Profile: Rock promoter Michael Deeny

And as a music promoter, he boasts an illustrious string of high-profile clients such as U2, Bruce Springsteen, Murray Head and Pavarotti.

‘I’ve been lucky to be able to do all kinds of different things,’ deadpans the Irish-born accountant.

But his career started very differently. Having studied modern history in Magdalen College in Oxford, he decided to train as a chartered accountant, working for medium-sized firm Chalmers Impey in the City.

But unlike many of his generation who followed in their father’s footsteps, it was the influence of his father’s accountant that defined Deeny’s career.

‘My father’s accountant gave me good advice,’ he says. ‘Because I just did accountancy as a business qualification and never intended to practice, he said that if joined one of the very big firms I’d spend my whole time auditing just two or three big companies a year and I wouldn’t get breadth of experience.

‘So I joined a medium-sized firm which had some big – and some small – clients. I worked on the audits of everything from a racehorse trainer to the biggest cable manufacturing company in the world, BICC.’

After a stint in London, Deeny moved back to Ireland to work at an accountancy firm. It was then that his friend Paul McGuinness, who later became famous as the manager of U2, persuaded him to join him in promoting concerts.

But Deeny began his 16-year full-time career in the music business in a very roundabout way. ‘I was the chief accountant of the firm during the day and I’d rock and roll at night,’ he jokes.

Three years after qualifying, Deeny’s night time music career became permanent when a young Irish band he had been promoting, Horslips, asked him to put his accountancy career on the back burner and manage them full-time.

Under his guardianship, the band became one of the biggest Irish groups in the 1970s and soon began touring the United States. During this time, Deeny lived in New York and met Murray Head, whom he also began managing.

His work with the singer, famous in the 1980s for his hit One Night in Bangkok from the musical Chess, took him to France where Deeny lived for two years as a ‘tax exile,’ as UK income tax at the time was 85% top rate.

While in France, Deeny’s career took a different turn when he decided to move away from managing bands. He explains: ‘The trouble about management is that you have to live out of a suitcase because, if you manage bands and singers you spend a lot of time on the road. When you’re young and single it’s great fun but when you’re married with children it isn’t actually so good. You spend a lot of time in nightclubs drinking champagne until 4 o’clock in the morning, which sounds great I know, but you do get bored with it.’

But Deeny didn’t cut himself off altogether from music. Instead, he began working as a concert promoter bringing international acts to France.

According to Deeny, his accountancy qualification offered him very valuable training. And he’s proud of it. A fellow of the ICAEW he remarks dryly: ‘Yes, I’m a proper FCA. I’ve got the certificate in a drawer somewhere.’

Somewhat ironically, he acknowledges, his qualification helped him a great deal in his career as a concert promoter. ‘It has an advantage in that people take you more seriously. In fact, when I began managing bands I would come from the office in my pinstripe suit,’ he says. ‘Then, when I went into the music business full-time I began wearing black velvet jackets and silk scarves and the band I was managing said ‘Oh no! Please!

You must wear your pinstriped suit because we’re the only band in Dublin whose manager is a chartered accountant”.’

He adds that in the music business and other worlds, people take accountants seriously. And he believes this image of the upright accountant still stands despite the damage done by US corporate scandals. ‘The advantage is that you don’t have to prove you know about money.’

Deeny says the music business is a high-risk world where you can make or lose a lot of money. ‘The problem is that the amount of money you make bears very little relation to how hard you work. The best year I ever had in the business, I spent most of it sitting on a beach in the south of France.’

After living in France, Deeny returned to the UK and joined insurance market Lloyds of London in 1985, where he has been for almost 20 years.

He became a member, or ‘name’, as he was looking for a conservative investment after the risky world of music.

But in the 1990s, his low-risk investment went sour. ‘Lloyds names had been getting a cheque every year. I knew the amount of the cheque would vary and I knew there was a risk, but nobody ever explained to me or the others who joined in the 1980s exactly how risky it could be.’

In 1993, Deeny was elected chairman of the Gooda Walker Action Group, a group of 3,000 Lloyds names who had lost #600m on syndicates and was suing syndicate agency Gooda Walker. ‘What went wrong at Lloyds is a classic story of the 1980s. It expanded too much, the agents got too greedy and recruited too many names. The result was that rates fell because of supply and demand. There was too much capacity. It also became too easy to set up syndicates, so some were managed by people who didn’t understand the insurance industry,’ he says.

The litigation Deeny was involved in became the largest action in UK legal history in terms of the numbers of plaintiffs, and resulted in a judgement in favour of the names for #500m. ‘We got a judgement because the underwriters had been completely negligent. I had an expensive education at Lloyds in underwriting and being a name. I decided to carry on, but I’m much more cautious,’ he says.

Now, Deeny is chairman of the Association of Lloyds Members. And despite recent setbacks and the difficulties and recent changes, such as annual reporting, he believes Lloyds has an exciting future ahead. ‘It survived the World Trade Center – the biggest insurance loss in history. And Lloyds has actually benefited from the falling stock markets,’ says Deeny.

Although he is now an entrepreneur with his business, MultiMedia Television, which began in 1999, Deeny has not abandoned his music promotion. With a French partner Gerard Drouot, he continues to bring international acts to France offering, on a part-time basis, his financial expertise to the music world.

A colourful life for a humble Irish accountant.


Taxpayers could be filing self-assessment forms on television by 2005 and all government services may be available via the set-top box, according to Michael Deeny.

The accountant-entrepreneur, who launched his digital television channel MultiMedia Television in 1999, believes that although it is at an early stage, government plans to disseminate information via digital tv and the internet is not far off. ‘The government wants to increase viewers using e-government on interactive TV. Viewers will one day be able to complete their self-assessment tax returns through the TV.’

Although exact funds have not been allocated, Deeny says #657m has been set aside to deliver electronic government – digital and the internet – a figure he believes is realistic. Deeny says that with 18 million viewers, the UK has the highest percentage of digital television spectators in the world, 40%.

‘The demographics of digital television are very close to the demographics of the UK population. It’s not like the internet which is something mainly affluent people have. All social classes are subscribing to digital tv.’

And he adds that, at the moment, digital television is a good place to search for a job, as most job-seeking these days is passive.

Deeny says: ‘We are working with the Department of Work and Pensions on a proposal to make the government database of job vacancies – the largest in the UK – available to job seekers on digital TV. We are also involved in a pilot project for the government to develop voting in elections.’

He is also co-operating with local councils that are going interactive.

Last month, MMTV put Basildon council on television. And the government wants all 442 councils on tv by 2005, he says.

The government plans mean a lot of work for MMTV, as the multimedia company, which he plans to float on the Alternative Investment Market this year, is the only one endorsed by all digital platforms.

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