Troubled Belfast's rickety punk prophet

Good Vibrations (M). Directors: Lisa Barros D'Sa, Glenn Leyburn. Starring: Richard Dormer, Jodie Whittaker. 103 minutes

'New York has the haircuts. London has the trousers. But Belfast has the reason!'

At the height of The Troubles of 1970s Belfast music lover Terri Hooley opened a record store and dubbed it Good Vibrations. That callback to the warm-hazed, LSD love-in of a romanticised 1960s (a la US pop geniuses The Beach Boys) was inherently counter-cultural, in a city riven by violent hatred between Catholic and Protestant. Certainly the non-religious and charismatic Terri managed to stand outside and above the conflict, and so became a kind of rickety prophet to Belfast's disaffected youth, as godfather of the city's burgeoning punk music scene.

Good Vibrations sets Terri's (Dormer) story within its socio-political context, but with a light touch that makes it highly accessible. There's stacks of irreverent humour, and a lot of music, especially from Hooley protégées, seminal Belfast punk bands The Undertones and The Outcasts. Terri's first Outcasts gig, where he 'discovers' punk, is nothing short of a religious experience, as he goes from awe at the raptness of the heaving, roaring crowd, to joining them in uninhibited physical expression of the music's anti-establishment fury and visceral transcendence.

The film follows a predictable formula, as Terri's idealism and often ill-founded optimism rubs uneasily against practical realities and the responsibilities that come with interpersonal relationships. As a would-be music exec he is determined to eschew the capitalist mantras of the big record labels. He wants his Good Vibrations label to be a platform for bringing music to the world, not a source of personal profit. But he embraces this principle to the detriment not only of his own finances, but also of his marriage to the patient yet long-suffering Ruth (Whitakker).

Their relationship, portrayed perhaps a tad earnestly, at least provides some emotional grounding both for Terri and for the ramshackle film itself. Its unorthodox origins predate the Good Vibrations record store — Terri meets and woos Ruth after she appears, dancing with blissful abandon in the otherwise deserted bar where Terri is DJ-ing — through its romantic early years and into its strained latter days. Initially supportive of Terri's dedication to his punk vocation, Ruth inevitably (and understandably) grows weary of the neglect this entails for herself.

Formulaic or not, Good Vibrations is vicious good fun. Watch Terri unwittingly sabotage his own efforts to obtain a major record deal for The Outcasts: nervous about rubbing shoulders with fine-suited bigwigs in London, he decides to take the edge off with a line or two of cocaine — bad idea. He obtains the drugs from a friend and former street-level dealer from Belfast who is living like a prince off his illicit proceeds; his 'business' success stands in stark contrast to Terri's refusal to grasp the capitalist horn, yet is itself inherently anti-establishment.

Good Vibrations makes these kinds of emotional and softly satirical points without passing judgement on its self-evidently flawed characters. Ultimately it is a celebration of the sense of community and belonging that comes from a shared love of music. In one scene, a British soldier pulls over the Good Vibrations musos' dilapidated tour bus and is astonished to discover that its congenial occupants are variously Catholic and Protestant. In the very next scene Terri arrives home to horrific news footage of the latest round of sectarian violence to singe the city.

If any community had a reason to embrace the rage and unity of punk culture, it was Terri Hooley's Belfast.


 

 

Tim Kroenert headshotTim Kroenert is the assistant editor of Eureka Street.

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Terri Dooley, Belfast, punk, Good Vibrations, Richard Dormer, Jodie Whittaker

 

 

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