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Hooleygan: Music, Mayhem and Good Vibrations

Tim Heron
p. 160-162
Référence(s) :

Terri Hooley, Richard Sullivan, Hooleygan: Music, Mayhem and Good Vibrations, Belfast, Blackstaff, 2010, 234 p. ISBN 978 0 85640 851 9

Texte intégral

1First published in 2010, two years before the release of the film Good Vibrations film which was based on Terry Hooley’s life and which renewed interest in Northern Ireland’s 1970s punk scene, Hooleygan: Music, Mayhem, Good Vibrations is a biography written by journalist Richard Sullivan and is based on his conversations with Terri Hooley and his entourage. The book begins with an account of how Hooley acquired his glass eye: when he was six years old, a stray toy arrow shot by a neighbour blinded him in his left eye, and as the young boy climbed into the ambulance, the Hank Williams song “I Saw the Light” played in his mind. The tale of the accident brings together the two factors that would define Hooley’s life: his status as an outsider and a passion for popular music. As the son of a church-going Methodist and an English socialist, the one-eyed eccentric never identified with the sectarian politics of the loyalist East Belfast street he grew up in or with that of Northern society at large. While the first chapters of the book deal with Hooley’s life before the onset of the Troubles – his first sexual encounters, his involvement with various 1960s counter-culture groups and the drugs and sex parties where he acted as DJ – the central chapters are devoted to the 1970s and 1980s, by which time hippie optimism had given way to a climate of increased sectarianism. Hooley, who identified fully with neither side of the Northern Ireland conflict, concentrated on his passion for music. In 1977, despite the volatility of inner Belfast, he opened up a record shop, Good Vibrations, in the centre of the city. It soon became one of the focal points of the North’s burgeoning punk scene, which helped bring young people together regardless of their religious or class background. Hooley also started a record label on which the singles of some of the scene’s most important bands were released and which came to the attention of the wider world of punk music, but failed to attract the commercial success that the bands had hoped for – the Undertones being the notable exception. The rest of the book charts the flagging fortunes of his various record shops and music projects while stressing his continuing love of music and unfaltering embrace of the rock’n’roll lifestyle.

2In the introduction to Hooleygan, Glen Patterson writes that “the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth only applies in a court of law. The unlikely, the improbable, the frankly incredible, are acceptable if the punch line is good enough”. This may make for a compelling story, but recourse to such literary license is problematic, especially when applied to the highly collaborative punk scene. The back cover states that Hooley is the “undisputed Godfather of Punk” in Northern Ireland, and the biography, along with the 2012 Good Vibrations film, give credence to that narrative. The focus on Hooley’s involvement in the world of music occasionally runs the risk of diverting from the contribution of other key facilitators and of playing down the agency of the young punks themselves. However, there is no denying that Terry Hooley played a crucial role by championing the Northern punk scene and by putting his energy, his contacts, and his material and financial resources at the disposal of young bands, often with the awareness that it was not in the interest of business. Besides, the book’s tendency to overplay the part played by its antihero as well as its colourful tales of drug- and alcohol-fuelled parties, encounters with rock icons and fisticuffs are well-established within the genre of rock biography. What sets Hooleygan apart is the way in which the realities of the Troubles and of the North’s peripheral nature are shown to intersect with and complicate the usual challenges faced by actors of the music world: efforts such as organizing a festival, finding a venue, managing a band, going on tour or dealing with the barons of the music industry become significantly more difficult when one has to deal with sectarian tensions, hostile local authorities, security forces and paramilitaries. But this is no grim account of the Northern conflict: on the whole, Richard Sullivan has managed to capture Terri Hooley’s buoyancy and charisma – no easy feat when considering his idiosyncratic speech pattern and the fact that his anecdotes are best told in person – but what truly brings Hooley to life are the short interstitial testimonies written by a range of people associated with the North’s music scene, which act as a chorus and as a counterweight to the larger-than-life voice that sometimes threatens to become overpowering, and which remind the reader that Hooleygan is at its heart a love letter to music and to Belfast.

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Référence papier

Tim Heron, « Hooleygan: Music, Mayhem and Good Vibrations », Études irlandaises, 40-2 | 2015, 160-162.

Référence électronique

Tim Heron, « Hooleygan: Music, Mayhem and Good Vibrations », Études irlandaises [En ligne], 40-2 | 2015, mis en ligne le 15 décembre 2015, consulté le 18 janvier 2018. URL :

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Tim Heron

Université de Reims-Champagne Ardennes

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