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Booking Traditional Irish / Folk Bands

What are Folk Bands?

Arising from working communities, traditional folk music tells of a bygone culture and history. Often performed as part of local customs or to commemorate events, traditional folk music has been orally passed down through the generations. The modern notion of folk music came about in the 1960s, reflecting social changes at the time, with acoustic instruments and profoundly evocative lyrics.

Nowadays, folk bands are still singing the song of the ‘common people’, but fully-amplified as well as acoustic and covering all styles of folk music – from traditional to modern, from Irish and Scottish, to English and American.

A folk band can be made up of several members, anything from 3–5 musicians, playing a variety of instruments, from guitar, banjo and mandolin to fiddle, drums, accordion and whistles. Many folk bands also feature a vocalist. From slow, wistful melodies to fast foot-stomping jigs, folk bands can take you on a musical journey through our cultural landscape, all in one performance. And, if you haven’t experienced folk music before, you’ll be surprised how you get sucked into the beat – it’s the rhythm of your ancestors!

What music will a Folk Band play?

Folk bands will perform a whole spectrum of sprightly jigs and reels, swaying sea shanties, raucous drinking songs, and haunting love melodies and sad stories of old to make you stomp your feet, sway, or reach for the tissues! You’re likely to hear a repertoire crammed with traditional tunes, including:

  • Auld Lang Syne
  • Blaydon Races
  • Cooley’s Reel
  • Dirty Old Town
  • Drowsy Maggie
  • Flower of Scotland
  • Galway Girl
  • Morrison’s Jig
  • Only Our Rivers Run Free
  • Out On The Ocean
  • Soldier’s Joy
  • Tell Me Ma
  • The Auld Triangle
  • The Leaving of Liverpool
  • The Rattlin’ Bog
  • The Skye Boat Song
  • The Wild Rover
  • Whiskey In The Jar
  • Maid Behind The Bar
  • Red Haired Mary
  • Fields Of Athenry
  • A Life on The Open Waves
  • Spanish Lady

Some of our folk bands will also perform pop songs in a traditional folk style. The set list for each of our folk bands features on their profile page.

Popular types of Folk Bands

1. Traditional Irish Folk Bands

Formed of anything from 2 to 6 members, traditionally they will focus their repertoire on Irish folk music, such as Drowsy Maggie, Finnegan’s Wake, Four Green Fields, and Whiskey in The Jar. Sometimes featuring a singer, Irish folk bands are made up of a variety of instruments, which are traditionally acoustic, but are often amplified nowadays. Bands can include a range of instruments such as guitar, mandolin, banjo, fiddle, Celtic bodhran drums, accordion, Celtic harp, bagpipes, whistles and flutes. Their songs are for dancing, lamenting, and singing, so you’ll hear a real range of emotions in the repertoire of an Irish folk band.

2. Modern Irish Bands

Mixing Irish classics with contemporary hits, our modern Irish bands always get the party started! With a musical line-up similar to traditional Irish Folk Bands, their modern counterparts often feature vocals, fiddle, guitar, mandolin, drums, flute, whistle, and keyboard. You can expect to hear classics such as Galway Girl, Irish Rover and Dirty Old Town, and songs from artists like Van Morrison, U2, and Mumford and Sons.

3. English Folk Groups

With traditional instrumental line-ups, typically consisting of accordion, guitar, drums, and often with a ‘caller’ to keep your guests’ dancing on track, English folk groups will play traditional tunes and shanties including Blaydon Races, In And Out Of The Window, The Dorset Four-Hand Reel, and Bobby Shaftoe.

Is a Folk Band suitable for my event?

Perfect for day-to-evening entertainment, a folk band will provide a fantastically fun night of foot-tapping and frolics. They’re great for occasions like:

If you’re planning a festival-style wedding, a folk band can deliver an atmosphere of informal fun, playing a beautiful heart-felt romantic sway to accompany the bride down the aisle, and a jaunty celebratory tune as the happy couple return back up the aisle together. They can play a range of background or lively music for a drinks reception, and – needless to say – can really get the party going for an evening wedding reception!

A folk band is a fantastic way to celebrate many occasions, and an excellent choice for a Hogmanay celebration or a private or corporate St Patrick’s Day party where a big, lively event is called for, and you want all your guests to be tapping their toes, clapping their hands and getting moving on the dancefloor.

For folk bands that include dancing and ‘callers’ as part of their package, they can provide an interactive evening of dancing, and the caller can explain how each dance is done, making the process simple. Many folk dances are cyclical and really simple to get the gist of, so your guests can easily begin enjoying themselves within a few twirls.

Space considerations at your event

The amount of performance space your folk band will need, is very much dependant on the line-up you choose. A folk duo will usually need a lot less space than a 5-piece folk band. If space is an issue at your venue, you can opt to add or remove musicians from most of Alive Network’s folk bands.

If you’re booking your folk band to be central to a dance party, you and your guests will need lots of space to burl around the dancefloor!

For approximate requirements, see ‘How much space will a folk band need?’, below.

Volume – how loud is a folk band?

There are many factors that can influence the volume of a folk band’s performance: the line-up, the type of instruments, whether they play with amplification, and the acoustics of your venue are all key to your chosen band’s volume at your celebration. Folk bands are generally lively and loud, often in the region of 80–110 dB. Do bear this in mind when you’re booking a venue – we’d suggest you check with your venue whether they have noise restrictions or sound limiters fitted, as this can impact on the whole event. For more information on sound limiters, visit this page.

How much does a Folk Band cost?

The approximate costs for our folk bands are outlined in this table:

Type of Artist Cost Range
Duos £300 – £960
3-piece folk bands £540 – £1,330
4-piece folk bands £780 – £1,020
5-piece folk bands £850 – £1,210

Adding or removing instrumentalists from most folk bands will impact the cost.

You can minimise costs by choosing a folk band based close to your venue – the location of each band is featured on their profile pages, and your Entertainment Coordinator can recommend a range of great folk bands near your venue.

Who are the top 10 Folk Bands in the UK right now?

Below are the UK folk bands that we feel are currently among the best, based on a combination of performance quality, novelty, and popularity:

For a list of Alive's most booked Ceilidh & Irish bands right now, see our 'Top 10 Ceilidh & Irish Bands For Hire in 2017' article

How long will a Folk Band play for?

Folk bands normally play two 45- or 60-minute sets, with breaks in-between. Many also offer three 40-minute sets, or the option to play for less of for longer, so you can choose what will best fit with your event.

How much space will a Folk Band need?

When you’re considering booking a folk band, it’s important to think about how you can accommodate your band at your chosen venue. This table gives a rough idea of how much performance space different sizes of folk bands will need:

Type of Folk Band Performance Space Required
  Duos: 3 × 2 metres
   3-piece band: 3 × 3 metres
    4-piece band 4 × 3 metres
     5-piece band 5 × 3 metres

Depending on the number of musicians and the type of instruments in the folk band you choose, these approximate measurements will vary. Your Entertainment Coordinator can discuss the requirements of individual bands with you further.

How long will it take for a Folk Band to set up?

If they can park close to your venue’s performance area, it can take around 60 – 90 minutes for a folk band to unload, set up and perform their vital sound check.

Following their performance, the band can take around 30 – 60 minutes to pack away and load out.

What equipment will a Folk Band need?

Folk bands will bring much of their equipment with them, but may need a range of additional things to help them perform well at your event, such as:

  • a secure, lockable changing room
  • parking provision with easy venue access
  • refreshments – soft drinks and hot food, depending how long you’ve booked them to perform
  • shelter from the sun, wind and rain, if they’ve agreed to play outside
  • a sturdy, armless chair for each musician
  • decent lighting – particularly if they’re playing somewhere like a marquee
  • a dedicated, suitably-sized, safe, dry, and flat performance area
  • a minimum of four 13 amp power sockets, depending on the line-up and whether they’re fully amplified or acoustic

Most of Alive Network’s folk bands will provide their own microphones, and PA sound system or amp.

If you’re planning a large event with over 200 guests, you may need an additional PA sound system, which you can hire separately. Your dedicated Entertainment Coordinator will be happy to discuss the requirements for your selected folk band.

For information on the following, see our Frequently Asked Questions:

If you have any other queries, simply visit our FAQ page.

Alternatively, our dedicated expert entertainment coordinators are on-hand to help. Simply call 0845 108 5500 or email

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