Rock 'n' Roll bust-up at Mean Fiddler leaves Power back in command

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The Independent Online

Vince Power, the music impresario who announced last week he was cashing in and stepping down from his Mean Fiddler empire, thrust himself back into centre stage at the company yesterday.

Vince Power, the music impresario who announced last week he was cashing in and stepping down from his Mean Fiddler empire, thrust himself back into centre stage at the company yesterday.

In a bizarre tale that has all the hallmarks of a classic rock'n'roll bust-up, Mr Power has kicked out his newly appointed successor and halted an acquisition designed to transform the company.

Only five days after announcing the biggest change at Mean Fiddler since Mr Power founded the company that now owns the Reading and Leeds music festivals, it said yesterday the deal to buy Media Internet Telecom (MIT), a music download technology company, was off. The share sale by Mr Power and other shareholders was put on hold indefinitely, and so, too, were plans to raise £5.6m through a share placing.

Dean James, Mean Fiddler's long-standing chief operating officer who was to take over as the chief executive has been "removed" from the company and the owner of MIT, Richard Clingen, will not, as had been planned, become chairman of the Mean Fiddler group. And if that was not enough for hapless investors, Evolution Beeson Gregory was dropped as the manager of the group's corporate activities, broking and advising. Antics expected of the Gallagher brothers and their group Oasis, one of Mr Power's favourite bands, perhaps, but not of directors of a publicly listed company?

Mr Power said last week, when planning to cash in his 35 per cent stake: "I am not a public company man." He said he had been looking to get out of the Mean Fiddler, which also part-owns the Glastonbury festival as well as various live music venues, since it floated in 2000 and that he now wanted to invest in his other business interests. He is having a biography written about his life, for example, and he said he wanted to spend more time on his racecourse in Ireland, his Irish radio station and his restaurants in London. He had been stepping up his exit plans in recent months, he said, selling a 24 per cent stake in Mean Fiddler to arch rival Denis Desmond this year in a move that baffled commentators in the City at the time, but this was all, he said, part of his escape. He was leaving the business, he claimed, to grow its music download capability, which offers customers recordings of live acts for £1 a time.

With little explanation from Mr Power yesterday for his come back and with the company's plans to expand its download business echoing round the City like a hollow Westlife cover, shares in Mean Fiddler crashed more than 22 per cent. Had Mr Power sold at the price offered to him by institutions last week, he would have had £12m in his pocket. Now his stake in Mean Fiddler is worth £9m.

Sources in the music industry voiced suspicions that the fearsome ego and fiery temperament of Mr Power may have played a part in the proceedings, and it is understood that there was a clash with Mr James in the days after his appointment. "I suspect there was some kind of fall out over the weekend - he probably wasn't quite able to relinquish control of the company that he sees as his baby," one source said yesterday.

Stepping aside from the business he created in 1982 was always going to be difficult. It began with humble origins with the Mean Fiddler venue in Harlesden, West London, and now includes the Astoria, the Jazz Café and the Borderline. Four years ago, Mr Power took a stake in Glastonbury, and he is credited with turning it in to one of the most popular events in the music calendar. As well as live venues and festivals, Mr Power promotes tours for major artists such as Justin Timberlake and Usher.

Sources close to the company said that Mr James had been revelling too much in filling the vacuum left by Mr Power, and was asserting his new found authority too strongly. Mr Power, who demolished houses as one of his first jobs after leaving County Waterford in the 1960s, is known throughout the music industry as not a man to cross. Promoting bands is one of the most risky jobs in the industry, as the promoter has to pay the artist and takes all the risk if the venue is not sold out. One music industry source said: "It's a very tough job and you have to be very strong to be taking those risks."

Mr James had been chief operating officer at Mean Fiddler for some time and ran its burgeoning media business. A lawyer, he was viewed as the voice of reason on the board who would keep Mr Power's business ideas on the ground. But last week he began singing his own praises, crediting himself with turning around the financial performance of the company and landing himself share options worth about £1.1m. At the same time as his appointment, Melvin Benn, Mr Power's right-hand man who ran the festivals division, left abruptly - a sign that Mr James' succession was creating problems.

It is understood that Mr Power was not prepared to leave the company he spent 23 years creating in the hands of Mr James, and he retook control. The future of the business, however, is now uncertain. Mr Power has already made his views on the City and running a public company clear.

Mean Fiddler only listed on the stock exchange having been caught up in technology fever in 2000. Mr Power was persuaded to float a dotcom side of the company, which was set up to exploit media, internet and intellectual property rights. In the ensuing crash, the rest of the Mean Fiddler music business was reversed into the company and there followed an over-expansion into unsuccessful restaurants and bars. Now focused on live music, it is on the verge of being profitable and the download venture was supposed to be the next step, taking permanent recordings of the Mean Fiddler experience into customers' homes. But with Mr James out of the company, the deal with MIT to expand its download division is also off the bill. The entrepreneur Mr Clingen was introduced to the company through Mr James.

While competition in the download market grows, Mr Power will have to decide what he wants to do with his business and quickly, or his come back appearance will be a flop.