Culture Under Attack was a season of three free exhibitions, live music, performances and talks at IWM London that explored how war threatens not just people’s lives, but also the things that help define us.

‘We had all sorts of people in the shop, we had IRA men partying in the shop, we had loyalists, we had weird people, anarchists from Italy and Germany, all sorts of nutters'.

By the time music lover Terri Hooley opened his first record shop in Belfast in 1976, several hundred people had already been killed and many others injured in the Troubles; a thirty year period of armed conflict and political unrest in Northern Ireland. Communities were bitterly divided and hundreds of people displaced from their homes, some never to return. The ongoing threat of violence felt very real to many, and everyday life was heavily impacted at times. In the midst of the turmoil and violence Terri’s shop became a place where people could come together through music. ‘We had all sorts of people in the shop, we had IRA men partying in the shop, we had loyalists, we had weird people, anarchists from Italy and Germany, all sorts of nutters’.

His life has inspired a film and a musical, and his story was told in Rebel Sounds at IWM London, an exhibition exploring how people have stood up for the music they love.

With its roots in the birth of Ireland as an independent nation in the early 20th century, the Troubles saw part of the United Kingdom turned into a warzone. Although expressed in different ways, the heart of the problem was a simple one: should Northern Ireland be a part of Britain or Ireland? Tied into this question of national identity were religious divides, with the pro-unionist population being largely Protestant, and the nationalists mainly Catholic.

‘The 1960s was a wonderful time to grow up in Belfast; it was very colourful, with lots to do and plenty of gigs; the Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Bob Dylan would come and play. And then the Troubles came, and then nobody came over to play in Belfast; it was a horrific period in our lives. Pubs and clubs were being bombed, and Belfast became very black and white. It was the only city centre in Europe where people just didn’t go out at night. It was all pretty dismal.’ - Terri Hooley 

The Troubles began in the late 1960s when peaceful protests organised by civil rights groups against discrimination towards Catholics by the ruling unionist majority turned violent, eventually leading to the deployment of British soldiers in Northern Ireland. Communities became more and more divided, as Terri recalls: ‘Protestants moved into Protestant areas, Catholics moved into Catholic areas and everybody became so separated.’

Republican paramilitary groups, notably the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) formed, reformed and increased in size, stepping up their campaign of armed resistance in the early 1970s against British rule and the presence of British soldiers in Northern Ireland. Unionist paramilitary groups such as the Ulster Volunteer Force (UVF) and Ulster Defence Association (UDA) also grew, embedding the threat of violence into the daily lives of people of in Northern Ireland. ‘It was just horrific,’ remembers Terri. ‘You couldn’t walk down the street without thinking a car bomb is going to go off.’

Although this violence would spread throughout Northern Ireland and eventually reach the British mainland, Belfast was at arguably its epicentre. Bars and clubs were targeted because they were places where people of similar views would congregate. Ongoing tit-for-tat attacks on individuals also led to many people staying at home in the evenings, and Northern Ireland’s music scene suffered as a result.

‘I decided: Right, if they’re gonna kill me, I’m going to do something I really want to do, I’m going to set up a record shop’ - Terri Hooley

The music scene was further impacted by the Miami Showband killings in July 1975, in which three members of well liked group The Miami Showband were killed by the UVF. The band were popular with both the nationalist and loyalist communities and their deaths were a shock to both.  Following the killings many artists were afraid to play in Northern Ireland for fear of a similar attack.

Terri Hooley had a different response to the violence: ‘I decided: Right, if they’re gonna kill me, I’m going to do something I really want to do, I’m going to set up a record shop.’ So, in 1976, he opened ‘Good Vibrations’ on Great Victoria Street in Belfast, at that time considered to be the most bombed quarter mile in Europe. The area had been so badly impacted by the ongoing violence that the shop’s landlord let Terri have the first six months of the tenancy for free.

‘And it really did bring people together for the first time in a decade, it didn’t matter whether you were Protestant, Catholic, no matter what you were so long as you were a punk' - Terri Hooley 

The shop was popular with Catholics and Protestants alike, drawn together by a love of music and Terri’s easygoing manner. A self-confessed ‘old hippy,' Terri became a champion for the fledgling Northern Ireland punk music scene, not only in the shop but by signing punk bands like The Undertones, RUDI and The Outcasts to his Good Vibrations record label.

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Songhoy Blues
© Andy Morgan
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Gordan Paunovic, the founder of the B92 radio station
Gordan Paunovic (on the right), the founder of B92 Radio © Goran Basaric
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