herald

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Good vibes, in spite of tricky genre

Making films about rock'n'roll is a devilishly difficult beast to master. Even straightforward biopics can go disastrously wrong (hello Oliver Stone's The Doors) and while you occasionally get a gem such as Allison Anders' Grace of My Heart, which reimagined the life and career of Carole King with wonderful original music those moments are fairly thin on the ground.

Let us be thankful then for Good Vibrations, which screens on BBC2 tonight at 10.30pm.

Not only is this a magnificently-made movie but it tells the remarkable and true story of a crucial period in the musical history of this island. Terri Hooley (wonderfully played by Richard Dormer, inset) started up the record shop Good Vibrations in Belfast at a time when its main thoroughfare was being bombed by the IRA on a regular basis.

And, as if that wasn't a lunatic enough enterprise, he founded a record label of the same name when there were few such outlets even in England.

Hooley's epiphany came when he wandered into a gig by Rudi in The Pound and was captivated by the sound and energy of the nascent punk scene. The band's first single Big Time was a cracking statement of intent but it was the label's fourth venture, in September 1978, which ensured that Good Vibrations achieved immortality.

Recorded for next to nothing in a tiny studio, Teenage Kicks by The Undertones, encapsulates everything that's great about rock'n'roll in its purest form and the clip where Hooley hears the song for the first time and we watch Dormer's facial expressions change from curiosity to ecstasy, without us hearing the song at all, is simply magical.

disaster

Another of the film's many virtues is that it doesn't set out to be a hagiography of its subject. Hooley himself freely admits that he was a disaster as a businessman and the script reflects that, showing the frustration of Rudi, in particular, as valuable career momentum was lost due to administrative and production screw-ups.

Good Vibrations looks, sounds and feels spot-on - anyone who attended punk gigs in '77 and '78 will be swept back automatically - and it's also great at capturing the bitchiness and rivalry that goes on between bands operating within the same scene.

One priceless moment occurs as Hooley and members of Rudi watch The Undertones make their Top of the Pops debut and the guitarist can only offer a withering 'Look at the state of their trousers'. All too believable.

A true underdog story, this seeps the love of music from every pore. Unmissable. 10.30pm tonight, BBC2.

>>>George Byrne

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