Year of bookings ‘wiped out’

Features

IN LIMBO Well-known Castlebar sound engineer Frankie McDonald has had his business thrown into complete uncertainty in the past year. Pic: John Corless


Oisín McGovern

THE devastating impact of the pandemic on the live events industry has left many of its workers out of a job for over a year.
With households still prohibited from gathering indoors under Level 5 restrictions, the road back to live events appears never-ending, even with the vaccination roll-out.
For the likes of Castlebar man Frankie McDonald, owner of McDonald AV, the prospect of having to close his business is becoming a very real one.
For the guts of three decades, Frankie has made a living hiring out sound, lighting and stage equipment for various dos and functions across the country.
Some of his local clients include Midwest Radio, Foróige, Claremorris Town Hall, Castlebar Musical Society and Mayo County Council.
Since Covid hit, five van loads worth of equipment has sat untouched in a shed at his home for almost the entire time.
“If I don’t get government support soon, I’ll have to close the business, and I’m 30 years doing it,” he tells The Mayo News.
Frankie and his wife currently receive the Pandemic Unemployment Payment, which helps them provide for their three children.
Having already seen a full year of bookings ‘wiped out overnight’ by Covid, Frankie’s business continues to accrue running costs.
He continues to pay public liability insurance and finance on his idle equipment, in which he invested €40,000 before the pandemic struck.
To make ends meet, he has had to sell some of the equipment and put one his vans off the road.
Besides the PUP, he says he has received ‘zero’ support from the government to cover his losses, which have eaten into whatever savings he had gathered.
“We wouldn’t survive otherwise. It’s pretty tough with three kids and a mortgage,” he says.
While many venues have received direct assistance from the government, he doesn’t qualify for many of the available schemes as he does not pay rates to the county council for his premises.
Like many, Frankie thought the initial lockdown would only last for a few weeks. However, he soon found himself flooded with emails notifying him of cancelled events, many of which he had been booked to do months or even a year in advance.
Since then, he has done three or four small, socially-distanced events, including Mayo Movie World’s recent drive-in theatre and the streaming of Kathy Fahey’s ‘An Fáinne Óir’ from Claremorris Town Hall.
While he is currently booked in for a twice-postponed event with Midwest Radio in March 2022, Frankie says that people in his industry need support in the short and medium-term.
“It’s very frustrating because there’s no light at the end of the tunnel for us,” he says.
“I understand that they can’t get an official date to open the country but the fact that we’re not getting any help from the government money-wise is very frustrating. It’s not my fault that I closed overnight.
“Each week is a worry about if I’m going to reach next week’s bills,” he adds.
With a home in the countryside with ‘plenty of fresh air and space’, Frankie says less time on the road has given him the benefit of much more family time.
What does he miss most about gigging?
“Not the hours anyway,” he chuckles, “but certainly the social aspect of it.
“We go around the country, so heading off for a few days working with different people has a social aspect. I certainly miss the physical side of loading the van five days a week, just keeping fit.”
While hairdressers, pubs and restaurants are mooted to return some time in the next few months, Frankie reckons it will be another year before he is back to normal business.
In the meantime, he says people working in the live events industry require more support as long as their business remains shut down.
“I’d love to be doing gigs next year with a full house, if I’m still here,” he says.
“[It’s important] for the likes of myself that can’t get back to full-time employment or self-employment the PUP continues until next year. Otherwise, we’ve no money.
“They also shouldn’t put us on Jobseekers Allowance. It might be their way of saying: ‘get a new job’.”