Appreciation for my contributions
in Set and Turn Single - the magazine for folk dancers.
Editorial: issue 87, May 2014, by
The inimitable Steve Wozniak writes about
fees for bands and callers and as always, his views are bound to arouse mixed reactions.
You can agree or disagree with Steve, but you cannot deny that he has an uncanny knack of
touching on important and often controversial issues. His contributions frequently provide
an irresistible stimulus to others to write to refute his opinions, and this issue is no
Steve Wozniak responds to Graham Stephens - an
article in S&TS magazine, issue 87, May 2014.
In STS 74 I discussed at length the charging structure for
Gittisham Folk Dance Club. Rates have been updated twice but the structure survives and is
logical. We continue to attract excellent bands.
Outside of major festivals and large weekend events the size of many venues may limit
numbers to 30 or 50 people. Lack of local interest may limit attendance to 30 or 40 even
if the hall could comfortably accommodate 100. So local folk dancing is inherently small
scale and often characterised by people attending because they have come to know and like
each other. Small Irish Set afternoon or evenings can attract between 16 and 40.
This is wholly unlike a large dance venue in a major town where most people attending will
not know most of the other people. Jive and Ceroc evenings are often characterised by 100
to 150 people, a regular turnover of clientele and well over £1000 in door money. These
events are often commercial and usually the music is recorded. Local folk dance groups
take typically £100 per evening. Enough to pay the hall (£25 to £30) the caller (£25)
and the band (£35 to £50 for sometimes 4 or 5 people).
Graham suggests that it is reasonable to expect people to pay musicians to indulge in
their chosen hobby. Where else does this apply? Are people paid to buy and maintain
classic cars or to construct expensive model train sets, both of which are sometimes put
on display for a small fee? Most musicians play because they wish to. They are free to
Some bands and callers may have become greedy and I would trace this in part to the social
norm of recent years where weddings were thought 'unacceptable' if they were not lavish
and overtly expensive. Whilst money may often be expended as a means to satisfy desire, it
is hardly a true surrogate for intended lifetime devotion.
More recently, social norms have shifted away from the glitz of footballers wives and
their obscene excesses. People mend clothes instead of throwing them away! Nowadays a
£30,000 wedding can be seen in terms of a house deposit wasted.
There are many websites giving advice for budget weddings, www.the-broke-bride.co.uk is
one example. In another website the advice includes 'Put an iPod on shuffle and rent some
speakers instead of hiring a DJ. The play list will be what you want instead of concerns
of paying someone else.' Indeed, music and dance seem not to feature at all.
People who have asked my advice about which band to choose locally have been shocked at
some of the prices quoted: £300 to £700 for a wedding and callers expect £150 and
sometimes £200 (paid and cash and tax free?) for doing nothing more than calling a few of
what I term baby dances and for people who are too drunk to participate sensibly - even if
they ever knew how to dance. This is easy money and similar notions should not
start to creep into discussions of how much bands should be paid for club nights.
Bands may have become too accustomed to commercial rates even where they are playing for a
charity event. Some folk dance callers who are very comfortably off still accept payment
for charity events, which seems mean spirited if not directly against the folk ethos.
There but for fortune?
Notable are the bands who play at charity events for no fee, one example being the
Mooncoin Ceilidh Band in Devon. They play splendid music (sometimes a little too complex
for dancers) yet in Dawlish where the charity was 'Send a cow to Africa' I recall they
waived their usual fee. It is this spirit and attitude that needs to be encouraged.
Graham Stephens also suggests a £20 annual joining fee presumably this is intended
to encourage club membership at a time when it is falling and newcomers are hard to find.
In any case for a club of 40 members meeting 40 times a year it would provide only £800
out of an annual budget of maybe £4000. Hardly a solution to the purported problem that
Graham thinks needs urgently to be addressed.
Graham also considers that 'musicians and callers deserve recognition, appreciation and
gratitude'. I'd suggest they get these things already and in large quantities. Witness the
friendly reception that they receive at club nights (in Devon at any rate) and their
feeling of belonging to a big happy family (despite a few and inevitable disagreements
between a few egocentric club members). He seems to wish to reduce such feelings down to
the level of money. That's just what has been done for arguably far too many weddings!
If bands and callers demand higher payment rates then the solution for local clubs is
quite simple. Go back to recorded music. In the days of scratchy cassette tape recorders a
live band offered a vast improvement in sound quality. Times have changed.
At my local Irish Set dance group music is provided via an iPod system, except on special
occasions. A device the size of a credit card apparently contains all the tracks from 100
CDs. Once you are dancing, the music is quite acceptable and could be improved using
better speakers. If bands price themselves out of the market they can stay at home nursing
their instruments and thinking back to the days when they were welcomed with open arms
into a happy family of dancers.
As for the finances of monthly ceilidhs - recent experience is also a good guide to the
future. I said recently in STS that Exeter ceilidhs had gone through a bad patch - falling
attendance and losing money. I am happy to report that a recent event with Montys
Maggot was very good indeed. Excellent music (and not too loud!) and some very good
dancers. This band also have one of the best websites I have seen. It has lots of advice
on how to organise a ceilidh and plenty of good quality videos showing just how danceable
is their music.
Little surprise then that the webpages display their origins in Tozer Consulting Ltd, a
management consultancy that includes Jeremy Tozer (melodeon) and Sue Hamer Moss amongst
its staff Sue is well known in Devon as the editor of What's Afoot, our local folk
events magazine and a local competitor to STS! It's a small world!
At Bridport, a 'gate-money' route has been adopted. Bands are asked if they wish to come
and instead of the typical £100 per person per night fee they are offered whatever is
left of the door money. On one occasion they got £65 per head. But the alternative was no
ceilidh at all. So the gate money approach probably satisfied everyone, dancers, band
members and organisers. It is an approach discussed on the Montys Maggot website. At
some ceilidhs in the past there may have been too much emphasis on 'big name' bands
travelling long distances and with fees to match, something that may not be sustainable.
Is the writing on the wall for bands? A recent evening at Sidford folk dance club was
fantastic. Caller Jeremy Child from Exeter used computer based music and excellent
speakers. There was space to dance and it was all so fast I wouldn't have believed people
at Sidford could keep up, but most of them did. The evening was amazing - Committee Band
tracks, All Blacked Up tunes, some was almost Cajun.
It just goes to show what you can do when you push people a little, and with a very
experienced caller and superbly recorded music. We ended up doing Geud Man Of Ballangigh
to the tune of Cotton Eye Joe. So many people said how good it had been - I've rarely
heard so many positive comments although one or two did say it was both too loud
and too fast.
Graham Stephens asked why musicians should waste their time, effort and skill for a
pittance. I look forward to the day when accomplished folk dancers are offered money
such is the pleasure that we give band members by interpreting and following their
The best dancers at Gittisham club can provide a riotous night of entertainment. We
occasionally put a foot wrong, swing for too long or engage in a cuddle too far just to
liven things up. Yet our fees are still reasonable!
A letter about overheating in Blackmore Gradens Sidmouth has been retained in the folkfestival section.
Index page for STS articles and letters.
Top of folk clubs page - folk dance clubs in Devon
Gittisham Folk Dance club - the original website
Sidmouth Folk Festival - the history since
How to run a folk dance club - experiences over 15 years
(most pages not yet completed)
Folk Dance Diary 2016 - highlights of a year of folk