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Good Vibrations: when punk came to Belfast

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Belfast, 1970s: pick a side, lose your friends; pick the wrong side and maybe lose your life, too.

For Terri (with one eye) Hooley (Richard Dormer), choice has never been a strong point. In the midst of what is understatedly called “The Troubles”, he finds himself mired in a city divided, his career as a DJ all but finished.

Not willing to follow his friends overseas even after a dice with death, Hooley woos the enigmatic Ruth (Jodie Whittaker), and not long after woos the local bank manager into funding the opening of a record store (Good Vibrations) located on bomb alley – one of the most fearsome streets in Belfast. Never one to do things by half, Hooley’s bravado placates the warring factions temporarily, enabling the store to remain open.

As the troubles escalate, the face of British music is being kicked in by an uprising called punk. Hooley, after seeing local punk bands pack a club with kids of all denominations, suddenly finds himself an unexpected entrepreneur, funding the pressing of a seven-inch single. Suddenly swamped by kids and demo tapes, all he has to do is convince a big London label to sign them. But Belfast isn’t London, and in the ’70s, even London isn’t London, so while the kids are certainly united, what matters most is money.

Enter Feargal Sharkey and John Peel, and the rest, as they say, is history.

But not quite. Despite the kudos, Hooley’s store continues to waiver on the verge of insolvency as his pregnant wife watches her husband being sucked ever deeper into the ethos of punk, eventually filling the Ulster Hall with the longest guest list ever  … and not turning a quid into the bargain.

Good Vibrations, the biopic of one one-eyed man, one ruptured city and one pivotal musical movement, captures the determination of the individual, the disenfranchisement of youth and the sectarianism of violence in a magnificently understated manner.

Hooley, the godfather of Belfast punk, got a lot wrong, but he was bang on as far as punk was concerned: New York did have the hair and London the trousers, but Belfast certainly had the reason.


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