Back in 2012 I auditioned for a part in a movie about the (self-titled) Godfather of Punk, Terri Hooley. It was a story myself and most Belfast natives already knew. Hooley’s record shop/label Good Vibrations had always had a place in Belfast folklore, and had come to be seen as something constant about the city; a symbol of Belfast’s ability to withstand some truly awful times, somewhere that was brave enough to remain open in a city centre that felt too threatened by incessant bombing to remain open.
BBC Two, 10.30pm, Saturday 7th March
Millions of people around the UK had heard Teenage Kicks but knew little of the remarkable back-story that led to the success of this song and band. The story had essentially went untold, and directors Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn took it upon themselves to bring it to an audience and give us a very different kind of success story than we normally see in films.
I was fortunate enough to be cast an extra and had no idea as to what to expect from filming. I certainly didn’t expect there to be such an emphasis on communicating fun and collectivity as there was, in filming some of the gig scenes we were essentially told to ‘go nuts’ and look like we were having a ball, which as a result we were.
— Gabriel Tate (@GabrielTate1) March 7, 2015
Too often, movies concerning Belfast don’t steer their focus from its negative aspects, we approach it with an automatic association of all the miseries that came with the Troubles. Good Vibrations never ignores the Troubles but shows us what joy can be achieved from resisting such hateful thinking and opting for something more worthwhile, which is exactly what Hooley and his peers did. At its heart the film is concerned with music, it sheds Belfast of its political connotations and tells a story of the universal love for music.
Most of the music on the soundtrack and by the bands on the label have an element of positivity- The Undertones have more in common with the Beatles than they do say, the Stones. Rudi’s ‘Big Time’ is an anthemic good time of a song that pulsates with energy and vitality, even Stiff Little Fingers ‘Alternative Ulster’ with its honest assessment of Belfast’s grim situation at the time, is profoundly focused on the idea of finding a solution, of seeing a light at the end of the tunnel. It is then ironic that such sad times were the environment in which such exuberant music was made.
The film’s inevitable centrepiece, Teenage Kicks, is given its righteous appraisal simply when Hooley hears John Peel famously plays the song twice in a row on his radio show. If you can get past Richard Dormer’s slightly annoying accent, you will love his zany, very human portrayal of Hooley. It manages to make us both love and despair for Terri; loving him for his steadfastness, and the sincere faith he put into this music, and almost pulling our hair out at the reckless, short-sighted way in which he ran the label.
Loved Good Vibrations. The scene where Terri Hooley hears Teenage Kicks for first time (and you don’t!) is wonderful. pic.twitter.com/XWn0aw2bpC — Simon Littlefield (@SimoLittlefield) September 20, 2013
Good Vibrations was never going to be a conventional success story, otherwise we may have previously known more about it! The film is imbibed with a bittersweet quality when we acknowledge that most of the bands on Good Vibrations never reached a wider audience and were mostly enjoyed on an underground level.
The label was a stepping stone for the Undertones, and regardless of its role in bringing them fame, it never gained significant recognition for doing so (perhaps, until now). It wouldn’t make sense any other way however, as this is what makes the story so unique. This low-budget, slightly rushed, wacky film is exactly as it should be, buzzing with an energy and sense of camaraderie that makes us feel utterly involved in all the fun. It reminds us that Belfast didn’t just dissapear off the radar when it entered the conflict, its people still had beating hearts and they still wanted to express themselves and be heard.
Most of the major bands at the time avoided touring Belfast and the city was stifled creatively, Hooley and his gang took on a duty to satisfy a massive yearning. Hooley is currently recovering from heart surgery and seems to be on the mend, I’d like to wish him well and thank him for living such a dedicated and interesting life. If this film is any indication, this hippy/rasta/punk lunatic has plenty of life left in him yet. So does Belfast, it always has… we just didn’t see it.