Monday 22 May 2017

Rock and roll home

Legendary music promoter Vince Power was very hands-on in the renovation of his home, so it dances to his tune, says Mary O'Sullivan. Photography by Tony Gavin

The den where the family watches TV
The den where the family watches TV
Mary O'Sullivan

Mary O'Sullivan

When music impresario Vince Power bought his current house in 2006 it needed to be fully renovated and, together with his designer, he turned it into an astounding home. Located in the centre of north London the house -- beyond its electronic gates and deliberately preserved, unassuming Victorian exterior -- is a delightful clash of periods, colours and design philosophies; part Art Deco, part Hollywood film star, part pure Noughties.

The taste is all Vince's. Not a lot of people know this, but the man who created the Mean Fiddler and more than 20 other music venues was big in furniture in London in the Seventies, and knows a huge amount about design, period and quality.

One of the jobs to be done as part of the renovation was re-roofing. Vince could have done that job himself, too; even fewer people know that when he came to London first as a teenager, taking roofs off houses was one of the many skills he developed.

Vince may be a multimillionaire and one of the most powerful people in the entertainment business in England -- and now a million miles from that humble Waterford kid who went to London to seek his fortune -- but the legendary festival organiser makes no bones about his roots. He's not a talker, so he rarely sounds off about himself, but when Vince is questioned he's happy to supply all details, and is proud of his background of good family and hard work. Though, maybe, not of all aspects. "I'm from Kilthomas, do you know it? It's famous for its porridge. We had it all the time and we hated it," he reminisces with a laugh.

He goes on to recall that his family was quite poor, "but that was not uncommon in Ireland in 1947, when I was born". His father was a forester, and Vince was one of 11 children, four of whom died at an early age, including his twin sister. Yet, he says, it was a typical Irish family of the Fifties.

"We lived in the country, in a labourer's cottage on one acre. We had one cow, we had one of everything. We saw very few cars. If a car passed and we didn't know who was in it, we'd be very curious," he notes. "Ireland was like a Third World country then. It reminds me of Albania, where I used to do charity work."

The third eldest of the family, the young Vince went to London in 1964 and first stayed with an aunt in Hemel Hempstead, a suburb north of London. "It was a new town," he recalls, "a kind of a hostile place. There were a lot of Irish working on the motorway. I got a job as a trainee manager in Woolworths. I got a suit in Burtons and made £11 a week."

He then went on to work in Whiteleys, a big department store, again training as a manager. "It was great status to have a job with a suit," Vince says. "My aunt liked that, there was even a different canteen for workers in suits, but I was unsettled and went home a few times.

"Standing in the fields sent me back to London again," he says drily. "I'm still the same, longing for home, home for a week and I'm longing to be back here again." However, Vince does admit that emigrating to England was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Every time he returned to Ireland, he lost his job, but Vince says it didn't matter -- in the London of the Sixties there was plenty of work. "You could walk off one job and into another," he remembers. Other jobs he took on included factory work such as a packer in McVitie's biscuits.

"Packing them and eating them as well. You could buy a huge bag for pennies," he recalls.

Of course, like most Irish people, he got work in construction and this was where he first began to make money. "I stumbled across an Irish contractor doing demolition. I was good at climbing and he gave me the job of removing roofs. So I became self-employed. He gave me £2 a roof, which was good. I could do 10 a day," he explains.

The properties he worked on were small, terraced houses -- a bit like the kind seen in Coronation Street. The homes were being demolished because they were poky and had no indoor toilets. The tenants were being housed, instead, in high-rise apartment blocks. "The higher up in the rise a person was, the more delighted they'd be." It was because of these tenants that Vince got his next big break.

"They couldn't wait to get out of the little houses and they left everything, the furniture, the lot. They wanted melamine cupboards and formica. I used to clean the stuff up and sell it."

The enterprising Vince sold pianos, chests of drawers, anything wooden -- from his home at first, by putting ads in newsagents' windows and in the local newspaper, but soon graduating to running his own furniture shop. He did very well.

Vince needed to make money -- he had married at 18, was 19 when he had his first child, and had three kids by the time he was 21. "I met Theresa, she's from Cork, in a ballroom. She was my first girlfriend and we were 11 years together." Explaining their split later, he says: "She grew up, I grew up. We grew out of each other."

Meanwhile, his furniture business expanded -- first one shop, then another; soon, he had three. He then began to buy old furniture to sell in the shops.

"I always was a person who knew a lot about a lot of things, but not enough about one thing," says Vince. "I'd go and look at the stuff and if I was out of my depth, I'd say: 'I'll call in my specialists.' If you read the Yellow Pages, you would think I knew everything. Mine was always the biggest ad."

His brothers, Chris and Sunny, came to work for him and he had a few vans on the road. At one stage in the Seventies, Vince did a lot of furniture removals to Ireland, as so many Irish people were returning home.

In the Eighties, his business expanded into selling new furniture, but by that stage Vince had grown bored, and decided he wanted to do something else.

The music business beckoned. "I had always loved music, my mother used to sing, my uncles and cousins still play and sing in Waterford; locally they're very popular. I didn't know about music. I just had dreams."

He dreamed of creating the perfect music venue. "I used to go to Nashville, and I could see we were well behind," he says. "It was either the sleazy nightclub or the trad band, nothing in between. No cosy place with good music, a nice bar and cold beer. I always wanted my own venue and after I got into the music business, I got engrossed in it."

Not surprisingly, Vince found the music industry more exciting than the furniture business, and decided to sell his stores -- the last of which to go was in 1985.

As with the furniture sector, the music business proved a success for him. The Mean Fiddler, which he opened in 1982, was his first venture, though it took some tweaking before he got it right.

"It took a long time for the Mean Fiddler to be recognised," says Vince. "We came out of nowhere, snuck up, a lot of people started saying: 'Who is this Mean Fiddler?'''

The stereotypical music-industry player is extrovert, charismatic, brash even, the very antithesis of Vince Power, who is quiet, softly spoken, with a slight lisp and just a hint of the old Waterford accent, with a thin veneer of London on top. He is also apparently diffident to the point of shyness. Not the most obvious music entrepreneur, then.

Yet, by the time he sold his music business he had established more than 20 venues and was running seven hugely popular festivals.

So, what is the secret of his success? "I am quite shy, not a social person at all. My mother used to tell me I was a pleaser. And I do like to see people happy. When you do a festival, 50,000 to 100,000 people enjoying themselves, I'm quietly very satisfied."

He warms to his theme. "To be successful in the music business is the same format as the furniture. You're buying and selling, it's just they're different commodities. If I have a talent, it's recognising others who are good at what they do. The key is to try to enable people to do it themselves."

In 2001, Vince's business became a public company and he, who favours designer stubble, striped shirts, black jackets and jeans, became its unlikely chairman. He didn't like the role. "I wasn't suited to the public company. I used to go to the board meetings, listen to what everyone had to say and do it my way anyway. I pissed everyone off."

Going public achieved what he wanted -- it enabled him to get the company into good shape for selling it, and in 2005 he sold it to Denis Desmond and Live Nation for £38m. But if he thought off-loading the business would make him happy, he was wrong. "It was the saddest day of my life. All of a sudden there was money in the bank, but no one is calling you," he notes, adding with a laugh: "I must have been insecure or something."

He soon came to the conclusion that only two things matter to him in life -- and one of them is work. So, fairly soon after selling that business, he started another. "The idea was I'd take it easy, but there was a real possibility of me becoming an alcoholic," he jokes. "So I went and bought a building in the West End and started again. I work full-time. I'm not a big fan of holidays, I love work."

Vince had agreed, on selling, not to organise festivals in Ireland and the UK but the no-compete clause it didn't cover Europe, so he started the Benicassim Music Festival in Spain. The no-compete clause has now expired and he has added the Hop Farm Festival to his burgeoning empire.

He bought back some of the venues and now he has nine, including The Pigalle Club in London. He's also heavily involved in the charity scene, and has reactivated the famous Berkeley Square Ball, which had stopped 15 years ago. He hosts the event every December. Vince is reluctant to talk about his charity work: suffice to say he has been awarded a CBE for his philanthropy.

But, as important as his business and charity work is, his children, photos of whom can be found throughout the house, come first in his priorities.

He has three children with Theresa -- Maurice, Sharon and Gail, all in their late 30s and early 40s.

"Maurice worked with me for a long time, in the bars. He has got a couple of his own now, in Camden. He's nearly as old as myself," Vince smiles.

After he split up with Theresa, he met Patricia Ryce, with whom he lived for seven years. Their children, Brigid and Patrick, are in their early 20s.

"She [Patricia] moved back to Ireland with the kids. That was a sad time, but Patrick is here now." He's very proud of the fact that the two are in the music business. "Brigie sings in Galway, Brigid Power Ryce," he says, giving her her full singing name, "and Patrick is a professional guitarist. Like Brigie, Patrick will always have a career in music. He can pick up anything and play it. His heart and life are in music."

He met Alison, the mother of his three youngest children, in 1989, and they were together for 15 years. Together they have Nell, 18, Niall 15, and Evie, 13.

The youngest three have rooms in his house and stay with him for part of every week. Otherwise he's on his own. "At the beginning, I hated it, but now I quite like it," he says.

What's not to like ? The house is 6,000sq ft of glamour, comfort and style, with five bedrooms, all en suite, a massive living room, a den where the family hangs out and Vince's office. There's also, of course, a kitchen, but to Vince it's the least important room in the house.

"I didn't want to put in a kitchen and everyone was disgusted so I reluctantly put one in. The bar was put in before it. I very seldom cook and in the fridge there are no crisps and cakes," he says with a laugh.

But while it may be an unused room, it's certainly a stylish one; but then everything about the house is.

Shaun Clarkson, the well-known designer who worked with Vince on his pubs, designed the glass extension, the interior and helped him source the furnishings. "Myself and Shaun personally selected everything, and we had fun," he admits, adding that he wanted it to be a rock 'n' roll house.

Their finds include mirrors from Antwerp, mirrored tables from Sunset Boulevard in Hollywood, a Seventies sofa from Paris and numerous lamps picked up on their travels. But not everything is vintage or antique. The carpets throughout are handmade, the extra-long striped sofa in the living room is covered in fabric from Paul Smith, and Vince has the latest technology in the kitchen -- the fume-free fire is run on ether. There is also a gym.

The entire house is wired for music. "I like Christy Moore and Bob Dylan, the kids are into Lily Allen and Jay-Z. We all have different tastes, so generally you'll hear different types of music in each room," explains Vince.

The kids' rooms reflect their personalities and interests -- Evie's is pink, Niall's is all about football, while Nell's is red, and covered top-to-bottom in red carpet.

Surprisingly, Vince's own bedroom is quite feminine: "I like feminine things. I like chandeliers, I like soft colours," he explains. It's enormous but, at the moment, if Vince is to be believed, there's no woman with whom to share it.

"You haven't heard the last of me. Who knows, I might find another woman; there are plenty around," he jokes.

Off Vince's room is an en suite, one of four bathrooms in the house, and a dressing room lined with Paul Smith-style shelves, which house masses of Vince's trademark blue shirts.

His favourite part of the house is the new section -- the glass extension where he sits while listening to music, and observing nature's goings-on in the massive garden, which is complete with a hot tub. "I love the idea of this inside-outside area. I love watching the squirrels, I try to entice them with nuts."

He also loves the strong colour schemes he came up with for the house -- the vibrant pinks Evie opted for, the burgundies of his bedroom; and the green, reminiscent of the Art Deco era, in the kitchen.

"It's different, I think," he says. "People are generally very cautious, very safe. You must have faith in your ideas."

It's a mantra for 2010 -- and it has certainly worked for Vince Power.

See www.shaunclarksonid.com

Sunday Independent

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