THE BELFAST PUNK

North­ern Ir­ish ac­tor Richard Dormer’s first cin­e­matic lead role has opened the door to a new stage in his ca­reer, writes

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

IN 1978, star BBC DJ John Peel dropped his sty­lus on Teenage Kicks, a song by an un­known group from North­ern Ire­land called the Un­der­tones. With its fang­ing gui­tars, wob­bly falsetto vo­cals and catchy “I wanna hold her wanna hold her tight” cho­rus, Teenage Kicks had the mak­ings of a punk-pop clas­sic; when the song fin­ished Peel did some­thing he’d never done on live ra­dio. He played it again.

At the same time, in his Belfast bath­room, Terri Hoo­ley was feel­ing de­spon­dent. It had been four days since he’d got down on his knees at BBC Broad­cast­ing House in Lon­don and begged them to give the sin­gle, in its wrap­around white paper sleeve, to Peel. With the Trou­bles, the bloody sec­tar­ian vi­o­lence, rag­ing out­side, Hoo­ley’s quest to put North­ern Ire­land back on the mu­sic map was look­ing hope­less.

The scene where Hoo­ley hears his wife’s faint cries of joy, then rushes down and bounces around the liv­ing room to Teenage Kicks x 2 is one of sev­eral high­lights of Good Vi­bra­tions, a cheer­ful biopic that tells the story of this so­called “Belfast God­fa­ther of Punk”. In 1977 Hoo­ley opened a record shop in the heart of a di­vided city, pro­vid­ing a space for young people of all faiths to hang out. He went on to pro­mote gigs and es­tab­lish a la­bel, also called Good Vi­bra­tions, which re­leased punk an­thems by re­bel­lious, non-sec­tar­ian Ul­ster youth.

“Terri was blind to colour, creed and di­vi­sion,” says Ir­ish ac­tor Richard Dormer, 44, whose per­for­mance as the bearded, one-eyed Hoo­ley car­ries the film. “He was pas­sion­ate about the unit­ing force of mu­sic. He kept young people off the streets and gave them some­thing to live for, even if it was just get­ting to­gether once a week in a grotty, spit-cov­ered bar.”

There have been other drama­ti­sa­tions of Belfast and its his­tory. But Good Vi­bra­tions feels more au­then­tic for its clever use of 1970s ar­chive footage — a cut-and-paste ef­fect rem­i­nis­cent of a punk fanzine — and the fact it was made by a lo­cal cast and crew, in­clud­ing hus­band-and-wife di­rect­ing team Glenn Leyburn and Lisa Bar­ros D’Sa. Dormer was nom­i­nated for best ac­tor at the 2013 Ir­ish Tele­vi­sion and Film Awards for his por­trayal of Hoo­ley, his first lead cin­e­matic role.

“Good Vibes reaches all over the world re­gard­less of pol­i­tics and lan­guage,” says Dormer over cof­fee in a mem­bers club in Soho, cen­tral Lon­don. “I’ve been to 10 in­ter­na­tional fes­ti­vals with it — Berlin, Moscow, Austin in Texas — and ev­ery sin­gle time it’s got people up clap­ping and cheer­ing at the end.”

A di­verse sound­track by Gary Light­body of the band Snow Pa­trol and mu­si­cian and com­poser David Holmes, the man who made the

June 7-8, 2014 films Ocean’s Eleven, Twelve and Thir­teen so hip, in­cludes bits of reg­gae, coun­try and 60s pop. But the genre that has the most im­pact — spit­ting and snarling as Belfast im­plodes and Hoo­ley comes un­der threat from po­lice, paramil­i­taries and his pen­chant for booze — is punk.

Hoo­ley’s peace-lov­ing DIY aes­thetic dove­tails with emer­gence of the likes of Rudi, the Out­casts and the Un­der­tones, who he wa­vered over (“No­body rated them,” he has said) be­fore sell­ing the rights to Teenage Kicks for 500 and a signed photo of the Shangri-Las. Now aged 66, and hav­ing re­opened his Good Vi­bra­tions shop for the umpteenth time, Hoo­ley re­mains an ide­al­ist and a mav­er­ick. He was never a busi­ness­man.

“If Terri hadn’t lost an eye as a kid (to a toy ar­row) he wouldn’t be who he is,” says Dormer, who grew up in Lis­burn, Greater Belfast, hear­ing men­tion of Hoo­ley’s name. “He lit­er­ally saw the world dif­fer­ently and it height­ened his senses, made him ap­pre­ci­ated mu­sic that much more.”

Dormer never

fre- quented the orig­i­nal Good Vi­bra­tions shop in Great Vic­to­ria Street, then nick­named “Bomb Al­ley”. The youngest of three chil­dren born to a shop as­sis­tant mother and a psy­chi­atric nurse fa­ther who moon­lighted play­ing piano in ho­tels, he was more into books and po­etry than mu­sic. He planned on be­ing a writer be­fore act­ing in a play by Sea­mus O’Casey at high school and be­ing en­cour­aged to pur­sue drama as a ca­reer.

“Ev­ery­one told me, ‘You’re great.’ I was like, ‘Am I?’ It was too easy.” Stints at the Ul­ster Youth Theatre and a schol­ar­ship to Lon­don’s Royal Academy of Dra­matic Art fol­lowed. Life in the Bri­tish cap­i­tal was tough for a 17-year-old with a strong North­ern Ir­ish brogue and a chip on his shoul­der.

“North­ern Ire­land is cool now but my gen­er­a­tion grew up feel­ing like sec­ond-class cit­i­zens, nei­ther English or Ir­ish.” A pause. “I’d go into pubs car­ry­ing a bag and they’d hear my ac­cent and tell me to get the f..k out, think­ing I was an IRA ter­ror­ist.”

Af­ter liv­ing and work­ing non-stop as an ac­tor in Lon­don, Dormer moved to Dublin and took a three-year break from act­ing: writ­ing po­etry, trav­el­ling around, think­ing mean­ing­ful thoughts.

“I had it

all at the be­gin-

Good Vi­bra­tions, ning and I didn’t want it,” he says. “I got back into it through a friend.

“It took me a while to ap­pre­ci­ate that act­ing is a tough life and that the older you get the tougher it is. But I’d rather have suc­cess now than when I was younger.”

Dormer com­bined play­writ­ing with act­ing and won praise for his per­for­mance as North­ern Ir­ish snooker star Alex Hig­gins in Hur­ri­cane, which he wrote him­self in 2003. Af­ter an award­win­ning turn in Frank McGuinness’s Ob­serve the Sons of Ul­ster March­ing To­wards the Somme and roles in plays, in­clud­ing Ge­orge Bernard Shaw’s You Can Never Tell — un­der di­rec­tor Peter Hall at the Theatre Royal in Bath, Eng­land — Dormer was com­mis­sioned to write a play by Dublin’s renowned Abbey Theatre.

The re­sult, in 2012, was the ac­claimed Drum Belly, a tale of Ir­ish-Amer­i­can gang­sters in New York that was set on the weekend of the his­toric first moon land­ing in 1969 and fea­tured a sound­track of songs (“The Stooges, Cree­dence Clear­wa­ter Re­vival, gutsy en­er­getic rock ’n’ roll”) cherry-picked by Holmes.

“David is a good friend of mine,” says Dormer. “He showed me that a good piece of mu­sic is of­ten more ef­fec­tive than words. I was never a big mu­sic fan un­til Good Vi­bra­tions came into my life. I thought punk was just noise. I loved the gui­tars in Teenage Kicks but I couldn’t stand Fear­gal Sharkey’s voice. But now I look back and re­alise how much it cap­tured that youth­ful angst.”

His rec­ol­lec­tions of the Trou­bles are still vivid: “Thank­fully I didn’t lose any­one I knew but they shaped all of us. I re­mem­ber watch­ing tele­vi­sion with the fam­ily on a Satur­day night and there’d be this deep boom and our big win­dow would buckle in and out and we’d ca­su­ally go, ‘ Oh, that sounds like Dun­murry’ or ‘I think that was Fi­naghy’ and con­tinue watch­ing TV.”

Lis­burn was a Protes­tant-loy­al­ist strong­hold; Dormer’s first girl­friend was Catholic.

“I thought just like Terri Hoo­ley would,” Dormer says. “Which was, screw it! The only way this war is go­ing to fin­ish is if we ig­nore the people who tell us what we can’t do and do what we think is right.”

Dormer has be­come a pop­u­lar tele­vi­sion ac­tor in roles that both em­brace and tran­scend his na­tion­al­ity. His most fa­mous TV char­ac­ter to date, the role that gets him stopped on the street, is that of Lord Beric Don­dar­rion, the oneeyed, flam­ing sword-wield­ing out­law from sea­son three of HBO phe­nom­e­non Game of Thrones — which hap­pens to be filmed in North­ern Ire­land.

“I must do great one-eyed bearded scar work,” he quips. “I had to au­di­tion six times for

Richard Dormer plays mu­sic pro­moter Terri Hoo­ley in the biopic

left; at the film’s pre­miere in Lon­don, be­low

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