Thursday 26 April 2018

Obituary: Michael Quinn - music manager and oil dealer

Successful Dublin music manager and oil dealer was largely unknown, writes Liam Collins

Mick Quinn (left) with Fran Hurley, Finbar Furey, Red Hurley, Anita Quinn (Mick's wife) Terry Wogan and Dave Pennefather in Terry Wogan's back garden.
Mick Quinn (left) with Fran Hurley, Finbar Furey, Red Hurley, Anita Quinn (Mick's wife) Terry Wogan and Dave Pennefather in Terry Wogan's back garden.

Michael 'Mick' Quinn was one of those extraordinary people who became a major player in the music business in Ireland, the oil business in Nigeria and backrooms of political intrigue, but remained largely unknown outside the circles in which he moved.

That was the way he liked to keep it.

While he was manager of many well-known showbiz personalities, he insisted that all that attention was on his acts, shunning the limelight himself to stand at the back of concert venues, making sure the lighting and sound were up to scratch and, more importantly, the hall was full.

His mother ran a shop on Meath Street, Dublin and he grew up on Brandon Road, Drimnagh. A neighbour, Jackie Johnston, had made it as a 'beat' singer and a group of locals, Mick Quinn, Robert and Dan McGrattan and Barry Gaster, became excited by the possibilities and the money attached to the 'new' music they were hearing in the clubs in the pre-Beatles era. Although a trainee mechanic, Quinn, and Robert McGrattan, began booking acts in a variety of venues, before launching their first showband, the Royal Olympics, fronted by Johnston.

This morphed into The Pacific Showband with Sonny Knowles and later Sean Fagan, who had a hit with 'Distant Drums'. Back in Dublin, after a brief stint in Canada where the Pacific had emigrated, he teamed up with Robert McGrattan and Noel Pearson in Carlton Productions, which included a long list of bands, a record label and the only vinyl pressing plant in Ireland.

He used to tell the story of sitting in his office during lean times in the 1960s, broke and waiting for the phone to ring. He decided to walk down Grafton Street, where he met Phil Solomon, a shareholder in the pirate radio station, Radio Caroline. Solomon was going to meet his friendly, no questions asked, Irish bank manager with £50,000 in cash in an attaché case. Mick didn't exactly ask for a loan, but Solomon knew the way things were - but wasn't going to part with his own money. So he introduced Mick to his bank manager, and Quinn walked out an hour later with a loan for £15,000.

That was how he was able to fund tours of Ireland by the likes of Diana Ross and The Supremes and the Joe Loss Orchestra.

Married to his childhood sweetheart Anita, Mick was quiet spoken with a mid-Dublin accent; he dressed impeccably and always drove a top of the range Mercedes. When it was possible to do so, even at meals, he smoked Player cigarettes incessantly and although not terribly fond of alcohol, he put a couple of ice cubes in his glass of red wine, no matter what the vintage.

He insisted on personal contact and was extremely generous to those he liked. His circle of friends and acquaintances was wide and varied, including his old friends from Drimnagh, politicians like Albert Reynolds, people from show business like Oliver Barry, Fr Brian D'Arcy, journalist Vincent Browne, businessman Dermot O'Leary and many more.

In no particular order, Carlton Productions managed Dickie Rock, Maxi Dick and Twink, Brendan Grace, Danny Doyle, Roly Daniels, Sheeba, Daddy Cool & The Lollipops and many others, successful and otherwise.

He was also co-manager of The Dubliners, with Noel Pearson. While Pearson introduced the ballad group to Phil Coulter and a whole new direction, it was Quinn who handled the finances and logistics. On one tour of the US, he said they spent 30 days and nights in a tour bus - with Ronnie Drew and Luke Kelly never exchanging a word with each other.

Then, in the early 1980s, he gave it all up and went off to study the commodities market, becoming an oil dealer operating between Nigeria and an office off Mount Street. It was not a business for the faint-hearted and it was only Quinn's naturally nimble footwork that saved him - although, after one change of regime, he was accused of being part of a Russian spy network. But he loved Nigeria and its people, and said doing business there was not very different from running a showband in the Ireland of the 1960s.

In the late 1990s, his interest in the music scene revived and he became mentor to 'Red' Hurley. He also loved the US, and while he had spent time is Las Vegas with various acts over the years, he now became friendly with prominent African-Americans. One of them, Louis Brown, introduced him to the poet Maya Angelou and they became firm friends. Red Hurley sang at her 80th birthday party where they met Oprah Winfrey. Like a good Irish band manager, he was always in search of an opportunity and tried desperately to get his protégé on The Oprah Winfrey Show, but this big break eluded them.

As to the smoke-filled back rooms, Liam Lawlor was also from "around the corner in Drimnagh" and it was Mick Quinn who went to Moscow to identify his body and bring his remains back to Dublin after the car crash which killed the former Fianna Fail TD.

He once told me that being in the oil business, and with his connections in Nigeria, Albert Reynolds, as Minister for Industry & Commerce, agreed to sell him the loss-making Irish National Petroleum Company for £1. Charlie Haughey, however, vetoed the deal at cabinet. When Albert was later sacked, the two old showbiz impresarios had a lot of late-night conversations and, according to himself, Mick wasn't far from the action when CJH met his political comeuppance in 1992.

Mick Quinn had been ill with cancer for a number of years and died last Sunday. He is survived by his wife Anita, his daughters Ingrid and Laura Lee, and his sons, Adam and Aaron.

Sunday Independent

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