Starting a Celtic Band

Starting a Celtic Band

Hello,

We are wanting to start a Celtic Band to play (not so much dances), but weddings,
private and public events. We will be using music —

Question: What kinds of tunes do we want to have the most of?

Question: Why do people associate celtic (irish) musich with mostly jigs?

Question: Should our repetorie be more jigs than other types of tunes?

Thanks for any help

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

Looking for help!

thanks

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

I’d say listen to Runa (runamusic.com), Goitse (goitse.ie) and Tullamore (tullamore.info) for some inspiration. These are touring groups but they’re great entertainment. There’s a multitude more and I’m certain that the forum will chip in with enough suggestions to swamp you. Take a listen and pull from the tunes that appeal to your ear. If they sound good to you, they should sound good for your audience.

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

This is very basic, but variation and contrast are good when you’re playing for a general audience.

Some fast - jigs and reels - some slow - airs or songs; even interesting sets, maybe with some nice key changes. And it’s good to say a few words every now and then, depending on the exact nature of the gig and whether your role is to be background or more of a show.

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Re: Starting a Celtic Band

I would suggest alternating sets and songs: reels, jigs, hornpipes, polkas, mazurka, waltzes.
You’ll need tight arrangements of both, clever sets that keep folk interested.

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

Since you are not playing for dancing, it is really up to you what mix of tune types you play - as allan21 says, the more variety, the better. For a more sedate feel, you can add to his list some tunes by O’Carolan and other old harp tunes (e.g. Tabhair do Lamh). Also, you are free to arrange them as you like.

If, however, you want your music to sound Irish or Scottish (I assume that’s what you mean by ‘Celtic’), you’ll need to do a *lot* of listening to the real stuff - playing the tunes straight from sheet music won’t cut it. I’m guessing, from the type of questions you asking (and forgive me if I’m wrong) that you are not yet very familiar with this music. I understand that you probably want to get straight out there playing gigs and, if you happen to live somewhere without much of a traditional music scene, you might just get away with it - and good luck. But I urge you not to get stuck in a rut playing the same tunes the same way just because people will pay for it. Keep delving into this stuff and you’ll discover gold. There’s so much more to it than just the notes.

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

Play what you really enjoy.

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

I think your second question is a particularly interesting one, Cheryl. I don’t know if it’s universally true that people associate Irish music with jigs, but for folks here in the US I guess it’s true enough. It might be because most Americans raised on popular music have almost never experienced 6/8 time and when you combine that with fiddle and flute etc playing in unison it sounds a little exotic. Also contributing is probably that The Irish Washerwoman—a jig, as you know— is often the only "Irish" tune that people recognize, since it’s been used in Bugs Bunny cartoons and is featured in every single damn TV commercial for a Saint Patrick’s Day Sale.

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

I’m curious: is there such a demand for Celtic bands in your area that it makes sense to put one together as a business venture? If so, I want to move there!

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

I’m with joe fidkid on your second question. It’s just that 6/8 time is "weird" to our ear and comes through as stereotypically Irish.

I recommend some waltzes in addition to the fast stuff, as slow dancing might be requested. Also, like someone posted above, people love songs (i.e. with words).

Good luck!

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

Jigs aren’t weird, you dance to jigs, Strip the Willow et al.

Playing reels at a session is great but playing jigs gets folk clapping and stamping.
They might not have been welcomed in the new world but they left with best wishes.

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

Thanks everyone for the help! I guess I have just started with wonderful journey down this road.
Yes, our area is so lacking in "real music" — trying to get something going in our town! I know someone who has been to Ireland and hosts a monthly session in their town — might see if I can get them to come to our area for maybe a workshop

Love this sight already —

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

I just meant jigs are distinctly foreign (in this case, Irish) sounding because we don’t hear much compound meter these days in American music. Nothing against jigs. I personally love them.

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

There are English jigs too, as well as Scottish and Welsh, in fact the tradditional music of these islands is so mixed together, that you can’t really distinguish a tune as coming from a particular country, though of course, you can tell often by the playing style.

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

I too thought of starting "a celtic band. " But I changed my mind.

Now I am thinking I will go to astronaut school.

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

That’s true, Ebor.

Again, though, I’m just giving the everyday American’s view of a jig, where, upon hearing it, they start joking about leprechauns and such :P

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

David, if you go to school to be an astronaut, you’d probably get a little spacey.

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

We are wanting to start a Celtic Band to play (not so much dances), but weddings,
private and public events. We will be using music —

>>Yeah, you need to use music, un-musical bands don’t go down well at weddings.

Question: What kinds of tunes do we want to have the most of?

>> Beatles songs, Abba, Village People, Elvis. Any songs that have a melody people will recognize even if no one is singing the words. The Birdie Song, Aga do do do and Que Sera Sera are compulsory. And at least one band member must know all the words of Danny Boy, otherwise you won’t make it back to the van alive.

Question: Why do people associate celtic (irish) musich with mostly jigs?

>> Because the whole of the rest of the world lives in 4/4.

Question: Should our repetorie be more jigs than other types of tunes?

>> No, it should be a mixture of duple time stuff they can dance to (jigs, reels, hornpipes, barndances, two steps, foxtrots, polkas etc.), and triple time (waltz) stuff they can snog to. To be honest, at most weddings it doesn’t matter a damn what you play, as long as the caller knows how to break up a fight you should be OK.

Thanks for any help

Re:

MarkM, I take it you don’t like playing for weddings.

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Re: Starting a Celtic Band

If you’re planning to play for dancing at functions like weddings, my first thought would be to talk to a couple of callers to find out what sort of tunes they mostly want from a band to suit their dances.

The thing about these events is that most people are there for the celebration, family reunion, party, etc., and not specifically because they like country/ceili dancing. I think of them as ‘social dances’ as distinct from ‘dancers’ dances’, and very few are peopled by proficient dancers. Callers generally keep things fairly straightforward once they’ve got folks onto the floor.

My experience suggests that a stock of of 32-bar jigs and 32-bar polkas (not too fast) would comprise the core repertoire. Have a few 4/4 tunes like reels and some 48-bar jigs in the armoury, a set of 64-bar jigs (e.g. Kathleen Hehir’s) and maybe a couple of hornpipes - though some callers are cautious about dances that involve a hop-step (as dotted hornpipes do) as they can require a bit of familiarity. Similarly Strathspeys. A set or two of waltzes are useful, especially for ‘last dance’ moments.

Of course dancing doesn’t happen all the time, so you can save some tunes you really like playing for when the dancers take a break, or as background music during other bits of the proceedings.

If you’re playing for other events where people are there because they really want to dance, it’s even more important to liaise thoroughly with the caller beforehand so you’re clear about repertoire and tempi, because the dancers will expect you to get it right. Especially Scots.

Playing for weddings and such-like can be fairly good financially, but they can also be boring. You usually have to set up early and hang around while meal/toasts/speeches take place, then do nothing while the caller explains the dance figures, play one or two tunes several times over, then wait while the next dance is being taught. Still, all part of a jobbing muzo’s life!

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Re: Starting a Celtic Band

For some reason, although it’s one of the simplest dances going, "Strip The Willow" is very messy. The drunken uncles (I intend to be one next Saturday!) pile up during the strip and everybody trips over them. So avoid that dance like the plague! The Gay Gordons*, in the UK, is one dance that everyone thinks they know and most of them get it right!
There are plenty of other "starter" dances though and in any case it’s the caller’s problem and not yours!
Good Luck.

Chris B.

* "Gay" here is a Scots word meaning "terrible" or "fierce". CJB

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

We (a mountaineering club) usually end our ‘danger ceilidhs’ with an Orcadian Strip the Willow. At least someone gets injured in every ceilidh due to being thrown about and crashed into and everyone comes away from it with bruises.

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

^I once witnessed a woman dislocate a shoulder in an Orcadian Strip the Willow, get up, pop it back in and yell "I didn’t say stop playing you f***ers!" and carry right on.

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

cherylhall says in her opening post that she is *not* looking to play for dancing particularly - perhaps Bazza misread it. It is, however, something to consider, since the ceili(dh) is a very popular feature at weddings (and, for many people, the *only* occasion they ever encounter one). But I would say that if you are thinking of playing as a ceili band, being familiar with the genre is more important than ever. If I may quote myself, "playing the tunes straight from sheet music won’t cut it."

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

Am I right, that when you say "using music" in your original post, you are referring to "sheet music" or "the dots" as it tends to be called here (in pure love I assure you)? I do hope we’re not putting you off - we’ve all got our pet ways of doing things, so listen to the bits that seem relevant to what YOU want to do and thoughtfully reject the bits that aren’t, apart from what Mr Creadur says directly above.
If news of your band gets about locally, you may very well get asked to play at weddings for dances, so Be Prepared.
And have fun!

Chris B.

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

meself: "I’m curious: is there such a demand for Celtic bands in your area that it makes sense to put one together as a business venture? If so, I want to move there!"

In the area I live, Rhode Island USA, there is decent demand. A lot of ‘Irish-Americans’ who want to connect with their musical roots (and occasionally, Bing Crosby’s). But to ensure any bookings with my duo, the Raglan Roadmen, we add bluegrass, Americana and some acoustic pop.

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

If you are playing a non-specific "celtic" style of music, you need to be careful about taking bookings from people who desire more specific Irish or Scots music. If you have learned from sheet music, what you play will not be well received by folks who are familiar with "pure drop" music. If, for example, you play at a Scots gathering, they often end with Auld Lang Syne played in a particular way, with particular verses being sung. If you are not ready to do this, the night could end awkwardly.
I was in a band that started out as mostly instrumental, only to find that what the bars and restaurants that were looking for bands were looking for more singing. So we evolved accordingly. And we learned that you need at least twice or three times as much material prepared as the length of your gig, so if they want more of one thing or another, you can accommodate their wishes.
A good way to avoid mismatches between your band and the folks hiring you is to invite them to a practice session, and actually let them listen to what you play.
One nice niche for an instrumental band is playing mostly O’Carolan tunes and airs for wedding ceremonies, with perhaps a few gently played jigs and reels mixed in. There, a more arranged, baroque approach to the music will be well received. But if you play for a reception, you will often find that more singing is preferred, and you will also be more likely to be asked to play for dances or dancers, and often the people hiring you will have some specific songs or tunes in mind.
I would suggest going out to bars and do some listening, and also going to sessions to learn your trade. The band I was in jumped in and started taking gigs a few years before we were ready. But there is nothing to prevent you from picking some tunes in common and starting in on your practicing.
Good luck, and enjoy the journey!

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

Memorize the tunes.
There is nothing worse than waiting so someone can find their sheet music for "The Masons Apron" and then playing it "By the Numbers".
You lose the spontaneity of a fast turnaround and, more critically, your audience. They usually have a very short attention span.

Re: Starting a Celtic Band

Some posters have danced around this point in a more charitable fashion than I do: It seems from the OP’s question that he/she knows something about wedding bands but very little about Celtic music. Reading Celtic music (dance or other) off the page will provide you with every aspect of the material except actual Celtic music.

The qualities of playing the various forms of Celtic music (Irish, Scottish, Cape Breton, Breton, Québécois etc) are precisely those qualities that are almost impossible to codify as written music. Any attempt to capture the ornamentation, swinging bow styles, inflection, back beat, etc. in print would result in a page so black and full of strange notation marks, instructions and bowing marks as to render the piece unreadable.
Furthermore, the right brain work required to play this simple yet complex music by ear/memory is defeated by the left brain task of reading. One day, when the OP has been dragged through the hedge of many sessions, had the left brain dependence beaten out of him/her, he or she will look back on this question, put genuinely and sincerely to this forum, and will grin, perhaps a little sheepishly, as he/she whips out a ripping reel or slip jig à la Celtic fashion. As a lifelong Celtic player, classical singer and film music composer/conductor, I have had to deal with this problem many times. I am not a jazzer. I wish I were. When I need jazz music, I write the lead lines and changes but always hire real jazzers to play it. They are wonderful at making my fake jazz sound real. Don’t be in a hurry to sound Celtic. It won’t work. Hire a real Celtic wedding band and cream a small finder’s fee of the top then off you go to the sessions. It won’t take long for you to see how this works. Good luck.