Camberley Reel Club
Library - Running a Band
Ian Muir, Leader of the Craigellachie Band
Published in Berkshire/Hampshire/Surrey Border Branch News, January 1994
I sometimes wonder when I sit up on stage playing for a dance whether people actually realise what goes into running a band. One sentiment frequently voiced is usually along the lines of ‘…how nice it must be to be playing this kind of music all the time!’ - it comes as quite a shock to some that in fact this is only a hobby and that we all hold regular jobs.
To play for a dance does not just involve turning up for the dance and playing. There is much work that goes on before, and after. Preparation of the music may take anything from one to three hours and probably at least two drafts before I am satisfied that the music is suitable for the dances, that we will enjoy playing, and hopefully, that the dancer will enjoy dancing and listening too. The matching of original tunes to those that follow is most important if the style, flow and feel of the dance is not to be interrupted. In nearly twenty years of playing, there are some dances that I have only ever played for once, some which I have never played for, and some which appear nearly every week. Usually people like the named original tune for the dance but sometimes a difficult decision has to be made with regards to this. How many people realise that the tune we all associate with ‘Montgomeries' Rant’ is not in fact the original but the alternative! Some dances share common originals, which I can never understand! i.e. ‘Wind on Loch Fyne’ and ‘The Belle of Bon Accord’ use the tunes of ‘Scotch Mist’ and ‘The Bonnie Lass of Bon Accord’, there are many more. Some tunes are quite difficult and if it means the difference between a musical mess or something suitable which contains all the lift and lilt which is needed in good dance music the decision has to be made - someone invariably notices either way and I have long since realised that you will never please everyone.
Playing at the correct tempo for the dance can also lead to all sorts of problems. All members of the Craigellachie dance which I believe is quite important as we can usually sense when things are not as they should be. It is quite common, at the same dance, for some to think that the music is too slow, for some just right, and for others, too fast! I am not so happy when everyone thinks that it is their job to tell the Band - I firmly believe that this is the role of the MC and/or the regular teacher of the club. John McDonald's article on the role of the MC has to be a must for any prospective MC to study as he carefully makes this point about communications with the Band, pace of the evening etc. I am sorry to have to say that sometimes the potential for a good dance is ruined by a bad MC.
We always try to arrive at a dance with plenty of time to set up, play ourselves in and get the balance right. Sometimes this is easy and sometimes we never really get it right all night depending on the acoustic properties of the hall. Some actually change with the number of people who get up for a particular dance. Clearing away at the end can sometimes take time and usually there is a long journey home which means that it is not uncommon to roll into bed at 2pm or later, especially when you consider we probably left home at 4.30 in the afternoon!
Why do we do it, you may ask?
Certainly the keeping up of correspondence, committing oneself sometimes two or three years in advance, managing the band's finances, maintaining equipment and instruments, arranging music, practising and finally playing for the dances are hard work and time consuming (Craigellachie share all of these!) but I am sure that the friendship, music-making, meeting other musicians and dancers, the 'buzz' when things are really going well at a dance, and the occasional early morning 'motorway breakfast' on the way home ( ! ) are what keep us going and go together to make a thrilling and rewarding hobby.