English Ceilidh in Sheffield: A report by Gordon Potts
My thanks to Gordon Potts for
permission to share this wonderful description
of what English Ceilidh can be and its potential
A couple of weeks ago i did a show for Sheffield
uni ceilidh soc - sort
of a follow-on to when they hosted the intervarsity thing. And
very impressive set-up that they've got up there.
I'd rather thought i'd be calling with Hekety + a few friends, or some such set up, and was slightly unnerved to find out that it wasn't just not Hekety, but a scratch band, drawn from the general ranks of the regulars at the ceilidhs. Remembering the kind of musician I'd been when i was at college, i tried to find out what sort of music they were going to play, and other comforting things like that. Not that i can't cope, you understand, but still.
An email to the web site got me a phone number of Jo the fiddle player. A languid voice down the phone told me that Jo and the rest of the band were indeed there, but wouldn't want to talk to anybody, because they were playing & wouldn't want to stop. Result! I assured M. Languid that it was music that i wanted to discuss, and 4 x 32 bars later, Jo was telling me that a)they all knew each other because they all went to the ceilidhs b)this was their one practice c)they quite fancied a few french-y numbers, they knew some Simon Heywood tunes, but didn't have any 48 bar slip jgs. Or something like that. And she'd get me a set list.
I of course gave her my home email, forgetting my more useful work number, which was where i was going to be. I arrived in Sheffield just as the wind started to blow so hard the rain couldn't land. It had been sunny in Streatham & I was in shorts. Found the inst for the blind, & the sound man & the pub.
The band arrived in plenty of time & played 5 gorgeous tunes i'd never heard before. But the PA was late. So I'm reassured, but worried. I still get stage fright, and absence of PAs is one of my favourite things to worry about. Then the band played a beautifully slinky schottische. And then said i'd have to keep an eye on their speed because they might speed up a bit in a couple of the tunes. Only a couple. Good. I used to work with LNB. I understand variable tempos. The PA arrives & its nice pro Peavey stuff & the organisers put it up in seconds. Do I want a radio or a proper SM58?
It starts late, because that's when the audience gets there, and from there on in, it's more or less perfect. The band can really play, not just regurgitate tunes, and their beat is completely spot on. They could be better, maybe, but everybody could, really. The dancers are a mixture of hardline festival types and utter neophytes, and about as pretentious as a brown paper bag with no writing on it. And they really help the new bugs, not, as so often happens, intimidate them by being REALLY HELPFUL IN A LOUD VOICE meaning hurry up. And then half the band got up & went to dance, & various members of the audience picked up the instruments and just carried on. And they could play, too. And then it was midnight & we'd finished - thank you v much etc etc & offstage. And then the band played for another 40mins while we knocked down, & mostly they kept on dancing.
So If you like your dances slick, expert, and predictable, stay away. But if you like a sense of community, dangerous music & unpretentious friendly company, this is it. Proper ceilidh, and I don't know how they grow such good musicians. Jabadaw came from Manchester ceilidh soc, Round band out of Cambs, & Hekety out of Sheffield, & the future looks a bloody sight better than it has for ages.
Contact them before you turn up. It's a clubhttp://www.ceilidhsoc.org/will tell you what you need to know. Thanks for inviting me, ceilidhsoc. more power to yer elbows