Guest Post | An Introduction To Ceilidh

I have a very interesting guest post for you all today. It may or may not interest you to know that I am 87 and 1/2 percent Irish. True story. My mom is 100% and my dad is 75%, so if you add those together and divide by two… you get me.:)

Anyway… today’s guest post is about a traditional form of music and dance in the UK which has a Gaelic name, so I can only assume it originated in Ireland. I had never heard of it, and found it interesting, and since it pertains to weddings, I thought you might too! I have Nick Lewis here to share a bit more about it. Take it away, Nick.

Photo via Titanic

 If you’ve been looking for a wedding band in the UK you might have seen a few Ceilidh bands on agency’s books. Understandably, you might have skipped over the unfamiliar word with barely a ‘what’s a ceilidh’?

Well, here’s a quick primer to prepare you for next time.

What is a Ceilidh?

A ceilidh (pronounced kay-leed) is a traditional gaelic social gathering. Originally the word referred to any sort of social gathering but would usually involve, music, dancing, songs, story telling and poetry.

In more modern times though the dancing has taken precedence and a ceilidh, or at least the sort you get with a ceilidh band for your wedding, is really just the folk music and traditional dances.

It’s sometimes referred to as a barn dance which might give you a better idea of what it is – music with set dances, the steps called out by a caller and usually a short tutorial beforehand for new dancers.

If you’ve seen Titanic, the poor people below deck are indulging in a ceilidh in the scene with all the dancing.

The music

The songs in a modern ceilidh are all the traditional Scottish, Irish and English folk dance songs that have survived to this day. The most famous of which (and a great end to the night) is of course Auld Lang Syne.

A standard five piece ceilidh band will consist of something like: caller + fiddle, fiddle, guitar/piano, bass guitar and drums. Some bands though have the option of much larger line ups including more traditional instruments like accordian, whistle, Irish pipes and flute.

The dances

If you’re not familiar with the dances, not to worry as part of the point of a modern ceilidh is in the short tutorials beforehand, and having a caller to walk you through the steps.

Dances tend to be either set (two couples facing each other, exchanging partners during the dance), couples or ‘progressive’ – many partner switches with everyone in the room. They’re meant to be danced by everyone there, so even those nervous about dancing should be fine!

The most popular are probably the Scottish dances, such as Gay Gordons, Dashing White Sergeant and Strip the Willow. If you’re thinking of booking a ceilidh band it’s well worth asking for a set list – and if you happen to know some traditional dances, ask if they know them, they may be able to accommodate them.

Folk music may seem a little old fashioned, but modern ceilidh bands often use modern instrumentation to bring the music more up to date. And besides, getting everyone dancing at a wedding will never go out of style.

Nick Lewis is a writer, musician and sound engineer. He’s writing on behalf of Licence to Ceilidh – one of the UK’s top Ceilidh bands

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bree [capitolromance] - August 2, 2012 - 4:39 pm

this is AWESOME. i am a SMIDGE irish, but i do love me some Dropkick Murphys. If I was super Irish, I would LOVE to have had this kind of band/music at my wedding!

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