John Reynolds: Visionary music festival promoter and club owner


John Reynolds, who died suddenly at his apartment in Milltown in Dublin, aged 52, was one of Ireland’s most influential independent music promoters and nightclub and venue owners. His festivals, including Electric Picnic, and clubs, including Pod, transformed the Irish outdoor live music and clubbing scene.

Reynolds grew up in Longford, before attending Rockwell College in Co Tipperary, and then Trinity College, Dublin. Promoting concerts and running venues was in his blood. His family owned the Longford Arms Hotel, and his uncle, former taoiseach Albert Reynolds, carved out a successful career during the showband era, owning a number of dancehalls.

In college, Reynolds ran gigs at McGonagle’s on South Anne Street in Dublin. He worked at a club in Glasgow after university, before returning to Dublin to establish Pod (Place of Dance) in 1993. He also provided Louis Walsh with capital to kick-start Boyzone, a band they were inspired to put together after seeing Take That perform in the Point Depot.

Pod

The impact of Reynolds’s vision for dancefloors indoors and outdoors was felt by hundreds of thousands of people across the country. Pod, the Chocolate Bar, Red Box, Crawdaddy and Tripod were all housed in the Pod complex in Dublin 2, on the site of the former Harcourt Street railway station.

He opened the club Spy on South William Street in Dublin, brought the dance music festival Homelands to Mosney in Co Meath, ran countless one-off outdoor concerts, was involved in the Button Factory in Temple Bar, opened the Market Bar in Dublin and was part of a group who opened Bellinter House in Co Meath as a boutique hotel. He also ran several other festivals, including Midlands Music Festival, Garden Party, Some Days Never End at Kilmainham, and Forbidden Fruit.

But the biggest reverberations remain the legacy of Pod and Red Box, and the enduring brand of Electric Picnic, subsequently run by Festival Republic. Last weekend, his indoor music festival, Metropolis, took place at the RDS in Dublin. In August, he launched a new festival, All Together Now, at Curraghmore House in Co Waterford. This latest venture was seen as a new chapter in his career.

With success and failures, sure things and risks, Reynolds’s business life was also characterised by the rough and tumble of competition, the complicated economics of gigs, and the sometimes rocky legal terrain that goes along with all of those things. In 2009, Pod Concerts, the concert-promoting arm of his company, went into liquidation. A protracted dispute over the transfer of the lease of the Pod nightclub resulted in the High Court upholding a decision in 2017 to award him damages of nearly €700,000.

Reynolds was also known for delegating aspects of his club nights and festivals to other creative teams, allowing the create growth of various entities including Bodytonic, a collective that has since grown to run numerous venues around Dublin, and Leviathan, a live political event run by Reynolds’s collegemate the economist David McWilliams, and Naoise Nunn. Leviathan evolved into the Mindfield area of Electric Picnic. Countless promoters, DJs and live acts found a home under the Pod umbrella.

Electric Picnic

Electric Picnic began as a one-day event in 2004, expanding to a two-day festival in 2005. Under Reynolds’s stewardship, seminal gigs took place on the Stradbally site, including Arcade Fire’s 2005 performance, frequently cited as the moment the Canadian band tipped over into mainstream success. That line-up also featured Kraftwerk and LCD Soundsystem.

By 2006, the festival had solidified itself as the coolest outdoor party in the country, with a focus on an eclectic, quality lineup of acts, as well as ancillary aspects of music festivals that have now become the norm in Ireland, including art installations, holistic treatments and talks. The festival also incubated the Body & Soul area, now a standalone festival in its own right.

In those early years, before MCD and Festival Republic took over, and the Picnic was no longer his, Reynolds was always around, speeding across the festival site on a buggy, radio or phone in hand, his distinctive straggly chin-length salt-and-pepper hair visible from a distance.

While thousands of people grew up within the confines of Reynolds’s entertainment infrastructure, the promoter seldom if ever placed himself at the centre of attention.

Largely eschewing the limelight, he is remembered by colleagues as an enigmatic, hugely driven maverick, who took creative and financial risks rooted in a desire to elevate the quality of the live music scene, along with his interests in bars and other venues.

His taste in music was eclectic, as reflected in festivals and clubs with music policies that traversed techno, hip-hop, rock, house, disco and everything in between.

Reynolds’s mother, Anne, died in November 2016, a blow compounded by the death of his father, Jim, the following day. He is survived by his brother, James, and his sisters Orlagh and Angela.

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