DJ Terri Hooley: I'll be fit for hootenanny if I continue to behave

The punk rock spirit it willing but the flesh... well, let's just say it's had some setbacks. Will that keep Terri Hooley away from the decks this New Year? Will it heck

Terri Hooley – I turn 71 on December 23 but I've still got the mental age of an 11-year-old. Picture by Mal McCann
Maureen Coleman

TERRI Hooley doesn't sleep too well in strange surroundings. These days he finds it hard to get quality shut-eye when he's away from home. The appeal of the all-nighter has faded somewhat and he's no longer up for boozy benders that last for days.

The realisation that his actual age and his mental age no longer tally dawned on him last year, following one of his legendary DJ sets at Club Paradiso in Amsterdam. The founder of the Good Vibrations record shop and label had been invited to play the famous nightspot with one of his punk proteges, The Undertones. But the short trip left him exhausted and facing a harsh reality – perhaps the time had come to take things down a notch or two.

“I'm not so good with travelling now,” Terri says. “I was only away in Amsterdam for a few days but it took me a week to recover when I got home and I wasn't even partying.

“I was away in Taranto in Italy earlier this year and the same thing happened. I had a fantastic time there but it took me a good week to get over it. The problem is, I don't sleep well when I'm away from home.

“I turn 71 on December 23 but I've still got the mental age of an 11-year-old. I have to remind myself what age I am.”

There have been several health scares over the past six years and Terri insists he has paid attention to the warnings – to a degree. In 2014, just weeks before his 66th birthday, he suffered a heart attack and underwent triple bypass surgery.

Terri recalls feeling unwell and hiding in the bathroom, not wanting to alarm his long-term partner Claire. He called a friend who persuaded him to accompany him to A&E. While being examined by a doctor, Terri expressed concern about a gig that he was due to DJ at in London that month, a Good Vibrations Christmas bash at the 100 Club in Oxford Street. He was flabbergasted when the doctor informed him that he was going nowhere. Not only was Terri suffering from pneumonia but he'd had a heart attack as well.

“I had no idea how ill I was,” he says. “I'd had a heart attack 20 years earlier and I will never forget the pains in my arm and my chest. It didn't feel like that this time.”

Four nights later, he became really ill and once again, was told he'd another another attack.

“I was warned then that had I been at home that second time, I would've died,” he says. “I was lucky that I was in the hospital when it happened. I decided to listen to the doctors then and stay in hospital.”

Medically imposed bed rest meant Terri had little choice but to clean up his lifestyle. But not long after he was discharged he suffered a stroke and found himself back in hospital. This time he was urged to attend classes on nutrition and exercise and was told to cut out his partying.

“I called those classes 'boot-camp,” he says wryly. “But I did pay attention and I did improve my lifestyle. I ate more fruit and less fish suppers. I cut back on the salt. And I didn't go out boozing the way I used to.”

Whether what happened next was a direct result of what he'd been through health-wise that year is anyone's guess, Terri says, but he developed agoraphobia for a short while. For someone who was used to partying with rock stars, DJing in nightclubs around the world or merely sitting in a pub, brandy in hand, chatting to old punks, this was a shock to the system.

The once sociable Terri became anxious about leaving his home. Even going to the local shop to fetch milk was a struggle, so he'd ring Claire instead. Terri can't be sure what brought the fear of going out on, but he recalls feeling a sense of vulnerability after collapsing at a friend's funeral.

“I don't know, maybe I was afraid that if I went out in public, I'd collapse again,” he admits. “Whatever the reason, I stopped going out for a while.”

Finally staring at the four walls got the better of him and Terri reappeared on the scene.

It's after much consideration that Terri – whose colourful life has inspired a movie and a stage show – has decided to step away from the decks after 58 years. But being Terri, he's not about to go quietly. Instead, he's going to bow out in style with a Goodbye Vibrations Tour in 2020, a fond farewell to the Irish music scene with 20 DJ nights across the country. The tour will begin at the Oh Yeah Music Centre in Belfast on New Years Eve, marking his final Hooley Hootenanny.

“I'd rather go out with a bit of a bang that just fade,” Terri says. “But I think the time has come to take a step back from DJing.”

Terri started DJing at the age of 13, honing his craft in church halls and youth clubs. He took on a number of part-time jobs, saving his wages to spend on records. His passion for music has lasted a lifetime and though he'll always be associated with Northern Ireland's punk scene, it was the sounds of the 60s that really captured his heart.

A fan of bands like The Rolling Stones, The, Small Faces and The Supremes, their tracks still have a special place in his record collection. There are certain songs too that are a constant feature in his set list – Let's Dance by David Bowie, Disco 2000 by Pulp; Build Me Up Buttercup by The Foundations.

Naturally he often gets requests to play The Undertones' hit Teenage Kicks, a song Terri presented himself to the late DJ John Peel and which Peel loved so much, he famously played it twice, back-to-back, on his radio show.

There have been many highlights in his career and in true raconteur style, Terri always has a story to tell. A gig in Moscow to coincide with a screening of his biopic, Good Vibrations, stands out as a particularly memorable affair.

“They'd actually built a 'Hooleygan' bar and I did a DJ set there,” he says. “Then I was invited to the St Patrick's Party at the Irish Embassy. I was treated like a rock-star and the reaction to the film really blew me away. For 10 minutes they gave it a standing ovation.

“That whole trip was unbelievable, even if Putin's boys told me never to apply for a visa again. I inspired the punks and gay people, supposedly, and they weren't happy about that.”

Terri may be planning to live a slower-paced life but he still has things he'd like to do. He's considering starting a music podcast and there are places he'd like to visit; places he never got to see when he was ill. But for now, the countdown is on to his final hurrah, the last ever Hooley's Hootenanny.

“I had a check up recently and asked the doctor would I be here for New Year's Eve,” he says. “I was told that if I continued to behave myself, I'd still be around in five years' time, so that was good to hear.”

Just don't rule out a comeback further down the line.

:: Terri Hooley's Last Ever Hooley's Hootenanny, Oh Yeah, December 31, from 9pm. Tickets at

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