Tales from NE Ceilidhs : Getting Hungry!
Some people book a band, expect them to turn up early to set up, play for four hours or more and don't seem to notice that we begin to wilt a bit after a couple of hours. Early on we learnt to insert a small but important sentence in our confirmation of booking; “We would be very grateful for a sandwich or other refreshment during the interval”. It has paid dividends.
At weddings, sandwiches and sausage rolls during the ceilidh are often the order of the day, because the main wedding guests have already had a big feed at the wedding breakfast. Why “breakfast” one wonders. It's usually, in the afternoon, here in the North East! Very often the wedding breakfast goes on and on.... particularly if the speeches get out of hand. Weddings are notorious for not keeping to time, but the band has to be there on schedule just in case this one is the exception. Not much can go wrong with sandwiches, although we did have one memorable wedding where the Hotel ran out after only a third of the guests had eaten and there was a long delay while someone rushed around trying to find ingredients for more. Not wanting to appear too pushy, the Band were amongst those that had to wait. They even ran out of coffee. It was superficially quite a posh Hotel in the centre of Aberdeen (name withheld!), although the carpets were a bit threadbare.
The standard ceilidh fare though, is of course stovies. Now there is great variation in stovies. It seems to be thought that anyone can make stovies and all you need is mashed potato and some left over meat. Not so. Good stovies need slowly cooked sliced or diced potatoes, dripping, onions and the right proportion of stewed beef or lamb. Our band reckon to be experts, at least at tasting. The gold standard used to be stovies from the Burnett Arms at Banchory. Fantastic flavour and texture, and if you ordered for 50 there was usually enough for 75! We still rank the stoves at each ceilidh against the gold standard. Not many get more than 7 out of 10. Sadly the chef at the Burnett retired a few years ago and the stovies there, while still good, are not quite up to the previous standard, and the portion size seems to have decreased... Possibly the worst stovies to date were at a wedding at a posh private school a few years ago. Lovely wedding, delightful school but the stovies seemed to have been made from left-over school dinners, with bits of sausage and corned beef. No-one said anything of course, least of all the Band, but we made a mental note of this low point.
Some of the best ceilidh food can be at birthday celebrations, where there is often a buffet, sometimes quite sumptuous. The worst can be where the arrangements have been 'informal', we didn't send our usual booking confirmation, so no-one thinks to provide a wee bite for the band. If we're lucky there might be a nearly chippie we can get out to in the interval....
We nearly always play at a village Ceilidh at Hogmanay. There, almost everyone brings a right royal supper with them and the Band gets invited to join in, which we are of course very happy to do. I can't help thinking we are missing a trick though, because each Hogmanay the Band go out to supper ourselves before the gig. So we have generally eaten so well that the ceilidh offers of food are sadly wasted....