Vince Power: Waterford-born ‘Godfather of Gigs’ who rocked the UK music scene

Music promoter, entrepreneur and founder of the Mean Fiddler Group had a favourite mantra: ‘Keep one eye on the till and one eye on the talent’

Born: April 29th, 1947

Died: March 9th, 2024

Vince Power, music promoter and entrepreneur, was known as the “Godfather of Gigs” and, with the Mean Fiddler Group in the 1980s, created a UK-based music/hospitality business that grew into a £60 million brand. He died at his home in London.

Vince Power, born on April 29th, 1947, was from Kilmacthomas, Co Waterford, the son of John and Brigid Power. He was the fourth of 11 children raised in an environment, he once said, that made reading Frank McCourt’s Angela’s Ashes a cheerful experience. Following primary school in Kilmacthomas, and secondary education at Dungarvan Vocational College, at the age of 16 he refused a scholarship to Mountbellew Agricultural College, Co Galway, instead travelling to and settling in Kilburn, London. After various low-paying jobs (including conveyor belt work at McVitie’s and Heinz factories), he became aware of the lucrative nature of renovating and selling discarded second-hand furniture. By the age of 19, after a couple of years driving a van around London, collecting unwanted items, he had made enough money to move the business from his home to his first shop.

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By his early 30s, Power had a chain of 12 second-hand shops across north London. He also had enough money to fund his love of country music, initially through frequent inspiring trips to Nashville, Tennessee, and then, in 1982, to buy a small music venue in Harlesden, north London. Power christened the venue the Mean Fiddler (after his musician grandfather), and it quickly gained a reputation for staging shows by emerging music acts such as Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, Billy Bragg and The Pogues. “It was,” he recalled, “a disaster for the first 19 months and didn’t have much appeal to anyone apart from myself – when I got rid of my own tastes we started to make money.” He persevered, however, and, along with his burgeoning reputation as a music promoter, Power became part of the generation of Irish expats (including Dave Robinson, Frank Murray, Ted Carroll and Paul Charles) known in the UK music scene as “The Murphia”.

As the 1980s drew to a close, the Mean Fiddler’s success as a venue opened opportunities within the UK live music scene. Power grasped these prospects with both hands, buying up and running venues such as the Jazz Cafe, Garage and Kentish Town Forum. In 1989, Power took over the organisation of the (then failing) Reading Festival and turned around its finances as much by broader programming as by, in the mid-1990s, brokering a big sponsorship deal with a drinks company. He did the same for its sister event in Leeds, and in 1993 set up Phoenix Festival. Such commercial decisions and success made Power – known for his maverick nature and his risk-taking business approach – one of the most influential and central figures in the evolution of the UK music festival industry. “Keep one eye on the till and one eye on the talent on stage,” was one of Power’s favourite business mantras.

He did not, of course, become commercially successful without conflict. A number of early bookings for his many venues were made directly with the artists rather than their agents or managers, while in the early 1990s, Power brought his Fleadh Mór festival to his home county of Waterford in direct competition with MCD/Denis Desmond’s Féile “Trip to Tipp” events. In the early 2000s, the then chairman of Sony Music UK, Rob Stringer, who knew Power through music industry associates, described him as “polite and unassuming, but also very tough”. Power himself said of his personality that he had two extremes: “I’m very soft and I’m very hard ... If anyone tries to turn me over, I take a very hard view of it.”

Business interests continued to escalate. Following the Glastonbury Festival in 2000, Power secured over three years a 40 per cent stake, which he sold in 2005. Also in 2005, he sold his stake in Mean Fiddler to Clear Channel (which gradually morphed into Live Nation) for a reported £39 million. Power then formed the Vince Power Music Group, which operated the Hop Farm Festival between 2008 and 2012. His nonconformist attitude towards that festival’s fluctuating gains and losses – specifically in 2011, when he booked Prince for an undisclosed, eye-watering fee – is perhaps a music-loving businessperson’s philosophy: “I’ve never seen so many people cry at a festival, he was so good. I put it on and lost a fortune but, anyway, it was a great night,” he told the Evening Standard.

In 2006, Power was awarded the CBE for services to music. “I am the last person I thought would be awarded it,” he said at the time. In 2010, he spoke to Clash magazine about his career. “I love a challenge,” he said. “All my life I’ve been driving myself into challenges.” True to his word, in 2020 he bought one of London’s most famous music venues, Dingwalls. His decision to buy it in the midst of a pandemic characterised his signature drive. “I couldn’t miss the opportunity ... I always favour music in front of common sense. It’s in your DNA. I can’t imagine a life without music.”

In the days following his death, many music industry associates paid tribute. One of Power’s long-time industry associates, Melvin Benn (currently MD of Festival Republic, but who for 20 years worked closely with Power’s Mean Fiddler Group) told Access All Areas online magazine: “Vince’s passing is a massive loss to the music industry and to me personally. He was a visionary with a willingness to take risks to enable his vision but always with a humbleness that belied his importance. We had an amazing 20 years together that helped shape the music industry as we know it now.”

Power was married three times, and is survived by eight children (Maurice, Sharon, Gail, Brigid, Patrick, Niall, Nell, Evie), 10 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren.

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