Planning a ceilidh: the venue

What should you look for in a venue, and how can you make the most of it?

The dance floor

It's good to give people easy access to the dance floor.

For a ceilidh, it's great to have lots of space to dance, but in practice we know this isn't always possible. We've played in very small crowded venues. If space is very limited, we'll sometimes offer to play two rounds of popular dances so things don't get too cramped.

Either way, dancing is an energetic activity, and the room will probably get a bit hot especially in summer. Check if it's possible to open windows or turn on the air-con.

Many venues have a solid wooden dancefloor, which is ideal for ceilidhs. If there's no wooden floor, you can dance on carpet, although you won't get much noisy foot stamping on a carpet! Tiles and polished floors can be slippery, which can be a problem when doing the livlier dances. Some venues have portable dance floors made of smaller panels that clip together. Whilst these are fine for discos, they tend to be a bit slippery for vigorous ceilidh dancing. However, some hotels insist on using their self-assembled flooring to preserve their carpet, in which case we'll ask the dancers to take care.

Outdoors or in marquee it's best to make sure there's a solid wooden dance floor area. It's not fun to dance on grass particularly if the surface is uneven, and concerete is hard on the knees.

Space for the band

Planing a successful ceilidh

If there's a stage available, that's great as the guests will have a good view of the band. It's not essential though, and an area of floor space is fine.

In marquees or outdoors, the band will need covering underneath them to protect equipment and musical instruments from dirt, dust or other potentially damaging surfaces. Also, the band will need to be under cover to protect the instruments and equipment from the weather.

Ideally, the band would be at one end of the room and where the dances have a clear view of the band. Our caller uses a radio microphone so he is free to walk amongst the dancers, so it doesn't matter if the band isn't visible to all your guests. It's important that he can see most of the dancers so he can spot if anybody needs any help with the steps.

We will usually bring our own amplifiers and speakers of a size suitable for the venue.

Don't forget that the band will need access to a reliable and safe power supply, usually a wall electricity socket; we carry extension leads just in case there's not one immediately next to us. If the event is to be held in a marquee powered by a generator, please ensure there is an adequate power supply and let us know in advance.

The space the band needs depends upon the size and line-up of the band that night. For a three-piece band, we'd ideally have a minimum of 5m long x 3m deep but we've fitted in smaller! We will also have PA speakers on tripod stands, somewhere near the stage.

Lighting

Not too bright, not too dark! It's good to dim the lights to create some atmosphere, but with enough light for the dancers to see what they're doing (and for those sitting out to watch the dancers). A ceilidh will typically be better lit than a disco.

Seating

Consider putting some seats around the edge of the room. Whilst hopefully most people will be dancing, some might prefer to sit out some of the dances and enjoy watching. Maybe arrange to have some of the tables moved after the meal to create more space.

Also, if the bar's in a separate room, some of your guests won't be able to see the fun on the dance floor and may be less likely to take part.

Venue requirements

Many hotels and public venues require the band to hold Public Liability insurance. Lochnagar carries insurance at a level required by most venues, but please check their specific requirements; we can provide a copy of the certificate if the venue needs this. We can also provide an equipment list, method statement or risk assessment if required by the venue.

Our "portable appliances" are regularly electrically safety tested; this is also required by some venues.

Check the venue is allowed to have 'live' music and that it is licensed to the time you want to finish! For some unlicenced venues, you may need to ask them to obtain a Temporary Events Notice from the local council.

Some venues have a strict time when the band must stop playing. It is possible that this time is earlier than you can book the venue until, so it's worthwhile checking. Also, check that the finish time is the time when guests are to leave not the band. We take about 30 minutes to pack up at the end of the night.

Marquee event?

Sometimes, ceilidhs are held outdoors in a marquee. Marquees often are good acoustically, as you don't get the echo and reverberation that you can sometimes get in larger indoor spaces. There are just a couple of things to bear in mind.

Firstly, there will need to be a sufficient power supply for the band's PA system. If the marquee is near a building, you may be able to feed power directly by extending a cable from the building to the marquee.

Another common option is to feed power from a generator, and usually this can be provided by the marquee company; they'd normally need power for lights in any case. Lochnagar uses around 4kW of power so the generator will need to be able to keep up, especially if there will be caterers using ovens at the same time. An undersized generator can cause power surges, which can damage PA equipment. We'd recommend you highlight our requirements to the generator supplier, so you get the right size. We'd need a minimum of one 13A, 240V socket (like you have at home) near the stage area and we'll extend from there.

The second thing to think about is flooring and perhaps a stage. Most marquees are set up on a reasonably flat surface so a stage isn't always required. However, you will need to make sure that you have some sort of secure flooring for the band's PA system and instruments.