We caught up with Terri Hooley, the inspiration for Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s film about the Belfast Punk scene; GOOD VIBRATIONS
Having his mad love affair with music flash before his eyes in Good Vibrations has given Terri Hooley some newfound perspective. “I should have been put away years ago,” the Belfast legend tells Paul Byrne.
It’s Sunday night, The Empire Music Hall in Belfast, and up on stage, Soak – aka 16-year-old Derry wonder Bridie Monds-Watson – is giving it some tender loving heartache up on the stage.
Terri Hooley is underwhelmed. Then again, he’s probably just being his mischievous self.
“Rosie Carney, a 16-year-old out of Donegal, now, she’s the business…”
We’re here to celebrate the imminent release of Good Vibrations, Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn’s manic pop thrill of a film charting how Belfast boy Terri sparked a mini-revolution up north at the height of the Troubles by providing not only a record shop for people of all faiths and tastes to hang out in but also, crucially, a record label to get these street fighting kids’ punk anthems heard around the world.
The fact that Hooley’s Good Vibrations label was responsible for one of the all-time greatest singles, The Undertones’ Teenage Kicks, has assured the man’s place in pop culture history. That he should turn down Sire Records initial offer of £20,000 for The Undertones and settle instead for the price of a decent second-hand van (£500) and a signed copy of The Shangri-Las (which he still hasn’t received) tells you all you really need to know about Terri Hooley.
When I arrived at the Empire, I was hoping that, amidst all the lovers, liggers and swiggers, I might actually get to have a few words with the great man himself. In the end, myself and my good lady, Magdalena, ended up spending the entire night at Hooley’s table, like life-long friends catching up on old times.
Even before we sat down, I knew Terri was going to be the perfect chuckling co-conspirator. “I have a t-shirt at home that reads, ‘The Future Mrs Hooley’,” he grins, throwing his arms around Magdalena, “and I really should have brought it tonight.”
As we sat down, I offered Terri a drink, but he solemnly informed me that he was sticking to the water. “Had a bit of a fling last night with a bottle of whiskey,” he mutters. “We went all the way.” Within the hour, he was cradling the first of many pints of Guinness and whiskey chasers. Then again, this is a very belated victory tour that Belfast’s Godfather of Punk is on right now. Somewhere between Sam Phillips and Aidan Walsh, Hooley is like a huggable Tony Wilson. And you can’t help but love him.
“This has all been a bit crazy,” nods Hooley. “I’m just back from Moscow, where they just loved the movie. They laughed in all the right places, which is always a good sign. Man, I could live there in a heartbeat. If I didn’t love Belfast so much. And, of course, my partner-in-crime, Claire.”
Right on cue, Claire Archibald strolls over and hands her beloved a small tin-foil-wrapped package. “Ah, Paul, the hashish has arrived!” shouts Terri, as he slams it down on the table. Jesus, it’s the size of a hearty sandwich. Turns out it is a hearty sandwich.
It’s not only Moscow that has fallen under Good Vibrations’ spell. Having proven a hit on the festival circuit, the early reviews are in, and they’re pretty darn ecstatic. This is a film so potent that it made Mark Kermode cry. Twice.
“I’m just amazed that it’s finally out there,” says Hooley. “There’s been talk of a Good Vibrations film for over ten years, and it was always just out of reach. My good friend, Jimmy Nesbitt, was initially going to play me. Then, Michael Fassbender was going to take on the part in this film until other commitments put the kibosh on that. All for the good though, because Richard Dormer does an amazing job.
“In fact, I think this might be more his film than mine…”
The Armagh actor does indeed deliver an intoxicating performance as Hooley in Good Vibrations, managing to be both charming and alarming as the Troubles outside and the troubles inside – drink leading to a broken marriage, and blissful naivety to a bankrupt business – threaten to end the 24-hour party. From losing his left eye at the age of six due to a toy arrow to just about losing his mind, his life and the shirt off his back as he continued to pursue those teenage kicks well beyond his teenage years, here was a music-loving, pot-smoking, whiskey-guzzling peacenik who wasn’t afraid to call a spade a little fucking shovel.
Or punch John Lennon square in the face for supporting the IRA.
“My ex-wife reckons the film does me a disservice,” says Hooley, “but I think it just shows the world what an eejit I am. Man, I had no idea that I drank so much. But then, that’s what drink does to you. You just don’t remember…”
It was just before the Christmas of 2007 that Terri Hooley finally found the two wide-eyed and deep-pocketed fans with enough clout to get Good Vibrations made. It’s somewhat fitting that two of the North’s most famous popmeisters of today, David Holmes and Gary Lightbody, are amongst the 12 producers onboard Good Vibrations.
Holmes – the man who made the Ocean’s movies sound so cool, and who has released at least two albums that every home should own – is one of the lovers, liggers and swiggers at the Empire tonight, and he’s impressed that we made it through the snow and ice. He’s more impressed when he learns that I’m giving the movie five stars. It’s really a four-star film, but sometimes, the underdog needs that extra little push.
“I’ve always thought Terri represents a part of everyone who just gets an inexplicable rush out of music,” says Holmes. “It’s something that most people leave behind in their teens, but Terri never lost that lust for music. And being a lover of movies too, it was just a no-brainer for me to try and help get this made.
“The fact that it has turned out to be such a good film, well, that’s all the more reason why we should just stay up all night…”
It’s a call to arms that Holmes would later regret, Terri informing me the following day that the superstar DJ ended up back in a student flat that had no beer, and little cheer. “Youth is wasted on kids like that,” laughs Terri, who was somewhat luckier, having spent the night drinking whiskey and blasting out old classics such as Doris Day’s Move Over Darling and Roy Orbison’s It’s Over back in the warm, welcoming home of noted music journalist Stuart Bailie, a fellow native and old friend.
Terri lost his phone somewhere along the way, and called me from Claire’s mobile the next day. He had hoped to bring us on one of his famed walking tours of Belfast, but Claire’s father was 74 that day, and plans to meet up in the city that evening had changed, thanks to the heavy snow, and the slightly younger couple were going to make their way up to through the blizzards to the slightly older couple with food and goodies instead.
No worries. Terri was down in Dublin less than 24 hours later, for a day of press. “Everyone is just being so nice about this film,” he says, as we head out onto the streets for a photograph, settling on the small indie record shop, Rage. “And kids who wouldn’t have been born when Teenage Kicks came out, they know more than me about what went on back then. It’s crazy. My kids and their friends were locked away in their bedroom not so long ago, and they were so quiet, I thought they must be watching porn. Turns out they were watching a Snow Patrol DVD, and they were amazed to see yours truly talking to Gary and the boys in a pub, blabbing on about performing in a real coffin.
“So, yeah, it’s all a little crazy to me, but wonderful crazy, and it makes me fiercely proud of what we did. Even if we didn’t do it very well…”
In a time when celebrity is the biggest currency, and every musical wail of independence and anti-establishment comes with a copyright stamp, Terri Hooley represents the real deal. The sweet, dishevelled, devilish, false-eye-down-the-back-of-the-sofa real deal.
And like so many dangerous radicals who were feared and rejected by the establishment, years later, Hooley has gone from plague to plaque. Belfast City Council have finally realised that, during a time when the city was blinded by hate, Terri Hooley was king.
“Can you believe that?” he laughs. “They unveiled a plaque in my honour last November! I got such a rough time from these guys over the years, and suddenly, they’re unveiling a plaque to me. We had the official opening, with the Lord Mayor and all that, but we had our own little unveiling too, which was a lot more fun.”
The hope is, now that not only Belfast has come to embrace this merry outsider, Terri will be holding court at a record shop counter again before long. Having moved from its original premises on Great Victoria Street – known as Bomb Alley during the Troubles – to Howard Street, then the North Street Arcade, then the Haymarket Arcade, the Good Vibrations record emporium has graced many a Belfast street down through the decades… How many times has this penguin risen from the ashes exactly?
“Let me see,” Terri says, as he holds up his fingers and starts counting. “1, 2, 3… eh, we moved back to one premises… let’s see, the last one was the ninth, so, hey, tenth time lucky! I hope. I don’t want to say too much about it, but we should hopefully be moving into new digs soon.”
A man full of wonderful stories, with at least three of them trying to get out at any one time (if you haven’t got it already, Hooley’s 2010 autobiography, Hooleyganism: Music, Mayhem, Good Vibrations, is a treat), I know there’s a train seat with Terri’s name on it due to depart for Belfast within the hour. And the great man has three cans of Guinness hidden in his case to prove it.
Before he heads off to the next Good Vibrations Love-In, I ask Terri about the soundtrack to his life. What are the songs that he couldn’t live without? He’s still listing them as Siobhan from Eclipse Pictures drags him out the door.
“Well, my favourite record – and it’s been my favourite for a long, long time – is The Shangri-Las’ Past, Present And Future. It’s a three-minute opera with Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata running throughout – amazing record. Another would be It’s Over, by Roy Orbison, because that was the first dance I had with a great friend, and Hank Williams, of course; I Saw The Light. Bobby Darin Beyond The Sea, Frank Sinatra Summer Wind, eh, Mad About The Boy. Let me see, Nina Simone, obviously, My Baby Just Cares For Me being the obvious one, and Billy Stewart’s Summertime. Neil Young’s Rockin’ In The Free World, and there’d be a few Good Vibrations records in there too.
“There’s actually two records I really love and that the radio stations never let me play. The first one is Richard Harris and the poem about Northern Ireland, There Are Too Many Saviours On My Cross, which even gets a mention in the movie. Marty from The Outcasts is looking at this record in the shop, and Richard shouts out, “Great choice!”, but then he puts it down and walks out.
“Another great one that the Occupy movement have embraced is Marat/Sade by Judy Collins. Oh, and just about anything by Bob Dylan…”
Siobhan has his coat draped over his shoulders at this point, his fancy Guinness holder in her hand.
“…and the great San Francisco Bay Blues by Jesse Fuller.”
Hooley gives a sigh.
“There are just so many, many wonderful songs…”
And then he’s out the door, like a big, happy kid. As always.
Words: Paul Byrne