The life and times of a Mean Fiddler: from junk dealer to the stock market hy

Vince Power is the UK's biggest music promoter. Now he wants the world
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The Independent Online
London's king of rock'n'roll is aiming to be the king of stocks and shares.

He looked like any other middle-aged festival-goer at the Reading Festival yesterday, but Vince Power, head of the Mean Fiddler organisation, was commanding operations, and he managed to slip in a quick announcement of a plan to float his empire on the stock market.

The portly Irishman, whose company is the UK's biggest promoter of live music, is planning to expand overseas and is looking to the stock market to raise capital.

"We've just finalised our plan to float on the market in the hope of raising some capital to expand quicker. The Mean Fiddler has been expanding at maybe a rate of three, four places a year but we have such a good brand now, we want to expand more quickly.

"We need to go to the market with what we've got - hopefully by November," he said.

Power is the capital's undisputed king of rock'n'roll, owning a third of the city's major rock and jazz venues. He was responsible for luring the Sex Pistols out of retirement last year and plonking them in Finsbury Park to the delight of 30,000 ageing punk rockers. At the other end of musical spectrum, he has promoted Van Morrison and Roy Orbison.

He stages four of the six big summer festivals and in June launched the American version of his Fleadh Irish music bash.

In 1989, Power rescued the Reading Festival from bankruptcy and made it profitable, turning it into the most important festival after Glastonbury. Yesterday, the first day of the three-day festival, more than 45,000 people converged on Reading.

The economic benefits of the festival for the town run into six figures. Festivals are a lucrative part of Power's business too, providing nearly half Mean Fiddler's pre-tax profits of pounds 411,383 and pounds 15m turnover in the 18 months to 31 December 1995. Last year there was a turnover of pounds 25m.

The main band headlining the festival last night was the five-man group Suede, who have just released the single "Film Star".

The line-up for the weekend includes Cast, James, Kenickie, Manic Street Preachers, The Eels, Metallica and The Verve. And Reading's home-grown bands are also well represented. Bennet, who charted with "Mum Has Gone To Iceland", take to the stage on Sunday.

Born in 1947, in Waterford in Ireland, Power moved to Hemel Hempstead when he 17 and began building up a second-hand furniture business in north London. He started his first venue, Harlesden's Mean Fiddler, as a hobby in 1982.

"I snapped up a property in Harlesden for pounds 125,000 and turned it into a Nashville-style venue with cool beer and hot music," he said.

"I was into country and Irish traditional music but it hadn't enough pulling power so I booked The Pogues, Los Lobos, Lone Justice etcetera. And it worked. In 1988, I got involved in the Reading Festival. I checked out similar events in Europe, staged indie music and it was an instant hit."

A far cry from his days as a furniture dealer - or not?

"If you book the right band, you won't have much trouble getting the customers in. And if you chose the right furniture, you won't have much problem selling it. There are similarities," he said.

He plans to float the company, which is expected to run Fleadhs in New York, Boston, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto and Melbourne next year, in order to escalate the expansion.

"I started off as a one-man band but I think I need some help now. I think it's a new era for the Mean Fiddler - it's a new time and I think, in the long term, it will be very good for us," he said.

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