Although I was trained to assistant manager level, I left fairly promptly because it was a suburb that was becoming pretty hostile to the Irish. London was an improvement and, in any case, its size gave me the opportunity to try out a variety of jobs before I finally decided to settle in the business of second-hand furniture. I started out by selling from my garage, and 15 years later I had a small chain of shops in north London.
I decided to fulfil my lifelong ambition of opening a country music club. So in my spare time, I started refurbishing a club in Harlesden High Street. The Mean Fiddler opened in 1982. I'd spent some time in Nashville and the idea of a honky-tonk bar where the beer and music were both fantastic really appealed to me. It was only meant to be a hobby, though, so when audiences started to dwindle, I was by no means heartbroken.
I didn't want it to close, however, and was slowly persuaded that I'd therefore have to ditch my original idea and go for more contemporary bands. I think that's really difficult and yet fundamental in building up any kind of business - to accept when you're wrong. In my defence, though, I think my idea was before its time because only a few years later, American bars started popping up all over.
It was undoubtedly the fact that this was a pub that centred around music rather than one that happened to have the odd bit of music that made it so popular. It wasn't long before we were attracting the likes of the Pogues, Lloyd Cole and even Roy Orbison.
In 1986, Mean Fiddler opened a restaurant - the first of my really big risks. Fortunately, I found someone to oversee the project who knew what she was doing. It's essential that as well as recognising your own skills, you realise when you need to rely on other people's expertise.
In 1988, I took the even bigger risk of opening the Powerhaus in Islington and Subterania in Labroke Grove - the first of many clubs to come. Again, the risk paid off and soon we were attracting bands like Oasis, Stone Roses, Pulp and Radiohead. But it was very important - as it still is - that I did what I was doing for the love of it rather than just to make money. It's a person's passion, rather than greed, that will make them the best in their industry.
People ask me how I've consistently managed to create the right bars and clubs in the right areas. My answer is "gut feeling". I've never got involved in market research or surveys. Instead, I've gone out and got to know the area and the people myself. No matter how well your business is going, you have to remain hands-on. Indeed, I know most of the Mean Fiddler staff and deal with them on a daily basis.
Being hands-on has also helped me make music festivals work. That area of the business began 11 years ago, when Reading had lost a lot of money and Mean Fiddler was asked to organise it. Since then, we've put on a range of festivals such as Fleadh, Tribal Gathering and Phoenix.
Most people don't plan to get where they actually wind up. Sure, they may have made firm career plans but they'll rarely have carried them through. Life isn't that predictable. So my advice is, rather than plotting every aspect of your career, use experience to learn what drives you - and be prepared for that to change throughout your life.
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