Terri Hooley is a legend among the Belfast music community and beyond. During Northern Ireland’s troubled dark times Terri Hooley’s Good Vibrations record shops and label survived in countless locations around the city, selling and putting out amazing music. Terri Hooley has recently been the subject of a book ‘Hooleygan: Music, Mayhem, Good Vibrations’ and the critically acclaimed movie of his life ‘Good Vibrations’. I recently met up with Terri in his East Belfast home for a chat and a coffee. I didn’t really interview Terri; I simply turned on my Dictaphone and listened.
How do you feel now that Good Vibrations is closed for good?
Terri: We had a closing down party on the Saturday at the ‘Oh Yeah’ Centre which was good craic and on a Sunday night I said to my girlfriend Claire, “What will I do with myself now that Good Vibrations has closed down?” And she said, “Just pretend it’s still open and doesn’t go like you never did before”. It was an addiction that lasted too long. The shop wasn’t great, I was never there and I was going out playing stupid disco’s just to pay the rent – disco’s in Belfast that nobody would turn up to see me. I used to be sitting in a taxi on a Tuesday night going over to Lavery’s bar and thinking to myself “God I hope somebody turns up,” and I would practically be in tears. The night Lavery’s said they might want me to stop doing the Tuesday night I was relieved, but that was the night I actually had a heart attack and pneumonia and ended up in the hospital, so I would’ve been stopping anyway. [Laughs]
Good Vibrations really was an addiction. I was fanatical about records when I was a kid. I remember the day I got my first record. I was very young. I lived in Garnerville in a prefab bungalow estate like ‘Tin town’ and this man came round the door with these Flexi-discs, putting them through the door. I knew my brother would want it so I ran after him and I begged him for one and he went, “Here you are son,” and I couldn’t believe it! I ran into the bathroom and I closed the door and read everything on it and I hid it under the towel so that my brother wouldn’t get it. We were burnt out eleven years ago in North Street Arcade and through divorces, breakups and marriage I still have that record.
What was the record?
Terri: It was ‘Swinging on a Garden Gate’ by ‘The Humphrey Lyttelton Jazz Band’. Jazz was the music of my youth. It’s amazing – I have had that record for over sixty years and that was the day I became a record collector. I never heard it for months because everybody was poor and nobody had a record player and then one day my mate Tommy said to me, “would you give a hand round with this chair to my auntie’s house?” She had a record player and I asked her to put it on. She said “yeah”, and I really liked it. People used to give me records all the time when I was a kid. There was a friend of mine who was a Merchant Navy guy who used to go over to America and he would always come back with great records. I remember aged ten he gave me this record which I really loved. I would go round to his house and stick it on the record player and read all the labels. It was ‘Hey School Girl’ by Tom & Jerry who later became Simon & Garfunkel. I loved all kinds of music. I wasn’t a musical snob. In the sixties when everybody was into the Beatles and the Stones I used to go to these girls’ houses and they would be playing Charlie Parker or Ella Fitzgerald. I just loved it all.
When we grew up nobody had any money, but we had a big radio. My father was involved in the Labour and Trade Union Movement. He had been a Labour politician over in England before my mum had the sense to leave him and come here to Northern Ireland. My brother was born in England and I was born in Botanic Avenue in Belfast. That’s why we probably didn’t get on, the English bastard! [Laughs] He was a hateful so and so. I remember as a kid I heard this Latin record which I really thought was the most romantic ballad in the world until ten years ago there was a world music series on BBC2 and they put up the English translation, which was basically “I got my wages today and I went down to the market, I bought a new pair of shoes and I came home and put on my new shoes and I was really happy with them. I through my old shoes in the bin and somebody came along and saw my shoes and put them on and threw theirs in the bin and then somebody else…..” I thought “Jesus Christ!! I don’t want to ever learn the translation of any other song” because as a child I thought this was the most romantic song I had ever heard. I was wrong about that.
Where did you get your records?
Terri: I was a big Blues fan and because Belfast was a port, Dougie Knight’s record shop would be getting all these American imports in second hand. There were easily thirty record shops in Belfast in those days. Smithfield was a great place for picking up second-hand records. I remember the day that I sent away for my first record – when I first heard it I didn’t know who sang it. It was ‘San Francisco Blues’ by Jesse Fuller. I remember going to the Post Office and getting a postal order and filling it in and then it came in the post. I still love that record – even Eric Clapton does a good version on MTV Unplugged.
What are you doing with yourself now that Good Vibrations is closed?
Terri: It’s not too bad – I haven’t started watching the Jeremy Kyle show yet! I have been playing a lot of music and stuff. I should be de-cluttering – we have a room in there called ‘The Room of Doom’ where everything is just thrown in it. We had a ‘Music for Belfast’ campaign in the seventies and we printed all this stuff and when my mother died, I found all this stuff up in the house because all the history of the Good Vibrations label went up in the fire. Stuart Bailie is doing a book and I know it’s in that room and if I’m looking for something, I find something else but I haven’t been able to find it yet, but I know it’s in there somewhere. I’m doing a lot of correspondence and stuff with people. I keep being invited to places, which is great except I’m not allowed to fly. I was supposed to do Paris on St. Patricks Day and then I was invited to do Paris on Culture Night, and I’ll probably not get invited back again. I’m dying to get back to Paris because I loved a lot of the French artists in the sixties. I was a huge fan of Francoise Hardy. There was once a record shop in Howard Street called Golden Discs – it was the only place I could go and buy my French EPs. I would like to go back to Paris because it’s a really beautiful city. It’s very romantic – I could get a ‘French future, Mrs Hooley’. [Laughs]
I like a lot of old French music from being a kid and going to people’s houses and hearing it. I was invited to Grenoble which apparently is really beautiful, near the Swiss border and they advertised I was coming – then I had a stroke a month after I got out of the hospital, so we had to make a wee film to send them explaining why I couldn’t go and why I would be missing all the ‘French future Mrs Hooleys’ and apparently it went down a bomb. They sent me lovely wine and pate and all sorts of stuff. This mystery hamper arrived – I thought a bomb or something had arrived! We filmed me opening it up – it was a pleasant surprise.
You have had X amount of record shops over the years – do you have a favourite one?
Terri: I think the first one was a great record shop and then the big one in Howard Street was a really good record shop, but the rent and rates were too dear. What would happen is I would open a record shop and we’d have a big party with bands playing, then I would lose interest. What we should have done was have an opening party every month. I think after the fire eleven years ago I should have packed it in. They burnt us out because we were opposing them knocking down a lot of buildings in North Street and the buildings facing the John Hewitt Bar to build a multi-storey car park and all of a sudden we were burnt out one night by eight blast incendiary devices, so they definitely got us out. Their plans to redevelop that area didn’t exactly pay off because it’s still empty. I was squatting in Smithfield for six months and then I got a shop in Haymarket Arcade and then we’d a good shop in Wine Tavern Street, but business was not good. I think it was a sense of pride. I thought “You burnt us out but we’re still going to keep trying.” But I’m too old for it now.
Did any of your record shops make money?
Terri: Yeah, the first one did but then we put a lot of money into the label and putting on gigs and stuff. Little did I realise at the time that some of my staff were robbing me blind, but I have no regrets. When I started the first record shop I was working in Corporation Square for a subsidiary firm of Kodak. I came out one night and three guys with guns tried to grab me into a car and two guys who told me they hated me every day jumped in and saved my life. So I got away with that and decided I wanted to set up a record shop. I thought I’d set up a record shop and do something I want to do before they kill me; the record shop was set up with £40. In those days I was thinking about lasting until the end of the month – I wasn’t even thinking about the future. I was thinking if I could stay alive until the end of the month that would be pretty good. Little did we realise when we set up the label that people would find it important.
When I heard ‘Rudi’ in the Pound Bar it really was a Road to Damascus experience to me. It wasn’t so much as setting up a record label to me – I just wanted people to know that there was something happening here in Belfast because when I grew up in Belfast in the sixties there were eighty clubs in and around Belfast that you could hear live music from – big ballrooms like the Plaza Ballroom in Chichester Street where they had a revolving stage, and they used to open up on a Wednesday and Friday and have lunchtime sessions there because I used to mitch off school to go to them. [Laughs] I used to tell the teachers that I had to go to the Royal Hospital for an appointment about my glass eye and I would be down there with all the beautiful girls who were a lot older than me. In this area where I’m living now, there were about eight wee places I remember you could go to hear live music. It really was the swinging sixties – it was just a tremendous time to grow up. I thought the sixties was a party that was never going to end. It was fifty years ago I started doing DJ. I started off in a youth club playing my records with my Dansette record player, and then I started doing DJ in Holywood, Bangor and Belfast. It was great.
I used to work for Erskine Maine Photographic Department because photography and music were my big loves. I couldn’t get a job doing photography. Queen’s University photographic department was going to give me a job but I would have had to go to night classes. I failed the medical because the doctor held up a card and he said: “read that out.” I said, “you’re bloody stupid, I’ve got a glass eye”, so he failed me on the medicals. I worked in the photographic department which was next door to a record shop on the same floor as the record department. The reps used to come on a Friday and they used to give me all these free demonstration records because they were finished with them. So I remember I would have ‘Terri’s Tip for the Top’ and it would be ‘When a man loves a woman’ by Percy Sledge or ‘River Deep Mountain High’ and there was never a ‘Terri’s Tip for the Top’ that never got into the top ten. I had some really wonderful records – in many, I was quite blessed that way.
There was a time in Belfast that there were record shops on every street. Was there a competition between the shops?
Terri: Not really because my original idea was I wanted to stock records that you wouldn’t have got in a lot of record shops because I was always sending away for records. I would send away to America for records by the Standelles and other weird and wonderful things. I even had ‘Wind in the Willows’ which is a dreadful record but it had Debbie Harry with long black hair – that was the first band that she was in. I was collecting all these garage bands and buying Ramones records. Punk was just an extension of that really. I was never a punk, never will be – I’m still an old hippie.
In the Good Vibrations movie, the first encounter you have with Rudi is portrayed as a really euphoric moment – is that what it was like?
Terri: Yeah it was. Rudi did a brilliant version of ‘Question Mark and the Mysterians 96 tears’, a record which I love dearly and I have a feeling that they might have done a version of ‘My Generation’ by The Who but I’m not absolutely sure about that. It’s with great regret that Rudi didn’t make it – I wish I had taken more interest in the Good Vibrations movie because it looks like I let them down but in fact, I begged Rudi not to go to London when they called round to my house, when I was with my friend Paul Murphy to tell me they were moving there, I broke down and cried and said: “don’t go”. And Paul who had travelled around Europe with bands said: “Listen to Terri. Don’t go to London. You would be better off here in Belfast -don’t go”. So Rudi went to London and they had Malcolm McLaren, the Clash manager Bernie Rhodes and Pete Waterman advising them and then they came back and recorded for us but in the film, it looks like I really destroyed their career. [Laughs] I really thought Rudi would have been the band that made it, but they did get signed up at the end to Jammin Records. Nearly all the bands on Good Vibrations got signed up to some other label in England or got a record out which was good.
Do you have a favourite record that Good Vibrations put out?
Terri: Rudi -‘Big Time’ would have been one – yeah definitely it would be one of them. But it depends on the day of the week. Everybody wants me to automatically say ‘Teenage Kicks’ by the Undertones. I remember being on ‘Across the Line’, the Radio Ulster show one night and they were doing everything to get me to say ‘Teenage Kicks’, but I said “no, my favourite record is Dana – ‘It’s a Cold Cold Christmas Without You’. Nobody knew if I was being serious or not. We had it for 50p in the shop and the next week we sold the six copies that we had – we couldn’t give it away before that. People were saying to me “I really like that record but I didn’t think it was cool until you said on the radio”. I do actually like that record but I don’t think much of that fascist bitch Dana but I’m not a musical snob – there are a lot of crap records that I really love.
I used to have this thing called ‘the Vile Pile’ of really bad records. I bought this one-off Shane McGowan in a market in Soho when he was working in a market stall ‘Dicky Doo and the Don’ts – ‘A Little Dog Cried’ and it was about Jesus Christ’s dog. When we used to party in 12 Jerusalem Street and I couldn’t get people to go home, I used to stick on my vile pile. But then we had vile pile nights when everyone just wanted to hear mad records. We had some tremendous ones – we had records that should never have been made.
What is your all-time favourite record?
Terri: Marvin Gaye – ‘What’s Going On’ is my all-time favourite album in the world. I was born at the right time and the right place for that. I know Berry Gordy from Motown didn’t want to put it out but it was such a great album. I suppose the Clash first album or the Jam’s first album would mean a lot to people but at that time I was very political and I was very much into ecology and stuff and I was very anti-Vietnam war. I had been the 17-year-old chairman of the Northern Ireland Youth Campaign for peace and nuclear disarmament. I was the 17-year-old chairman of the Belfast Council for Peace in Vietnam. I was the first person ever to be arrested under the civil disobedience act of 1965 protesting against the war in Vietnam. The Americans were dropping bombs on the innocent people of Vietnam and that record to me was just the greatest record ever at the time. I was listening to a lot of artists like the Black Poets who were the forerunners of rap and hip-hop. I had a really wide musical collection. I lost three major record collections in my life -people broke in and stole them. Any one of them would be worth a fortune now, especially a lot of my sixties Ska stuff. In 1965, in Belfast, I played Bob Marley’s first record ‘One Cup of Coffee’ and cleared the floor. I wrote to Bob in Kingstown, Jamaica -three months later I got a letter back from Bob to say his father was Irish.
You have had messy nights with Bob Marley, Phil Lynott and angry words with Bob Dylan and John Lennon – did any one of those guys make a lasting impression on you?
Terri: Bob Marley, definitely! I didn’t meet Bob until the seventies – he was great. People always mention the Dylan and Lennon thing but they were only a couple of minutes of my life.
But you punched John Lennon so that’s pretty significant.
Terri: In defence may I add, I said John Lennon was off his head on smack at the time and people didn’t believe me. It’s funny, I was in Liverpool last week and I was hoping that nobody would ask me that question.[Laughs] I won the All Ireland Hot Press award in 1994 and they didn’t think that I would go to Dublin to collect it – not because I’m a great Loyalist but because I hate the music industry. I like the music but I hate the music industry – I think it’s legalised Mafia. They presented me with the award on the Gerry Anderson TV Show. I was in make-up with Cynthia Lennon, John Lennon’s first wife and a producer from the BBC came in to ask her for her autograph and he said to her “ Terri knew John”, and I said, “Well actually Cynthia this is a bit embarrassing because John and I just didn’t hit it off”. And Cynthia said, “ Oh Terri I am so glad to hear that – I am fed up every day all these people saying he was a legend – they didn’t have to live with the bastard”. I said, “You and my girlfriend are going to get on great”. I said he was a legend but I was a Rolling Stones fan. I was a fanatical Rolling Stones fan – I met them on their first visit to Belfast and I had a great time with them at the Grand Central Hotel – they were really nice.
I met a lot of big bands at the time. I met the Who, the Kinks, and everybody who came to Belfast at the time. I wasn’t a stalker – I just knew a lot of older girls. The Who were in Belfast – I think they were playing the Top Hat Club in Lisburn and an old friend of mine, Mary Johnson, was with Roger Daltrey and they went over to the ABC to see Bob Dylan. Mary had long blonde hair and was really gorgeous looking. She walked in with Roger Daltry and Dylan looked around and said to her,“hey Mary do you like to do it solo or with a group? [Laughs] Mary is a good wee Catholic girl and she was horrified.
Did you keep in touch with John Peel over the years?
Terri: Yeah I used to go over and stay with John. I met him in the sixties and John was brilliant. I remember we were over filming for a six-part series called ‘Rock in the North’ and the driver had been late and we were a bit annoyed with the driver. He hadn’t had any breakfast or anything and we got to John Peel’s house and I said, “we better bring the driver in” and they went, “no fuck him he was late”. We went in and set up and John Peel just lifted an album and said, “Do you remember the night you gave me that record in your house?” I was really impressed. We finished setting up and I went out to tell John we were ready to do the interview and there was John Peel cooking breakfast for the driver. Peel was great – he listened to everything. When we would be driving down to London in the car he would say, “stick on that cassette. What do you think of that Terri?” He played and listened to everything -he was really good.
He used to put me up in this old bedroom and one time I was out with Shane McGowan in London and one of Shane McGowan’s friends said, “I’ll give you £5000 if you steal one of John’s tapes from his house”. It was one of his Radio 1 sessions -it could have been Hendrix or Marc Bolan, I can’t remember what it was. So I asked John where the tape was and he said: “it’s just beside your bed” and pointed to a big reel to reel tape. Then I said to him a friend of Shane McGowan’s asked me to steal it from you for £5000. He said, “well if things get hard we will split the money”. [Laughs] The funny thing was, he has everything indexed and I was looking up ‘H’ and came across my record ‘Laugh at Me’. John had written on it ‘only 7 copies left do not give any more away, this record could be worth money someday’.
When did you become aware that there was going to be a film made about you?
Terri: Now there’s a thing [laughs] because there are two stories to this. Glenn Patterson said, “Colin Carberry and I have been talking about making a film from 1997.” One night I got a lot of boxes of records into Good Vibrations. I loved unpacking them because we didn’t get much for Christmas. I wouldn’t go home until they were all out. There was one night I was working late and I went round to the Crown Bar for a pint of Guinness and a Brandy and I met Glenn Patterson. He asked me to come and join him. He had two guys up from RTE who were TV presenters. They started asking me about my life and what it was like growing up in the sixties and going through the Troubles and the hunger strikes and how I kept my sanity and I said: “what feckin’ sanity?” Glenn came into the shop three days later and said: “I can’t get that conversation out if my head. I was thinking it would be a great film”.
I said, “Yeah Glenn right – now piss off!” Then he came back with a treatment and things started to get serious. There was two Dublin film companies, Temple Bar Films and Katy McGuinness, the sister of U2 manager Paul McGuinness, had a film company. They both offered us contacts and I said no because I’m very proud to be from Belfast – I’m very proud to be from Northern Ireland. We were fucking living in hell and a hundred miles down the road they were living in Heaven and we had nothing.
Our records were getting played more in stations down South that they were in the North. We loved to go down there – it was brilliant. I said, “why can’t we make our own movie?” So we waited eight years until we got the right people. The film had been dead in the water so many times and then resurrected. Even Jimmy tells me a story that he and Jonny Quinn from Snow Patrol were talking about it. When they had no money I used to buy them drink and Jonny worked in the shop for a while and then Snow Patrol put half a million pounds into it. For six months they were flying over to London talking to Film Four who wanted the script changed. One Monday morning they went in and Film Four were demanding more changes and they just said, “No, Terri Hooley is a madman – he is our madman and that’s why we making it. You are trying to turn him into some Richard Branson character – he’s not Richard Branson”.
They walked out and that was the film dead. David Holmes phoned me from LA one day and said, “Don’t be telling anybody but the BBC has just confirmed that they are going to do Good Vibrations – we are just waiting for the letter”. After what happened with Film Four we went to the BBC and somebody got what the film was all about. It’s just like the story of Teenage Kicks all over again because every record company in England told me that Teenage Kicks was shite. I got off the plane and rushed down to Rough Trade records with it and played it to them six times. They told me it was one of the worst records that they have ever heard. I was devastated. They were one of many record companies.
Do you think the film is a fair representation of your life?
Terri: Yeah it’s good but my ex-wife says it’s terrible towards me. She says it looked like I walked out when our Anna was born – it took her years to get fucking rid of me. [laughs] I didn’t want it to be all glossy and an Americanised type thing that’s all lovely. I wanted it to have an element of truth and I think it’s very accurate. There are things in the movie that people don’t believe happened like the bit where the Army stopped us – if you read Henry McDonald’s book it used to happen to all the punks going through the barriers in town all the time. At the end of the day, it’s not a documentary, it’s a movie that’s based on stories. People are going, “ Terri some of those stories are shite, I was there” etc. But it wasn’t just me who had an input into the film. Brian Young had an input; Greg out of the Outcasts had an input. They talked to loads of people. People thought that I sat down and designed the sets -I took very little to do with it. I didn’t think I would be alive to see it, so I didn’t give a shit one way or another.
Richard Dormer plays you brilliantly.
Terri: Richard is absolutely brilliant, but he can’t drink as much as me. When he goes into Terri Hooley mode it’s frightening, even I’m scared. Richard did it very quickly. Richard had been calling into the shop and he would ask people what I was like and he didn’t get much information. Then we went and had breakfast across the road in Smithfield and then we went to the John Hewitt bar and had a few drinks. We were sort of sussing each other out – he was watching my movements and my mannerisms which was a bit disconcerting. Some friends came in and the more we had to drink I would be throwing my arms around him and people were telling him “that’s Terri now”.
Then on Tuesday, they made the pilot in the Menagerie Bar. I was not going to turn up but the director who was over from New York wanted to meet me and I’m glad I did turn up because Richard had me down to a ‘T’ – he does me better than I do myself. He is a brilliant actor. I had never seen him before but his career is really taking off. I laughed because he went on to do Game of Thrones after playing me – his next role was playing another ‘one-eyed man’, so I was a bit worried about him being typecast for the rest of his life.
You said before that in an ideal world you would like to retire to St. Lucia. Could that still happen?
Terri: Years ago these Americans came over to film me in Belfast and they were going to make a documentary of me going out to Jamaica and visiting Bob Marley’s mausoleum and hooking up with some reggae artists that I had met before. I went to St. Lucia but I wasn’t allowed to go to Jamaica and I had a great time in St. Lucia. After a few days, I was more St Lucian than the St. Lucians. It would be really nice to retire there. If I ever won the lottery I would go and sit on the beaches of St. Lucia. I had a really great time and then I came back to Belfast and had a heart attack.
You were in the hospital for a while. How are you feeling now?
Terri: I’m getting there so I am. I just take one day at a time, sweet Jesus.
How would you like to be remembered?
Terri: Wanker! It’s not something that I really think about. I don’t care. A simpleton.
Terri: My biggest regret in life is I never had a sister. I think it’s because I had such a terrible brother. I would like to have had two older sisters to show me the ropes – that would have been good.
Photography by Bernie McAllister – Argyll Images