'I lost everything, but money has never made me happy' - music promoter Vince Power
He was a multi-millionaire and Europe's biggest music promoter. Vince Power tells our reporter about losing everything, the women he loved and lost - and his unconditional love for his eight kids
A sunny Saturday afternoon in London, July, 2009. In a yellow 1950s American Cadillac with the top down, Vince Power is driving daughters Nell, Evie and son Niall - and yours truly, who had been a guest at their north London Victorian mansion for the weekend - through Hyde Park in the pleasant sunshine. The then-multimillionaire Waterford-born music mogul takes a call on his mobile from another daughter, Brigid. She is ringing from the zoo...
"I'm here with some deers, dad," she explained.
"Some old dears?" enquired Vince.
"Some old deers," Brigid laughed. "I thought you'd like to hear that, dad, because you are one. Old."
Nearly nine years later, their dear old dad, who turns 71 next month, is pondering the alleged wisdoms, or otherwise, of age. Vince says he has learned nothing from losing everything.
His life's philosophy is - "nothing is ever as bad as it seems". Be that as it may, he lost a whopping £9m when his giant music empire, the Vince Power Music Group, went under in 2010. A year later, his company Vince Power Music Festivals was floated on London's Alternative Investment Market at 66.5p per share.
The company was valued at £10m. In late 2012, those same shares were worthless - trading at 2.1p, and valuing Vince's company at less than £300,000. He was wiped out. Vince had to sell everything to satisfy some of his personal guarantees on his businesses.
Why did he sign the personal guarantees with such risk attached to them?
"Obviously, they are people who are probably a bit shrewder than me who would never sign the personal guarantees, but I always had the belief. You don't go into it thinking it is going to fail. I would never have done something if I thought it was not going to work out. Everything I have done - including marriages and relationships - I always thought they were going to work out. OK, I couldn't predict a recession in Spain, a recession in Ireland and a recession in the UK; all at the same time, and I had huge investments."
In the worst of the bad times, Vince used a guided meditation app on his mobile phone to help him go to sleep at night when he was suffering from extreme anxiety. He would wake up in the middle of the night - or if he was lucky, at dawn - with the phone on his chest. He had to sell his home in north London. Liam Neeson, he says, expressed an interest.
Vince now lives on a boat docked in London. This is a man who hates water, can't swim and is terrified of drowning. Money was never everything to him, he says. Vince adds that all he needs in life is a good shower that works and clean sheets to sleep on.
"I am not materialistic. I lost millions. I don't focus on the money. I lost it all, everything." (The last time I met Vince, three years ago, he had lost a lot of weight and looked ill; today in the Shelbourne he is back to his normal weight and the twinkle in his eye has returned.)
His businesses may have lain in ruins, however, but his priority was his family. "My kids were always the most important part in my life," Vince says in his almost whispery Waterford accent - "unmodulated", as the Telegraph put it, by 55 years' life in London. "I love my kids more than anything."
What is he like as a father? "I had my first baby at the age of 20," he says. "And my eighth baby at the age of 50. I think I've done better as a father as I got older."
Like a lot of Irish, Vince went over on the boat from Ireland to England in the 1960s in search of a better life. The son of a forester, he grew up literally without a pot to p**s in at a small cottage in Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford, with no hot water and the toilet was "any field you liked".
"I was born at home in the front room and delivered by Pinky Walsh," Vince says of the local midwife, "who delivered us all. I recently met Pinky's daughter in London", smiles Vince, who was one of 11 siblings, of whom four died in early childhood. Vince's twin sister died soon after she was born on April 29, 1947.
"She was never named because she was too young when she died. She wasn't buried in a proper grave because she hadn't been baptised. The Catholic Church said she wasn't entitled to have a proper funeral," he said. He doesn't believe in God. This is possibly related to the fact that his beloved sister was buried outside the churchyard in non-consecrated ground by the Church like there was something wrong with her. Many years ago the local grave digger showed Vince the area where the babies were buried, who weren't baptised. Vince went to visit her last Thursday, when he went home to Waterford.
"I only know the general area where she was buried," he says. "So I could never put up a marker or anything." His mother Brigid (who died on February 17, 1986) also had twins who died when they were very young. Vince can recall seeing his father Jack (who died on July 17, 1972) and his friend, John Mullins, making a coffin out of orange fruit boxes for one of the babies who had died.
In 1963, 15-year-old Vince was "sent" to his aunt Kitty Barry's boarding house in Hemel Hempstead where he lived in the same room as Kitty's 12-year-old son. Vince remembers that he also lived in a back room of the house of a Jamaican woman who treated him like her son. "I loved it," he says. Vince also loved it when he fell for an 18-year-old girl from Cork, Theresa Fitzgerald, whom he met at an Irish club in Harlesden in 1966. They married in 1968 and lived in a room in Bramshill Road, before relocating to a big house in Stonebridge Park.
In the 1960s, he says, there were some wonderful houses in that area "but they were knocked down to make way for the tower blocks. I know because I personally demolished some of them", says Vince, whose early career says "Woolworths, labourer and demolition worker".
Vince and Theresa had three children, Maurice, Sharon and Gail, but sadly were to divorce in 1978. In 1979, Vince started a seven-year relationship with London-Irish girl, Patsy Ryce. They had two children, Brigid and Patrick. In 1986, he started a relationship with Alison Charles (they broke up in 2003) which yielded three children, Nell, Niall and Evie. He is going to Alison's wedding in London in a few months. There was also a beautiful young lady called Gemma Philips, whom Vince dated from 2004 until 2008 (I met her in Spain with Vince in 2007 and they seemed inseparable) and whom he met in London last weekend. Post-Gemma, Vince dated "a famous hat designer" - whom he won't name.
Describing himself as "absolutely and hopelessly romantic", Vince, who is blessed amongst women, says he was last in a romantic relationship six months ago.
I ask Vince Power who was the love of his life. "All," he says, "my relationships were the love of my life".
Vince says he believes that "the profound psychological effect" of the split with Alison resulted in him selling Mean Fiddler organisation in 2005 for £38m to Clear Channel. He believes that sale, which he regrets to this day, set in motion a chain of future events which brought the once massively wealthy titan of the music industry to be living on a boat in London. When Vince lost everything, he smiles, his phone, which used to ring all day and night, stopped ringing. It was, however, he believes, "an awakening". A priceless awakening, perhaps, as Vince found out who his real friends were and, also, who his real enemies were, too.
"I have forgiven all my enemies. I have made up with everybody I ever fell out with. Life is too short," says the self-made Irishman who was given a CBE by the Queen in 2006 for his sterling services to the British Music Industry and who The Observer once bequeathed him the title of The King Of Music.
This sobriquet was qualified thus: "He is the man who revived the Glastonbury and Reading festivals; who took Bob Dylan and Van Morrison to Finsbury Park, and Johnny Cash, Paul McCartney and Roy Orbison to his Mean Fiddler venue; Neil Young and Prince to the Hop Farm in Kent; and organised James Brown's last performance," wrote Ed Vulliamy.
"I've had a bad run but show me a person who hasn't had a bad run," Vince says with characteristic candour. "But I had 27 venues and seven festivals at one point and all the bars and clubs I had in London."
How does Vince look back on that time when he was king of the world?
"I never saw myself as the king of the world. I am in a way as happy now as I was then. Money never made me happy. Clearly! My kids make me happy. Achieving stuff makes me happy. Listening to Johnny Cash and Van Morrison records at night makes me happy," he says. Despite his sometimes foreboding image, Vince is quite light-hearted and doesn't take himself too seriously. "My life is like a comedy. I laugh at myself more than at others. Father Ted never fails to make me laugh. I had this idea to start a dating site for the over 70s as Tinder is maybe for the under 70s. So my idea is Tender. Which is probably taken!" he laughs.
"I've had some great times in this industry, and I will continue to have some great times," he continues. Through it all, Vince stayed focused and he recovered, eventually, healing himself along the way as he did so. He is putting on a giant show, The Feis, on July 7 in Liverpool with his old pal Van Morrison headlining - along with Imelda May, The Chieftains, Damien Dempsey, Paul Brady, Hothouse Flowers, The Coronas, among many others.
How does it feel to be back?
"I never left," he belly-laughs.
Vince has been running Nell's, a music venue in West Kensington, for four years (no surprises that a certain Mr V Morrison plays regularly at Nell's) and "working away gradually on things".
"I've never thought I was the dog's you-know-what, even when I was running all the festivals and had a million venues across the UK and the newspapers were saying that I was the biggest promoter in Europe. I never believed it. I think I got that from my father. I was always frightened to look over my shoulder in case someone told me to get back in my place - 'you have no business here'. But I have always fought against that feeling. That is why I am always trying to do new things and new events, like The Feis in Liverpool," Vince says. "It is a celebration of Irish music and culture.
"I approached Paul McCartney with a sizable fee to perform in Liverpool. There is a lot happening in the future for me."
Vince has also bought back one of his famous former venues, Subterania, and has booked - who else - Van Morrison to play the opening night next month in London. "I have a great relationship with Van. I met him at the Mean Fiddler way back in 1983 or 1984. He used to come in all the time. Everyone used to come in to the Mean Fiddler in the 1980s. The Pogues. Elvis Costello. Christy. We knew them all."
Van and Vince appear to be kindred spirits, I say. "I think he knows that I'm a music lover, like him. And he knows that I don't do it for the money. We just get on."
What was it like to chat with Bob Dylan or Johnny Cash (both of whom the Irishman booked many, many times over the years)?
"Bob doesn't chat with me. We're on good nodding terms. Bob is a very quiet man. One time at the Fleadh Mor in Tramore" - the festival Vince put on in his home county in 1993 and lost over $1m - "the Bob Dylan Appreciation Society had 100 members present him with some Waterford Crystal. After a struggle with his manager for Bob to accept it, he finally came out of his dressing room and the members of the society were all lined up in front of him, expecting a handshake... He took the crystal and said, 'Thank you' and walked back into his dressing room. They were shocked and asked me, 'Is that it?' And that was it".
Vince's other hero Johnny Cash played the Mean Fiddler in 1986. "It was a great night. June Carter was also there with her sister. There was an argument onstage and June's sister walked off stage and out on to Harlesden High Street. I sent my security guard after her as it wasn't a place to go around on your own. So I never got to talk to him. However, when Roy Orbison played the Mean Fiddler he was a pleasure to talk to."
How does he put into context what he went through in the last six years?
"I'm 71 next month. I trust my instinct. That is the one truth that age has taught me," he smiles. "Look, I did go through a lot of stress. But you have to put things in perspective, because the most important thing is your family. You do realise that when your friends thin out. Fair-weather friends, I suppose."
What did that teach him about life?
"It didn't teach me much about life because I didn't have any expectations, and when you don't have expectations you can't be surprised or disappointed when that happens, he says.
"What annoys me more is that disbelief that people have when I say to them: 'I don't have money any more'. The favourite saying is, 'Oh - but you must have your own money'. 'No, it was all the same money'."
No quitter, Vince says he has been working in England since "my mother sent me over on the boat as a kid with nothing in my pocket. I was terrified but I got through the fear. You can't live your life in fear. It will kill you", he says.
"I have a small group friends who have stuck by me. I have done a lot in my life and I have a lot more to do in my life.
"I have 10 ideas every day. I'm not dead. I'm not down. I'm not out. I'm starting to sound like a Bob Dylan lyric. The festival in Liverpool is just the start."
More power to him.
The Feis with Van Morrison, Imelda May, The Chieftains, The Hothouse Flowers, Foy Vance, The Coronas, Aslan, Finbar Furey, Paul Brady, Hudson Taylor, The Stunning, Nathan Carter, Damien Dempsey, Dublin Legends (The Dubliners), Sharon Shannon, Mary Coughlan, and Jack L & Mundy is on July 7 at Liverpool Pier Head. For further details: www.feis1.com
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