How did you get into the rental/staging business?
I left school at 16 with no firm idea of what I was going to do. I wasn't interested much in school, and by the time it got to doing my GCSEs I had spent five years dodging subjects that bored me, and realised that I didn't know what to revise! So… I still had to make my folks think I was revising, and built myself a headphone amp, put a 'do not disturb' sign on the door, and practised my Metallica riffs for several weeks! I came away with five passes in academia, and blisters on my fingers!
I knew I wanted to work in entertainment, and I knew I wanted to be technical, but beyond that I wasn't sure. I applied for a BTEC course in Performing Arts which was about to start that year, and was accepted. During my time at college I started to work at a local recording studio where I was allowed to play with the technology during quiet times.
This led to running FOH sound on live gigs that the company were covering. By the time I left college I was working in all the local theatres and music venues, and doing small-scale tours.
After four or five years I made the move from sound to lighting: there were a lot of sound engineers in Northern Ireland at the time and not so many lampies, so it made sense! I worked for nine years at Belfast Waterfront Hall, three years as stage tech, three years as chief LX and three years as production manager for the venue, all the while still freelancing at any opportunity.
I left in 2006 to join Production Services Ireland. I love problem solving and logistics, and PSI had always been the company I turned to when encountering technical problems, or strange requests at the Waterfront. I guess I fancied the idea of being responsible for sorting things, rather than passing them on! In 2010 I became a director of the company.
What is your favourite project that you’ve ever been involved in?
In 2006, Belfast hosted the Special Olympics Opening Ceremony at the Odyssey Arena. We landed the contract to supply lighting for the event. I was fairly fresh from leaving the Waterfront, and ready to get my teeth into a large project. Up until this point, PSI's main business had primarily been in theatre and corporate worlds, and I had come on board to push the live-event market.
At the time, we had a relatively small stock of kit, with our biggest units being Martin Professional MAC 500 and 600 moving lights. It was clear from day one that we weren't going to be able to cover the whole event with our own kit, and we'd need to sub-hire a lot. This event cemented our great relationship with one of the large-scale UK companies, a relationship which has grown steadily since. The fact that we were able to hire kit to cover larger shows in the early days meant that we could raise the money to expand our stock levels, and get to a point that we could then cover these events ourselves.
Is there are a particular product that you’ve come to look on as ‘an old favourite’?
In the Waterfront Hall I cut my teeth on an Avolites Diamond 3. I used the console for the entire time that I was there, and really missed it when I came to PSI. Then the Diamond 4 came along, so we bought one. It was the natural progression, and immediately became my desk of choice.
I seem to be an expert at causing desks to crash, usually at pretty bad times, but I've not been able to cause a fatal crash on the D4 to date, so I guess it's meant for me. I still have a big place in my heart for the old D3, though, and actually took the same console from the Waterfront as a trade-in on a sale a few years ago. Obviously, as a hire company we have a wide stock of desks from a whole range of manufacturers: this is just my personal favourite over the years.
Is there a recent product that’s caught your eye that you think will be very useful in your business?
I recently bought one of those new coffee maker machines that use the little plastic pods but have real coffee in them. Until then, I had to go to the kitchen - which is at the far end of our building - to get coffee, which was very inconvenient, and by the time I'd get back my seat would be cold! Now I can make my coffee at my desk and I don't need to move.
I'm also a bit interested in the new Robe ROBIN 600 and 300 LEDWash range…