Paperback Rioters

Who said music and books don't mix?

‘I can’t even write my own name never mind a book,’ legendary punk producer and discoverer of the Undertones Terri Hooley says, laughing off a query from the floor about his ‘forthcoming’ autobiography.

He may not have a book to plug but Hooley finds himself sandwiched between two rock writers, former NME assistant editor Stuart Bailie and Hot Press contributor Peter Murphy, at 'Paperback Rioters', an excellent evening of writing inspired by music at the Oh Yeah Centre as part of the Belfast Book Festival.

Rock has always flowed through this city’s veins, as Bailie reminds us with his account of Eric Bell’s journey from east Belfast to lead guitarist in Thin Lizzy via a shift as a builder’s apprentice and a particularly strong acid tab. Bailie’s Ballad of the Thin Man remains the definitive account of Phil Lynott and the boys and his reading captures his passion, and knowledge, for this most seminal of Irish bands.

Technically it might be a literary event but the tunes are never far away. The country-rock of local outfit Pixie Sayter and Robert Holmes' great voice – think Mark Lanegan without the gravel – keep the crowd entertained between readings, while Peter Murphy prefaces his reading from debut novel John the Revelator, the title itself a blues song by Blind Willie Johnson, with a brief explanation of the role of music in his book.

Everyone contributes something to a great celebration of music writing but Good Vibrations proprietor Hooley is the real star of the show. As the big man with the glass eye reads from loose leaves about the early days of the record label and the advent of punk in Belfast it’s not hard to see why Northern Irish author Glenn Patterson is currently writing a screenplay of his life.

Hooley speaks candidly and lucidly about the early days of his record label and the advent of punk in Belfast. ‘I still to this day can’t believe I put out John Peel’s favourite record,’ Hooley says of the song that made his and the Undertone’s name, ‘Teenage Kicks’.

On that fateful night in 1978, Peel, who loved the track so much he played it twice on Radio One and gave it 28 stars on his one to five star ratings for new singles, transformed Hooley and the Undertones from local nobodys to Northern Irish legends. ‘From the moment John Peel played it my life changed,’ Hooley explains.

His seemingly endless anecdotes are full of great yarns about punk rock Belfast: once, Queen’s mistakenly rented the Mandela Hall to Hooley for a punk gig, he refused to cancel the show, got Hell’s Angels to do the door and laughed when the university’s students union sent him a letter barring him for life.

Terri Hooley is a paperback rioter par excellence, a unique Belfast institution with a great story to tell…and a wicked line in self-deprecation.

‘I’m living proof that masturbation makes you go blind – that’s why most people call me a wanker.’ 

Peter Geoghegan