Some of the greatest pieces of wisdom I have ever received have originated in record shops. Whether it be during the many teenage hours whiled away in Manchester’s Vinyl Exchange or the introduction of High Fidelity’s ‘Top 5’ tactic into my standard conversations with new friends, potential lovers and bus stop companions, the record shop is primed as a safe haven for the disenfranchised. And in Good Vibrations, receiving its UK premiere at London Film Festival, we are presented with another inspirational record shop tale, straight from the Trouble-ridden streets of Belfast and the peace-loving, radical mind of Terri Hooley.
Directed by Lisa Barros D’Sa and Glenn Leyburn, Good Vibrations is a heartfelt and vibrant biopic of the ‘godfather of Belfast punk’, Terri Hooley, the ‘one eyed bastard’ who defied the segregation of the city’s Troubles to set up the Good Vibrations record label, record store and way of life that put the underground Belfast punk scene on the map.
With Richard Dormer in the lead role as the impassioned Hooley, the film permeates an unapologetic Irish feist from the first scene with Dormer embodying the cheeky and infectious charm that caused such an uprising in Belfast at the time. Only this uprising was rooted in empowerment and the unity of music. DJ-ing to an empty room at Belfast’s Harp Bar, Terri simply lives for the music, narrating his own life through his extensive record collection. When he first meets his beloved Ruth, touchingly played by Jodie Whittaker, it is of course a moment for The Shangri-Las. Music acts as a guiding force for Terri, and is a force that he seeks to guide others towards peace, despite the violence and terrors outside.
Experiencing a slow-motion epiphany amidst the sweaty, pogo-ing leather clad youths at a gig, Terri realises that the power to survive the Troubles isn’t through violence but through solidarity and, ultimately, music like this. These kids, ruling over the pulsing crowd with raw angst and anthemic lyrics, embody Terri’s entire philosophy.
To counter the bad vibes around him, Terri decides to open the aptly named record shop, Good Vibrations, bringing the uniting power of music and youthful ambition to one of the most bombed streets in Europe. From here, he creates the Good Vibrations record label, signing Belfast’s rawest talents including Rudi and The Outcasts, and perhaps most famously, The Undertones. While none of the bands ever made it into the Top 40, Hooley springboards the voices of Belfast’s disenfranchised youth around the country and beyond, from small town halls to the groundbreaking gig at the Ulster Hall that no one thought they could fill.
Interspersed with grainy archive footage, Good Vibrations has a gritty authenticity that matches the underground aesthetic but also the realism of the film itself. Capturing defining moments such as the recording of The Undertone’s iconic Teenage Kicks and the legendary John Peel’s first play of the track on the BBC – loving it so much he played it twice, Good Vibrations is a perfect scrapbook of this infinitely exciting time for Belfast’s punk scene and the man who made it happen. With fantastic performances from the cast and a riotous soundtrack, obviously, Good Vibrations is an unmissable tribute, championing the ‘revolutionary power of the seven-inch single’ and all those who scream on it and my highlight of this year’s BFI London Film Festival.
Attending the London premiere, Terri Hooley himself provided the perfect closing statement, declaring that while ‘New York had the haircuts, London had the trousers – Belfast had the reason’, a phrase that rings true as the credits rolled to the sounds Hooley brought to the world.
Good Vibrations is screening as part of the 56th BFI London Film Festival (in partnership with American Express) at 6.30 pm on Sunday 21 October at:
There are still a few tickets available to buy here.