So you’re looking to hire a ceilidh band? Hosting a ceilidh at your event is an excellent way to get everyone dancing (even those who claim they can’t or won’t dance!) and to bring all of your guests together at the end of the party.
In this guide, we’ll be covering everything you could possibly need to know about hiring a ceilidh band for your event or wedding. We’ll cover the basics of hiring a ceilidh band, the equipment needed, the types of music you can expect, and the easiest way to book a ceilidh band.
We’ve helped hundreds of people book ceilidh bands for their events and we have the largest selection of ceilidh bands in the UK, so we’ve amassed some great insights and pieces of wisdom over the years.
Already set on hiring a ceilidh band? Wonderful! To help us quickly get you great quotes from available ceilidh bands, you can either:
- Compare prices and contact over 140 incredible ceilidh bands available in the UK
- Contact our bookings team to discuss your specific needs at [email protected]
- The Basics
- Equipment & Setup
- How much setup time does a ceilidh band need?
- How much space does a ceilidh band need?
- How much space do you need for ceilidh dancing?
- What equipment does the client need to provide?
- Do I need to provide food?
- Can a ceilidh band play outside?
- What dress code can I expect?
- Do ceilidh bands need a PA system?
- Do ceilidh bands need parking access?
- Can ceilidh bands move from one area to another?
- Repertoire & Performance
- Booking a Ceilidh Band
The Basics of Hiring a Ceilidh Band
When it comes to Scottish Ceilidh Bands, there are two main types of ceilidh band:
- Traditional Instrumental Ceilidh Band
- Ceilidh Covers Band
A Traditional Instrumental Ceilidh Band will play classic Scottish folk tunes without a singer. A standard ceilidh band usually includes at least 3 musicians, as well as a Ceilidh Caller, who will announce the dances, shout out instructions for the novices, and generally ensure that everyone is having a good time and knows what they’re doing.
A Ceilidh Covers Band are a versatile band capable of playing both classic folk tunes as well as modern pop chart covers. This band will often feature a singer, and can perform headline sets of pop songs interspersed with ceilidh dancing. This type of band is great for events with a wide age range among the guests. The younger guests will love the modern, familiar songs, and your older guests will revel in the good old-fashioned ceilidh dancing.
In Ireland, Ceilidh Dancing is known as Céilí Dancing, accompanied by Céilí Bands. A Céilí band will play Irish folk tunes for dancing, as well as popular Irish songs that everyone is bound to sing along to, such as “Fields of Athenry”, “Whiskey in the Jar” and “The Wild Rover”.
The music played by Scottish ceilidh bands and Irish céilí bands is similar but subtly different. The questions answered in this article, however, apply to both types of group.
A ceilidh usually takes place at the end of an event, or during the evening celebrations of a wedding. A ceilidh is a great opportunity to bring all of your guests together, and to get everyone dancing, even those who usually refuse!
A good Ceilidh Caller will make sure everyone knows what to do during each dance, so there’s no excuse for stubborn guests to stay in their seats!
Ceilidhs can be quite tiring, so it makes sense to have the band perform at the end of the evening before your guests start heading home. They’ll appreciate the rest afterwards.
Ceilidh dancing usually takes place in bursts of 30-45 minutes, with each burst containing 3 or 4 dances. A typical evening of ceilidh dancing involves 3 or 4 of these bursts of dancing, with breaks in between for guests to catch their breath, grab a drink, or nip to the loo.
The highlights of a successful ceilidh, as shown by Frank Reid Scottish Dance Band!
Ceilidh Band Equipment & Setup
A ceilidh band needs roughly an hour to unpack their instruments and gear, set themselves up, and to do a proper soundcheck.
It’s extremely important to ensure that the band have as much time as they need to set up and get comfortable. A ceilidh can be ruined by sound issues, and these sound issues are often caused by a rushed soundcheck. Be sure to give your band as much time as they ask for.
At a wedding, the ceilidh band will typically arrive and set up while you and your guests are enjoying dinner. If the dancing is taking place in the same room as the dinner, the band can set up after you’ve finished dinner while your guests grab a drink and stretch their legs before the dancing commences.
|Size of band||Space required|
|3-4 members||3m x 4m (or 12 sq. metres)|
|5-6 members||3m x 5m (or 15 sq. metres)|
|7-10 members||4m x 6m (or 20 sq. metres)|
Hosting your event in a small venue?
The good news is that ceilidh bands can adjust the size of the band to suit your needs, so ask the band if they can provide a caller + trio, or even a duo (we recommend a drummer and a pianist), if you’re really tight on space.
It’s rare to have every guest dancing at once, so assume that at any point you’ll have roughly 70% of your guests dancing. If you’re hosting 100 people, you’ll need space for 70 to dance.
Ceilidh dancing requires much more space than modern disco dancing, where guests simply dance on the spot. Ceilidh Dancing is energetic and often involves frantic running around, so the more space you can provide, the better!
Make sure there are no obstacles between the guests and the dance floor. All you need is a floor to dance on, and chairs round the side of the room for guests to sit on. Having tables around the room wastes space, and means that some guests may be less likely to get involved.
If you’re unsure about the size of your venue, simply speak ask the venue manager about ceilidhs that have been hosted in the past.
Every professional ceilidh band can provide their own amplification and basic mixing desk. Most bands include this in their fee, but don’t be surprised if some charge an additional fee for it.
If you’re at an established venue where live music is regularly featured, they may already have PA, in which case your ceilidh band won’t need to bring their own. Likewise, if you’re hiring multiple bands, it may be possible for them to share a PA throughout the evening.
It’s always advisable to provide plenty of bottled water for your band, as well as some snacks. If the band are arriving around dinner time and staying for several hours, you should expect to provide dinner for them if your budget allows it. A hungry band may get distracted during their playing—it’s only natural!
We highly recommend discussing this with the band when you book them. Bands are more likely to expect food at catered events, such as weddings or corporate events. If your guests aren’t eating anything, then you probably won’t need to provide anything for your band.
Most ceilidhs are hosted inside, but a a ceilidh band can play outside if required.
If you ask the band to play outside, you absolutely must provide with them rain cover, such as a marquee. Water will damage their instruments and can be dangerous when their are electrical appliances such as amps around.
Many bands will refuse to perform outside if this cover isn’t provided, even if it’s sunny when they arrive, so make sure you discuss with them when booking.
Ceilidh bands will typically play in casual clothes, but you can request them to dress up formally if required.
It’s No’ Reel, one of Encore’s brilliant ceilidh bands, are available to hire for weddings or events—this video will give you a feel for the raw, live energy of a ceilidh.
Ceilidh bands definitely need a PA system. If you’re hosting a small ceilidh, you may be able to get away with acoustic un-amplified instruments, but your Ceilidh Caller will definitely need amplification. It’s not fair to expect them to shout above the noise! There’s nothing worse than a ceilidh where nobody can hear the caller—the dancing will be chaotic and out of time, which is frustrating for everyone. Don’t risk it.
A ceilidh band will typically arrive in several cars, or one big van, so make sure you provide them appropriate parking space.
No, a ceilidh band will always stay in the same spot throughout the evening. It is extremely rare to host a ceilidh dance in multiple spaces, and it’s unfair on the band, who would need to pack up their gear and unpack it again.
If you’re looking for a roaming band, you may find this guide useful: Headline, Background or Roaming? 3 Types of Function Band Performance
Ceilidh Band Repertoire & Performance
Popular ceilidh tunes/dances include:
- The Gay Gordons
- St Bernard’s Waltz
- Rebecca’s Roundabout
- Strip the Willow
- The Dashing White Sergeant
- The Big Set Mixer
- Canadian Barn Dance
- The Oxo Reel
- La Rouse
- Cottagers Jig
- Cumberland Square Eight
- Pride of Erin Waltz
- The Eightsome Reel
Don’t worry if you’ve never heard of these; your ceilidh caller will be sure to teach you everything you need to know!
We also asked Triple Scotch Ceilidh Band, just one of our fantastic ceilidh bands available for weddings (and everything in between), to tell us a little more about their favourite ceilidh dances—here’s what bandleader, Olly Hamilton, had to say:
Ceilidhs are a fantastic ice-breaker at weddings or any event where there are new people to get to know. A dance like the Canadian Barn Dance requires everyone to shift to a new partner several times, so you can say hello to many new faces, and find yourself in the privileged position of dancing one-on-one with the bride!
Although Triple Scotch change our set to suit individual events, the Canadian Barn Dance seems to work every single time. At the other end of the scale, for rowdier and possibly younger crowds, a dance like the Cumberland Square Eight results in some great moves with lots of people’s legs leaving the floor entirely!
Traditional Ceilidh bands don’t usually take requests, unless you know a particular Scottish or Irish folk tune.
A Ceilidh Covers band are much more likely to take requests. Make sure you send these requests to your band several weeks or months in advance. It’s rare, but some bands may charge extra to learn new songs, especially if they are given very little notice.
Advice from Triple Scotch Ceilidh Band for people hosting their first ceilidh:
At a wedding, while a few guests (particularly those whose idea it was to have a ceilidh) may be familiar with some of the dances, the vast majority will not be, so the entire evening lives or dies by the quality of the calling.
Choose a band whose caller is good-humoured and patient with new dancers, and whose manner can keep the energy buzzing even while the instructions are being given with no music playing. A good caller, a bit like a stand-up comedian, should be able to ‘play the room as it is dealt,’ handling any difficult situations and encouraging more people on to the dance floor if not many seem keen. Without this, the event can fall a little flat, however well the music itself is played.
Olly Hamilton, from Triple Scotch Ceilidh, tells us the three main ingredients needed to put on a cracking ceilidh:
”Although we have had successful events with just 30 guests, those 30 have to work much harder to keep the atmosphere alive in the room. Literally the more the merrier, and then it becomes easier for people to sit out a dance or two during the course of the evening.”
”This should come from the caller and the band, and hopefully is then reciprocated by the guests. Do let your guests know in advance that there will be a ceilidh so they can anticipate and look forward to it, and if they’re not convinced, think back to when you were at a ceilidh for the first time. Something about it must have been better than you expected, maybe your sceptical friends can be persuaded.”
3. A band and caller who understand what your event is about
”When people have booked Triple Scotch because they saw the band at a previous event they can usually imagine a similar feel at their own party, but for clients who’ve never seen us before we are very happy to take questions about all kinds of details—the timings, when food will be served, the nature of the event and who will be there.
When we can get to know you in the run up to an event, we can personalise it for you, whether that’s a couple of jokes from the caller about the line of business where the bride and groom met, liaising with the caterers and photographers so everyone gets the best (and looks the best) from the evening, and helping the venue provide enough space (many hotel event managers won’t have seen a ceilidh before so don’t always believe you when you tell them you need lots of space). And for ceilidh aficionados we are very happy to take requests for dances and tunes, so the event is truly yours.”
Bass Rock Ceilidh Band are a ceilidh covers band, performing a mix of folk and pop music—something for everyone!
Booking a Ceilidh Band
We recommend booking as far in advance as you possibly can, ideally as soon as you’ve booked your venue. Good Ceilidh Bands are in extremely high demand, particularly in England where there is high demand and low supply!
Popular dates include Saturdays in Summer (wedding season), Christmas and New Year’s Eve. Scottish ceilidh bands are particularly popular at Burns Night and St Andrew’s Day, and Irish Bands will often take bookings over a year in advance for Paddy’s Day.
A professional ceilidh band will typically charge between £250 and £350 per musician for an evening of playing, plus travel expenses. You can expect to pay roughly £900 for a good 3-piece band, and £2400 for a large 8-piece band.
The price of a ceilidh band will depend on how good they are, how long they’ve been playing, and how many enquiries they receive from potential customers throughout the year.
Factoring in travel costs is necessary if the band is not local to your venue. Many bands will begin to charge for extra costs when travelling outside a set radius from their home (usually around 15-20 miles). That said, we have over 140 ceilidh bands all over the UK, so shouldn’t have any problem finding a great band close to your venue!
Booking through Encore means payment is handled securely using Encore Pay. To secure your booking, you pay a flat 35% deposit. The remaining amount is then charged 14 days before your event, and the musicians are paid shortly after the performance.
Bookings with Encore are protected by our robust Cancellation Policy, and in the event that your band gets forced to cancel due to illness or travel disruptions, we can easily find a replacement band for you.
If you’ve gotten to the end of this guide, and you simply can’t resist the idea of having a ceilidh band for your wedding or event, you can:
- Compare prices and contact over 140 professional Ceilidh Bands available in the UK
- Contact our friendly bookings team to have a chat about your ideas: [email protected]
Cover image courtesy of It’s No’ Reel Scottish Ceilidh Band