Access joins Edition Capital’s non-executive chairman for a look back on his career navigating hurricanes and economic recessions in the independent festivals sector.
I worked at independent investment firm Ingenious for 14 years. In the early days it was the maddest place and the best place to work. As the business grew, and it grew to maybe 300 people, it lost its culture and its style and I got a bit frustrated.
I left independently and then the team set up Edition Capital. I’ve come in as non-exec chairman to help them. I was also finance director for the Impresario Festivals Group, which we sold in October.
At Ingenious we invested in two companies. One was Simon Fuller’s 19 Group and the other was Cream, with a guy called James Barton. We went on a rollercoaster — let’s be honest — we went on a 10-year rollercoaster. It was an amazing journey.
My background is music; I’d done a lot of touring but had never really been involved with festivals. Cream had Creamfields, and as soon as we invested, around 2002-2003, electronic music took a real nosedive. It fell off a cliff.
In 2005-2006, it took a turn for the better. One of the things I learnt in that period is that sometimes you just have to survive. You’re never going have a perfect progression of being successful. Dealing with that is just as important as dealing with success.
I feel sorry for T in the Park. I think they’ve been incredibly unlucky. They’ve obviously got something wrong as well but they’ve been incredibly unlucky with the way things have played out for them.
In 2011, my team and I created Impresario, which became the biggest independent festival operator in the UK, very quietly and under the radar. We were doing our thing and created some incredibly successful festival brands. We got external investment of £9m and bought Rewind, and bought into SW4, Boardmasters and then Field Day.
I’ve always been brought up in the independent sector. Even when I worked in music I never worked for the major record labels. I love working in independent festivals. I think we’re a bit more fleet of foot; I think we put a bit more thought into our product and how we deliver it.
Sometimes you can get lucky and just be in the right place at the right time. Investing in a successful festival more than once hopefully shows that you’ve got a bit of ability.
People often ask, particularly investors, what happens if it rains. Firstly, audiences are incredibly hardy and can put up with all sorts of sh*t, and secondly we’ve now had two events that have lost a day, and it was the hardest time I’ve had at a festival, but the audience was there the next year.
One was Boardmasters a few years ago. A hurricane blew in and we were standing watching bits of stage flying past. Ironically, the surfing that day was fantastic.