Vince Power: the music man is back in Camden

Rosie McCrum speaks to the owner of PowerHaus (formerly Dingwalls) about his amazing life story, and how returning to run a venue in Camden in his 70s is an exciting new chapter

Vince Power came to London as a sixteen-year-old, mainly to avoid the scholarship for artificial inseminator training at Galway University that was looming on his horizon. One of his first jobs was filling the wrapper to go round choc ices for Wall’s Ice Cream. “I wasn’t used to the night shift and fell asleep on the job. The ice creams went in their boxes with no wrappers on them and I got sacked.”

He moved on to becoming a furniture dealer, and even now if he sees a bargain he’ll buy it. “It could be a bit of China, maybe a small stool or a chest of drawers. I’m still a secondhand dealer – at least in my head – because that’s what I was for years and that’s how I made the money to buy a property and open the Mean Fiddler.”

Vince had been inspired by the bars of Nashville after spending a bit of time over there. He remembers one place in particular being packed with a honkytonk band on stage. “I took some pictures with my camera and thought, when I go home I’m going to see if I can do something like this.” He ended up with “a grotty old club in Harlesden, which I bought from a famous boxer.” He describes the learning curve as he figured out what music to play. “I don’t have any prejudice when it comes to music. I always say this: you might think ‘that’s shit’, and I might think it’s good, but it’s the good in your own head that matters.”

He remembers the Mean Fiddler where he would put on the Country artists he loves, like Willie Nelson. “People would say, ‘can you put on something a bit more recent?’ And I would say why don’t you…,” he whispers, “fuck off!”

Growing up, Vince just had the radio to listen to and only his father was allowed to put it on. “I had to wait for him to come home in the evening. And then, because it was a battery radio, he wouldn’t want to waste the battery and he wanted to listen to the news.” Radio Luxembourg was influential, as was Vince’s grandfather who was a fiddler (the Mean Fiddler was named after him) and songwriter.

With the Harlesden venue doing well, Vince’s growing Mean Fiddler Group acquired the Powerhouse in Islington and several other London venues, including the Jazz Café and Kentish Town’s Forum. They were running events too, including Reading Festival and Glastonbury amongst others. “We had a really good crew around us. We were fearless. We just went out and did things.”

After the years of huge success running music venues and being behind some of the biggest festivals in the world, Vince’s business interests went through turbulent times. He had largely taken a step back from those dizzy heights in the industry, but then, during the Covid pandemic, he was revealed as the proud new owner of Camden’s legendary music venue Dingwalls. 

Image: Inside the hallowed venue Powerhaus, formerly Dingwalls 

Vince Power came to London as a sixteen-year-old, mainly to avoid the scholarship for artificial inseminator training at Galway University that was looming on his horizon. One of his first jobs was filling the wrapper to go round choc ices for Wall’s Ice Cream. “I wasn’t used to the night shift and fell asleep on the job. The ice creams went in their boxes with no wrappers on them and I got sacked.”

He moved on to becoming a furniture dealer, and even now if he sees a bargain he’ll buy it. “It could be a bit of China, maybe a small stool or a chest of drawers. I’m still a secondhand dealer – at least in my head – because that’s what I was for years and that’s how I made the money to buy a property and open the Mean Fiddler.”

Vince had been inspired by the bars of Nashville after spending a bit of time over there. He remembers one place in particular being packed with a honkytonk band on stage. “I took some pictures with my camera and thought, when I go home I’m going to see if I can do something like this.” He ended up with “a grotty old club in Harlesden, which I bought from a famous boxer.” He describes the learning curve as he figured out what music to play. “I don’t have any prejudice when it comes to music. I always say this: you might think ‘that’s shit’, and I might think it’s good, but it’s the good in your own head that matters.”

He remembers the Mean Fiddler where he would put on the Country artists he loves, like Willie Nelson. “People would say, ‘can you put on something a bit more recent?’ And I would say why don’t you…,” he whispers, “fuck off!”

Growing up, Vince just had the radio to listen to and only his father was allowed to put it on. “I had to wait for him to come home in the evening. And then, because it was a battery radio, he wouldn’t want to waste the battery and he wanted to listen to the news.” Radio Luxembourg was influential, as was Vince’s grandfather who was a fiddler (the Mean Fiddler was named after him) and songwriter.

With the Harlesden venue doing well, Vince’s growing Mean Fiddler Group acquired the Powerhouse in Islington and several other London venues, including the Jazz Café and Kentish Town’s Forum. They were running events too, including Reading Festival and Glastonbury amongst others. “We had a really good crew around us. We were fearless. We just went out and did things.”

After the years of huge success running music venues and being behind some of the biggest festivals in the world, Vince’s business interests went through turbulent times. He had largely taken a step back from those dizzy heights in the industry, but then, during the Covid pandemic, he was revealed as the proud new owner of Camden’s legendary music venue Dingwalls. 

Image: Inside the hallowed venue Powerhaus, formerly Dingwalls 

Above / below: Power’s latest venue reveals its rich history of live music shows, as he prepares for the next chapter

“Camden has always been vibrant”, his eyes light up. “I think it’s very special.” He says the pandemic brought home the importance of music to the area: “when the airplanes stopped flying and we only had the locals to look at, people asked what Camden was famous for, what made it unique.” The answer, according to Vince? “Fashion you don’t get anywhere else and music. It’s a place with a certain amount of freedom. It’s where you can be a lunatic and be normal,” he chuckles.

Vince has also found that venues are reaching out to each other more after the shock of the 16-month lockdown. “We realised we’ve got nothing really now,” he says of the time. “This is a big, big enemy. It’s a perfect war that cleaned everything away apart from the buildings. I think we’re all looking around us, at what’s closer to us, because that’s all we’ve got in the end. It doesn’t matter how much money you’ve got, the virus doesn’t discriminate. Hopefully it’s made us more of a community, if there is any good to come out of it.”

I ask Vince why he renamed the venue PowerHaus. “I did a deal with the Market and didn’t even bother asking if the name was included in the whole place. I found out after buying it that I didn’t own the name Dingwalls. So, I called it PowerHaus because the Powerhouse was so good in Islington. It’s always a good name when the venue is successful. If the venue’s a shithouse they don’t say the name is shit, they say the place is shit.”

From Eminem to The Pogues, Vince has put on some of the biggest names in the music industry over the last 50 years. “Any chance I’ve ever had I’ve put on Bob Dylan at festivals and venues. When I’m left to my own devices, I would probably go back to Hank Williams. I go back to the 40s when music was pretty clear, you could just hear the guitar and the saxophone.” Is there a concert he wishes he’d put on? “Elvis. He’s still relevant. His love songs are the same as today’s, really.”

With more than his fair share of success and losses, I ask him what he’s learnt from the ups and downs. “I wish I could learn quicker to be honest with you! The minute I’m doing well I just I seem to sort of flatten it out and start again.” He is compulsive by nature he explains. “I’ve lost millions being like that. But then again, I think well, I’m healthy and I’m an old man now, so I’ll just listen to myself. I can only go broke”, he smiles.

Money doesn’t matter much to Vince. When he sold the Mean Fiddler Group, he was richer than he could ever imagine but this was also one of the saddest times as he had to sign a three year non-compete clause. “I guess I don’t really have too much respect for money because I think if I had I wouldn’t do any of this. I would probably be ok financially, but this is like walking the tightrope every year. I shouldn’t be walking tightropes at my age!”

There’s a calmness to Vince, a twinkly peace in his eyes. He thinks out loud, “I just like being what I am, I was never meant to be rich. I’ve done almost everything. Not everything in life but everything I wanted to.”

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Vince Power: the music man is back in Camden

Rosie McCrum speaks to the owner of PowerHaus (formerly Dingwalls) about his amazing life story, and how returning to run a venue in Camden in his 70s is an exciting new chapter

24-26 September

Food / Drinks / Music

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