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Thursday 15 November 2018

Eddie Rowley: The late John Reynolds gave Irish music fans some of the best days and nights of their lives

Electric Picnic founder John Reynolds at Stradbally, Co Laois, in 2010
Electric Picnic founder John Reynolds at Stradbally, Co Laois, in 2010

Eddie Rowley

FESTIVAL and entertainment promoter John Reynolds, who was found dead at his Dublin home on Thursday at the age of 52, gave Irish fans some of the best days and nights of their lives.

The Irish entrepreneur who created Pod, one of the capital’s most famous clubs, and the Electric Picnic festival in Stradbally, Co Laois, revolutionised the country’s social scene.

And it all started from humble beginnings in his native Longford town, where he teamed up with Louis Walsh, who would become a lifetime friend.

Back in the 1980s, when Walsh was booking out bands while working for Tommy Hayden management in Dublin, John Reynolds contacted him.

“John was a young guy running gigs in Longford at the time and he was looking for bands for the Longford  Arms and The Fountain Blue,” Louis recalls as he remembers his old friend.

“He used to book Johnny Logan and Linda Martin, but he was also trying to do something different in Longford. He’d come up to Tommy Hayden’s office in Dublin and we clicked through our love of music.

“We identified with each other because we both came from the country. John had grown up with the showband scene being a part of his family as his father, Jim, and uncle, Albert Reynolds (former Taoiseach) owned the Reynolds’ ballrooms in the midlands, where Joe Dolan, Dickie Rock, Brendan Bowyer and all the big stars played.

“However, John was a young gun trying to bring different types of bands to Longford. He didn’t focus on the showbands or country acts, he was more interested in bringing groups like The Hothouse Flowers, In Tua Nua and Fountainhead to his town. He was bringing a different style of music to the midlands that nobody else was doing. He was ahead of his time.”

John Reynolds
John Reynolds

Louis recalls that John later worked in London, running clubs in places like Leicster Square. And in the 1990s, he transformed the Dublin entertainment scene when he established the Pod complex that included the Chocolate Bar, Red Box, Crawdaddy and Tripod.

“John had gone to London and he ran clubs in different places,” Louis remembers. “And when he created his own he didn’t want to do the ordinary nightclubs. He wanted to do different, modern dance stuff. One of the personal highlights of his career was having Prince come and play in the Pod in the early hours of one morning, and Justin Timberlake performed in it.

“The Pod was ‘the’ place back then. You’d find the world and his mother in there. It was the Studio 54 of Dublin. For so many people, that was a great time in their lives. It was the place to be. It was so popular that it was like getting the golden ticket when you got in. And it was worth getting in because it was so different, so much fun, and it was packed with colourful people from all walks of life.”

It was around this period that John Reynolds would find himself unwittingly moving into new territory in his life as co-manager of boyband Boyzone.

“At the time I had gone to see Take That playing at The Point (now the 3Arena) in Dublin and I was in the process of launching Boyzone,” Louis says. “I needed ten grand to get them off the ground. It was John who loaned me the money to make a record with them, and in return I gave him a 50/50 share.”

Although there were many people who thought at the time that Reynolds was crazy to risk such a large sum of money on the struggling boyband, Boyzone turned out to be one of John’s best investments, earning him more than a million.

John then turned his vision to the outdoor festival scene, launching the Electric Picnic festival as a one-day event in 2004, expanding to two days in 2005.

“The Electric Picnic was his first festival creation and he loved it,” Louis says. “He put his heart and soul into it. He went to see big American festivals like Coachella and Burning Man, and he brought back ideas from there and put them on here.

“He didn’t want an ordinary festival. He changed everything on the festival scene here. John just absolutely loved music and was always going to see gigs himself. He recently went to see The Cure in England. He also adored Leonard Cohen and loved working with him. He adored Nick Cave and put him on at The Abbey this summer. He also brought in Ennio Morricone.

“John loved mixing art, theatre and music. I always said to him that he was the right guy in the wrong country. He could have been doing festivals and different events in America and Europe.”

Louis has been left devastated by the passing of his dear friend. “In all the years that I knew him, John and I never had a disagreement,” Louis adds. “It just worked. John was the best. I never had a row with him, ever.”

Friends, including myself, remember John as an unassuming man with a great sense of humour. At events like Electric Picnic he would often be seen on the site directing traffic and over-seeing the small stuff as he travelled through the venue on a golf buggy to ensure that everything ran smoothly.

I remember John taking Louis Walsh on a tour of the Electric Picnic on a buggy, at a time when Walsh was at the height of his fame on The X Factor and in danger of being mobbed by fans. Reynolds always thought it was hilarious that his old pal had become a major star himself.

John ran countless one off outdoor events, including the Midlands Music Festival in Co.Westmeath, which featured American country superstars like Kenny Rogers and Kris Kristofferson.

He opened the club Spy in Dublin’s South William Street, was involved in the Button Factory venue in Temple Bar, opened the Market Bar in Dublin and was part of a group that opened the Bellinter House boutique hotel in Co Meath.

However, he ultimately lost control of the Electric Picnic festival to MCD and Festival Republic.

And in 2009, Pod Concerts, the gig-promoting arm of his company went into liquidation. A protracted dispute about the transfer of the lease of the Pod nightclub resulted in the High Court upholding in 2017 a decision to award him damages of nearly €700,000.

In recent years, Reynolds had been enjoying success again with the Metropolis festival, which he launched in 2015, and outdoor festivals like Forbidden Fruit.

This summer, John enjoyed rave reviews for his new festival, All Together Now, at Curraghmore Estate in Co Waterford.

Radio broadcaster and music journalist Dave Fanning said that Reynolds was “an innovator.”

“I was down at All Together Now and I saw the potential of it,” Dave says. “I remember talking to John that day and telling him, ‘Fair play to you, this is just fantastic!’ And it really was. What John created was unique.

“The Nick Cave gig he promoted this summer was the best outdoor gig I’ve seen in a long time in Kilmainham. The night before, John also staged Nick Cave in Conversation at The Abbey Theatre for two hours. It was Nick Cave sitting at a piano, nobody interviewing him, just people in the audience asking questions. It was a really interesting night and tickets were like gold dust. John created those moments and made them happen.

“And, despite everything he achieved, he was a very understated, very quiet kind of guy.”

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