- 20 Nov 18
The sad passing of John Reynolds came as a huge blow to his family, his friends and to the Irish music industry. When he got the idea of going a gig in the 'meadow' in the Irish Museum of Modern Art, he called the operations manager Gale Scanlan. These are her memories of the man - and his passion for the events he ran.
I first met John almost 12 years ago now. We met professionally, but that working relationship soon grew into an important friendship.
I still remember when Damon, my assistant came into me at work at the Irish Museum of Modern Art, RHK, and in his broad Birmingham accent informed me that there was someone called John Reynolds on the phone, who wanted to come in and meet about an idea he had for a gig in the meadow on the grounds. I said "find out who he is and what he does before we agree to anything..." - so being a good public servant, I exercised due diligence and did a bit of research on the internet and rang around. If anyone has ever typed John's name into Google search it can make for very interesting reading: people seemed to love him or hate him... there was no middle ground.
I checked him out with a friend of mine, a former County Manager who had worked with John and he said "Yeah, great fella, if only he would pay his bills on time!" So out of curiosity, I decided to meet him, and I had no idea what to expect... years later he told me neither did he, as he had also done a similar search and discovered he was coming in to meet what he described as a "trained killer!"
John pitched the Some Days Never End series of concerts to me. I had set aside an hour, but we ended up chatting for about three, and that was the first occasion that he got his car clamped in our carpark! He never learned. I remember him asking me at that meeting what was the most memorable concert I had been to and why - he was trying to suss me out.
I explained that growing up in the North during the Troubles there werenıt a lot of gigs to go to, but that I remembered going to a Howard Jones concert in a Belfast sports hall. The venue smelled of sweat, he was on a knee-high platform, just him a keyboard and drum set. For security reasons, the lights couldn't be dimmed. After commenting on my questionable music choices, John said... "Well, you will see we can do better than that!"
His timing couldn't have been better. The museum's grant had been slashed and the pressure was on for us to make up the deficit. Despite this, I knew that it would be a real challenge to get the Museum Board, Director and the OPW to agree to a commercial venture like this.
John put on a suit and charmed them, as was his way, but he was sincere in the undertakings he gave and it was the start of a partnership that I am really proud of. I know that before those first concerts, he warned everyone working on the gig for him that it was a big deal to have been allowed on to the site and not to mess up! Knowing John, I suspect he used more colourful language, but is an example of how seriously he took this duty of care.
During one of the build periods, a truck bringing in portaloos clipped one of the historic piers at the entrance gateway, which had just been refurbished over several months. It caused thousands of euros worth of damage and I can still see the look on John's face as he stood at the front gate and the General Manager of Dublin Castle a senior OPW officer, known as the 'Wing Commander', arrived in his pinstripe suit, polished brogues and fabulous moustache to discuss the situation.
To be honest, I was really apprehensive throughout SDNE. Working with John was my first glimpse into the events industry and what goes on behind the scenes to make it all come together. What struck me was the cohesion, teamwork and professionalism of everyone involved and the way John led out on this while seeming to be everywhere at the same time. You would find him striding along, invariably on his own, checking in on the security, assessing what was happening at the entrances, talking to the Gardaí, but always asking me was I happy with everything.
My confidence in his ability to deliver a quality product was borne out of these tangible hands-on experiences and his follow through afterward. When it really came down to it, in the professional or personal worlds, John was someone I could always trust. I also want to acknowledge Robbie Butler, who in setting up the physical infrastructure is often in my crosshairs. He and John were an amazing team and I have learned that if Robbie is involved I can be confident that the site is in safe hands.
After this first series of shows, John sent me a lovely bunch of flowers. When I rang to thank him, I confessed that the whole thing was such a stressful and new experience and a large G&T was in order. A few hours later I was embarrassed when a litre of Tanqueray Gin was delivered to the Museum reception!
John's events were special. He didn't just rent the field out at the RHK. He brought a curatorial dimension to his ideas that I recognised early on. He saw beyond the potential of simply renting the meadow and explored other collaborations and opportunities; he was intuitive and able to tap into our ethos and aims.
There were so many crazy moments at the concerts over the years: Kraftwerk slipping in the mud coming off stage, Iggy Pop setting off the alarms in the Museum, and the call I took on a Sunday afternoon from John, asking me to type up the etymology of the word 'hospital' so that he could send it over to Prince's agents. Prince was a Jehovah's Witness and he had apparently been Googling the Museum and thought it was an actual hospital. John took it all in his stride - but we never did get that gig.
Last year, as we looked forward to the various projects under discussion I said to him..."John we have hitched our wagon to your horse so this better work out, the Museum programme is depending on it"... he just laughed and said "no pressure then!"
DOMINI'S CARROT CAKE
But enough of the business and logistics.
Over the time we worked together I got to know John the man. As many of you will know, this was not an easy thing to do. He was intensely private and shied away for many of the trappings of the business. You rarely saw him in the media or press and I recall asking him about this and he said he wasn't interested in all of that, that it wasn't real and that he didnıt want to spend time with people who were out to gain from knowing him.
He valued loyalty and discretion and he repaid that to me in spades. He never sought to gain commercially from our friendship or compromise me in any way. He was always cognisant of my position as a public servant and I am enormously grateful for that. He never even sought to get a refund on the numerous occasions that he had his car clamped in the Museum, even though he was in on legitimate business. He simply paid the bill. If I ever found out at all, it would be months later.
Looking back, it's those small, simple things that really stand testament to John's character.
Over the years, John would ring me from time to time and ask if I was free for a coffee or lunch. I used to tell him he was only coming in to get a slice of Domini Kemp's carrot cake, for which he had a particular fondness. In the early days it was mostly all business and ideas but even then, he was interested in my previous life in the army and we had a few laughs when we realised that I was serving in London at the same time that he was working there and triggering security issues, when he was mistaken for a "person of interest".
He loved to hear about the traditions and protocol. You could bounce an idea off John or ask advice and he was always willing to share what he knew. Since he died, my daughter Saoirse has shared with me the encouragement, advice and opportunities he afforded her, starting out in her career. He never sought to enlighten me about that, other than to comment on her potential and how he was so impressed by her.
John was always good that way. No matter how busy he was, in all the drama and stress that was the nature of his work or when an event was in full swing, John always made sure he had a minute for you. He extended true kindness and support to many young people starting out in the industry. He listened to their ideas and could make people feel valued in a way that many in that industry, or in life, can only wish they could.
John and I shared sad and happy stories about our families and work experiences. He spoke about his mother whose loss he keenly felt and recalled how she hated to have him described as an 'Impresario'. We often returned to the theme of how competitive the profession he had chosen was. Many times I said to him that I didn't know how he kept going, particularly on those occasions when he came in looking tired, or was on his way either to or from court in a suit.
I want to finish by describing a series of events that happened around the Leonard Cohen concerts at the Museum, as to me they encapsulate much of what was the essence of John. Those concerts were so special in many ways. Only on Tuesday this week I was at the RIAM, and the Director there told me about attending both these and the Ennio Morricone shows. During the sound check before the first LC concert, there were crowds of people sitting on the grass in the sun all around the Museum listening in...
I saw John sitting all alone on a chair in the empty arena and I went over and said to him "John - you should be so proud of this. It is amazing" - he looked embarrassed and brushed it off. Later that day I rang him to say that the Áras had been on to us and that I had Michael D's credit card details, could he find a decent seat for himself and Sabina. He was so delighted that the President of Ireland wanted to come to the show, yet when Mr. Higgins arrived, John and I scrapped over me insisting that John should be the one to welcome him.
At the last minute, he managed to position himself so that I was left to do the honours in my high vis vest and walking boots. "...It's your site Gale," he said, self-effacing and humble in the face of a magnificent achievement. I also don't think anyone else would have persuaded the Museum's Head of Security David Duff to unscrew a limited edition print off the wall and wrap it up on a Sunday afternoon as a present to Leonard Cohen.
John, you were driven, mercurial, never pompous or arrogant and always interested in people. It was a privilege to call you my friend and I will leave the final words to the artist you held in such esteem, Leonard Cohen...
"So come my friends, be not afraid. We are so lightly here. It is in love that we are made... In love we disappear."
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