Tales from NE Ceilidhs: Splendid Affairs
Two of the most impressive venues in Aberdeen are the Beach Ballroom and Kings College Elphinstone Hall. For several years we played at the Robert Gordon's University Foreign Students Welcome Ball at the Beach Ballroom. For us there was the luxury of a professional soundman tweaking our output. Usually we use our own PA and make adjustments as we go along. But a bigger bonus was the unusual audience, and the splendid setting. There were students from India, Africa, South America, the USA; almost everywhere it seemed, and few if any had experienced a ceilidh, but they were here to enjoy themselves. The floor filled as soon as a dance was announced. The calling had to be simpler and clearer than usual, and there were a few hilarious misunderstandings, but what the audience lacked in experience they made up with enthusiasm, and having 300 or more dancers on the floor at once is really exciting.
Another very impressive place is the Elphinstone Hall in Old Aberdeen. With a massive wooden ceiling and exceptionally long and wide, it is now used for all sorts of ceremonial occasions, but I remember it in the 1970's being used as an enormous refectory, feeding ever-hungry students. We have played there for several conferences, weddings and Balls. One was for the Theological Society annual dinner and dance. Trouble was, the Theologians liked the sound of their own voices so much that the after-dinner speeches over-ran by almost two hours. We only had to play for about an hour, and the challenge was how to fit as many dances as possible into such a short time. Needless to say there was very little resting between dances. The main problem with the Elphinstone was its huge size and appalling acoustics. Often the band was placed at one end of the Hall, far away from the mass of punters round the dining table and bar at the other end. The acoustics used to be so bad that even with a good PA the sound only seemed to reach a third of the way down the hall before becoming blurred and muddy. Once we got round this at an Ornithologists Conference by getting placed near the centre.
More recently when we played for a Big Wedding, we explained the acoustic problem to the Bride , but she was quite insistent that we should be at the end of the hall. Well she was paying! As it turned out we needn't have worried, because what we had not noticed was that the University had just installed a massive heavy felt acoustic curtain across the hall behind us and the problem had been solved. This was also a memorable occasion because the bridegroom's father was coming from the USA but his passport had expired. But he was present throughout the evening on an Ipad on Skype, and was carried round the Hall and introduced to everyone, including the Band. Surreal!