Barn Dance and Ceilidh Specialists make it really easy to book a Barn Dance or Ceilidh Band and Caller for your party!

Fiona Maurice-Smith
I don't tend to distinguish between the terms too much as which ever name you use, it’s really all about having good fun!

A Barn Dance, Ceilidh (pronounced "kaylee") or Ceili and a Hoedown are similar in that the dancing involves people dancing together either in couples or in small groups of couples. The dances at a Barn Dance or Ceilidh or Hoe Down are done in formations of couples in circles for as many people who wish to join in, squares of 4 couples, lines of boys facing lines of girls. Some dances are progressive with couples moving on to new couples to dance with, or one person in the couple moving on to a new dance partner as the dance progresses – it’s very sociable and therefore a terrific ice breaker for weddings and occasions where people don’t all know one another.

In bygone days, a traditional Ceilidh had song spots and other entertainment spots interspersed with the dancing. These days, some, but not all bands offer songs in addition to dances, as part of the evening’s entertainment. The bands who offer additional songs tend to be those who play professionally or semi-professionally.

A Hoedown may have slightly more of an American theme and people often dress up in check shirts and cowboy hats to add to the atmosphere. A Hoedown evening may feature more American style dances than, say, Irish, Scottish, Welsh or English ones. Some bands are definitely more suited to playing for Hoedowns than others. Some people like to have a more Scottish or Irish theme, which again determines to a great extent which band will be the most suitable for the function, so do please let Fiona know if you have a particular preference for the style of music you wish the band to play.

The dancing is usually done to live music performed by experienced musicians, but can be just as much fun when danced to good quality pre-recorded music, which would be recordings of excellent live bands. Whilst there’s nothing like the atmosphere created by live music, for events with limited budgets, or for groups wishing to raise funds, using pre-recorded music saves on the costs of a live band.

In that the main difference between Barn Dances and Ceilidhs for private parties and public occasions is that the host or hostess usually pays for everything for a private party, whereas public events rely on tickets being sold and the event being marketed efficiently, often involving a Committee, organisers of public events often opt for a Caller using pre-recorded music in order to keep costs at a minimum, especially when the aim of the event is for charity fund-raising.

However NONE of these styles of music and dance discussed above are the same as Line Dancing, which is done solo rather than in couples and often to recorded not live music, and doesn’t create the same atmosphere at all.

It's also important to know that the music played for Ceilidhs and Barn Dances is definitely NOT Country & Western music. Occasionally people get these styles mixed up - it's important to be aware of this when booking a Ceilidh or Barn Dance band!
This type of dancing is suitable for all ages and abilities. The joy of a ceilidh or barn dance is that it gets everyone mixing together, even if they’ve never done this sort of dancing before and don’t know one another.

Having a Barn Dance, Ceilidh or Hoedown is highly recommended as very suitable evening entertainment for Weddings, Civil Partnerships and marriages, anyone celebrating a “Big” Birthday, all special Wedding Anniversaries, any other private parties and corporate occasions, Charity fund raising events, School PTA gatherings, Church social occasions and really, just about any other event where the public can come along.

Very young toddlers can dance with their parents, and children of about 6 or 7 upwards can easily join in the dancing on their own. We’ve known 95 year-olds join in the fun, so all the Grans and Grandads, Uncles and Aunties can get involved too – there’s no reason not to! Having said that, some of the dances are far more energetic than others, so maybe advise Granny to avoid Strip The Willow as that dance really can whip along at a pretty fast pace by the end of it!

Some dances are what's called “progressive”, which means that you or your dancing partner move on to a different person (or couple) each time through the dance, which makes it a great ice breaker and very sociable indeed.

It's fine for girls to dance together if they want, and to the amusement of some people, yes, lads sometimes dance together too!

Good news - absolutely no previous dancing experience is necessary. Even better news - there’s no need to be particularly fit – just be willing to have FUN!
Most definitely YES! The Caller (who used to be known as an MC or Master Of Ceremonies) really runs the whole evening.

If you book a band through Fiona, it is a "given" that the band will definitely bring a Caller with them.

Unless you are booking a band just for listening to, without any organised "called" dancing, it’s absolutely essential to book a Caller. There may be some people at a party who are experienced dancers, having done a lot of this kind of dancing before, and they may believe they know all the steps and don’t need the guidance of a Caller, but there will almost certainly always be people at Ceilidhs or Barn Dances who have never done this sort of interactive social dancing before and therefore need more guidance than others who may already have been to Ceilidhs or Barn Dances in the past.

The key to a successful and fun dance is an excellent Caller who does his or her job with competence and humour – as more of an entertainer than a teacher. The best Callers do a very good job of making people feel at ease at the start of the evening, so people are then willing to get up and join in when being invited onto the floor. The best Callers are very good at persuading people politely and with humour that they really should get off their backsides and dance – RIGHT NOW!!!

It’s very reassuring for novice dancers to have all the dance steps explained before each dance and it’s usual to be walked through the whole sequence of moves before the band (or pre-recorded music) is let loose on you, so no one is left wondering what to do next.

If you're worried about “getting it wrong”, please be reassured that the Caller would never expect people to get every single step of the dance correct. It’s all part of the fun of a Ceilidh, when people go a bit hay-wire, do-si-do the wrong person, fall over - whatever….. Three left feet? No problem!

Occasionally, the Caller will also play a musical instrument and will play in with the band once the dance has got under way and people don't need as much called instruction.
Without wishing to sound vague, with so many variables, it's not possible to be more specific than saying anything between about £250 and £900 and everything in between.

The exact cost will depend on the number of musicians in the band, whether they play for a hobby or for their living and the band's travel costs.

The average price for a 3 or 4 piece band plus Caller is from about £600-£800. For larger bands, you would be paying proportionately more, and there are solo and caller, duo and caller options available in some areas as well, which would cost from about £350 upwards but they get booked up very far ahead in time, for obvious reasons!

At the lower end of the scale, you can book an excellent Caller working solo (sometimes with one or more assistants) playing good quality pre-recorded music for the dancing. Recordings of real Ceilidh / Barn Dance bands are used, so although you don't have the musicians actually sitting there on the night, you still get the same good punchy amplified overall sound of a full band, and you have more money left in your purse!

If live music is a "must" for you, then of course booking a live band with Caller is your best option, but you’ll need to budget far more than for a solo caller. I strongly recommend live music wherever possible, but of course I'm very biased as a professional musician!

Other factors which can influence the cost:
  • Which day of the week the ceilidh or barn dance is held. Discounts are sometimes given for mid-week non-weekend dates.
  • Whether it is a "prime date" like New Year's Eve, St Patrick’s Day, Burns Night, St Andrew’s Night which sometimes cost more, New Year's Eve in particular.
Without wishing to sound cheeky, some people are surprised at what they consider to be a high cost of a live band and I say this to them:

Remember that a DJ charges anything from £150 - £1000 - (yes, I said up to £1000!) and that is for one or two chaps and recorded music, so if you do your sums, it's clear that a band of 3 or 4 experienced musicians and a Caller is bound to cost more than a couple of hundred quid. It actually represents very good value for money, given that each person is involved for anything between 6 and 10 hours, packing the car, travelling to the venue, unpacking, setting up, playing, dismantling the PA, packing up all the gear, travelling home, unpacking the car . . . .

All bands and callers charge per evening, not per hour, so the cost will be the same, how ever long or short a period of time a band and caller is booked for.
Each band and caller has its own preferred method of payment but the usual is for the band and caller to be paid in cash on the night. Some bands and callers ask for a deposit up front to secure the booking.

My preferred method of payment is to ask for a deposit / booking fee up front by cheque or bank transfer when the booking is confirmed in writing, leaving the balance to be paid to the band and / or caller in cash on the night.

If a booker is unable or unwilling to pay cash to the band on the night, then I request that a bank transfer or cheque for the remaining balance is settled up directly with the band / caller at least 2 weeks ahead of the booked date.

I don't offer a credit card facility.
This is a HUGE section of Q&A. It is well worth a read if you’ve not yet booked your venue, but even if you have, this information may still be helpful for you.
Who books the venue and which venues are most suitable?
It’s your responsibility to choose a suitable venue. There are some essential guidelines to bear in mind when choosing your venue as there are a large number of factors involved and some venues are far more suitable for a ceilidh or barn dance than others. If you’ve already booked your venue and some of the following points make you think that your venue is unsuitable – don’t despair! There are ways of maximizing the circumstances - feel free to discuss this with Fiona.

The venue for a wedding ceilidh will largely be determined by where everything else takes place during the day. However, if you’re in a position to choose a venue specifically to suit the Ceilidh, the choice of the right kind of room can make a massive difference to how the Ceilidh or Barn Dance goes.

The decision about which venue to use can largely be dependent on cost – for example, a village hall will obviously be far cheaper to hire than a hotel function suite.

Ceilidh and Barn Dance Bands play in many different places – hotels, village halls, community and leisure centres, marquees, stately homes, converted function barns, private homes, castles, restaurants, school halls, social clubs, pubs, market places, fields and farm barns...

The key suggestion is to choose a venue with the bar in the same room as the band, Caller and guests! If the venue has several rooms, your party may tend to split up into smaller groups. This is fine socially of course, but it is more difficult to involve people in the dancing when they’re spread out in different rooms.
What shape and size of venue is best?
I would recommend choosing a venue which is as square or oblong as possible – but it can still be possible to hold a ceilidh or barn dance if the room is an odd shape because all bands make the most of whatever the circumstances are!

The size of the room required will of course depend on the number of people coming to your party or event. It’s best to check the maximum capacity with the venue management or the marquee providers. It’s a good idea to take a tape measure along to any venue you may be considering, with the space requirements in mind, and pace it out so you know you’re booking a venue which is large enough. Arranging tables and chairs around the edges of the hall or room naturally creates the dancing area.
How much space is required for the dancing?
The space for the dancing should be at least 5m x 5m, ideally double or triple this, but it’s not essential for the dancing area to be square. I’d suggest that it’s best to discuss available space with the venue manager or marquee provider, to ensure that enough space can be created for the band and dancing. You never get 100% of a group dancing at one time, so as long as there is enough space for about 30-40 people to dance at one time, that is fine.

Ceilidh dancing requires much more space than dancing at a disco, where you dance “on the spot”. Movements in Ceilidhs and Barn Dances include galloping up and down and swinging partners, so more room per person is required, and the more dancing space available the better.

At weddings, after any afternoon reception meal and speeches, the venue management should be prepared to move tables and chairs aside to make a good sized area for dancing. Putting some chairs around the edges of the room encourages people to remain involved in the Ceilidh. Ask the band and caller when they arrive which of the tables need to be removed, and ask the management to sort this out for you
How much space is required for the band?
This will vary depending on the number of musicians in the band, but the average trio Band and Caller will need 4-6m width and ideally 2-3m depth to set up comfortably. Approximately a square metre per person plus a square metre for each of the 2 speaker stands. It’s best if the band is able to set up fairly close to the dancing area but not so near that they get trampled!
What if we’ve booked a Disco as well?
If you are booking a Disco or other live band as well as the ceilidh or barn dance band, please make sure BEFORE THE DAY that there is sufficient room for both bands or one band and DJ to set up. It’s essential to check directly with the DJ beforehand about his space requirements.
Does the band need a stage?
No, the band doesn't need a stage. It’s a bonus if a good sized stage area is provided, but it’s definitely not essential. If you (or the venue) were to provide one, it must be at least 6m wide x 3m deep and no higher than 1m. Some venues have a ready-built stage, other venues are able to build a portable one, but a Ceilidh usually takes place with the band and caller on ground level. It’s better for the band to set up on the floor rather than trying to cram onto a stage which is too small. It's easier for the Caller to move between band and dancers if he or she is on the floor rather than a high stage.
What about Barn Dance events in farm Barns?
I generally try to steer people away from having a barn dance in a farm barn. You may think that a farm barn would be the ideal and most appropriate venue for a BARN DANCE – But, speaking from several of my own bad experiences in the very distant past, I advise that a farm barn is not ideal because grit and dust in a barn is a total nightmare to the musicians and dancers alike. Everyone inhales the dust as it flies around during the dancing, and you feel the next morning as though you’ve smoked a hundred fags. The dust settles on the band’s instruments and amplification equipment, meaning everything has to be cleaned the next day. Barns are draughty and it’s impossible for musicians to play well if they are cold. YUCK! Some bands actually refuse to play in a farm barn, although obviously a converted function barn is fine. If you have already booked a farm barn, we strongly recommend hosing it down during the daytime of the date of the event, arranging heating and reasonable lighting and making sure as much draught is excluded as possible, especially where the band is to set up.
Important things you need to know if your dance is in a marquee or outdoors
Some of the points in this section about marquees and outdoor events also apply generally to other venues, i.e. the space requirements, flooring, access and parking, power source, lighting.
If the event is to be held outdoors
Outdoor events have their own pitfalls – mainly the unreliable weather in this country, so it is your responsibility to have contingency plans for bad weather. While all attempts would of course be made to continue with the dance, if it has to be abandoned due to weather conditions, the full fee would still payable to the band.
If your event is to be held in a marquee
Please note that it is up to you to discuss and arrange all the following requirements with the marquee providers well before the day.
Access to the marquee, parking and setting up
Please supply address and post code for exactly where the marquee will be sited and bear in mind that the band and caller really do need to get their cars as close as possible to the marquee for unloading and loading their instruments and PA system.

Ideally, the band will be able to leave their cars where they unload, or they could possibly move the vehicles elsewhere if necessary, after unloading.

Arranging for a removable or openable flap in the marquee near to where the band will set up is a good idea, so they can gain access to set up without having to walk through the guests.
Power source in the marquee
Mains power is ideal, but a generator is fine too. The band will not be able to play amplified if they don’t have a safe and suitable power source. The band and caller just need access to one ordinary safely earthed 13A plug socket, which should ideally be easily accessible from where the band sets up, and no further away than 10m and if possible, not outside the marquee. Please let Fiona know if the plug socket is going to be any more than 10m away from where the band sets up. The band and caller provide all other extension leads for their own use on the evening.

The amplification equipment for a Ceilidh band does not draw more power than, say, a 2KW electric kettle. If a generator is used, it needs to offer a 240V (not 110V) supply, with a standard 13 Amp socket available for the band’s use. We recommend having the band situated well away from a generator as these machines can be quite noisy. Any cable, plugs and sockets should obviously be safely protected from the elements whenever leading outside.
Space in the marquee for the dancing and for the band
You will need to talk in detail with the marquee providers about the overall space required to "house" your group of guests, depending on the number invited.

We will need to know the approximate width of the tent “wall” along which the band will be setting up, and what the approximate area is that you’re allowing for the dancing.

A band of, say, 3 or 4 musicians and Caller needs an area with a minimum width of 4-6m and 2-3m depth, with the band situated against one side or end of the marquee and near, but not too close to the dance floor, or they get trampled! Allowing the required depth of space for the band is very important.

For the dancing area, I recommend an absolute minimum of 5m x 5m for the dancing, ideally double or triple this. The dancing area doesn’t need to be square. You never get 100% of a group dancing at one time, so as long as there is enough space for about 30-40 people to dance at one time, that is fine.

Arranging the tables and chairs as close to the sides of the marquee as possible is the best way to create the dancing area.

The band doesn't need a stage, but if you were to provide one, it must be at least 6m x 3m and no higher than 1m.
Flooring in the marquee for the dancing and for the band
Grass is difficult to dance on, and concrete can be harsh on the knees if you take a tumble.

A solid wooden floor or heavy-duty rush matting or carpet is fine for dancing on. Wooden flooring isn’t critical, as the coconut rush matting does a perfectly good job for dancing on and costs less to install than a wooden floor. Wooden “mobile” dance floors often have steep edges and it’s almost better – and safer – for people to dance on matting than on a floor with steep edges.

If you are having a proper wooden dance floor laid, you'll definitely need to ask the marquee providers to allow a good 3m depth for the band to set up comfortably, so the dance floor is not too close to where the musicians set up.

Please note - the Band needs waterproof covering underneath where they are to set up – whether in a marquee or if they are playing outdoors – it’s not acceptable to put equipment and musical instruments on bare grass or dusty concrete or other potentially damaging surfaces. It gets damp in marquees later on and expensive instruments and PA equipment need to be kept dry.

It may seem obvious, but it’s essential to have the marquee set up on totally flat ground, because even the slightest slope will make it very difficult indeed for the dancers to dance and they gradually end up at one end of the tent either sitting on the knees of the band or in the bar!!!

The surface must also be level where the band is situated, as they have speakers on tripods to set up, and the musicians need to be on level ground for obvious reasons!
Lighting in the marquee
There definitely needs to be some reasonably bright lighting in the marquee, particularly over where the dancing is taking place and also where the band is sited so they aren’t in a gloomy corner of the tent! The caller definitely needs to be able to see what the dancers are doing, so this is an important thing to sort out beforehand. I recommend chandelier type lights from the marquee “ceiling” or side lights and strings of white / coloured lights, and maybe some uplighters too. We recently played in a marquee which only had up-lighters and it was rather gloomy, so I recommend having more lighting than just up-lighters. For the rest of the marquee, it’s up to you, and you may choose to have lower level lighting for the other areas.
Heating in the marquee
Even for summertime dances, I strongly recommend arranging for optional access to portable heating as it gets chilly in a tent later in the evening and it’s impossible to play well if musicians are cold. I recommend hiring or borrowing portable propane (or similar) heaters – for the guests and also for near the band.
Armless chairs and table
Musicians sometimes like the use of some armless chairs and may need a sturdy oblong table about 1m x 2m for a mixer / amplifier. The table should be available for the band on their arrival, to enable a speedy set up.
Also see FAQ 6 section on marquees
Power source
Access to an ordinary properly earthed 13A plug-point is the only essential requirement for the Band. A Mains power source is ideal but using a generator is fine too.

The band reserves the right to refuse to use an electricity source if it believes the wiring system is faulty or dangerous. Some bands do a Mains test on the night. A band will be unable to play amplified if the power source is unsuitable – and the Caller will not be heard.
Flooring for the dancers
For dances in marquees and outdoors – see section in Venue Guidelines on Marquees

Generally speaking, a solid wooden floor or carpet is fine for dancing on. Many venues have a purpose-built, solid, wooden dance floor. Wooden flooring isn’t critical as carpet does a perfectly good job for dancing on. Some venues offer a portable segmented “mobile” wooden dance floor, which the venue management assembles on the day. These floors often have steep metal edges and therefore pose a potential safety hazard. It’s better and safer for people to dance on carpet than on a floor with steep edges. It’s definitely better NOT to have the floor laid, and to dance on carpet, rather than on a floor where people could trip over the edges. If you are having a proper wooden dance floor laid, you'll definitely need to ask the management to allow a good 3m depth for the band to set up comfortably, so the dance floor is not too close to where the musicians set up. Watch out for floors that are very slippery - some venues have a tiled or polished floor and this can be hazardous when doing the faster ceilidh dances.
Stage
A band doesn't need a stage. It’s a bonus if a good sized stage area is provided but it’s NOT essential. If you (or the venue) were to provide one, it must be at least 6m wide x 3m deep and no higher than 1m. Some venues have a ready-built stage, other venues are able to build a portable one, but a Ceilidh usually takes place with the band and caller on ground level. It’s better for the band to set up on the floor rather than trying to cram onto a stage which is too small. It's easier for the Caller to move between band and dancers if he or she is on the floor rather than a high stage.
Lighting
Reasonably bright lighting in the room is best, as the caller needs to be able to see what the dancers are doing, so the lighting shouldn’t be as dim and gloomy as for a Disco! Some Ceilidh and Barn Dance bands have their own lighting which they bring with them, but it’s not an essential, as room lighting is sufficient.
Armless chairs and table
Musicians sometimes like the use of some armless chairs and may need a sturdy oblong table about 1m x 2m for a mixer / amplifier. The table should be available for the band on their arrival, to enable a speedy set up.
Access & Parking
Please consider ensuring easy access to the area where the Band will be playing. Parking facilities for their vehicles as close as possible to the venue or marquee entrance for unloading and loading their PA equipment & instruments is essential.
Directions
If the venue is particularly difficult to find, some additional directions will be appreciated in addition to the venue post code for using a SAT NAV.

I generally recommend 40-50 as a minimum number, and 70 upwards is ideal. As long as at least 20-30 people are willing to get up at any one time, the dance will go well. Even better, of course, if far more people are willing to dance, but we realise that occasions like weddings, birthdays and anniversary parties are a good opportunity for people to meet up for the first time in ages and catch up on news, so socialising is also a priority.

If there were, say, about 80-120 guests, we’d never expect everyone to be up dancing every time. There will always be some people who don’t wish to join in at all and who prefer to sit and watch or chat, which is fine.

If you're having a party of fewer than 40 people, to be honest, I probably wouldn't really recommend a barn dance or ceilidh, as having any fewer than 16–24 dancers participating at any one time during the evening makes it feel a bit of a struggle so a small group means that the same people would be asked to dance every dance and it would be totally exhausting!
Bands like to set up immediately prior to the agreed start time and should be able to set up PA systems and instruments quickly and discreetly in about 30-60 minutes maximum, depending to a degree on the size of the band. This is always done immediately prior to the agreed start time for the dance. Ceilidh and Barn Dance Bands don’t need to set up earlier in the day, but will do if it is essential, but this will be reflected in the fee, since it means adding several hours of time to the 8-10 hours already committed for the evening – i.e. packing the car, travelling to the venue, unpacking, setting up, playing, packing up, travelling home and unpacking the car – it soon adds up - and many people overlook this.
Generally, between 1 and 3 hours of this style of dancing is about right. If the Ceilidh Band and caller are to share the evening with a Disco later on, the band would play for less time and then the break would happen naturally between the Band finishing and the Disco taking over. I never ever recommend having any style of entertainment for longer than 3 hours as people need a change of style and sound. Trying to run a Barn dance or Ceilidh for 4-5 hours is a no-no – everyone would be on their knees, and in need of a change and variety.

Having two roughly equal halves to the evening is what I usually recommend, whatever the occasion or event, as it gives everyone time to work up an appetite with some dancing, then have a bit of grub, and then work off the calories in the second half! Callers and bands usually do two dances in a row, and then have a few minutes break for the dancers to have a slurp and a breather, then on with the dancing. Bands often play instrumentals and / or songs in between the pairs of dances to give the dancers a bit of a rest.

For any event, we recommend a latest finish time of 11.00pm or 11.30pm, and I always advise against a midnight finishing time. We’ve found that at most parties or events, some people start drifting away from about 10.30pm onwards – especially if they have young children, or a long journey home.

Any Band always prefers to round off on a high with everyone still there, rather than going on til later with fewer people there just for the sake of it.

When deciding the start time for a wedding Ceilidh, please bear in mind that you need to allow much more time than you might expect for everything else happening during the day. I always suggest allowing 6 hours from the ceremony time to the evening party getting started, which surprises some people. The photos, greetings and drinks, the meal - and especially the speeches - take up the time! Unless you take this into account, the Ceilidh will start later than you’ve planned, and the band will be sitting around for ages waiting to set up.

For a wedding, in most cases, the band and caller setting up coincides naturally with the preparation of the room or marquee ready for the evening party. I would avoid booking any band which says it needs more than an hour to set up – it will create a massive gap in between your afternoon and evening celebrations. This would not be an issue for a non-wedding occasion though.
Generally, between 1 and 3 hours of this style of dancing is about right. If the Ceilidh Band and caller are to share the evening with a Disco later on, the band would play for less time and then the break would happen naturally between the Band finishing and the Disco taking over. I never ever recommend having any style of entertainment for longer than 3 hours as people need a change of style and sound. Trying to run a Barn dance or Ceilidh for 4-5 hours is a no-no – everyone would be on their knees, and in need of a change and variety.

Having two roughly equal halves to the evening is what I usually recommend, whatever the occasion or event, as it gives everyone time to work up an appetite with some dancing, then have a bit of grub, and then work off the calories in the second half! Callers and bands usually do two dances in a row, and then have a few minutes break for the dancers to have a slurp and a breather, then on with the dancing. Bands often play instrumentals and / or songs in between the pairs of dances to give the dancers a bit of a rest.

For any event, we recommend a latest finish time of 11.00pm or 11.30pm, and I always advise against a midnight finishing time. We’ve found that at most parties or events, some people start drifting away from about 10.30pm onwards – especially if they have young children, or a long journey home.

Any Band always prefers to round off on a high with everyone still there, rather than going on til later with fewer people there just for the sake of it.

When deciding the start time for a wedding Ceilidh, please bear in mind that you need to allow much more time than you might expect for everything else happening during the day. I always suggest allowing 6 hours from the ceremony time to the evening party getting started, which surprises some people. The photos, greetings and drinks, the meal - and especially the speeches - take up the time! Unless you take this into account, the Ceilidh will start later than you’ve planned, and the band will be sitting around for ages waiting to set up.

For a wedding, in most cases, the band and caller setting up coincides naturally with the preparation of the room or marquee ready for the evening party. I would avoid booking any band which says it needs more than an hour to set up – it will create a massive gap in between your afternoon and evening celebrations. This would not be an issue for a non-wedding occasion though.
Yes! At weddings, the bride and groom - "newly weds" - sometimes like to do a First Dance or Opening Dance to their favourite song. We ask you to bring along your chosen track on an Ipod for the band to play through the PA system, making it clear to the band or caller exactly which track you want played, so the correct track starts the night! A word of warning - be prepared to be more scared dancing "on show" than you thought you would . . . . !

The Ceilidh or Barn Dance begins immediately after the First Dance and works well as a way to start the evening off.

Occasionally, couples even learn a dance routine to open the evening party and impress their guests. In this case, it’s essential to make a note to bring the track on your Ipod or all that dance routine practice may be wasted! I’ve seen one couple do an amazing Cha-Cha routine and another couple had rehearsed a fabulous Salsa routine – good enough for Strictly Come Dancing – but this is the exception to the rule.

To open the night, some couples like the chance to do a simple ceilidh dance on their own or with the “Top Table” guests or immediate family members. Dances like The Grand March or the Gay Gordons are very suitable for this, but the band and caller will definitely need to know your wish for this beforehand, to ensure they can fulfil your request.

For some people, the very thought of dancing alone is terrifying, naff, awful, a total no-no – So you’ll be pleased to know that since it’s YOUR DAY – there’s NO obligation whatsoever to dance alone. It really is OK if you prefer not to make a thing of the first dance, and just get stuck into the Ceilidh with the Caller leading EVERYONE through the first dance.

All of these alternatives are fine.
Having a Ceilidh as well as more contemporary music during an evening certainly caters for a wider range of musical tastes, providing both traditional and modern music. You do need to make it clear to me if you are booking a DJ or arranging your own Ipod disco, as some bands are quite willing to share an evening with a DJ and other bands prefer not to. Arranging your own Ipod disco is far cheaper than hiring a DJ and takes up far less space. Please be fully aware that you will need to arrange – borrow or hire – and bring along your own speakers and suitable amplifier to play your music after the ceilidh or barn dance ends, as the band’s PA will not be available after they finish their slot.

For the evening to work best, it really is best if the Ceilidh is the first part of the evening, and the Disco takes over entirely after the Ceilidh or Barn Dance finishes. Alternating short spots of Ceilidh / Disco / Ceilidh does NOT work, believe me!

If you're booking a DJ, you need to make sure BEFORE THE DATE that both the Band and DJ have enough space at the venue to set up comfortably. It’s best to situate the Ceilidh Band in a position which will enable their easy exit so once the Band has finished and packed up their equipment and instruments, they can leave without walking through the dancers and disturbing the Disco. The band asks for 10-15 minutes of packing up time before the DJ starts and the lights go dim!
Dances
Over the years, Fiona has learned from playing in her own band that it works well if a Caller or a live band with Caller offer a wide variety of dances from all the British Isles and further afield, i.e. Scottish, Irish, English, Welsh, French Canadian, American and Continental dances which are good fun, straightforward and definitely NOT TOO COMPLICATED!

Some bands specialise in a particular music and dance style, but most Ceilidh and Barn Dance bands offer a more general and mixed repertoire. If you want more of an emphasis towards, say, the Scottish, or Irish style of music or dance, this is quite feasible – but do please make this clear when enquiring about booking a band and caller through Fiona.

There are so many styles of ceilidh and barn dance bands out there, some playing a very traditional style of music and others playing more in the folk - rock genre, so do let me know if you have a preference, and if not, try to listen to as many band samples as possible so you can compare the styles of various bands and let me know what you want for you own party.

You can expect to do some of the well-known favourite dances such as The Bridge of Athlone, Pat A Cake Polka, Cumberland Square Eight, The Gay Gordons, Dashing White Sergeant, Strip the Willow, Farmer’s Jig, Ninepins, Canadian Barn Dance, to name a few. There can be regional variations and slightly different versions of some dances – for example, Strip The Willow – but they are all fun!

These will be danced to lively jigs, reels, polkas, rants, marches, schottisches, hornpipes or whatever is the most appropriate music for the particular dance chosen. Most bands have a set of dances and accompanying tunes which they do regularly.

The complexity of these social ceilidh and barn dances varies enormously. The simplest dances would be done at the start of the evening and the Caller will choose a programme of dances which are most suitable for the crowd on that night. The first few dances serve as a way of helping the most reluctant dancer to realise it’s easy and that joining in won’t be anything but a bit of fun! Having a laugh is definitely the top priority rather than getting the steps perfect.

In my opinion, and speaking from experience, I think that unless a band is playing for a specialised Folk Dance Club, it’s best to avoid the more complicated dances, because complicated dances take longer to explain and walk through, which can slow down the pace of the evening too much if there are total novices there. Some, but not all bands are able to play an old-fashioned Quickstep or Waltz, but other bands only play the more traditional folk dances. The really old-time favourites like The Veleta, St Bernard’s Waltz or even the original Barn Dance are in some bands' repertoires and may be requested.

Do make it clear to Fiona if you wish to book a more specialised band, and also if you want a band that can perform some songs as well as the “diddly diddly” instrumental tunes for the called dancing.

This may sound obvious, but if you are booking a band independent of Fiona, do just check that any band you’re interested in is used to playing for dancing rather than just for listening.
Instrumental line-up of bands
As for instrumental line-up, my own band JIGABIT has a varied line-up including piano accordion, bass guitar, banjo, mandolin, rhythm guitar, drums / percussion and multi-vocals for songs.

Instruments played by other bands include melodeon, concertina, button accordion, keyboard, flute, whistles, clarinet, oboe, saxophone, recorder, trumpet, tuba and other brass, bagpipes and other pipes, hurdy gurdy, fiddle, cello, viola, ocarina, hammer dulcimer, Appalachian dulcimer . . . . . the list is endless.

No, not all bands sing songs. If you want a Band which does songs as well as playing music for ceilidh dancing, do please make it clear on your initial enquiry, and check that a band sings. This will clearly determine which band will be most suitable for your function. Some bands play and sing some traditional Irish and Scottish songs, and a few of the more professional Ceilidh bands do excellent covers of 50s, 60s and 70s country and rock ‘n’ roll numbers, but many Ceilidh and Barn Dance bands just play music for the ceilidh dances.
Whenever I recommend a particular band to a potential booker, I always send out sound samples by email. If you are booking a band independently of me, do always ask to hear some sound samples of the band and make sure that the samples are actually representative of the band line-up they would be offering for your party. I would be very cautious about making a booking if a band or agency cannot offer good quality recent recordings of the band.

Since most Ceilidh and Barn Dance Bands play for many private functions, it’s not always easy to hear a band playing live, but it can occasionally be arranged, if permission is granted by the hosts, though it can feel a bit strange “gate-crashing” even with permission! Of course, if the band has a pubic event they're playing for, you can buy tickets and go along and see the band playing and join in the dancing.
Do please book your band and caller as far ahead in time as possible to assure getting the best choice of best band and caller in your area.

Some people plan well in advance – up to 18 months ahead – and others leave it much closer to the day.

3 - 9 months ahead seems to be the average.

I strongly recommend that you don’t leave it until the last minute, as the better bands WILL be booked up. I have known people who expect to book a band and caller at 2 weeks’ notice and they are disappointed and even surprised that everyone’s already booked!
Most bands are willing to hold a provisional date for you with no obligation, until you’ve made a final decision, as long as you don’t take too long to decide! Meanwhile if the Band is offered another booking on that same date, I would contact you and give you “first refusal” on the Band I’ve offered, but I would need an immediate decision for obvious reasons. Some bands work on a first come first served basis, but I would tell you this when I recommend them to you, if that is how they work.
Once all the finer details have been discussed and agreed, I confirm the booking in writing. All Bands, Callers and agents all have their own particular way of confirming bookings. Some bands are happy with only a verbal agreement, but for the sake of all parties, I really believe it’s best to put everything in writing. When I confirm a booking for my own band JIGABIT or for any other band, I send out a detailed confirmation letter and one or two clear, detailed Booking Forms for you to complete, sign and return to me. I ask for a deposit or booking fee up front to secure the date, leaving the balance to be paid in cash to the band on the night.

You keep the letter (and make a copy of the forms if you wish), and then everyone has something in writing. If it's an "agent booking" for another band, the band also gets a copy of the completed signed form.

Once I have received the completed booking forms and deposit from you, then the booking is definite and confirmed. Only serious illness or accident on the day would prevent things happening as agreed, and then the band, caller or myself would do our utmost to find a replacement as we all know a good range of musicians to call on in extreme circumstances.

All bookings are subject to a cancellation clause and an overtime clause, along with a number of other terms and conditions clearly stated in the confirmation paperwork.

I am always willing to provide contact details for the band or Caller so you can speak directly to them nearer the date, though strictly speaking it’s not necessary as everything is usually finalised at the booking stage. For “emergency purposes” it’s reassuring to have a band’s contact details though. Please note that not all agents will provide a band’s contact details, expecting you to direct any questions through the agency.

All you then need to do is turn up and leave the rest to the band and Caller!

So there you are – it’s easy to book a band and caller through Fiona - GO FOR IT! 'Phone or email me with your requirements and let's get started! Please supply as much information as possible on your initial enquiry, to speed up the booking process.

The date, the venue and location are the key details I need.
Yes, a few things - Safety and Insurance / Dress Code / Special needs / Providing refreshments for the band and caller / Volume level
Safety and Insurance
Some venue managers require sight of a band's current Electrical Equipment Safety PAT Test Certificates and occasionally they require evidence of a band’s Public Liability insurance. Please give me at last 2 months notice if the venue management request this.
Dress Code
Make sure you and your guests wear appropriate footwear and clothing! Hate to say it, but sensible, boring flattish shoes and reasonably loose clothing are best for this lively sort of dancing – NOT stiletto heels and tight clothes! Brides – it’s a good idea to consider making sure that any long dress train can be “hooked up and tucked away” for ease of leaping about the dance floor without tripping up or stepping on that gorgeous dress!

Unless something specific is requested, band members tend to dress in a fairly informal but smart/casual style. I always ask people making a booking whether they have any preference for how the band dresses – i.e. casual, smart casual, smart, any tartan for, say, Scottish themed events, or jeans, check shirts and cowboy hats for American themed events etc.
Special needs
It's useful for the Caller to know beforehand, for example, if some people who will be dancing can’t speak much English, or maybe have a disability, so the band and Caller can allow for that in the pace of music and choice of dances and the way the Caller instructs the dancers.
Providing refreshments for the band and caller
Playing for several hours for a Ceilidh or Barn Dance is very hungry and thirsty work, so any food and drink refreshments provided for the band and Caller are ALWAYS greatly appreciated. It’s not obligatory, but it’s the “norm” to offer the band some hospitality. It’s a known fact that musicians work better when they are well fed and watered!
Volume level
If you're concerned about Granny Mabel, Uncle Arthur and Aunty Joan being able to hear each other talking whilst they’re watching the dancing, fear not! Most Ceilidh Bands play at a reasonable level so that people can sit and chat and still hear each other. However, if you feel that the Band is a little too loud or even a little too quiet, it is perfectly OK to go up and ask the caller or band to adjust the volume level a bit! They won't bite!
Fiona Maurice-Smith
Phone Fiona on 07761 805508 or 01509 673867
To speed up the booking process, please provide the following key information on initial contact with Fiona:
  • Date of the event (or a choice of dates)
  • The occasion - is it a wedding, birthday, corporate, church social, Charity fund raiser, anniversary etc.
  • Venue name, address and post code and whether the dance will be held indoors, or outdoors in a marquee or barn
  • Any preference of style you may have – Would you prefer Scottish, Irish, English, American style, or a good mixture of all styles
  • An approximate idea of your budget would be helpful, and speeds up the booking process, so the best Ceilidh or Barn Dance Band and Caller option in your price bracket may be offered. This is not a trick question. Everyone has different ideas on costs, and some people have more to spend than others. Prices range from about £250 upwards – see FAQs on costs
  • Your phone and email contact details
  • If you are planning a barn dance or ceilidh as a surprise for a friend or family member, please make this clear, so that the surprise isn't "blown" by mistake by a 'phone call or email!
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