Belfast Telegraph

Musical trailblazer: Belfast's Terri Hooley

By Stuart Bailie

He discovered The Undertones, ran Belfast's hippest record shop and still DJs across the globe. Now, as Terri Hooley recovers from a serious heart attack, his many friends are staging a concert in the city tomorrow in honour of the 'Godfather of Punk'.

A most beautiful thing happened on Boxing Day, 2010. The setting was the Good Vibrations record shop in Winetavern Street, Belfast. The host was Terri Hooley and the party was born out of an unusual idea. Everyone was invited. Food and drink was optional. But what mattered was that anyone who attended should bring down a photograph of someone they had recently lost. Those pictures were placed on the wall and finally, they all had the chance to find their own meaning in Christmas.

While the nearby stores were extracting the last penny out of the season and selling off their remaining tat, Terri recognised that this could be the loneliest time of the year. Sometimes he joked that one of his favourite local records was It's Gonna Be A Cold Cold Christmas by Dana. So with a wonderful, intuitive gesture, he allowed these souls to grieve, to give thanks and maybe even to crack a smile.

Some people will know these qualities in Terri. He has great powers of empathy. He can dig into the soul of the most errant character and can find something valuable there. In this sense, he is the cheapest social worker in Belfast. There are nights when he's DJing in a bar and his audience looks like a Care In The Community convention. Every variety of misfit.

But he will spend time with each one of them and will create a lovely accord. Later, he will tell you the particulars about the recovering addict, the widow, the gender issues, the terminal illness and the breakdowns.

And, while he is resolving these personal conflicts, Terri is playing tunes. One of his standards is Common People by Pulp. It's about having pride in your world and never allowing yourself to be taken for granted.

He will often follow up with Altogether Now by The Farm, a song that soars above prejudice to find the humanity in us all. And no Terri DJ set is complete without Teenage Kicks, the Undertones song that he released on his Good Vibrations label in 1978. It's a song that will always be fresh and true. It provided the epitaph on John Peel's grave and every generation has a moment that is enriched by it.

Terri is variously described as the "Godfather of Punk", a poet, a blarney merchant and the boss of Belfast's poorest record shop. His record label effectively ran for four years and put some blazing, honest music into the world. In that era (1978-82), Northern Ireland was chiefly known for its hellish conflict and that bottomless potential for sectarianism.

Terri wasn't the first punk rock fan on the block, but he saw a bigger picture, that it could empower young people and save souls. Instead of the supposed "two communities", there was another place out there, an Alternative Ulster. The band Stiff Little Fingers may have sang about this notion, but it was Terri and his people who made it real.

So we used to spend our Saturdays in his shop, enriched by the ideas, the enthralling music and the novel experience of meeting soulmates from every part of the city. It was an information centre as much as it was a record store. Terri had lived through some liberating moments in the previous decade, so he was like a crackpot uncle, offering slogans, speeches and strategies. Therefore, Terri will always be embraced by the punks, the ravers, the old Sixties heads, the LGBT warriors and everyone else who feels displaced by our busted system. That was surely the message of the 2012 film Good Vibrations, the story of one man, a record shop and his defiance. The award-winning film was rooted in the specifics of Belfast. It's about the principled person who will not suffer in silence.

Terri's catchline comes from from a Bob Marley song. One Love is the most perfect notion, but it doesn't reach everyone. He caught the ire of some republicans when he brought his punk bands to London for the 1979 festival, A Sense Of Ireland. It was felt that he was taking an overly positive message into the world. Later, he received an appalling kicking from loyalist paramilitaries for refusing to pay protection money.

But for all of the haters, there is much affection for Terri. He has just spent Christmas in a hospital bed, the aftermath of a heart attack. His space is surrounded by get-well cards and the sweetest messages. His visitors have included Gary Lightbody and Bronagh Gallagher.

His friends manned the shop in his absence and, on December 20, he watched via Skype as the massed Good Vibrations choir sang Teenage Kicks from the record racks and then individually wished him a Happy Christmas. It was like the closing scenes of It's A Wonderful Life. We cried.

Things went wrong earlier this summer. On August 26, Terri came out of a DJ night at Lavery's and could barely breathe. His lungs were congested and his resources of strength were low. The doctor put him on a course of antibiotics and told him to stay off the drink.

With great reluctance, he cancelled an appearance at the Electric Picnic festival that weekend. Four days later, he went ahead with a reggae set at the Limelight and introduced The Wailers.

He rallied a bit and, in September, he was off to Barcelona and a club date. He attended the San Francisco Film Festival and made a pilgrimage to the City Lights Bookshop, where he bought a copy of Allen Ginsberg's Howl. Then it was back to the late night gigs: Tuesdays at Lavery's and Thursdays at Voodoo.

However, on December 1, he was admitted to the Ulster Hospital.

For a week, his illness was a secret. He was planning to visit London for a punk gig at the 100 Club. The doctors said no as the gravity of his illness became apparent. Heart surgery was very likely. Yet at the same time, Terri went public on social media.

He has put out so much generosity. Now it's his turn to receive. The music community is massing up for a benefit night tomorrow at the Limelight. New names have been added daily. "Garth Brooks wants to do it," he says laughing. "But only if he can play five nights in a row."

Terri reckons he was born at exactly the right time. He was old enough to appreciate the vitality of rock and roll. He was primed for the Sixties and that curious fever. He was marked by the Cuban missile crisis, by Vietnam, by peace, love and the age of Aquarius. He was encouraged by the rebel voices of Dylan, Lennon, Marley and Rotten. The wit and the charm has not left him yet. We might see a modified Terri in 2015.

Or possibly not. This is the man who once recorded a terrible version of Sonny Bono's Laugh At Me. The singing was wretched, the rhythm was duff, but still it reached the top of the Sounds Alternative Chart.

Once again he had demonstrated every person can make a human expression and win. The killjoys could always be dispensed with a defiant noise. To quote from the poet Walt Whitman: "I sound my barbaric yawp over the rooftops of the world."

And still it sounds. He's the only Terri Hooley we will ever have. Which is why we must cherish and celebrate the guy.

  • Good Vibes for Terri takes place at the Limelight in Belfast tomorrow (8pm), featuring Tim Wheeler, Nathan Connolly, Iain Archer, Bap Kennedy, Bronagh Gallagher, Richard Dormer, Duke Special, VerseChorusVerse, The Outcasts, The Defects, The Sabrejets, The Groundlings and Steven VX. Admission £10

A life so far

1948: Born September 23 at Cameron Street, Belfast. Grows up in Glenluce Avenue, Garnerville estate in east Belfast

1954: Shot by an arrow at the age of six and loses an eye

1976: Opens Good Vibrations record shop at 102 Great Victoria Street

1978: Starts Good Vibrations records. First release is Big Time by Rudi. Fourth release is Teenage Kicks by The Undertones

1982: Good Vibrations goes bankrupt, but the shop returns many times and in 11 different locations

2012: The film Good Vibrations is released, with Richard Dormer in the role of Terri Hooley

2012: A plaque is unveiled on Hill Street, Belfast to mark the site of the old Harp Bar, the punk bands that played there and the legacy of Terri Hooley

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