Good Vibrations – The Story of Terri Hooley

Written by Matteo Sedazzari
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The cinema release of Good Vibrations is perfect timing in many ways. With the UK struggling economically and creatively, coupled with the British gangster film which has seriously run its course.  Please, no more films with the thug narrative telling us a tale of greed, blood etc. etc.  So it is refreshing to have a film that focuses on a man, his passion, his achievements and failures and his sanity against a harsh political and social backdrop. All based on the life of Northern Ireland’s Godfather of Punk, Terri Hooley ,founder of the Good Vibrations record shop and record label in the late seventies.

For sure there is artistic licence, but trying to cram two decades of a man’s work in 97 minutes takes some doing.  Putting that aside, Good Vibrations certainly captures the heart and the imagination.  Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Gary Leyburn (Cherry Boy - their first feature in 2009), the film opens in the late fifties with Hooley, as a child, listening to I Saw The Light by Hank Williams.  As the needle of the record player plays through the cracks, Hooley begins to dance in his garden to the music on a beautiful summer’s day. The perfect idyllic setting is short lived as nearby children start to taunt Hooley for his father’s beliefs (Hooley Sr was a communist and standing for local election).   Like any faithful son, he stands up for his father only to be blinded for life in his right eye by a toy arrow. Moreover, that about seems to sum up the life of Hooley, a genuine love for music yet conflict was never far away.  

/Good VibrationsTerri Hooley ZANI 2The film fast forwards to 1969 and now Hooley (Richard Dormer) now a young man with a love of reggae for which he runs a social club at night in Belfast.  Again, everything is harmonious until the Belfast bombing starts, and sectarian violence literally kicks in. Hooley, a Protestant, refuses to take sides and believes  his reggae music will unite  the people, a vision only shared by his now girlfriend, soon to be his wife, Ruth (Jodie Whittaker) whom he meets on his now empty dance nights. Undeterred he follows his vision, and after many ups and downs, on a mighty adventure, Hooley, the crazy visionary, brought Punk to the kids of Belfast and put his city on the world map.  OK, he may not have brought a cease fire, but he may have stopped the odd bullet being shot.

With such an interesting and conflicting story, the filmmakers try and successfully capture the bleakness of this era.  At times you feel you are watching a newsreel of the seventies as Hooley marches on regardless in his drab and hostile surroundings. The portrait of Hooley is an honest one, you are under no illusion that he has the Midas touch, his successes are clearly demonstrated as are his fiascos.  From opening his first record shop  and label Good Vibrations, discovering The Undertones and their classic single Teenager Kicks, and to only let the song  go for £500  and a signed photo of The Shirelles  (he never did receive this signed photo).

Yet that is why the film is so endearing, showing the rollercoaster life of Hooley, which is wonderfully portrayed by Dormer. Hooley was a real risk taker, in this day and age of “where do you see yourself in five years time” and business plans, Hooley didn’t know where he would be in five hours time let alone in five years.  Why, because he didn’t care, not because he was lazy, he was and still is an optimist.  Never have The Rolling Stones lyrics rung so true  “But if you try sometimes well you might find, you get what you need”.

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There are many magical and moving moments in Good Vibrations, and the one that moved me, is when Hooley, already aware and supportive of punk, has an epitome moment at a gig. He goes to the front of the crowd and joins in, it is then that Punk makes total sense to him and is something he has being waiting for all his life. Any true lover of music can relate to that, and I am sure that was D’Sa and Leyburn’s intentions.

Overall it is great to see a British film that is positive, political, interesting, well made and inspiring. The generation that remember Punk will find Good Vibrations a gem, and the younger generation may take heed in the classic punk fanzine Sniffin Glue, “Here’s three chords now go and form a band”,  as Good Vibrations is the perfect example of the DIY culture, make mistakes and have fun, because that is what Hooley did and at last his life has been documented in a cracking film.

Read 4771 times Last modified on Wednesday, 11 November 2020 18:08
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Matteo Sedazzari

Matteo Sedazzari

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