No alternative: iconic record shop is silenced

Ireland Correspondent,David McKittrick
Saturday 16 April 2011 00:00 BST

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Louise Thomas

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When Terri Hooley finally closes the doors of his independent Belfast music shop, it will be the end of an era for what is known as Alternative Ulster. Good Vibrations may have survived the Troubles, but it has since become a victim of big business, new technology and the recession.

The store, often referred to as Good Vibes, is tucked away in a little market street close to the city centre which is dwarfed, symbolically and actually, by a giant modern shopping mall.

The shop is a Belfast institution and Mr Hooley is a Belfast character who for years has kept alive the cause of music outside the mainstream, especially punk. But now, he intends to close. "Business is so bad, it's unbelievably slow," he says.

He is proud of the fact that he introduced the BBC's late John Peel to the punk anthem "Teenage Kicks", which propelled local band The Undertones to international prominence. Peel said it was his favourite song.

Mr Hooley is also known for the time he punched John Lennon at a party because the Beatle said something in support of the IRA. He also took Bob Dylan to task for not campaigning against the Vietnam war, provoking the folk legend into saying: "Why don't you just eff off."

Good Vibes is all an independent record shop should be: intimate, cosy and comfortable, small but well organised and with an extraordinary range of music on CDs, cassette tapes and vinyl LPs.

Singles by The Undertones and other punk bands are on prominent display; so too is Elvis; so too is Bob Marley, with whom Mr Hooley once socially smoked. But the shop also features blues, folk, skiffle and ballroom, as well as Sinatra, Bing Crosby and Vera Lynn.

As befits a figure identified with counter-culture, Mr Hooley has a reputation as a famous party-man: he was once memorably described as "lovely when sober – but when the brandies take effect, he can be tiresome, with a roaring boy persona".

Born in 1948, he is an old hippie who, in pre-Troubles Belfast, went to see artists such as Van Morrison and Rory Gallagher. But the violence subdued the music scene and things went dark for years.

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Then punk arrived, with Mr Hooley setting up a record label and championing the many local groups which emerged in the late 1970s, providing an unexpected counterpoint to the Troubles.

Gary Lightbody of the group Snow Patrol described the phenomenon: "It was the antithesis of everything else that was happening at the time. It was a light in the darkness – nobody else was doing it."

One punk veteran recalled: "Good Vibrations was the only thing that reflected the youth culture. Belfast was like a cultural wasteground – there was absolutely nothing."

Looking back to the heyday of the late 1970s, Mr Hooley says: "I can't believe we did all those things, and what it means to other people. If anywhere in the world needed punk, it was Belfast – punk in Belfast was a uniting force.

"It was the first time since the Troubles began that Protestant and Catholic kids could come together in the city centre and mix. And it didn't matter whether you were a Protestant or a Catholic, it didn't matter if your hair was pink or orange or green – as long as you were a punk, that was the unifying force."

Mr Hooley survived being threatened by loyalist paramilitaries for protection money, but at one stage lost his entire music collection when a major fire destroyed his backstreet shop. He picked himself up and started again.

His resilience helped his shop to achieve a ranking as one of the 15 most famous rock record shops in Britain and Ireland, so that many tourists found their way to his doors.

Explosions in Belfast failed to shut him down but now the explosion of technology, coupled with recession, means closure: downloading and cheap music for sale on the internet has crushed his trade.

But there is a ray of hope for the future. A film based on his autobiography, Hooleygan: Music, Mayhem, Good Vibrations – described as "anarchic, dishevelled and hugely entertaining" – is scheduled to begin production later this year.

Today is record store day

*Record Store Day (RSD) started in the US in 2007 to celebrate independent record stores. Today 180 British stores will take part, featuring 252 exclusive releases and more than 200 special performances. RSD's current anthem, "I Need That Record" by The View, features the Dundee band's local independent record store Groucho's.

Highlights of this year's exclusive releases include atmospheric ballad "Supercollider" by Radiohead, which ironically was leaked online yesterday. The Beastie Boys, Gorillaz, Adele, The Flaming Lips and Tinie Tempah have all put out new material, while The Rolling Stones are re-issuing "Brown Sugar" on seven-inch vinyl. Events are being held across the country, from Edinburgh's Avalanche Records (which will be handing out freebies to its customers) to Cardiff's Spiller's store, thought to be the oldest record shop in Britain. The Music Matters campaign, which aims to highlight the "value of music", is distributing 20,000 special badges through participating stores.

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