Down but not out -- Mean Fiddler Vince still has Power
Concert promoter who lost millions is determined to bounce back
Published 30/09/2012 | 05:00
Last Monday, Vince Power, who has promoted concerts in Ireland and Britain for decades, felt the darkest hours of his 30-year career in the music business.
Waterford-born Vince's company, Music Festival Group, went into administration, the victim of the economic downturn. Vince and his investors have lost millions.
In the past 10 days, the value of the company's shares fell like a bird shot out of the sky. Floated on on London's Alternative Investment Market (AIM) 14 months ago at 66.5p per share -- valuing it at £10m (€12.5m) -- the shares were trading at 2.1p last week, reducing its value to a grim £310,000 (€390,000).
The board of the company said last week that it had pursued a number of different funding proposals "but the company has not been able to procure the necessary funding it required".
Vince told me last night: "I am a positive person and I know I will get through this but, you know . . .
"I'm just at the crossroads again," referring to the fact that in 2010 he lost £8m (€10m) when Vince Power Music Group, his music promotions and pubs business, went bang.
"But I have no fears about moving forward. I never have. I don't think this is the end of me -- unless I get run over by a bus," he laughs.
He still has his Waterford accent after five decades living in London.
The past 10 days have had a cataclysmic effect on his business but Vince's spirit has not been crushed.
"I have a strong spirit. I'm tough. Tough on the outside."
And soft on the inside, I suggest.
"It has not been an easy time," he says. "Not at all. And also my relationship is gone. My long-term girlfriend and I broke up during the summer."
He and Gemma Philips had been together for six years. He attributes a direct connection between the end of another relationship -- with Alison Charles -- in 2004 and the start of his troubles.
Vince says he reassessed his life and wondered what he was doing with it. He had met Alison at the Mean Fiddler in 1986 and they had three children together -- Nell, Niall and Evie. (He has five other children, well grown-up now -- Maurice, Sharon, Gail, Brigid and Patrick -- by his two previous long-term partners, Patsy and Theresa.)
Vince believes that the psychological effect of breaking up with his beloved Alison resulted in him selling his almost-as-beloved Mean Fiddler organisation in 2005 -- albeit for £38m to the global giant Clear Channel -- which set in motion a chain of future events.
"There is a definite link there with the whole thing," he says. "I can see the bigger picture now, looking back. It all happened when my relationship with Alison broke up.
"I just lost a little bit of focus then and then I went and sold the Mean Fiddler. Alison was a very big part of the Mean Fiddler. Three of my kids were practically born at the festivals. All eight of my kids were involved in the festivals.
"I am angry at myself," he says of the regrettable financial situation in which he now finds himself. The pained anguish in his voice is as apparent as the anger.
"I'm sad because my properties in Ireland have all got to go. I have to sell my late mother's house in Waterford. That is terrible. It's very sad because I am a sentimental person. It's my family's home.
"But I'm not the only one that this has happened to. Everyone is feeling the same thing in Ireland. My health is there, you know, and I am still happy in that sense.
"Still, I'm very disappointed with myself, but there was nothing I could do. For various reasons, I have lost a lot of money here."
I ask him how much.
"Five million at least," he replies.
"Business was down everywhere, because of the economy, because of the Olympics. People are jumping up and down, saying the Olympics were a great success, but for the ordinary person in London and the retailers it was a disaster, because they did a huge campaign on the buses and on the tubes, 'Stay out of London'. London was deserted from the start of July. That distorted the market."
The rise and fall of Power's empire was not a matter of creativity or determination -- which Vince has in abundance -- but of a bad summer in an atrocious economic climate.
He opened the Mean Fiddler venue in Harlsden, London, in 1982 and has been dubbed the father of the commercial festival. Vince has always remained passionate about music -- a pugnacious, even maverick idealist in an industry increasingly full of dead-eyed moneymen.
"I'm passionate about music," he says. "This is my 30th year in the business. We have made a lot of enjoyment for people, put on a lot of brilliant major festivals. I think I had 20 venues once.
"They were all good times and there will be more good times. I'm not moaning. Everybody has made a lot of money over the years.
"A lot of people made great careers out of the Mean Fiddler. I am angry with myself because there is a fine line between creativity and financial viability.
"Maybe sometimes I didn't have that killer instinct for the bottom line.
"I was always very creative towards the acts because I am passionate about music. I am an ideas man. Anyone can pay €300m to get Madonna."
For many years, Vince was the biggest concert promoter in the UK, running Glastonbury (when he took a 40 per cent stake in Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis's company in 2002, he made the festival a huge success) and Reading festivals and dozens of venues and bars across the UK and beyond. The Guardian described him as the largest music promoter in Europe.
The larger-than-life icon of the music industry who had walked away from an agricultural-college course in artificial insemination in Galway has worked with everyone from Prince to Van Morrison (a friend), along with Johnny Cash, Paul McCartney, Christy Moore, Neil Young and Roy Orbison (Vince promoted his last show before he died). He is well respected internationally.
"The Mean Fiddler changed the face of British festivals," he says, not inaccurately.
"No one had the concept of multiple stages and getting proper food and nice wine before us.
"I'm sure there are people who would like to see me ride off into the sunset. I'm not going to do that.
"My style, whether people like it or not, has always been very independent. And I don't take bullshit from anyone. So there are one or two people who would like to see me gone."
He was honoured with a Commander of the British Empire award by the Queen in 2006 in recognition of his years of service to the British music industry.
It was, of course, far from HRH at Buck House that he was reared. A small cottage, with no bathroom -- "the toilet was any field you liked!" -- in Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford, where Vince was one of 11 children.
He once quipped that his childhood "made Angela's Ashes look like good bedtime reading". He was sent to his aunt Kitty Barry's boarding house in Hemel Hempstead in 1963, living in the same room as Kitty's 12-year-old son.
"I've been working in this country," he says, meaning England, "since I was a kid and my mother sent me over on the boat. I don't know where the last 50 years have gone but I have done a lot and I have a lot more to do.
"This is not my farewell story, by the way. I don't have a fear of where I'm going. I'll come back. I'm always positive, always thinking of new ideas. I'm a realist. I've had a good life so far."