Jim Carroll

Music, Life and everything else

So what is going on with the Electric Picnic?

Many OTR readers will have seen one or other – or, indeed, both – of this paper’s news stories over the last few days about the Electric Picnic. On Friday, Gordon Deegan and myself reported on the festival’s €2.1 million …

Mon, Jan 28, 2013, 09:25

   

Many OTR readers will have seen one or other – or, indeed, both – of this paper’s news stories over the last few days about the Electric Picnic. On Friday, Gordon Deegan and myself reported on the festival’s €2.1 million losses for 2010 and 2011 as well as significant changes in the event’s ownership structure. On Saturday, I wrote an analysis piece about what this might mean for the festival as it prepares for its 10th outing. After all, per Picnic promoter Melvin Benn, who I spoke to on Thursday night, this year’s event is definitely proceeding. Should this news be a cause for a chorus of hurrahs for the Picnic faithful? Actually, is there still a Picnic faithful to lead that chorus?

Waiting for the Body & Soul vibes to take over at Electric Picnic 2012 (Photo by Niall Carson/PA)

Because, let’s be honest about it, the Picnic faithful is not really a very heavily populated church to begin with. As I noted in Saturday’s story, “its 32,500 maximum capacity is small compared with the numbers who attend outdoor shows at Slane Castle, Croke Park or the RDS”. It’s also worth noting that it’s been a while since the festival managed to hit that 32.5k target too.

Yet the festival has attained huge cult status with a large swathe of Irish music fans and has, since it initially emerged as an one day event in 2004, managed to attract a new constituency every couple of years. There are very few who went to the event in ’12 who were around in ’04 as older fans move on and younger ones, weaned on Oxegen (remember Oxegen?), move in. Perhaps it’s a mark of the OTR readership demographic, but I see and hear much more feverish speculation around the Picnic line-up every year than for any other festival on the calender. For a large number of switched-on Irish music festival fans, the Picnic is the one which matters most.

Over the last few months, though, this speculation has switched from who’s on the line-up to the very existence of the festival in ’13 and beyond. Most of this was caused by the unavailability of cheaper “early bird” tickets before Christmas, something which was the norm with the Picnic for the last number of years. Indeed, the unavailability of early bird tickets for many events in the usually lucrative run up to Christmas was noteworthy (no news on Oxegen or an Oxegen replacement, for instance, or any of MCD’s proposed Phoenix Park shows). When the Picnic tickets failed to materialise, the rumours started. It’s only in the last week that the organisers have attempted to quash these rumours. When I spoke to Benn on Thursday night, he insisted that tickets will go on sale in March. No further details were provided about line-up or prices so we can probably expect these in March too.

Benn said that the reason why the early bird tickets didn’t go on sale was because of the need to get “a new company structure” in place, including new bank accounts, after significant changes in ownership structure last November when Festival Republic Dublin Ltd was acquired by LN-Gaiety Holdings Ltd. Now, you could argue that it doesn’t take that long to get a bank account together in this day and age, but we’ll leave that for another day.

The web of companies behind the Picnic is highly convoluted with six different companies in all having some say on the festival’s affairs. There is EP Republic Ltd, the operating company behind the festival and whose annual accounts show combined losses in 2011 and 2010 totalling €2.1 million, which is owned equally by Benn and festival founder John Reynolds. This company is controlled by EP Festivals Ltd, with 71 per cent owned by Festival Republic Dublin Ltd and 29 per cent owned by Reynolds’s POD Music Ltd.

Festival Republic Dublin Ltd was acquired by LN-Gaiety Holdings Ltd, an entity owned by international music promoters Live Nation and Gaiety Investments, the parent company to Denis Desmond’s MCD Concerts. While Gaiety Investments and Live Nation were already a co-owner of Festival Republic, the MCD boss only became a director of its Festival Republic Dublin Ltd subsidary on November 26th last. Between the jigs and the reels, the Electric Picnic is now 71 per cent owned by LN-Gaiety Holdings Ltd and 29 per cent by Reynolds via POD Music Ltd, one of his myriad of companies

This change in ownership structure at this particular time does raise a lot of questions. After all, the same two entities already had a share of the Picnic via their involvement in Festival Republic, so why the change now? Is Desmond seeking a greater say in how the Picnic is managed and how does this chime with his plans for Longitude, a festival some agents say has been pitched to them as “like the Electric Picnic, but better”? Why try to put a new event in place to replicate an event you own 35.5 per cent of?

Or is this move a precursor to that full Live Nation takeover of Gaiety and/or MCD, a move which has been discussed for quite some time. Since that takeover was first mooted, Desmond has settled his court case with former partner Eamon McCann in December 2009. Meanwhile, records at the Companies Office show that Gaiety Investments has twenty outstanding mortgages and loans from a variety of lenders, all taken out at various periods from 1999 to 2009. Amounts are not provided for these debts, with the exception of $12 million borrowed against a property in New York’s Manhattan borough in 2003 from Bank of Scotland (Ireland).

All of which leads back to that three-day event in Co Laois later in the year (and we don’t mean this). Right now, we can only wait for the news to arrive in March – or even for John Reynolds to respond to some phone calls and questions. This is turning out to be quite a dramatic year for the Irish live music industry and it’s only January.

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