Image: Jig Mad Wolf Ceilidh and Barn Dance Band - Logo (c) 2011

Image: Jig Mad Wolf Ceilidh and Barn Dance Band Banner - FAQs

Image: Jig Mad Wolf Ceilidh and Barn Dance Band - FAQs Logo
FAQs (Frequently-Asked Questions)

FAQS - Barn Dance Newcomers
What is a ceilidh band?
A ceilidh band (sometimes called a "barn dance band") is a band that plays traditional music for ceilidhs, barn dances and similar events.
What exactly IS a barn dance?
It's a "fun" social event suitable for reasonably active people of all ages - it's normally held in a hall (sometimes in a barn or other venue). The music is provided by a CEILIDH BAND, and the instructions needed for the dances are given by a CALLER, who also acts as MC.
What's the difference between a barn dance and a ceilidh?
In England, these terms have pretty much the same meaning - although the word "ceilidh" is sometimes used when it's planned to have some traditional musical entertainment interspersed between the dances.
I've never been to a barn dance before. Will I be able to take part in the dancing?
Yes. Before each dance, the caller will announce the name of it, then invite couples to come on to the dance floor and stand in a particular formation, e.g. in a circle or in a "longways" set. All dances are divided into easily-managed sections called "figures". The caller will explain each  figure in turn - normally followed by a "walk-through" to ensure that the instructions have been understood. 

When all the figures have been explained and "walked though", the dance will begin - with the band of course playing the music. But don't worry, you're still not on your own, as the caller will "call" each figure as the dance progresses. If you are a beginner, try get yourself into a set that contains some experienced dancers, as they will usually help you out.

Keep in mind that a caller will often begin the evening with a couple of easy dances in order to assess the expertise of those taking part - so that's the time to give it a try. If still in doubt, just ask the caller if the dance just announced is suitable for beginners.


FAQS - Event Organisers
What advance arrangements do I need to make for a barn dance or a ceilidh?

You’ll need to book the band, the caller and the venue.  

If your event will include the provision of food, you may also need book a caterer. 

When booking a venue, you should check that it holds a premises licence which includes the provision of “regulated entertainment”. If it does not, in some circumstances you will need to submit (well in advance) a Temporary Events Notice (TEN) to your local authority for approval.  Click the button below for further information and to find out if you need a TEN:

If you wish to sell alcohol at your event, you can specify this in your TEN.   

Nearer the time (If your event is a private one) you’ll need to send out invitations. For public events, you will probably need to print tickets and posters, and perhaps arrange for some publicity.

How do I book the band?
Just ring one of the numbers given on the “contact” page of this website.
What kind of events do you play for?
We play for a mixture of public and private events.

Organisations who have booked us for their barn dances or ceilidhs include: school PTAs, Scouts and Guides, churches and church groups (C of E, RC, Baptist and Methodist), sports clubs, community and village associations, political associations, charitable societies, neighbourhood watch associations, medical practices and company social clubs.

Private events we have played at include birthdays (18th, 21st, 30th, 40th, 50th, 60th and 70th), weddings, wedding anniversaries (silver, golden, ruby & diamond), retirements and going-away parties.

Does the band bring its own PA system?
Yes. For the technically-minded, we use a Soundcraft mixing desk and Mackie active speakers.
When will the band arrive?
About half-an-hour before the beginning of your event. We need this time to set up the PA system, tune our instruments and balance and adjust the sound to suit the venue.
What facilities do I need to provide for the band?
Somewhere to park and unload our PA system as close as possible to where we will be playing. Ideally, we also need to be able to leave our vehicle at that location for the duration of the event, in readiness for easy reloading at the end.

A stage or other performance area at least 4.5 metres wide by 2.5 metres deep. Although a stage is ideal, it's not essential, as the band can set up on staging blocks - or even at floor level if necessary. If your event is to be held out-of-doors, the band will need to be under cover. A gazebo (with three side-walls) would be suitable.

Six chairs (without arms). The type of chair normally used in halls is ideal.

One small table. A surface size of about 1 metre by 0.5 metre is ideal.

One 13 amp power socket - sufficiently close to where the band will be playing to allow our equipment to be connected without causing a tripping hazard.

Sufficient lighting for the band members to read sheet music.

Please remember to include the band (and the caller) when calculating numbers for your catering arrangements.

How do I book a caller?

When you book the band, we will book a caller on your behalf (we work with several good local callers).  If you have a favourite caller, just tell us. 

If you prefer, you can book the caller yourself. We’re happy to work with any caller – just let us know who it is.

What is a suitable venue for a barn dance or a ceilidh?
Some kind of a hall is usually best: e.g. a village hall, a church hall or a school hall.  Other possible venues include social clubs and hotel function rooms.

Barns are sometimes used, and this can work well if the event is combined with a barbeque, lamb or hog roast etc. As barns aren’t normally heated, such an event needs to be held in the summer. Bear in mind that even if it is warm enough for dancing, the musicians won’t be able to play if their fingers are frozen. Barns can be very dusty, especially when they have been used to store straw bales. An activity such as dancing may raise clouds of dust - very unpleasant, and also a health hazard. We would recommend that you arrange for the barn floor to be hosed down the day before your event.

Marquees can also be used, but like barns they are really only suitable for summer events - unless heated.

Some barn dances and ceilidhs are held out-of-doors: e.g. on a village green, in a field, or in a large garden. As with barns and marquees, such events need to be held in the summer. Most importantly of all, you need to have a pre-arranged alternative indoor venue close at hand in case of inclement weather. Also be aware that sound travels a long distance in the open air, which might cause problems with neighbours.

How should I set out the venue?
Ideally, keep everything in one area. If you have the bar in a separate room, you will lose some of the atmosphere, and the caller won't be able to attract the attention of those in the bar.

However, a separate room or other area is ideal for the food. The food can be set out on tables, then the tables (with the food) carried through at the beginning of the break. After the break, the tables can be quickly cleared away, allowing the dancing to recommence without any undue delay.

Assuming the hall or other area is rectangular in shape (with the band at one end) arrange chairs and tables along each side. Not everyone will be dancing at once, so the chairs will be needed by those not actually dancing. The tables can be used for drinks, and will also be required for the consumption of food during the mid-evening break.

When setting out chairs and tables, be sure not to obstruct any fire exits.

Halls, community centres etc. are often rather austere places, but can be greatly improved for an event with some festive decorations e.g. streamers, balloons, coloured lights etc.

When is the best time of the year to have a barn dance or a ceilidh?
Any time of the year - although it’s probably best to avoid bank holiday periods, as this can impact on the number of people able to attend. Of course, some events (e.g. harvest-supper barn dances) are by their very nature seasonal - and outdoor, (or semi outdoor) events need to be held in the summer.
What is the best day of the week on which to hold a barn dance or a ceilidh?
Saturday is usually considered to be ideal (as most people attending will not have to go to work on the following day). For a similar reason, Friday is a good second choice. But any day is possible.
When is the best time of the day to have a barn dance or a ceilidh?
The evening is usually best - normally starting between 7:00 and 8:00 p.m. However, an afternoon (or early evening) timing might sometimes be suitable, and would probably be essential for an outdoor summer event.
How long should a barn dance or a ceilidh last?
Somewhere between three to four hours is usual – with a break of about half-an-hour in the middle.
What catering arrangements do I need  to consider?

It is customary to have a break around half-time for food. The break also provides a great opportunity for some general socialising.  

The standard offering at a barn dance or a ceilidh is a “ploughman’s supper” - (bread rolls, cheese & pickled onions – usually with a light salad). This can be supplemented with a pudding, if desired. 

Alternatives include a buffet, a curry, or a chilli. Some organisers opt for a fish supper – delivered to the venue at a prearranged time from the local fish-and-chip shop. For outdoor events, a barbeque, lamb roast or pig roast is usual. 

Special arrangements apply to Burns Nights, which always BEGIN with a “Burns Supper”. The traditional supper starts with “Cock-a-Leekie” soup (leek soup, made with a chicken stock). This is followed by “Haggis with Neeps & Tatties” (haggis with swedes and mashed potatoes) . Next comes “Typsy Laird” (sherry trifle) and the supper is rounded off with a “Tassie o' Coffee” (cup of coffee).  The dancing starts AFTER the supper is finished and the tables are cleared away. 

Whatever catering arrangements you make, you may wish to consider the requirements of vegetarians.

How should I resource the catering?

There are several options.  

You could employ a firm of caterers. They usually offer a number of menu alternatives, with the price per head varying according to which menu you choose.

You could make an arrangement with a fast-food outlet - e.g. a fish-&-chip shop or pizza outlet- to deliver the required number of portions to your venue at a prearranged time.

You could do the catering yourself. This is the cheapest option, but a lot of work. You will need a team of reliable volunteers (perhaps family, friends, or members of your organisation) to help you. Further savings can be made by purchasing your food and other supplies from wholesale outlets. You will also need to think about cutlery, crockery etc. If your venue has a kitchen, these things may be available - but your team of volunteers will need to wash up and put away afterwards. Alternatively, you could consider using disposable cutlery and crockery, and take away the waste at the end of the event.

If your event is to be held in a hotel function room (e.g. a wedding barn dance), you will probably required to use the establishment's own in-house catering services.

I'm running a public barn dance, Should I include food in the ticket price?

Generally speaking, yes. And if you are including food in the price, be sure to make this clear on your tickets, posters or other publicity. People need to see that you're offering good value.

Providing that you sell your tickets in advance, your revenue will be known - which makes  budgeting easier. By contrast, the revenue from the sale of food at an event is unpredictable -  you may have a lot of unsold food at the end.

A good compromise is to include food in the ticket price - then sell anything that's left over  at a knock-down price near the end of the event.

What arrangements do I need to make regarding the provision of alcoholic drinks?

If you (a) plan to provide alcoholic drinks without charge (for example at a wedding barn dance) - or (b) plan to advise attendees to bring their own alcoholic drinks, that’s OK. 

However, if you plan to SELL alcoholic drinks (for example, at a public barn dance) you will need to consider the licensing arrangements. If your chosen venue has a staffed bar, the licensing arrangements should already be in place. 

If you plan on running your own bar, you will have to submit (in advance) a TEN (Temporary Event Notice) application to your local authority (a small fee is payable with your application). Be aware that the maximum number of TENs allowed for any particular premises is twelve in any one year. Furthermore, the total number of days covered by these TENs cannot exceed fifteen, and there must be a 24-hour gap between each TEN.  

Another option is to employ the services of a mobile bar. A mobile bar will arrive in a van about an hour before your event, then set up a bar – normally using tables or other facilities provided by your venue. A Temporary Event Notice is still required. The mobile bar will usually apply for this on your behalf - but do check. 

Although the response to this FAQ is believed to be correct at the time of writing, you are advised to check with your local authority.

I am running a public event. How can I ensure that it will be a financial success?
Firstly, add up your main costs: hire of venue, band and caller - and the cost of the food if you are including this in your ticket price. Essentially, you will need to sell tickets equalling these costs if you you merely wish to break even. It follows that you will need to sell tickets exceeding these costs if you wish to make a profit.

The maximum number of tickets you can sell will always be limited by the capacity of your venue. In reality, you can usually oversell tickets by about 5%, as some people  (by reason of illness or other unforeseeable occurrence)  won't turn up on the day, even though they've bought a ticket.

It is strongly recommended that you sell tickets well in advance of your event. Selling tickets "on the door" is inadvisable, but is nevertheless useful as a fall-back if your advance ticket sales are under-subscribed.

If you are running a barn dance for your club or other association and find that you are unable to sell enough tickets within your membership, consider opening up the event to the friends and families of your members, and/or to members of other local organisations with similar aims to yourselves. 

It is useful to have some publicity posters, placed in strategic locations. An item in the local press and/or an announcement on local radio might also help. Do not however rely on advertising alone - it is important to have a few people who are capable of pro-actively selling tickets. 

As a general rule, it's best to include food in your ticket price. However, some outdoor or semi-outdoor events may provide opportunities for selling food items which carry a high profit margin - such as hot dogs or ice-cream. You will of course need additional facilities (cooking or refrigeration equipment) and careful management will required to avoid the wastage (and cost) of any unsold food. If your supplier is close to the venue (and open for business during your event) this would be ideal, as you could buy less than your estimated food requirement initially, then make a second trip to the supplier during the course of the event if a "top-up" were needed.

A raffle held during the mid-evening break is a useful way of generating additional revenue. You can keep the costs of a raffle to a minimum if you can persuade members of your organisation to donate the raffle prizes. If your event is in aid of a recognised charity, you will probably be able to get local traders to donate some good prizes. It's a good idea to ask the caller to announce the raffle early on in the evening. But don't just rely on an announcement - you will a lot sell more tickets if you have a couple of people going around the hall pro-actively selling them. Offer a discount for quantity purchase: e.g. "30p each, or £1 for a strip of five."

Another possible money-raising idea for your break is "rolling a pound coin for a bottle of whisky". The bottle of whisky (preferably donated) is placed upright on the floor of the hall. From a line, patrons take turns in rolling a marked pound coin. At the end of the coin rolling, the roller of the pound coin nearest to the bottle wins the bottle of whisky. 

Finally, if you have booked our band, we'll be pleased to promote your event here on this website at no extra cost - just send us the full details.

I wish to make a speech at some point during the event - what should I do?
The mid-evening break is the best time for a speech. Just tell the caller that you would like to use the microphone. If you've never used a microphone before, here are a few tips. Point the microphone towards your mouth, with the grid about one inch (2.5 cm) from your lips. Don't forget to switch it on before you start speaking. When you speak, just use your normal voice - the amplifier will do the rest. If you find that you're not loud enough, just ask a member of  the band to increase your volume level.
I just need to make an announcement, but I'm not confident about using a microphone. What should I do?
Just give the details to the caller, who will happy to make the announcement on your behalf.

FAQS - Musicians
Could I join the band?
Possibly. The band has six full members and a varying number of associate members.

Band engagements are offered to full members in the first instance. If a full member is unavailable for a particular booking, an associate member is asked to stand-in for them.

Should a full member decide to leave the band, an associate member is given the opportunity to become a full member.

Currently, there are no vacancies for full members. There are always vacancies for associate members.

So, how do I become an associate member?
Just ring one of the telephone numbers on the contact page this website, We'll arrange an informal get-together with one or more of the full band members. You would need to bring your instrument, and we would probably spend an hour or so running through some of the band's material. Following that, if we thought that you might fit in, (and you thought that you would fit in with us), you could become an associate member.
Does anyone else play in the band?
Yes. We sometimes invite a guest musician to play with us.
What instruments might you be looking for?
Our most common requirement is for fiddle, English concertina, guitar or bass guitar/cello.

A button accordion (B/C or C#/D) could replace English concertina. A melodeon or Anglo concertina would also serve, providing that it could be played in the first three "sharp" keys.

Other instruments might be considered, but please note that we do not use brass instruments or electronic keyboards.

What keys does the band play in?
D-Major, A-Major and G-Major (plus the associated relative modal and minor keys)
Would I be playing by ear, or from sheet music?
If you are a melody player, you could do either. However, to play by ear you would need to know (or be prepared to learn) the band's repertoire - currently, 700 + tunes.

If you are a guitarist, you would need to be able follow the sheet music in order to to play the chords set out above the staff.

Similarly, If you are a bass guitarist/cellist, you would need to be able to play the bass notes relevant to the chords set out above the staff.

How would I connect to the band's pa system?
You would need a suitable pickup - or,  if you play a free-reed instrument, a pair of suitable pickups. You would also need a DI box, and a cable with an XLR (male) plug to connect to our mixer.

Playing into a microphone is a possibility, but is not ideal in a ceilidh situation. The band has a spare microphone and stand - available for emergency use, or for use on a temporary basis pending the purchase of a pickup.

 As a member of the band, what would be my commitment? 
As a full member of the band (or associate member or guest), your only commitment is to turn up and play at every booking that you have agreed to do. 

As well as your instrument, you will need to remember to bring your pickup, lead and DI box (and a music stand, if you need one). If you play a stringed instrument, you should bring an electronic tuner (or a tuning fork) and a spare set of strings.


Do you always work with the same caller?
No, we work with several local callers. We're also happy to work with callers who we've never worked with before.
Will I be able I plug my microhone into the band's PA system?
Yes. Your microphone (or radio-microphone receiver) will need a cable with an XLR (male) plug to connect to our mixer.
What types of traditional music do you play?
We have more than enough traditional English, Irish and Scottish tunes in our repertoire to devote an entire evening to any one of these genres. We don't normally do that, of course - we play a mixture tunes, always choosing tune-sets to suit the dance concerned.

Our repertoire also includes a selection of traditional tunes from other nations: America, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Israel, Mexico, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Wales.

What tune-types do you play?
Reels, Polkas, Hornpipes, Hop-Steps, Schottisches, Single Jigs, Double Jigs, Slip jigs, Slides, Tarantellas, Waltzes and Mazurkas.
How do you start your tune-sets?
Usually with "two notes in".
What information will the band need before I announce the next dance?
Please tell us: (a) the name of the dance (b) the tune-type and (c) the number of bars. Also (where appropriate) tell us the "number of times through".
How should I signal to the band to start playing?
Ideally you could cue us in some prearranged way that the dance is about to begin - perhaps using a consistent catch-phrase. For example, you could say to the dancers: "Go back to your original places, and we'll dance the "Nonesuch Jig". Then - when the dancers are absolutely ready - just turn to the band give us a clear hand signal - and we'll play.
How should I signal to the band to that the dance is about to finish?
A few bars before the end of a tune, just turn to the band and say: "One more time."
What does the band normally do if the dancers fall behind the music?
We usually notice when this is happening, and play an extra "A", "B" etc. as necessary. If we don't spot it, just turn to the band and say: "Extra A", "Extra B" - or whatever is required.
How should I signal the band when I need to stop a dance prematurely?
Just turn to the band, and say: "Cut " (you could reinforce this with a "hand-on-neck" signal)

© 2005- - Jig Mad Wolf Ceilidh Band This page updated:
14 January 2020