It's easy to hire a ceilidh band really
Anyway, let's assume that you find your Folk Club. You find out what even they meet and go along to the pub with Great Expectations. You arrive at the pub at 9 o'clock expecting the folk session to be in full swing. The pub is almost empty. There a couple of old biddies in the corner, one depressed looking builder at the bar telling the board barmaid all his woes, but not a sign of a Ceilidh Band. You walk up to the bar and ask the barmaid where everybody is. Isn't it supposed to be a folk night tonight? Isn't there supposed to be a Ceilidh band playing tonight if it's a folk night?
You get a blank look. What's a Ceilidh band she asks? Same as a barn dance, you tell her. Folk music dance sort of thing, the sort of thing that is all the rage for parties and weddings, you explain. She still looks blank. You try again. Isn't there supposed to be a Folk Club here tonight? Oh yes she says, it's supposed to start at 8 but most weeks nobody turns up until at least 10 o'clock. That's folkies for you, laid back, don't know what time of the week it is.
You look at your watch. That's another hour. You order a pint and shuffling to the corner, the opposite corner to the old biddies who are laughing and cackling over somebody juicy gossip. Was this a good idea you wonder?
You've just ordered your second pint, being aware that you had to drive here so you'll have to drive home again and you don't want to get done for being over the limit. Anyway you've ordered your second pint and you’ve decided you're going to drink it slowly, very slowly, when at just after 9:50 the door opens and a tall skinny guy with long hair and hippie type clothing shuffles in carrying a large guitar case. He dumps the guitar case on the floor next to the two biddies, ignore them completely and goes over to the bar to order a J2O. It’s clearly going to be a Wild sort of night!
You think of going over to him to ask about the folk night, but he doesn't look like your kind of character, so you sip your beer even more slowly. Does this guy play in a Ceilidh Band? A Kayleigh is supposed to be lively and upbeat, with music that makes people want to dance compulsively. This guy doesn't look as if he could get out of bed in the morning before about 11.
The minutes tick by. 10:15 comes and goes, you're just about to leave when the door bursts open and five people push their way through it carrying accordion cases, guitar cases and a whole range of things to bang and thump and rattle. They head over to the other hippy looking guy and dump their instruments almost on top of the two old biddies who packed up their handbags and scarves in disgust and stomp out of the pub without a backwards look at the bar maid.
Anyway, it looks as if the folk club might get going at last. Instrument cases are being opened, a guitar there, a squeeze Box here, a fiddle over there, somebody has a whistle, and then there another guitar. People start twiddling on their instruments. They're not playing together, they just playing their own little tunes, and not full tunes. They just stop somewhere in the middle and mess around with instruments cases and Coats before having another little twiddle on their instruments. This doesn't sound like a barn dance band, not what I want for my wife’s 40th birthday. I hope it's going to liven up a bit very quickly. I'm bored.
Then more people come in. They are carrying big cases, guitar cases, all of them. What have we got now? We seem to have some sort of squeezebox, a fiddle covered in white rosin with a bow that seems to have lost most of its hair, a tin whistle and seven guitars.
Suddenly the squeezebox player stands up and starts playing a tune. He keeps going on his own, but at least this is a proper tune and he doesn't stop after a few bars. It's the end of the tune, which is rather nice tune, and he started again. But this time the tin whistle player joins in with a lovely high-pitched whistling sound. But after a few bars he gives up and starts thumping the spit out of his instrument, then looks disinterest in the music and goes back to drinking his lager ( not even real English Bitter. Where's tradition gone to?)
The squeezebox player gets to the end of his very nice tune and started again. This time the fiddle player joins in and then you realise that the guitars have gradually started to strum along with the music. You hadn’t immediately noticed them joining in the music because it was so gentle, no lethargic would be a better description, and it didn't really add anything to the squeezebox player, who really was quite good. Anyway all seven guitarist seem to be strumming away, but not in unison. Different rhythms different chords seemingly unrelated to the tune that is being played.
The melodeon player gets to the end of the tune and, oh no, he started it again. Doesn't he know a different tune. It's a very nice tune he is playing but you heard it several times already. But no, it's the same tune again, twice more in fact. You notice that the fiddle players violin is drooping down, the end almost in his beer ( at least he is drinking proper beer) his hand is in a funny laid back position that makes you wonder how he can actually move his fingers, then you realise that isn't really moving very much at all, it is the melodeon player who is doing all the work. Then thankfully the music ends. The instruments get put down and everyone clusters around the drinks, talking secretly to each other. Was that it? Was this where I’m going to find the band to give my wife and our friends the most fabulous birthday ever?
Five minutes go by and no more music. Then one of the guitarist picks up an instrument, strums a few chords and then starts to moan. Nobody takes any interest in him at first, they just carry on whispering to each other, but then one guitarist after the other picks up their instruments and start lethargically strumming The Moaning gets louder and louder. There is a sort of tune, but it's not much of a tune. The verses are short. The tune, if you can call it that, is repetitive. There are an awful lot of verses. None of the other instruments join in, just guitars, lots of guitars.
He finishes. Nobody applauds. another guitarist starts to sing. This one is a bit more lively. He's putting a bit of welly into it and his guitar playing has a bit of energy in it, but then the other guitarists join in. The other six. They get louder and louder until you can't really hear that one decent singer’s voice any more. He ends. Then the next guitarists starts to moan, sorry sing. No I was right in the first place, it is moan.
None of the other instrument players look as if they have any intention of playing again that evening. The guitarists have taken over. You go over to them and ask when the barn dance band is going to arrive. They look at you as if you're from another planet, then go back to talking. You ask again, this time asking when the ceilidh band is going to play, just in case in this part of the country people don't know about barn dance bands. The melodeon player turns around and looks directly at you. We don't do barn dance, he says, that's much too energetic, the music’s much too fast. We like to come here and relax, play a few tunes, have a few drinks and have a few laughs, but we don't do barn dance, no sir we shouldn't do that. Anyway around any people to dance here and nobody would do that to our music.
Will I ever book a ceilidh band!
You don't bother to finish your drink, Your beer’s gone flat anyway and you go out the door giving a wan smile to the bar maid who looks really bored, and can you blame her.
This was a very harsh and rather unfair caricature of a pub Folk Club. Many small folk clubs are excellent and have some talented musicians performing in them. but as melodeon prayer said, they are there to enjoy themselves, to have a fun evening. Everybody should be welcome at this kind of Folk Club, being a talented musicians all people just trying to learn to play a few simple tunes, or indeed people who are hopeless and we'll never be able to play well but thoroughly enjoy making music in a group. This is the purpose of most folk clubs. Certainly there are some folk clubs that take their music in a very serious coolest way and only the best musicians are allowed to play, but this is not the Ethos of the majority of clubs.