Good Vibrations: film review of brilliant biopic of Terri Hooley and late 70s Belfast punk scene
A brilliant music film set in the punk rock, late seventies Belfast and funded by Snow Patrol and the BBC, Good Vibrations is a biopic about the maverick Belfast based DIY label boss Terri Hooley who ran the Good Vibrations Record label in the punk era. The label released The Undertones 'Teenage Kicks' single and other equally great music from Rudi, The Outcasts, Ruefrex and many others in a blur of DIY maverick energy.
This has to be one of the great rock n roll films. No rags to riches cliches or phoney glamour, it captures the seat of your pants creativity and the spiraling energy sparked by punk rock in a city where it really mattered of the maverick figure that drove it.
'New York has the hair cuts, London has the trousers but Belfast has the bands', an emotional Terri Hooley shouts at a euphoric crowd at a triumphant gig in Belfast Ulster Hall in 1980. It was a gig that should have raised enough money to save his label and shop but lost money because Hooley had let most of the audience in on the guest list- a haphazard mixture of idealism and disastrous business sense that would give the accountants who have wrecked our culture a nightmare but created the space in the middle of punk rock to create something quite amazing.
It's a pivotal moment in a brilliant film, a biopic aboutlbut Hooley and Good Vibrations, a Belfast punk rock DIY label that never had a top 40 hit and was run from a scruffy record shop by a man with so much energy, ideas and optimism that somehow the whole damn thing worked and its victory was the brilliant records that were somehow released creating those rare moments in pop culture when everyone involved could actually believe that they had more self worth than the system would ever give them.
And that was the genius of people like Hooley and the empowerment of punk rock.
Terri Hooley is a a real character. I've known him since 1981 when he brought my band, the Membranes over to Belfast to play outside the Maysfield Leasure Centre. We were bowled over by him then and his trick of taking his glass eye out and putting it in a pint glass. Already his label had a reputation, with fantastic records by the Outcasts, Rudi and of course the Undertones all time classic Teenage Kicks on his books. It wasn't a perfect label and there were many fuck ups but it's energy was key to breaking out several great Northern Ireland punk bands.
What this film underlines over and over again is the communal spirit of these bands that gather up behind the record shop owner who won't say no. Thrown on the scrapheap and quite literally outcasts because of their music taste these kids were given a break by the insane energy of Terri Hooley who recognizes the genius behind punk and the scruffy kids who could write great songs a million miles away from the bored music biz central of London
The punk scene in Belfast was everything that everywhere else talked about. The backdrop of the 'troubles' was always there and is dealt with in the film as part of the fabric of life. It gave these bands a real edge whether they wanted to reference it or not- and mostly they just wanted to sing songs about being young,but it was an edge that other bands in other cities never had to put up with. The other great truth of punk rock was DIY- the idea that you could just get up and do it. Terri Hooley totally embodies that spirit. And that's the inspirational and moving message behind the film. The idea that the dream is in your hands.
The story is basically this, Hooley is a music fan and idealistic spirit who already owns a record shop which he opened in the early seventies when he is fired by punk and put out a raft of homemade singles by the local bands in the electric Belfast scene. He is one of those people so in love with rock n roll that he bankrupts himself in the process and anyone else who is still totally in love with rock n roll will love this film whilst anyone unmoved by this film has no soul.
There are a series of great moments from the ramshackle nature of local kids finding their feet trying to make music, the innate genius of these teenagers fired by punk making classic punk records that still sound brilliant to this day. There is the telling moment when the first tour in a battered old van round northern Ireland has a scene with the shock of the security forces who find out the bands that are traveling in the beat up van are from both sides of the divide.
There is genius when the Undertones turn up as scruffy kids from Derry with Teenage Kicks and frustration as Hooley runs round London with the music business arrogance towards his bands drives him mad. And when Terri gets mad he gets mad- in one scene when he is told Teenage Kicks is rubbish and not worth a deal by a dead eared A and R goon so he tears down the gold records from the walls of the office and stamps on them declaring them to be the real rubbish. It's a scene that could still be played out today in what remains of the music business.
The story is so brilliant and so inspiring you have tears welling up in your eyes, especially at the moment when the great John Peel plays Teenage Kicks on his show and then gets to the end and plays it again…could that even happen on radio these days?
The acting is great, Richard Dormer does a great Terri Hooley and the atmosphere of the smokey, hard drinking, late seventies early eighties is spot on even if the narrative has been changed a bit. The grime, the emotion and the frustration of being in bands is perfectly played out. The music is timeless (please check out Rudi and the Outcasts- two bands highly respected in the punk scene but should be heard by a wider audience) the script is tight and punchy and the well acted take on Terri Hooley's manic energy drives the film along.
He has never changed. I saw him last October at the Justice Tonight gig in Belfast just as wild as ever, his shop just about hanging on after all these years. Sill believing.
This is one of the great rock n roll films. There is none of the scrubbed up bullshit. None of the fake happy endings, just the mental careering life of someone so in love with rock n roll that he fucks up his life, his loves and his bank account.
This is a film that should be shown to anyone who wants to play, release or make music.
A totally brilliant piece of work about a brilliant moment in time