Profile: John Hales, Mean Fiddler FD

‘We’re trying to bring a plc outlook into the business, but we want to keep the entrepreneurial flare that allowed it to become what it has become,’ says Hale.

Hale made the transition to the world of rock festivals last June, when he left his job as FD at bar and restaurant chain Old Monk Company. Ironically, it is the bar and restaurant side of the business that Hale has helped Mean Fiddler to ditch.

After making losses in this sector, Mean Fiddler decided its future lay wholly in organising music events.

In the past year, it has concentrated on selling its bars, restaurants and radio station, leaving it with just the festival, international touring and live venue divisions. It sold its bars and restaurant business for £2.3m and will complete the sale of its AM radio station for £1.5m later this year.

For the year ended December 2002, Mean Fiddler made a loss of £8.3m, up from £1.5m on turnover that had increased by about tenfold to £39m.

‘We are going back to the core business and refocusing the group on its core activity, which is promoting live music. The idea is to put Mean Fiddler back to what it knows rather than restaurants and bars,’ explains Hale.

Mean Fiddler was founded in 1982 by Irishman Vince Power, who opened a London nightclub offering live music performances, from a diverse range of acts including The Pogues and Paul Brady.

But it wasn’t until 1989 that Mean Fiddler’s big break came, when it landed the right to organise the three-day Reading Festival.

Since then, the company has been regularly staging the Reading Festival, as well as the Leeds Festival and London’s Irish music event Fleadh. More recently, it became a major force at Glastonbury, with a 16% stake in the event that will become a 40% interest by 2005.

Hale says that Mean Fiddler has helped modernise the legendary event with its knowledge of crowd control and the environmental impact of events.

An ever-growing number of regulations enforced by councils means the logistics of large events are becoming more complex.

‘You can’t just get into a muddy field and a have a few beers anymore. Councils are coming into line with legislation from Europe,’ says Hale.

The company has ambitious plans to export its expertise throughout Europe and expand its festival business. Mean Fiddler now has an annual festival in Spain, Dublin and intends to hold a German festival next year.

It’s the kind of focused expansion that requires a steady hand from the FD. ‘Businesses this size have grown out of control without the policies and procedures that a company needs,’ says Hale.


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