Good Vibrations – film review

Good Vibrations – The Terry Hooley Story
Directors: Glenn Leyburn, Lisa Barros D’Sa
Cast: Andrew Simpson, Dylan Moran, Jodie Whittaker, Richard Dormer

Good Vibrations tells the story of the birth of Northern Irish punk and its effect on the generation who grew up during the troubles. Joe Whyte enjoys the recreation of a lost era.

Much anticipated, the story of how one man, his friends and family, several bands, a Radio 1 DJ and the punk community of Northern Ireland stood shoulder to shoulder against music biz indifference, intimidation from paramilitaries of both sides and the police; this is a feel-good movie set around trying times in the province.

Hooley was the one-time hippy activist, music obsessive and son of a left-wing militant father who set up the titular record shop which begat the label that gave us Teenage Kicks.

Northern Ireland and Belfast in particular in the mid-70s was a virtual ghost town; the British army on the streets, loyalist and republican gangs dishing out summary beatings, punishment knee-cappings, bombings and murders with the RUC right in the middle of it.

Hooley is portrayed as something of a schemer and dreamer; many of his onscreen ideas are chewed over, dreamlike, with Hank Williams, his first music love as a child. Played by Richard Dormer, his rapid-fire wit, damn-the-torpedoes attitude and joi de vivre make him an unlikely hero.


Starting out as a pub DJ himself, he’s dismayed that most, if not all of his previous compadres are now embroiled in the protestant versus catholic bile. Having a brainwave, he sets up his record shop despite having little money or backing from his bank manager. The shop is a failing venture when a young lad dressed in home-made punk gear comes in with posters for a gig.

This is one part of the movie that directors Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Barros D’Sa have absolutely nailed; most depictions of the era have punks in leather jackets, mohicans, piercings. In Good Vibrations, the punks have slightly long, messed-up “school” hair (remember, hair gel didn’t exist until about 1980), jeans that certainly ain’t drainpipe slim, shirts with slogans biro-penned on them and distressed charity shop jackets.

That’s the way I remember it in Glasgow, too. Home-made shite from what you could find.

The attention to detail throughout is a joy; big badges, poorly dyed hair, the sheer enthusiasm of the kids involved. The real stars of the movie, for me, are many of the young supporting cast. Playing fans, band-members, friends, they bring a realistic touch with the naivety that people often forget about the punk era.

There are a few minor quibbles, even if the story is based on Hooley’s recollection. I doubt very much (as portrayed in one scene) that Hooley would have invited one group of paramilitaries into a pub to meet an armed group from the opposing side for a sit down over vinyl albums. I guess that the movie’s directors may have exercised an element of artistic, dramatic license. This was a conflict that didn’t really utilise the legendary Irish humour too much, despite what we see on screen.

My favourite scene (amongst many), is Hooley, invited to the aforementioned gig, having something of an epiphany: The RUC have tried to intervene in the bar when Rudi, the band taking the stage, blaze into SS-RUC and the crowd (and Hooley)take up the chant forcing the cops out.

Round one to the punks.

The guys portraying The Outcasts and Rudi are scarily true-to-life; again a testament to the film-makers quest for authenticity. Right down to the stickers on the guitars, the directors have made a period-piece that defines the scene in Belfast.

I felt that the whole sectarian issue, particularly around the punk fans and how the meeting of minds through punk music overcame it, is skirted over slightly: out on tour, the bands are held at a checkpoint and when quizzed about what religion they all are, Hooley replies that he’d never thought to ask. Perhaps a closer look at this would have been interesting, but given that the film clocks in at just 103 minutes, I guess it may have over-burdened the film’s pace.

Similarly, we’re left with a quite unsatisfactory overview of Hooley’s relationship with his wife Ruth and newly-born daughter. The movie portrays a man obsessed with the moment, the music and the madness and this aspect is again rapidly covered almost as an afterthought.

These are minor quibbles in a film that does what it says on the tin very well indeed: Hooley is a scatty, optimistic and fun-driven man, a bit like the movie itself.
The music is great, the acting first class and as mentioned, the period detail is literally perfect.

A punk rock ”Commitments”? Not quite. It’s grittier, grimmer and set around times when 3000 people were murdered and as SLF put it “you’ve got the army on the streets”.

The movie is racking up awards and rightly so.

Recommended highly.

All words by Joe Whyte. More work by Joe Whyte on Louder Than War can be found here.

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Joe Whyte is guitarist with punk rockin' Johnny Cash tribute Jericho Hill and reformed 70's punks Reaction. He has formerly played with End Result, Reverend Snakehips Country Messiahs, God-Fearing Atheists and many, many other failed attempts at rock notoriety. Joe also writes for Vive Le Rock and Louder Than War magazine. He lives in Glasgow and in his other less glamorous life works in mental health.



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