I happened to see a wonderful film that’s hopefully right up the alley of anyone who reads this blog. I hadn’t heard of “Good Vibrations”  before, and I didn’t know the story of Belfast DJ Terri Hooley at all. I was dimly aware that The Undertones had released their seminal “Teenaged Kicks” EP on the Irish indie label Good Vibrations Records before being snatched up by Sire Records but I knew nothing of the particulars. This then, was the tale of DJ Terri Hooley, who found himself in the early 70s playing records in a pub where the violence of The Troubles certainly put a damper on the vibe of that generation. When gangs of swaggering thugs and rampant political/sectarian violence was tearing a nation apart, what else could one man do but mortgage his home and open a record store?Richard Dormer carried the film with embodiment of the naive, but unbridled enthusiasm of Hooley that led him to stake a claim in a war zone and strike a blow for music itself at a crucial time in Northern Ireland. Terri had started out as a reggae DJ but once he opened his shop, the “Good Vibrations” os the title, an influx of youthful punks opened his eyes to a revolution that was taking place not on the streets, but in pubs and concert halls. The scene where a teenager asks for a Buzzcock single to his quizzical stare was the gateway to a scene where he goes to the club where the teen has flyposted for a gig and sees the band Rudi, whom I had not heard of prior.
The empowerment of punk rock was a flashpoint moment for Hooley, and soon he was not content just to sell records, but instead to make them. The D.I.Y. vibe the film espoused drew lines from the audacity needed to open a record store in what was a war zone, to that of actively releasing records without a label to hold his hands. Armed factions may have been killing one another in the streets, but Hooley was grasping the real revolution happening in the music industry at the time, and he was more than happy to run with it; no matter the cost to himself. The scene where comprehends what this new generation is standing for and embraces it as an elderly man in his 30s among a sea of teenagers was a true signifier of joy that can strike at any time in one’s life, but becomes increasingly rare as one ages and calcifies.From that point on, Hooley began releasing singles by local Belfast bands who had the goods, but the biggest fish in his net were The Undertones, who came from Derry to Belfast to record their debut single. The single fell just shy of the top 30 with the heavy patronage of über fan John Peel, whose gravestone carries lyrics from “Teenaged Kicks” on it. The excitement of major players like The Undertones getting a leg up to make their splash could not have happened without older gents like Peel [who in reality, bankrolled the recording session and sent them to Belfast] and Hooley who also “got it.”
All of the parochial bands that Hooley recorded and released records by were pretty good. I had not been aware of bands like Rudi and The Outcasts, but the songs here sounded pretty great. The soundtrack slipped in ringers like Stiff Little Finger’s classic “Alternative Ulster” but given the context, it was absolutely appropriate. Bowie’s “Star” from “Ziggy Stardust” was a little too camp for the zeitgeist, however.
The film also showed the roller coaster of financial insecurity that all of this activity incurred in the tumultuous life of Hooley. That he seemed ill-equipped for the responsibilities of fatherhood was also apparent. Late in the film, the record store holds a benefit show to avoid foreclosure on Hooley’s home, which was used as collateral to secure a loan he was about to default on. Hooley is shown as having comped so many people that the show was undertaken in the red. The film ended there, with a packed house honoring Hooley, who the end credits revealed lost his store in 1982.
This BBC Films production didn’t get distribution in the US, but keep an eye out for it as the vibe is pretty infectious and the scene covered was absolutely vital, not only to music as a whole, but certainly to the lives of the people touched by the events depicted here. Richard Dormer carries it all on his shoulders as the upbeat Hooley who sees a path and takes it; whatever its cost to him.
The actual story of Hooley was somewhat grim, with divorce and a series of record stores opening and closing over the ensuing decades occupying his time, but the film does capture the magic of the appearance of punk rock where it was most needed; in the midst of a virtual war zone. New York and London had economic duress and boredom as their backdrop. Northern Ireland had bombings. It was a place where the participants had nothing to lose and everything to gain by sticking their necks out.
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