Kittyhawk are a 5 piece folk band that we started a few years ago and a previous blog describes how this came about. Since we started we have been playing regular Ceilidhs each year, most have been Burns and St Patricks Day events with some parties for Anniversaries and Birthdays thrown in. Averaging about 6-10 dances per year. Not a vast commitment but still requiring regular practice sessions that take time and it was felt that we could be doing more with our folk music given the amount of time we were investing in it.
The obvious move was to look at playing gigs in addition to the dances to open up a new market for us. There were some very specific differences between playing a Ceilidh and a gig and these needed to be addressed if this was going to be a success.
A Ceilidh is managed by the caller who organises the dancers and tells the band what type of tune play. Each Ceilidh is usually split into 2 sets of about 1 hour each and we only play about half a dozen tunes in each set plus a few ‘spots’ while the dancers take a break. All very relaxing for the band and does not rely on a massive repertoire. A gig however is a different beast. The audience has come to be musically entertained by the band. There is no caller running the show and the focus will be on the band throughout. Upwards of 15 tunes will be needed to fill each set and there will not be the usual 5 mins between each while the caller teaches the next dance.
One advantage we had was that 3 of the 5 members play in rock bands that gave them an insight into what is required to make a gig work as opposed to the Ceilidh. We now needed to be thinking about fast transitions between tunes and to have someone doing a little chatter occasionally to keep the thing moving along and engaging with the audience. Again, this patter requires practice and thinking about beforehand unless you have a natural raconteur in your team (which we do not).
With these changes clearly in our minds we booked our first gig and started planning how we would make the transition to a gigging band. In addition to tunes that we played for our Ceilidhs we felt that songs would go down better in the gig situation so we determined to learn a raft of new material that we would alternate between instrumental and song as the gig progressed. The volume of material had already shown itself to be an issue for the Ceilidhs as we have to know English, Scottish, Irish and enough dances to be able to stay within 1 genre for a night, you usually find that if you start playing an Irish tune at a Burns night that someone will have an issue! So adding more songs into the mix was clearly going to be problematic.
The result of this was that we had to increase our rehearsal frequency and this was tough but we might be able to relax this a little once we have all the tunes up to scratch (perhaps I just need to retire and focus on my music!).
On 17th Mar 2017 we played our first gig at a St Patricks Day event for a Sports and Social Club. 70+ tickets were sold by the venue and the event was really well attended and we received great feedback. We made mistakes but nothing unrecoverable.
What did we learn at that first gig?
It all went much better than we anticipated (we were rebooked to prove it). We are more resilient to mistakes than we thought. So long as someone keeps going it all comes right in the end and it is unlikely that many (if anyone) notices the mistakes (so long as you don’t start blaming each other at the end of the tune!)
There needs to be more interaction between band members and the audience, leaving it to one person makes it tough. This will not happen overnight and needs practice to produce an entertaining event rather than just a musical recital.
We are never going to be a raucous thigh-slapping band but we need to find ways of being entertaining and including the audience.
Just like my rock band, practice as if in a gig situation pays-off, and there is no substitute for getting gigs under your belt. The best thing is to get out there and do it. There are clear advantages to playing music in different genres and I think that all music just enriches you as a musician and expands your capabilities. The end result is we are booking more gigs and refining our sets and will see how we get on throughout 2017.
Next time: Stepping up to be a front man.