Ahead of a new play about his life, Helen McGurk meets up with Ulster’s undisputed godfather of punk, Terri Hooley
It seems an all too cutesy setting for Belfast’s finest anarchic son, the man who once clocked John Lennon in the face and had a prodigious appetite for boozing and partying. In the good old days, he says, we would have met in the pub, but the once infamous imbiber says he has curbed his carousing.
“I don’t do liquid lunches anymore. I sometimes look back and think that I’m sorry I ever drank,” he says.
Hooley hasn’t had a proper meal all week after being felled by a terrible migraine headache and is looking forward to an Ulster fry.
“After I lost my eye (the result of a boyhood accident with a bow and arrow) I started to take migraines.” Popping a paracetamol, the man who discovered The Undertones, explains: “They are not as bad as when I was a kid. I was driven mad with them and missed a lot of school.”
Now nudging 70, Hooley suffered a heart attack in 2014; he takes 11 tablets a day and admits his health “isn’t great”.
“I’ve been a bit agoraphobic recently. My walking isn’t good, but I always walk better when there’s a young lady beside me,” he laughs.
“The doctors told me in the 1960s that if I didn’t stop partying and having a good time, I wouldn’t live to see 30. Then they told me I’d never live to see 40, then 50 and then when I was 50 I decided to have a child (his son Michael) and now I can’t believe that I’m nearly 70.”
Hooley is dressed in a smart pinstripe jacket, with iconic CND badge and a pair of Doc Marten brogues - the must-have footwear of rebels and rockers. I tell him he is looking well.
“I must have looked awful (referring to the time of his heart attack), I don’t think that thin grey heroin chic look suited me,” he laughs.
Next month the Lyric in Belfast will put on a stage adaptation of Good Vibrations, the film which was released in 2013 and is a tribute to the city’s most famous music trailblazer.
It tells Hooley’s story, that of a radical, rebel and music-lover in 1970s Belfast when the conflict shut down his city.
“The first part is very much like the movie, but the second part is completely different,” he says.
When he met the cast and crew he says he talked to them about his “ridiculous, stupid life and what a fool I’d been.
“The only sad thing about all of this with the film and the play is that I had a lot of friends who would have loved all this more than me.
“Eleven years ago I lost 37 friends in the one year. And then the next year I lost my mum and dad. I went for counselling because I wasn’t getting out of bed and I wasn’t going to work and I wasn’t happy. I would recommend counselling to anyone.”
Terri Hooley is the man who discovered The Undertones and brought a series of punk gigs to Belfast during the darkest days of the Troubles. His hip record shop and label, Good Vibrations, were a haven for those who wanted to throw off the tribal labels pinned on them at birth and define an alternative Ulster.
“I am very proud of where I come from and I’ve always been proud of Belfast. I’ve never wanted to live anywhere else - I think the people are great, I just hate the bigots, the racists and the homophobes.”
Reflecting on the 1970s he says: “I’m very proud that we opened up nightlife in Belfast when the city centre was a no-go area for many people. It didn’t matter if you had green hair or orange hair, it mattered if you were a punk. They were my heroes.”
Born in 1948 Terence Wilfred Hooley grew up in the Botanic area of Belfast. His mother Mavis came from a “big unionist family background”; his father George was a “bit of a radical”.
“They went to live in England and my father was voted in as Labour councillor. My mother missed the family in Belfast and I admire her because she had the guts to get up and leave him - she was pregnant with me at the time.”
He loved growing up in the 1960s.
“The 60s to me were just so colourful. There were 80 clubs in and around Belfast from big ballrooms to small church halls where you could hear live music - and then, nothing. The 70s were just so horrific and black. I lost too many friends to care about religion. I just believe we are all one big family and we are all here to help each other and get on. I don’t know how you could hate anybody for just an accident of birth.”
Hooley is full of surprises. His most recent claim to fame was appearing on the television antiques show Flog It! alongside Mickey Bradley from The Undertones.
“That was the pinnacle of my career,” he smiles.
These days the godfather of punk lives a rather more sedate life, watching Dinner Date, First Dates and Come Dine with Me on TV. He says his partner of 12 years, Claire Archibald, is “keeping me alive”.
“She brings me breakfast in bed every morning and makes sure that I take my tablets.”
And punk’s godfather recently became a grandfather - his daughter Anna, 38, had a little girl.
“I think being a grandfather will suit me,”
So what’s the future? “Well, there’s God’s plan and there’s my plan. I’ve got my 70th birthday party organised for New Year’s Eve in the Oh Yeah centre and if I don’t make it - it’s still going to go ahead.”
One can only imagine it will be one almighty hooley.