A great Power in a rough business: 'There are 300 concert venues in London, and I just happen to have five of the best. Perhaps that is not a coincidence'

Vince Power picked up the telephone on his desk and spoke softly into it, 'Yeah? Yeah?' he said. 'Well, don't worry about it. Don't lose yer temper.'

He then put down the phone with a gingerness that suggested the receiver was red-hot.

'There's so much back-biting going on at the moment,' he said, nodding at his phone. 'You know, this can be a rough business.'

The Financial Times has estimated that last year Power's empire turned over pounds 8m. 'Rough business' indeed.

Such money ought to be enough, you might have thought, to employ someone to open the door of your office building for you. But Power prefers to do that sort of thing for himself. Next to the closed-circuit television nailed to his office wall ('that's my alley-way,' he says proprietorially, pointing to the screen) is a video entry-phone monitor. Throughout this interview he answered it diligently.

'Who are you?' he would say into it, swivelling round in his office chair. 'Oh, all right, come in.'

Power now has under his wing the five most fashionable concert halls in London. He was the man who rescued the Reading Festival from bankruptcy in 1988 and made it profitable. Last year he staged the Madness reunion concerts, which attracted more than 50,000 people. This summer he has huge festivals to organise in Stratford-upon- Avon; Paris; Boston, Massachusetts; and Finsbury Park. What with all that and answering the door as well, it is no surprise he has the crumpled look of Phil Collins after a lengthy night out.

'When I first started,' he said, allowing in a long-haired man carrying a guitar, 'I thought I could run a club in the evenings as a hobby.'

If, like Power, you were ever tempted to stage rock concerts as a hobby, his experience might be instructive. He arrived in England from Dublin in the early Seventies with no more than the price of a concert ticket in his trousers. After spending much of the decade building up a chain of furniture stores, he thought, aged 35, that it would be fun to turn one of his shops into a country music club. In 1982 he opened the Mean Fiddler - 'that's mean as in the Irish for good,' he explained. 'Not tight-fisted.' It was in Harlesden, one of the hardest parts of north London.

'I had a lot of trouble when I opened from lads who saw the place as an after- hours drinking den,' he said. 'They were disappointed when I turned them away at the door. I had my car windows smashed up all the time by people I wouldn't let in. It was an old Beetle. In the end I was just keeping it to be smashed up. I guess it was healthier than smashing faces.'

He persevered, changed musical policy when he discovered that few people shared his taste for old-fashioned country and western, and turned the Fiddler into a nice little earner.

'We improved the standards of concert-going,' he said. 'We made it a nice place to watch a band. We put wine behind the bar. Proper wine, not a slug from a two-litre bottle. Mind you, nobody buys it in Harlesden.'

From there, after taking on a night- club under the motorway in west London he named Subterrania ('the local heavies there were much more sinister, they'd pull up alongside you in an expensive car, wind down the electric windows and just stare at you for five minutes') he bought a faded music hall at Clapham Junction, south London, called the Grand.

The Power plan to turn it into a rock concert hall was a fraught venture. Once again it was the locals who caused him problems. This time they didn't threaten him physically, they complained to Wandsworth Council.

'The trouble was, the local councillors objected to my licence applications because they relied on these people for votes, and so took their complaints seriously,' Power moaned, clearly puzzled by the workings of democracy. 'When I bought the Grand in 1990, the locals were worried that proximity to a concert hall would reduce the value of their nice, expensive flats. Funnily enough one of the main objectors was that geezer from the pop group Dead or Alive. But in the end it was the recession that did the reducing.'

To meet residents' objections, Power cotton-wooled the Grand with so much expensive sound-deadening that he could re-enact the Gulf War in the place and passers-by would think someone had dropped a box of pins inside. At the end of this month, it finally opens as a fully functioning concert hall, after three years of legal activity.

'I've been to that many licensing hearings,' Power said. 'I'm a bit confused as to what licences I've got.'

As Power was building up his business (he bought the slick Jazz Cafe in Camden Town in 1992 from the official receivers), not far from his headquarters an entrepreneur called Ollie Smith was enjoying a reputation as the manager of the country's favourite rock venue. His Town & Country Club in Kentish Town played host to nearly 200 sell-out concerts a year, by everyone from Jesus Jones to Tom Jones.

But it wasn't just the ticket sales that made Smith's a profitable enterprise. The T & C was Scottish and Newcastle Breweries' largest outlet in the country (and it's not even in Tyneside). The cash-flow generated by its bars was the envy of any businessman.

Despite his success, last autumn Smith was told that his lease would not be extended by the building's owner, John Murphy. Murphy, a shy building millionaire, refused to explain why. Sensing demolition of the building was in Murphy's mind, Smith launched a campaign to save the place. Suggs of Madness was photographed holding a placard outside. Keith Richards said it was a national disgrace, man.

Then, two weeks ago, with Smith looking for new premises and concert- goers mourning the loss of their favourite haunt, it was announced that Vince Power was taking over.

Smith thinks Power was discussing the deal months ago. 'Retrospectively, the campaign to keep the club open was a waste of everybody's efforts. I wouldn't have asked them if I'd known. It's embarrassing.'

There was much talk in the music papers of the Murphia in action: Irish businessmen looking after their own.

'We always had a good relationship with Vince,' said Smith, who isn't Irish. 'There was a feeling of us together against the rest of the world. I think it's a shame in a town where there is so little infrastructure for music that he felt necessary to scramble over us.'

At the mention of the Town & Country and Ollie Smith, Power smiled wryly.

'Basically, it's over and finished,' he said. 'Ollie Smith is just trying to continue a war that doesn't exist. He's just bitter, which I suppose you can understand. All I can say is that music lovers should be pleased. Things will be much better there.'

Despite all the 'rough business' over the T & C, the acquisition of the place is not the end of Power's plans. He has another concert hall in mind, as well as an idea for opening up Mean Fiddlers across Britain and France.

'I have lots of ideas,' he said. 'Fortunately a lot of them never see the light of day.'

According to another concert promoter, Power is 'a very good operator, but that doesn't mean he should rule the world. Monopolies are very dangerous.'

'There is no way I could use my situation as a monopoly,' said Power. 'There are 300 concert venues in London. I just happen to have five of the best. Perhaps that is not a coincidence.'

And with that he looked at his watch, politely terminated the interview, and, after opening the door for me, returned to his full-time hobby.

(Photograph omitted)

News
Ian Thorpe had Rio 2016 in his sights
people
Sport
world cup 2014A history of the third-place play-offs
News
Tommy Ramone performing at The Old Waldorf Nightclub in 1978 in San Francisco, California.
peopleDrummer Tommy was last surviving member of seminal band
Life and Style
Swimsuit, £245, by Agent Provocateur
fashion

Diving in at the deep end is no excuse for shirking the style stakes

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Several male celebrities have confessed to being on a diet, including, from left to right, Hugh Grant, Benedict Cumberbatch and Ryan Reynolds
life...and the weight loss industry is rubbing its hands in glee
Sport
The Mexico chief finally lets rip as his emotions get the better of him
world cup 2014
Voices
Spectators photograph the Tour de France riders as they make their way through the Yorkshire countryside
voicesHoward Jacobson: Line the streets for a cycling race? You might just as well watch a swarm of wasps
Life and Style
lifeHere's one answer to an inquisitive Reddit user's question
News
peopleDave Legeno, the actor who played werewolf Fenrir Greyback in the Harry Potter films, has died
Arts and Entertainment
'Eminem's recovery from substance abuse has made him a more potent performer, with physical charisma and energy he never had before'
arts + entsReview: Wembley Stadium ***
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, Accreditation, ITIL)

    £70000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Information Security Manager (ISO 27001, A...

    C# Developer (HTML5, JavaScript, ASP.NET, Mathematics, Entity)

    £30000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Developer (...

    C# Integration Developer (.NET, Tibco EMS, SQL 2008/2012, XML)

    £60000 - £80000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# Integration...

    Biztalk - outstanding opportunity

    £75000 - £85000 per annum + ex bens: Deerfoot IT Resources Limited: Biztalk Te...

    Day In a Page

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice