool acts have often presented a distinct visual style connected to local ideas of scene and class. From the casual sportswear and 'retro' clothing of Liverpool rock bands such as the La's, Cast and the Farm, through to current acts such as the Coral and the Zutons, fashion has made clear a link between the musicians and a particular form of working class street style. In contrast to the flamboyant and highly stylised look of many pop acts, this visual image helps to associate these groups with their audience. It also emphasises the honest and down-to-earth qualities within their music and lends them an authenticity in terms of a particular strand in the city's working-class culture. Indeed, the visual representation chosen for these bands by their record companies has often just been an extension of street styles favoured by the bands already.

This connection with street style had a clear fit with the musical and thematic concerns of Liverpool bands of the period. During the 1980s and early 1990s Liverpool rock culture interacted with and reflected local 'scally' or 'dole culture', that is, the lifestyle surrounding unemployment and an attendant drug culture. Prominent records include the Stairs' celebration of marijuana, 'Weedbus', the La's' debut album with the coded allusions to heroin of its best known track, 'There She Goes', and the dole queue depression song 'Doledrum', and more recently Shack's 'Streets of Kenny' (which refers to the particularly run down area of Kensington and its heroin problems). These songs sought to plot the lifestyle of unemployed young men in the city, and there has been a constant evocation of Liverpool's difference and distinct local identity in both media accounts of these acts and the way that they presented themselves.

The street style that became known as 'casual' developed amongst football fans in the late 1970s, led by followers of the big city teams of the North West. Both Liverpool and Everton fans were instrumental in the development of these fashions, introducing styles, labels and sportswear picked up on away trips following their teams in European competitions. From these trips a competitive street culture developed based around the ownership of exclusive brands or individual items of clothing that were difficult to obtain in the UK. At the height of casual culture in the 1980s there was often a dizzying turnaround of what was 'in' or 'out', with new trends sometimes appearing on a monthly or even weekly basis. Liverpool band the Farm were among the first to associate this youth culture with music, both in their visual image and through 'The End', a fanzine covering casual culture to which they regularly contributed. The band's visual image, in terms of how they were presented in photoshoots, in videos and on-stage, was something of a natural fit with a culture in which they were already involved.

At a similar time the La's (whose name celebrated the Scouse name for 'lads') mixed the casual look with a 'retro' style that recalled the 1960s and reflected the conscious influence of beat music, skiffle, psychedelia and garage rock. This hybrid musical and visual style became a model for later Liverpool acts, from 1980s and 1990s groups such as Smaller, Top, Shack and the Real People, through to contemporary acts like the Coral and the Zutons. Each one of these acts adopted and echoed these associations - as did platinum-selling bands from elsewhere in the North West such as Oasis and the Verve.