Festivals king Vince Power returns with the Liverpool Feis and an all-star line up
The Irish festivals mogul who lost it all is back with a bang with the biggest line-up of Irish talent event seen at a single gig – and it’s in Liverpool Mean fiddler founder
Vince Power – the man who helped to transform music festivals in the UK into the huge money spinning industry we know today – will make his return next week with the first ever Liverpool Feis. The one-day festival is a glittering Who’s Who? of Irish musical talent with only U2 and the late Big Tom missing from the running order. And the man behind it thinks it has the potential to travel and be a world beater in the tradition of Riverdance.
Power, 71, originally from Kilmacthomas in Waterford and who started in business in this country selling furniture in Kilburn, was at one point the biggest concert festival promoter in Europe, selling his Mean Fiddler organisation to ClearChannel for just shy of £40m in 2005.
In 2009 he was made a CBE by the Queen.
In 2010, he lost £9m when the Vince Power Music Group, his music promotions and pubs business, failed.
In August 2011, his company Vince Power Music Festivals was floated on London’s Alternative Investment Market (AIM) at 66.5p per share, valuing it at £10m) but just over a year later those shares were trading at 2.1p.
He remained involved in London’s music scene with his Nell’s Bar and Blues in Hammersmith and Fulham and Subterania in Ladbroke Grove in Kensington so bridles at mention of a ‘comeback’ – but he has been off the festival scene since 2011.
He explained to the Irish World why he chose now and Liverpool for his return to festivals:
“I just had the need to do something, you could call it creativity if you want, but basically, I had not done a festival for seven years now. The last festival was the Hop Farm, and that was during the recession, and the one before that was Benicassim and the one before that, I guess, would have been the Fleadh in Finsbury Park.
“If you see an opportunity, and like doing it, then just do it. It hasn’t been an easy ten years but it’s good in other ways: my kids (who range in age from early 20s to early 50s) are good, my health is good,” said Vince at his Kensington venue days after being in hospital for appendicitis.
Asked why Liverpool he replied: “It happened by coincidence, I was up on other business meeting Liverpool Culture, the organisation that puts everything on, they actually do a great job keeping the city moving with stuff going on, a very creative bunch of people, and we were talking about past times and they said ‘Why don’t you do a festival here?’ and I said ‘Yeah, why not!’ so I looked at it afterwards and got started, it’s all been very positive and they’ve given me some great help, let me use the pier had helped me with lots of infrastructure. It can be a permanent thing, now, and will probably outgrow the pier but there’s plenty of sites in Liverpool.
“The first plan was to have it over two days and I had an alternative date but that didn’t happen, I had a lovely hotel booked but they took it from me for the second day so that fell through. To make it more sustainable it is best to hold it over two.
“I always did The Fleadh for two days, because you have huge infrastructure to put up so if I can get either another fleadh or feis day or alternative fleadh day.”
At his peak Power revived the Reading Festival into the huge money spinner it is today and was even brought in by Glastonbury founder Michael Eavis in 2000 to revive it. He believes the Feis is just the start of something new: He’s already putting together next year’s provisional line-up, he says.
“This was actually put together quite quickly, really.
“The music business has changed quite a bit. Things are sold or planned well in advance now so I’m provisionally planning next year’s Feis or Fleadh.
“I’ve also spoken to some people in the US because I used to do it in America as well, in the 90s – New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco we did all the big Irish strongholds and I think something like what I’m doing in Liverpool has got legs to travel because all those places have huge populations of Irish people of second or third generation.”
But isn’t that, perhaps, a different type of ‘Irish-ness’ to here or even in Ireland?
“Oh yeah – if anything they’re more passionate about their identity. I was surprised (by that) when I did it in New York, Chicago and Boston, they’re very proud Irish men and women, probably second generation.”
The main thing, he says, is that Irish music is going through some kind hugely creative and energetic period and there’s a global appetite for it.
“Ireland’s having a great time for music now, there’s a lot of great artists considering the size of the country.”
“The main thing is to get a bit of music and the sound, then the surroundings and the facilities you give people. Of course, disasters happen – I’ve had some horrendous weather at week-ends, one or two where Augusts like winter with wind and rain for 24 hours a day for four days of a festival.
“You have to adjust and scramble and get it working, tents flying everywhere and getting stick in the mud. Then the good weather comes and you only remember the good ones.”
“I took over Glastonbury in 2000 because it was being closed down because it had got out of hand so my company, the Mean Fiddler, Melvin Benn and myself, we did a deal with Michael (Eavis) and bought fifty per cent of the festival and the first thing we did was put up those huge fences, because I thought the first thing was to secure the site. They were 3m up and 1m down, 4m in all, because people used to burrow underneath and that got rid of 90 per cent of the problems, a decent fence and then decent security came after that.
“I still go to it every year Michael’s an amazing man probably one of the most famous festivals in the world. You should go, take your kids with you, it’s great,” he says. “And the Feis in Liverpool is going to be really, really good,” he says.