John Reynolds profile: He's a real live wire

 

PROFILE: JOHN REYNOLDSBusinessman John Reynolds is the unstoppable force behind the Electric Picnic, an event hailed as one of the world's best music festivals. Is he poised to take on Denis Desmond in the cut-throat game of Irish concert promotion?  asks Kevin Courtney

IRISH MUSIC FANS had a wobble this week when they heard that Pod Concerts, the organisers of their beloved Electric Picnic, were being taken to court by the Irish Music Rights Organisation (Imro) over alleged outstanding royalty payments. Some media reports led fans to believe that the court case might put the kibosh on this year's festival, at Stradbally, Co Laois.

Could this be the end for Ireland's favourite "boutique" festival, they wondered. Would the psychedelic wellies have to remain in the wardrobe for another year? Would fans have to forego the thrill of the Sex Pistols, the Body n Soul Village, Leviathan and the Comedy Club stage? Would the sharp young man behind the festival end up with mud on his designer jeans?

No one, however, should underestimate the ability of John Reynolds to sail through the mire and still come out smiling. Pod Concerts has been quick to reassure fans that this year's Electric Picnic is not in jeopardy, and will go ahead in the grounds of Stradbally Hall on August 29th, 30th and 31st.

In a statement issued on Tuesday, the promoter said it had lodged the disputed amount - €432,000 - into a holding account pending the outcome of mediation, and have agreed to pay all fees for the 2008 festival (the dispute concerns past festivals promoted by Pod Concerts, including Electric Picnic, Garden Party and Love Box, going back four years).

Pod Concerts considers the fees demanded by Imro to be excessive, as they are in addition to the fees already paid to artists to perform at the events. For its part, Imro says it will "rigorously pursue all outstanding royalties due to the songwriters, composers and music publishers that it represents".

One thing is for sure: when this little spat has been settled, and Electric Picnic brings the velvet curtain down on Ireland's busiest-ever summer for live music, the way will be clear for the 40-year-old businessman from Longford to finally take his place as a major player in the high-stakes game of Irish concert promotion.

John Reynolds has been slowly, but surely, climbing up the rigging over the past 15 years and, if he keeps a sure foot, he could soon be standing shoulder to shoulder with the two biggest players in the business - Aiken Promotions and MCD.

LAST WEEKEND Reynolds staged one of his biggest coups when he brought Leonard Cohen in for three sold-out concerts at the Royal Hospital Kilmainham. It's a triple whammy he was very proud of, not least because it further enhanced his reputation as a promoter par excellence.

With his designer casual gear and well-groomed shoulder-length hair, John Reynolds cuts a dashing figure as he oversees his ever-growing entertainment empire. Besides owning the Pod complex at the top of Harcourt Street - which includes the Crawdaddy and Tripod venues - Reynolds has stakes in the Market Bar on Fade Street, the Button Factory in Temple Bar and Bellinter House, a boutique hotel in Navan, Co Meath.

His promotions company, besides running what has been hailed as one of the world's best music festivals, also staged the Midlands Music Festival at Belvedere House in Mullingar, and the Garden Party at Ballinlough Castle, Athboy, Co Meath.

Reynolds has also put his foot in the door of the international club scene, with involvement in Creamfields and Homelands in the UK, Space in Ibiza and Home in Sydney and London. Reynolds does his research, travelling to clubs, festivals and venues around the world in search of ideas to bring home to increasingly sophisticated Irish punters. He has a global understanding of the entertainment business, and this puts him in an ideal position to bring new ideas into the Irish scene.

When he brought his innovative club concept - the Philippe Starck-designed Pod and Chocolate Bar - to Dublin in 1993, many felt that he was a little too ahead of his time. Still, Dublin's models, socialites and serious clubbers flocked to the two venues, charmed by their dashing, well-dressed host.

IT WAS A LONG way from the sweaty showband scene where his father, Jim Reynolds, and his uncle, future taoiseach Albert Reynolds, ran a dancehall empire that stretched from Longford to Limerick, and included the Jetland ballroom in Limerick, the Roseland in Athy and the Dreamland in Moate. He went to Rockwell College, then studied at Trinity College Dublin, and extracurricular activities included putting on gigs in a small venue in South Anne Street. Young John went into the family business, bringing the hottest new rock bands to play in the Fountain Blue in Longford, including Hothouse Flowers, In Tua Nua and Light A Big Fire.

He became friends with a young booking agent from Kiltimagh, Co Mayo - Louis Walsh; when Walsh had the idea to form an Irish answer to Take That, Reynolds chipped in £10,000 to fund the project, and Boyzone was born.

Boyzone went on to become a multi-million selling boyband, guaranteeing Reynolds a good return on his investment.

Reynolds has always been adept at tailoring his events to suit the needs of his target market. At last weekend's Leonard Cohen gigs, the venue was fully-seated, the security was (somewhat) relaxed, and champagne and gourmet burgers were on sale.

The same philosophy applied when Reynolds staged Electric Picnic for the first time in 2004. Having seen how outdoor festivals were run in different parts of the world, Reynolds was keen to bring an all-round holistic festival experience to Irish punters, and offer them an alternative to the usual beer-soaked mudfest. The event, held in the beautiful surroundings of Stradbally Hall, Co Laois, was billed as a 'boutique' festival, and ran for just one day. Besides an eclectic music bill, punters also enjoyed various side attractions, such as a health and wellness area and a silent disco. Later festivals featured the surreal area known as Lost Vagueness, and the Leviathan discussions chaired by David McWilliams.

The first Electric Picnic lost money but gained kudos with the critics and discerning punters. When it returned the next year - expanded to two days, and with an even bigger line-up - the buzz about the event was growing. A career-defining performance by Canadian band Arcade Fire sealed Electric Picnic's ultra-cool credentials, and it is now the must-attend event on the festival calendar.

For Reynolds, Electric Picnic's growing reputation gives him the kudos among international agents, and gives him the chance to compete with the big boys on the block. Although there is no love lost between him and MCD's Denis Desmond, Reynolds has good business relations with many of the other big guns in Irish concert promotion - Electric Picnic is staged in partnership with Aiken, and he's worked with Darryl Downey of Raglane Entertainment on the Midlands Music Festival.

"He's breaking up that duopoly in the Irish live market," notes one observer, "He's taking on Denis Desmond on one side and, although he has a good relationship with Peter Aiken, you'll see him doing more things on his own."

HE IS SAID to be charming in person and ruthless in business, which can only be an advantage in the cut-throat business of staging live events. But he also knows when he's outgunned, and knows not to try and do everything himself. When he bought a factory on Fade Street he joined forces with Jay Bourke and Eoin Foyle, who run Café Bar Deli (a restaurant on Georges Street, Dublin) and turned the sausage factory into the Market Bar - a nice little cash cow.

He also knows he's not yet in a position to topple a Goliath such as Desmond - so he plays it clever when booking acts, knowing that Desmond has the clout to outbid him (MCD nabbed Arcade Fire for Oxegen last year). He goes for leftfield acts, and bands you wouldn't immediately think of as Electric Picnic headline material. This year's headliners, the Sex Pistols, for instance, are a long way from the indie rock of Arcade Fire, but, according to one associate, they're perfect for the 25- to 45-year-old demographic that goes to the event.

As Electric Picnic's reputation grows, however, Reynolds may find it easier to nab the choice acts for his festival.

"This business is all about contacts, reputation and track record, and Reynolds is building all of those up very nicely," says one source.

"He's getting to that level where he can negotiate the big deals. What he needs to be doing next is putting on a major star in somewhere big such as Croke Park. It'll be interesting to see if he can get up to that level."

It hasn't all been plain sailing. His two other festivals, the Midlands Music Festival and the Garden Party, lost money and will not be staged this summer. Reynolds also missed out on his dream of owning a radio station when his consortium, Storm FM, lost out to Spin FM for a licence.

But friends and associates are in no doubt that Reynolds will eventually elbow the big boys off centre stage.

"He's got youth and ambition on his side - and he's got boundless energy," says one. "He's a new force to be reckoned with. I think he'll do everything that Denis won't stop him doing - and, eventually, nothing will stop him."

CV - JOHN REYNOLDS

Who is he?A nephew of former taoiseach Albert Reynolds and the go-getting businessman behind Pod Concerts, Crawdaddy, Tripod, Electric Picnic, the recent Leonard Cohen concerts and numerous other ventures.

Why is he in the news?The promoter is being sued by the Irish Music Rights Organisation (Imro) over alleged unpaid royalties.

Likes:Chelsea, Richard Branson, Porsche.

Dislikes:Denis Desmond.

Most likely to say:'Can we get Guilbaud to do the catering? And maybe a massage for everyone in the audience.'

Least likely to say:'Ah sure, a kebab and a cider will do them.'