Just the title, Good Vibrations, conjures up images of 1960s’ Beach Boys’ California sun and surf, or post-Woodstock hippy love and peace, but it is a much bleaker setting of 1970s’ Belfast that this story of one man’s passion for music in which this true-life story unfolds.
Prog-rock was drowning in its own pomposity, reggae was starting to find a wider (and whiter) audience and punk was raising its sneering head. Belfast was being split by “the troubles”, and in the midst of all this anger, Terri Hooley decided to open a record shop, the titular Good Vibrations.
Like legendary radio DJ John Peel, Hooley was a champion of new music, not only because he could see the passion with which it was being performed by the bands and embraced by the fans, but also because it managed to transcend the sectarian violence that was destroying his city. In one scene he manages to negotiate a sort of peace settlement that ensured his shop would remain untouched by the factions with nothing more than a bag of vinyl records.
The film manages to compress almost twenty years of Northern Irish musical history into just over 90 minutes, and still add in romance, politics and humour, to paint Hooley as local folk hero, which to most Belfast musicians he was, earning him the title of “godfather of Belfast punk”. As Hooley declares at the end of the film, “When it comes to punk, New York has the haircuts, London has the trousers, but Belfast has the reasons.”
For Dooley, it was always about the music and never about the money, which was not the ideal way to run a business, as is shown in the film. The passion and determination he put into getting The Undertones’ song Teenage Kicks to become a punk anthem, was not reflected in what he sold his record company’s share of the rights for.
Richard Dormer is fantastic in the lead role, as is Jodie Whittaker as his loving, but sometimes long-suffering, wife. And then there is the music, of course. The film feels like a mixture of The Commitments and Control, which has to be recommendation enough, but it has its own charm as well, and brings to life an overlooked hero of British popular culture.