Friday, March 29, 2013

Walls and Bridges - Terri Hooley and Good Vibrations

Terri Hooley, Good Vibrations, Belfast, Northern Ireland

The Good Vibrations movie about the Ulster punk scene received a nationwide cinematic release today across the UK and Ireland.

Six years ago the founder of the Good Vibrations record label in Belfast itself in the late Seventies – Terri Hooley – was the recipient of a letter from former American President Bill Clinton who praised his role in promoting alternatives to violence in Northern Ireland.

Alike the legendary comic-actor James Young and footballer George Best, Hooley’s contribution to the socio-cultural life of the city in those days of now barely conceivable terror and hatred is truly beyond measure. However, to their immense credit, a handful of major performing artists continued to play in Belfast during the peak of the Seventies Troubles such as Horslips, the late Rory Gallagher, Elton John and Cliff Richard.

The first single released on the label was Big Time by Rudi. It was beyond reason that both Rudi and The Outcasts on Good Vibrations, alike The Blades from Dublin in the same period with singles on Reekus such as Downmarket and Hot For You, did not reach a bigger audience across these islands.

A BBC feature article later in 2008 included this magnificent commentary from Hooley: “Good Vibrations was more than just another record shop and label. It enabled young people to believe in the power of self-expression and understanding at a time when society in Northern Ireland was tearing itself apart. We were on the side of the angels. I would gladly have died then for something that l believed then, so for me personally (and l can't speak for anybody else) it really was a time to be proud. But if l had known in 1978 that Belfast was going to become so corporate and the way things were going to turn out, l would have been fighting for a wage-less, money-less, class-less society. Belfast is not about new shopping centres. Belfast is the centre of the universe and if we can solve all our problems, we can solve the problems of the world.”

Interestingly, Hooley’s 2010 autobiography includes reference to a physical run-in with John Lennon in post-Swinging London in the early Seventies over the latter’s strident feelings in support of militant Irish Republicanism. This tieing in with earlier telling commentary on the same matter in Johnny Rogan’s No Surrender biography of Van Morrison and to which many British Beatles fans may wish to remain selectively deaf.

It certainly sounded as if Lennon’s humanitarian instincts did not extend to the British soldiers serving and dieing in Ulster. This ironically so since the overwhelmingly vast majority of them were working class and – as often standing between a final descent into anarchy in the one corner of the United Kingdom that unfortunately included my own street - were considered heroic in the eyes of hundreds of thousands of Lennon's then-fellow British citizens. For it certainly was neither the Baader Meinhof Gang, the Red Brigades nor ETA blowing up my local Esso garage, Spar or Brian's sweet shop in 1972.

Good Vibrations is certainly one of the finest productions of British independent cinema in many years and a sobering reflection upon humanity and passion at a time of true darkness.

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