Desmond Makes Power Alliance

Previous relations between Vince Power and Denis Desmond couldn’t always be described as cordial, but the two Irish promoters have teamed up to buy a slice of Spain’s Benicassim Festival.

Within a couple of months of the former Mean Fiddler chairman telling The Sunday Times that he’s “recently bought a majority stake” in the popular Mediterranean coast event, the company’s current chairman confirmed that he’s also put cash into the deal.

When asked if he and Power might be considered unlikely bedfellows, Desmond told Pollstar that – past grievances aside – the two have always held a great respect for each other.

He said he’s bought a slice of Benicassim through his Gaiety Investments, the same company he used to buy out Mean Fiddler Music Group (MFMG) in cahoots with Live Nation.

Gaiety also has property interests, including permission for a 41-apartment development on the site of Dublin’s old 1,100-capacity SFX – a room where U2 was cutting its live teeth more than 20 years ago.

In the light of the Mean Fiddler deals and the old, and wholly unsubstantiated, rumors that Power was behind a bid to derail Desmond’s 2000 Creamfields Festival by encouraging objections to the licence, there’s enough history to make the two Irishmen look like unlikely partners.

The Creamfields incident surfaced January 2003, when Dublin’s High Court heard how Tommy Grimes – a town councillor in Kells – faced a £300,000 legal bill for appealing the festival’s licence as far as the country’s Supreme Court.

He failed to block the event because neither the High Court judge nor the Supreme Court judges could fathom why Grimes could possibly have any objection to a festival at Punchestown horse-racing track, given that it’s more than 50 miles from his County Meath home.

In his summing up, the judge in the original High Court case referred to Grimes as “a man of straw,” prompting speculation and conspiracy theories that he was told to make the objection in effort to stall Desmond’s ticket sales.

The High Court ruling that finally gave the go-ahead to Creamfields came a week before the event was due to take place. While MCD had been trying to sell tickets, the Irish papers were running stories questioning whether it would happen.

Within a couple of years, Desmond had acquired more than a quarter of the Mean Fiddler stock, but in October 2004, he seemed at odds with Power again.

The Fiddler chairman had tried to hive off his shares to city institutions but the deal went belly up amid stories of major personality clashes in the company’s boardroom.

Desmond wasn’t given a chance to increase his stake at the time because he “knew fuck all about it until the day it was announced,” he told Pollstar, clearly annoyed that the deal had been organized without anyone informing him of what was going on.

The reason for burying all this history looks to be a mutually rewarding cut of Benicassim, easily Spain’s most successful festival and an event the U.K. media seems keen to adopt as its own.

A couple of months ago, The Observer named it as one of the “Overseas Gems” to visit this summer. Recently, The Independent described it as “the discerning indie fan’s European festival of choice.”

At press time, Desmond wasn’t commenting beyond confirming his involvement and Power wasn’t commenting at all.

When he was head of Mean Fiddler, the company spent several years trying to re-establish Neo Sala’s Doctor Music Festival.

Power’s interest in the Spanish market became known in August 2002, when – during an interview given on the eve of the Reading-Leeds Carling Weekend – he told BBC Radio Five Live listeners that Mean Fiddler was looking to have a festival there within a couple of years.

Working in cahoots with Sala in 2003, the company tried to restart Doctor Music at Pla de Tapioles.

Having won the backing of the two local mayors, the festival fell apart when both civic leaders, who were due to stand for re-election a couple of months later, suddenly withdrew their support when they realized their local residents and voters were very much against it.

By the spring of 2004, their search for a site still hadn’t turned up a suitable place and the festival was shelved again.

A year later, MFMG was close to being bought out by Hamsard. Then-Clear Channel chief exec Michael Rapino told Pollstar that continuing Mean Fiddler’s pursuit of a Spanish festival wasn’t on his agenda.

Desmond, Clear Channel’s partner in Hamsard, clearly had a different view.

This year’s Benicassim July 20-23 has Depeche Mode, Morrissey, Scissor Sisters, Pixies, The Strokes, Madness, Franz Ferdinand, Echo & The Bunnymen, Placebo, Babyshambles, Beth Orton, Coldcut, and Editors.

– John Gammon