'Good Vibrations' Revisits Irish Punk Explosion
"Good Vibrations" is the story of the Belfast record shop that begat the label of the same name, releasing crucial 45s and LPs from the Undertones and other Irish punk bands in the 1970s.
Based on the memories of founder Terri Hooley, "Good Vibrations" made its U.S. premiere Monday after playing film festivals in the U.K., Europe and Asia; it opens in the U.K. and Ireland March 29. A distributor is still being sought in the U.S.
Directors Lisa Barros D'Sa and Glenn Leyburn, along with actress Jodie Whittaker, sat down with Billboard to discuss Hooley, the work of music supervisor David Holmes and Snow Patrol's role in the film.
Beyond the music that Terri recorded, how did you decide what the other music should be? Niney the Observer's "Blood and Fire" was a cool starting point.
Glenn Leyburn: It's all driven by Terri and David Holmes, who was also a producer and has scored films like "Ocean's Eleven." Like Terri, David has an eclectic taste in music. Terri started Good Vibrations primarily to spread the message of reggae, and punk sort of came along.
Lisa Barros D'Sa: It's also true, thematically, that it's not just a movie about punk music. It's about the spirit of punk, the spirit of resistance. Terri just believed in the revolutionary power of music, and punk happened to come along. It's testament to Terri's vision. He described himself as an old anarchist hippie, yet when this crazy new music came into his world, he was able to recognize its greatness.
One of his first bands, Rudi, is a real obscurity in the U.S. What was their impact in ireland?
GL: They were known in Belfast, but not really in the rest of Ireland. They were one of those bands that had the unlucky breaks. In a way, one of the good things about the movie is that it brings attention to the music and it celebrates those bands that, had they had better breaks, would've gone on to better things. They actually got signed to Paul Weller's label and were set to record their first album at Abbey Road, and [then] the Jam split up and the label fell apart a week before their album was to be recorded. These stories happen all the time.
LBD: They seem OK with things. Brian Young plays with a band called the Sabrejets and he's a great archivist of that time in Belfast. He really helped us out while we were making the film -- talked to wardrobe, showed all the young musicians how to make a punk stance.
At the beginning of the film, it's noted that this is based on Terri's recollections and writings. How does that affect the story and characters and how you toy with facts?
Jodie Whittaker: Terri's an extraordinary character, his retelling of things is so theatrical that he gives himself the license to blur [facts]. Obviously, considering the state he was in for much of the time, he's not going to be the best recollector of it, so that's the beauty of the film -- it's told from inside his head.
LBD: He's a great storyteller and he's telling perhaps the most interesting version of events. We were surrounded by people who lived through those stories and histories and have huge respect for Terri so we're confident that, in essence, that's what we put on the screen.
GL: He really did get on stage and sing a version of [Sonny Bono's] 'Laugh at Me' and all the punks sang along.
Where did this project begin?
GL: [Screenwriter] Glenn Patterson had been researching a TV documentary and happened to be in a bar with Terri, which often happens in Belfast. Terri was regaling him with these stories and he walked away thinking there's something in there -- a book, a film, something. He told Colin Carberry, our other screenwriter, who writes for Hot Press, and they were talking about the stories. It took awhile. I'd say that was 10 years ago. They spoke with some people and there was some traction, but it really wasn't the right time for Terri. There were people from London and Dublin interested, but there was not much of a movie scene in Belfast with an indigenous infrastructure.
LBD: They had finished a treatment and sent it to us as friends. We realized there was this extraordinary man living through extraordinary times, but there was something universal there that speaks beyond the locality of youth and resistance and music. We jumped on board and started to develop [it]. Andrew Eaton -- who grew up in Northern Ireland -- from Revolution Films came on board because the story meant something to him. Eventually we got financing from BBC Films as well as the Irish Film Board.
Did it need a director and screenwriter from Belfast?
LBD: I think Terri felt it did. I don't know if he would have been completely comfortable unless he was able to get to know the people involved and feel they understood the heart of of it. Several of the guys from Snow Patrol [Nathan Connolly, Gary Lightbody, Jonny Quinn] invested in the film. They have a fond history with Terri. Jonny Quinn worked in the shop and actually played in a band with Terri years ago. They've always been passionate about getting his story told. David Holmes comes from a generation later, where the legacy of the Good Vibrations is very much felt.
Are any of the members of the bands involved with promoting the film?
GL: Brian Young's really involved. Greg Cowan from the Outcasts came in and worked with wardrobe and production design. The Undertones have done two shows, where they perform after screenings in Ireland.
And a soundtrack?
GL: Not at the moment. We're still trying to get clearances worked out.
LBD: David Holmes is really doing his best to get the music to come out. That's really the thing people are interested in.