Over the years, Fagins Pocket have encountered some very interesting situations when playing; the following should help avoid at least the most common of the pitfalls.
Space for the band
Make sure there is enough. Fagins Pocket usually turn out as a 4-piece band including congas and 2 sets of keyboards. Add in a bass cab, 3 sets of back line combos plus a mixing desk, monitors and lights and you start to understand just how much space is needed. Don't forget the caller likes a bit of space to bop in as well!
Power on stage
As well as space, a band will need power. Fagins Pocket are an electric (as well as eclectic) band and probably draws enough power to light up a small town. Seriously, the band will need access to several power points, preferably front and back of stage as well as on both sides. This is particular problem when playing in marquees or other outdoor venues when the sole power is one 13 amp socket on a very long extension cable from the nearest building. We've even turned up in marquees to find there's no power at all!
A proper stage is best as well as it allows the caller to see what is going on and stops over-enthusiastic dancers from crashing into the drum kit!
Space for dancing
Longways sets and circles take up a lot more room than ballroom dancing or discos and you always need room for people to charge about. The standard 12 x 12 floor offered in many hotel function rooms or in marquees is just about big enough for 1 square set of 4 couples unless people are very friendly!
The dance floor
A flat, even floor is a must. Perfection is a sprung wooden floor. Problem surfaces we've encountered in the past, particularly in marquees, include uneven wooden floors guaranteed to trip you up; wooden floors which move when you tread on them and Hessian mats or similar which are designed with the sole purpose of catching your feet in the joins! Carpets and grass are quite good fun as well. On two occasions we've even had water coming up through the floor!
Time - getting in and out
Most bands turn up with a lot of gear these days. To set up and do even a pretty basic sound check takes Fagins Pocket a minimum of 90 minutes. Part of the fun is getting the stuff from the vehicles to somewhere near the stage, so if there's any distance between car parking and stage, things might take even longer. Also, ideally we'd prefer to set up on our own as we don't like inflicting sound check noises on other people but if there are already other things going on the hall, please be patient. We'll get set up as quickly as we can but we want it all to be working properly before we start playing. Then at the end it all has to be taken back down again.....
Time - starts and finishes
A standard public ceilidh would usually run from 8 until midnight or thereabouts. In the end though, the decision on times is down to you. Being keen types though, Fagins Pocket like to play for a minimum of 2 hours
The right number of people for a ceilidh varies depending on the people themselves and on the venue. We'd much rather play for 51 in a hall that holds 50 than for 500 in one that holds a 1000 as there's a much better atmosphere (but see space above). On the other hand, you need a minimum 'critical mass' as not everybody will want to dance all of the time (with the exception of 1 or 2 climbing and athletic clubs we've played for). A reasonable minimum seems to be about 60 unless most are keen dancers. Once you get past the 100 mark, things really get moving as you can get the '2 shift' system working - one lot on the floor whilst the other is resting then change round for the next dance.
What to wear for dancing
Once when asked what I would wear to a ceilidh I replied 'a vest, a pair of shorts and a pair of trainers' much to the surprise of the questioner. This was when somewhat younger and keen to do every dance of the evening which could be pretty energetic. Even now, something light, loose and comfortable is a good move with comfortable shoes with a good grip an absolute must.
Music for ceilidhs covers an immense spectrum these days, from the traditional and acoustic to the modern and very electric. Fagins Pocket try very hard not to have a 'band sound' so you'll get everything from acoustic Irish polkas to something verging on jazz! Some serious electric guitar at times as well. The dances Ceilidh (or barn dance) means different things to different people and has certainly moved from its original Celtic meaning. With Fagins Pocket you'll get something close to the English or E-ceilidh end of the spectrum which generally means set dances designed to be stepped rather than walked (jigs, reels, polkas and hornpipes). At the moment you're unlikely to get bourees or farandoles but who knows in the future
Food - is there food available / will the band be fed?
We usually ask about food at gigs not because we're greedy (well, not all of us) but because the timings of playing usually don't seem to allow for meal times i.e. for most gigs we'll be looking to get ready for the off about 4pm with the expectation of getting home around 2 the following morning, so if no food is provided we need to make alternative arrangements. So either way, please let us know so that we can organise ourselves appropriately.
Drink - is there a bar?
As for food above - we're not a bunch of boozers (honest) but it's nice to have a pint during the gig so if we know there's no bar we can bring our own.
We take a £50 deposit with the contract then the balance is to be paid in cash at the gig. We don't like cheques at the gig as by the time we can pay them in, get them cleared and get the money back out it will probably be several weeks before the band get paid
And finally ...
In the end, if you need more information just contact the band as we've been involved in ceilidhs as dancers, musicians and organisers for more years than we care to remember and probably know most of the dodges by now.
Alan Cole (caller, Fagins Pocket)
(version 1.4 updated 30th August 2014)