Find an artist for your event...

everything you'll ever need to know about booking a ceilidh band

Everything You'll Ever Need To Know About Booking A Ceilidh Band

Everything you'll ever need to know about booking a Ceilidh band. Find out what a Ceilidh band will do at your event, how various types of Ceilidh bands differ from each other, what type of music they'll play, how much space they will require, how to ensure quality, how much it costs to hire a Ceilidh band and much more.
For the full roster please visit our ceilidh bands page here.

Written by Alive Network, with contributions from members of Gypsy Rogues, Reels On Wheels, Connery and Rabscallion.

What are Ceilidh bands and what do they do?

A Ceilidh (pronounced ‘kay-lee’), is a dance that originates from Ireland, Scotland, parts of England and America. To the novice, a Ceilidh looks like a cross between Morris Dancing and Barn Dancing. A Ceildh band will get people on their feet and dancing to jigs, reels, hornpipes, slides and polkas. It’s hugely entertaining, highly interactive, and great for breaking the ice!

Ceilidh bands will be lively and will usually feature a ‘caller’ who shouts out instructions for how each dance should be conducted. The caller will be accompanied by a group of musicians consisting of anything from basic rhythm and melody, e.g. guitar and accordion, up to a full band, e.g. flute, mandolin, banjo, accordion, fiddle, drums, bass, electric or acoustic guitar, keyboards, etc. A Ceilidh band line up could be anything from a duo to a six-piece or more, amplified or acoustic, with or without a caller. The choice is yours as to how you would like your Ceilidh band to be assembled.

A Ceilidh band is the perfect alternative to a party band or DJ. They make for a successful party as it is a fun way to get families, friends and colleagues to mix and meet, and all age groups love to get involved. The faster dances provide quite an energetic work out whilst more relaxed romantic songs provide plenty of scope for slow dances (and a bit of a breather!)

Ceilidh’s are ideal for all social events including weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, retirement parties, folk festivals and corporate events. They are particularly good ice breakers at weddings where people may be meeting for the first time. Ceilidh dancing can involve large or small groups of people and it is easy to pick up, experience is not required. The dances are pattern dances and may be done in lines, squares or circles. Many are progressive which means that couples change partners regularly during the dance.

Popular dances include Strip the Willow, The Big Set Mixer, Bridge of Athlone, The Oxo Reel, La Rouse, The Circassian Circle, Rebecca’s Roundabout, Cottagers Jig, Nottingham Swing, Cumberland Square 8, Dashing White Sergeant, The Gay Gordons, Eightsome Reel, St Bernard’s Waltz, Canadian Barn Dance and Pride of Erin Waltz.

Examples of Ceilidh Bands available from Alive Network

What should I look for to ensure quality?

All of the Ceilidh bands on the Alive Network web site have already been carefully pre-vetted so they represent the very best of what's available in the UK. We have selected our artist roster from literally thousands of applications so in order to ensure quality all you need to do is choose a band from our web site. Its risk free and you have peace of mind that we've already done the hard work for you.

If you do choose to look around elsewhere, here's what you should look for:

  1. A great demo CD
    The music should be in time, in tune, and be well produced (it should sound like a high quality recording).
  2. Great photos
    If a band can't be bothered to have decent photos produced, what else will they be skimping on?
  3. Customer reviews and testimonials
    Make sure you can read genuine recent reviews from previous customers. You'll find loads readily available here on the Alive Network web site.
  4. Equipment
    The band should use professional quality PA, instruments, amplifiers and microphones.
  5. Experience and background
    Read the bands biography which should provide details of each band member’s personal experience, as well as the experience of the band as a whole. Check that the band consists of high calibre musicians with a strong track record.
  6. The backing of a reliable agency
    No agent, no backup if anything goes wrong. Look for an agency that responds quickly, efficiently, and takes the time to listen to your individual requirements. They will be your point of contact so you need to be happy that they're providing a high quality service too.
  7. Cost
    You get what you pay for, so don't cut corners unless you don't mind risking the success of your event. We represent hundreds of artists, all of whom define their own fees, so our prices are a good indicator of what's usual to pay.

What exactly will a Ceilidh band do at my event? What will the format be?

The band will arrive at a time to suit you and set up their equipment where required. To unload, set up and sound check takes on average 60 - 90 minutes. This time is important if you want the band to sound good as levels will need to be balanced correctly. Usually they will play background music from a laptop or iPod whilst they get changed and ready for the performance.

Assuming your event is a wedding or includes a sit down meal, it is usual that set-up and sound check would happen after the meal whilst the room is cleared, and whilst guests leave the room to get drinks and stretch their legs. If you would prefer the band to be set up before guests arrive, this can be arranged but usually costs more because of the extra time involved.

The bands first set would usually commence about 8.30pm and last 1 hour. If there is a first dance, it will either be played by the band or on iPod. Often the band will play a song or two, then the dance caller will invite people up to dance, walking them through each part of the dance until they have got the basic idea before starting with the music. Dances are simple so 5-10 minutes per dance is usually enough practice. There would be a variety of traditional dances, and more spontaneous dances including waltzes and jives. There would also be songs and instrumentals between the dances.

They would then take a break until the next set is required. If a wedding, this usually covers the time when the evening buffet is served or when the cake is cut. During this time the band would play background music from a laptop or iPod.

The second live performance would then usually start around 10.30pm lasting 1 hour until 11.30pm. Towards the end, the band would work up to a rousing climax, or finish the night with a slow number such as a waltz. An experienced Ceilidh band will read the audience well and establish when to play songs or tunes for people to listen or dance to, and when to get people up for the set dances. When the performance is finished, the band will usually play more background music until the contracted finish time. Most bands will leave this music running whilst they dismantle their equipment at the end of the night.

The band should start loading their equipment back into their vehicles only after the agreed contract finish time. It takes around 45 minutes to an hour to pack down and load out.

What equipment will the band provide?

99.9% of the bands working with Alive Network will provide all of their own equipment. This would include PA, instruments, amplifiers, basic stage lighting and either a laptop or iPod to play background music through their PA between performances. Some of the larger corporate events tend to use a dedicated audio visual company, and often they will provide PA and lighting for the band.

Although there is a difference between the size of PA systems used by the various Ceilidh bands we represent, they will all bring a PA system suitable for up to 100 people, which covers most private parties and weddings. Bands with larger PA systems won't necessarily turn them up any louder but the option is there if needed, and larger systems usually sound much higher quality. Looking at the size and quality of their PA and lighting systems is a good way to judge value for money between several bands. Ask your Alive Network co-ordinator if you need help with this.

Important note: If your event will have more than 100 people, or if the room where the band will perform holds significantly more than 100 people, it's worth remembering that a larger PA system will need to be considered and you should discuss this with your coordinator. As a guide, you need roughly 10 watts per person, so a 300 capacity room will ideally require a 3000 watt (3K) PA system. Most of our bands can arrange larger PA.

How much space will a Ceilidh band need?

There is a useful stage size guide on our FAQ page.

Allow an absolute minimum of 1 metre across per person, but ideally 1.5 metres across. Allow 2 square metres for a drummer. Remember, space is also needed in front and to the sides to accommodate the bands PA, speakers and lighting stands.

The caller will usually interact with the dancers on the dance floor and use a wireless microphone. The dance floor needs to be big and spacious for a Ceilidh, the more room the better.

Minimum band stage size requirements

  • 3 piece band: 3 x 3 metres
  • 4 piece band: 4 metres wide by 3 metres deep
  • 5 and 6 piece band: 5 metres wide by 3 metres deep
  • 7 piece and bigger: 5/6 metres wide by 4 metres deep

The more room the band have, the more comfortable they'll be, and the better they'll perform. That said, bands will do their very best to fit within what ever space you have to work with, just don't expect miracles.

How long will the bands performance last?

The standard is 2 x 60 minute sets, but this can be split into 3 x 40 minute sets. Many Ceilidh bands prefer to play 2 sets because it is generally the format that works best. It is worth asking the band for advice on this as they are experienced in knowing what format makes for the best atmosphere, and the fullest dance floor.

When choosing the start time for the bands first performance, bear in mind that if your guests have just eaten, they probably won't want to dance right away. Also, they'll be more in the mood for dancing as the light fades outside and once they've had a few drinks. For the average wedding/birthday party, 9pm would be the ideal start time, with a 30-45 minute break afterwards, and a final performance running until close to a midnight curfew.

What happens when the band aren't playing?

The band will need somewhere to go before and between performances. If a changing room or staff room can be arranged, this ensures the band can rest comfortably, prepare their set lists, warm up, and start their show in a good frame of mind.

The band will provide background music on a laptop or iPod. You can also provide your own play lists if you prefer, but ensure you discuss this with the band in advance. (They will call you approximately 3 weeks before the event to work out the finer details).

The usual format would be for them to provide background music as soon as they've set up, then between and after their performances. This will be left running until the finish time on your contract, and often until the band have finished packing up if guests are still present. You can request background music until later, but this will usually cost more.

Many bands offer a DJ package as an optional extra, which means you'll either get a separate DJ with decks and lights, or more often, someone from the band will DJ from a laptop or decks, taking requests, making announcements, and generally providing a more interactive service than just leaving a play list running whilst the band take a break. If you don't mind not having the same level of equipment or song choice that you would get from a professional DJ, this can be a very cost effective solution at around £120 extra.

Also bear in mind that once the band has finished playing, most guests will leave the dance floor to get a drink, catch their breath, chat to friends, and even a professional DJ will find it hard to fight against the pull of the bar! Most people find that background music is more than adequate to fill the gaps and this costs nothing.

Are there any options available to customise my band or performance?

Different bands offer different options, ranging from adding or subtracting members to fit your budget or venue size, through to the provision of extra PA, lighting, DJ service or star cloth backdrop. The options available for each band are shown on their profile page and are selectable when you make an online enquiry.

If you have a particular theme in mind, most bands will make an effort to meet it, either matching repertoire or clothing. It is best to specify exactly what you want when you make the booking to be sure your chosen band can definitely accommodate. Your Alive Network coordinator will be able to help and advise you with this.

As well as dances, Ceilidh bands often provide acoustic sets as background music at drinks receptions and similar events. This would be quiet and more for an audience to listen to, rather than dance.

Some Ceilidh bands also offer a more rock and pop orientated set in case you want the second set to be more mainstream.

How much will it cost to hire a Ceilidh band?

This depends greatly on the size, quality and experience of the band. All Alive Network bands are carefully vetted and so therefore represent the top percentage of quality live bands in the UK. Our bands range from as little as £500 for a trio, increasing to £1600+ for a larger ensemble.

The average fee for a party/wedding orientated Ceilidh band is approx £800.

The best way to reduce costs is to avoid early arrival times (bands charge extra for this) and try to find a band who are based close by. The home town location of all Alive Network bands is shown on the roster pages and also on each bands profile page. You can also ask your coordinator to recommend the best band local to your event.

Why is there a difference between what Ceilidh band's cost?

Generally, you pay more for a reputable band with a high level of experience, stronger ability, and good quality equipment. The minimum standard of our bands is already very high as we carefully vet everyone we work with, but you do get what you pay for.

Also, when you search for bands available on your event date and in your event location, those bands who are travelling from outside the area will add travel fees, and these are included in the prices you see on our web site. Travel fees can sometimes be 50% extra on top of the bands normal price, so there can be a big difference in the cost of local bands compared to acts from outside the area.

The number of members in the band also greatly affects cost, with 3 or 4 piece bands costing much less than 10 or 11 piece bands.

Some higher earning bands are also VAT registered which pushes the overall cost up.

What security will I get when booking a Ceilidh band?

When you book a Ceilidh band through Alive Network you'll receive a legally binding contract which protects you against any foreseeable eventuality. This means that short of the band being seriously injured or abducted by aliens, your booking is 100% safe.

You also get the full backing and support of Alive Network, the UK's largest live entertainment agency, as well as the assistance and advice of your personal Alive Network coordinator who will always be on hand to help if you have any questions or concerns.

You can think of Alive Network as your entertainment insurance.

What happens if the band is ill?

It's very rare that problems occur, but if a band member is ill and cannot make a performance, they will ask their ‘dep’ to stand in for them. A ‘dep’ is a fellow musician of identical ability who the original member is willing to trust to do their job. These dep musicians are well rehearsed and with the band, and are usually doing a similar job in another group.

If the unthinkable does happen and the Ceilidh band is unable to perform due to illness, Alive Network will help you to source a replacement band, even at very short notice. We work with hundreds of bands across the UK and have a huge database of contacts to fall back on in an emergency.

Given sufficient notice, you will always be fully informed and involved in agreeing a replacement artist. If you aren't happy with the replacement we suggest you can choose another of our acts, or else receive a full refund. If an emergency happens on the day of your event and we cannot contact you, we will liaise with your venue, and send the closest matching alternative artist so you are not left in the lurch.

Is there anything I need to provide or ensure for the band?

The band will need a safe performance area, preferably a raised stage, with at least 3 or 4 power sockets in close proximity. The musicians will require armless chairs and a small table to put equipment on.

They will require food and refreshments (preferably a hot meal as they'll be on the go for approximately 12 hours and will be hungry). If you can't provide a hot meal, some of the evening buffet will usually be ok. A plate of cold sandwiches isn't really sufficient considering the length of time the band are working for, and their inability to get anything better once at your event. Food is usually provided before or after the bands first set.

You do not need to provide alcohol. Soft drinks, water, tea and coffee are all fine. Please make sure you inform the bar staff that soft drinks should not be charged to the band.

A changing room is very much appreciated including enough seats for all the band members, and if possible, a mirror.

Is there anything else I need to know?

We've put together a selection of useful tips and insights provided directly by our artists.

Robin, Rabscallion quotes Folk music is often associated with older people, but it needn’t be. There are plenty of young bands breathing vitality and vibrancy into this lively music, so look out for them!
Ken, Connery quotes Getting the steps right in Ceilidh dancing is neither expected nor demanded, in fact the objective is to have FUN, and lots of it!
Dave, Gypsy Rogues quotes It is worth working together with the band as they will want to make your event perfect, and will often go out of their way to meet your requests. If they have advice to offer, based on experience, you would be as well to take it. Ceilidh bands are great for getting people of all ages onto the dance floor and communicating with each other.
Mick, Reels On Wheels quotes Alive Network carefully selects their artists and will provide a comprehensive contract to be agreed by the client and the band prior to the event. The band leader will contact you a couple of weeks before the event to discuss the finer details. Artists are proud of the reputations they have built, and you can rest assured that they will do everything possible to make sure your event is a success.

How do I make a booking?

Once your agent sends you a quote and you are happy with the price, that agent will go through the logistics and timings, confirming the details of your booking. You will then be required to pay a deposit, usually over the phone by credit card, and then contracts and receipts will be emailed to you. The band will also sign the same agreement. Once a booking has been made you will be put in touch with the artist 3 weeks before the event to double check the arrangements and make any changes necessary.

Need some help or advice choosing a ceilidh band? We're here to help!

If you would like help selecting the perfect entertainment for your event, simply give us a call or submit the quick enquiry form below and one of our talented entertainment coordinators will be happy to assist.

Make a Quick Enquiry

My event details...

£

Enter your enquiry details...

My contact details...

Your Inbox Deserves Better

Let’s make sure you only get what you want from us! We only send emails now and then, so just tick what you’d like to stay in the loop on:

Fear of Missing Out? Opt in and see how you go. It’s really easy to opt out in your account area later, and you can unsubscribe at any time. And just so you’re sure, we treat your details with respect and would never share or sell them to anyone else.