Terri Hooley bioplay Good Vibrations ready for stage debut at Lyric
Although the young stars of Good Vibrations weren't born when Teenage Kicks by The Undertones was released, the first stage adaptation of the Terri Hooley biopic is still a story for our times, as Gail Bell discovered
RADICAL, rebel and Belfast's undisputed 'godfather of punk', Terri Hooley is set to storm the stage of the Lyric theatre next month.
Well, OK: it won't be the real Terri Hooley, but the irrepressible Good Vibrations record label founder has popped into rehearsals at Belfast's Lyric Theatre to offer tips to cast of a new 'play with music' based on his life.
Some of the musicians the Belfast promoter helped to 'pogo' into the Big Time in the late 70s have also made themselves available to the all Irish cast and crew of Good Vibrations – the first stage adaptation of 2013's hit biopic starring Richard Dormer – such as Brian Young of Rudi and Greg Cowan from The Outcasts.
Adapted for stage by the film's writers Colin Carberry and Glenn Patterson, who were nominated for Outstanding Debut at the 2014 Baftas, director Des Kennedy says that Good Vibrations will provide an energetic take on 1970s Belfast.
Kennedy, whose directing credits include Harry Potter and The Cursed Child and Once: The Musical, describes this new production as a potent "live gig meets live theatre" type show.
"What we definitely haven't done, though, is have this really cool, punk thing, and turn it into Jersey Boys," he says.
"No-one suddenly breaks into song mid-sentence, but music surrounds the story, as does the political turmoil of the time."
Hooley (69), who opened his Good Vibrations record shop in Belfast in the 70s and put out records by Rudi, The Outcasts and The Undertones among others, is "thrilled" that a local team of writers, directors and producers is bringing his story to a whole new audience.
"I’m very proud that we opened up nightlife in Belfast when the city centre was a no-go area for many people," says the man whose label achieved cult status when legendary BBC DJ John Peel played The Undertones' debut single Teenage Kicks twice back to back.
"It didn’t matter if your hair was green or orange, it mattered if you were a punk. They were my heroes."
It seems the feeling is entirely mutual when it comes to the stage cast, particularly Portadown-born actor Aaron McCusker who is portraying Hooley.
He describes his 'subject' as being "a force of nature".
"It's daunting, really, to be playing someone who is still around and who will pop in and tell all these amazing stories," says McCusker (39) during a break in rehearsals.
"It was so good just to sit and listen to Terri and hear him talk about the people he's met and the things he's done. The first time I met him, we were in his house for two hours and I never said a word.
"He told us about letters from Bob Marley and knowing Bob Dillon and John Lennon and things like that, and you're just sitting there, thinking, 'please just tell me more'."
However, one thing the former Shameless star and the punk impresario didn't quite see eye-to-eye on was facial hair:
"Terri has a bit of a bee in his bonnet about me not having a beard," the actor says, laughing.
"He keeps telling me, 'don't have a beard', but although he'll tell you exactly what he thinks – and if he thinks you're s***, he'll say, 'that wasn't me' – he is a lovely man, a real force of nature.
"I didn't know much about Terri Hooley before, but now I have a little 'punk' play list that I always listen to; it's great to open people's eyes to the punk movement and bring it to a new generation."
McCusker's co-star, Bangor-born Niamh Perry, was similarly impressed by Ruth Carr, Hooley's first wife and the woman she will portray on stage.
"I met Ruth who was so serene and calm and it definitely helped me with the role," says the musical theatre star, who first came to public attention after reaching the 2008 final of BBC talent show, I’d Do Anything.
"It is a surreal thing to sit opposite somebody and know the kind of character you've been working on in your head is sitting right in front of you.
"Ruth was great; she just said, do what you have to do; you guys do your thing."
Perry (28) who was directed by Kennedy in the lead role in Once last year, grew up listening to an "eclectic array of stuff", including the Eagles and The Saw Doctors. She believes a relationship with music "can shape you as a person" and says she can understand the release it provided for young people in 1970s Belfast.
"Music was escapism for all these people who didn't want to be part of the unnecessary divide at the time. The music brought them together. Music is at the forefront of this story, but also surrounds it to enhance certain moments."
There is, also, she says, a "raw and rustic" edge to the choreography, reflecting the anarchy of the movement at the time – but it would be wrong to suggest that Good Vibrations is just an out-and-out punk fest.
According to Kennedy, the show features skilled musician-actors and reflects Hooley's own wide-ranging taste in music. He stresses there will be music to suit all tastes, from country and western to reggae and disco.
"The stand-out song for me is [Rudi' debut single] Big Time but there are many great moments," says Kennedy.
"We also recreate many locations on stage, with the set moving from bars to clubs to living rooms, but the action is mainly centred around the Good Vibrations shop.
"Terri opened his shop at a time when it was virtually impossible to do anything in Northern Ireland and released records, which must have seemed completely barmy to everyone else.
"He harnessed all this energy, showed there was an alternative way of living and showed the value of bringing people together through music."
Still a story for our times, he believes there is no better time to be retelling it:
"Poverty in Northern Ireland is endemic and the people in power are more than happy for us to be divided and stick to our ‘side’ rather than come together to address issues.
"Punk was young peoples’ way of saying, 'that’s not good enough' – I’m going to rip my clothes, paint my jacket and dye my hair orange and green.
"Young people still care about jobs, about poverty – and about having a government that fixes things. This is a universal story and I hope it continues to be told because it is a story of hope and about sharing and not dividing."
:: Good Vibrations opens on September 1 and runs until September 30. For ticket bookings, ring the Lyric box office on 028 9038 108 or visit Lyrictheatre.co.uk