ceilidh nights

The latest Scottish nightlife phenomenon is more concerned with Gay Gordons than Gaultier. Sue Wilson investigates.

Central Glasgow, Saturday night. The joint is jumping. the beat is thumping. the dance-floor heaving as the kids get on down to . . . the Dashing White Sergeant? When people talk of the dance explosion, it‘s rarely the Scottish Country variety they have in mind, but all ofa sudden ceilidhs appear to be ‘happening’. While Scotland‘s thriving club scene garners awards and style-guide column inches, ceilidhs are quietly carving out their own distinctive niche in the market, as growing numbers of revellers succumb to the lure of the fiddle, the accordion and the Eightsome Reel. In Glasgow, the longstanding success of the Riverside Club‘s twice-weekly dances has tempted the big guns of Tower Promotions and Fury Murrys into the fray, while in Edinburgh the heuch! can be heard in two or three different venues most weekends.

Ceilidhs offer a complete contrast to most other occasions where bright young things gather for music and dancing. most strikingly, perhaps, in their lack of style-slavery. Most ceilidh dances are vigorous, to say the least, and anyone foolish enough to dress up will quickly find their coiffure in ruins. their make-up all over their face and their Gaultier distinctly crumpled.

But then that’s the point people don’t go to ceilidhs to pose, they go for an energetic, no-nonsense good time. It‘s impossible to stay aloof and

inscrutable while being swung around at dizzying speed by a complete stranger seemingly intent on launching you into orbit: social barriers somehow dissolve when everyone on the floor is sweatin scarlet-faced and gasping for breath as the band swing mercilessly into another round ofStrip the Willow. ‘There's an innocence about a ceilidh,‘ says Neil Wallace, programming director at the Tramway Theatre. and he‘s right. It may not be an especially hip notion. but a crowd of people letting their hair down and gi‘in‘ it laldy makes a wonderfully refreshing change from the seriously stylish, cynically cool. don’t-crack-a-smile ambience of many clubs.

At the end oflast month. the Tramway was filled with a heaving mass of around a thousand people dancing to the Wallochmor Ceilidh Band. The event was a hugely successful final fling for the Theatres and Nations season, a four-week exploration of Celtic cultural expression. Does Wallace see the rise of the ceilidh as echoing the burgeoning buzz around issues of national identity? ‘I don‘t think it‘s any accident for it to be happening at a time when there’s a lot ofdebate around these questions,’ he says,

‘but I‘d hate it to be seen as simplistically nationalistic. I think it's just one of the ways you can see people using their popular culture as a positive kinJ ofopposition. There's a lovely saying in Welsh which translates simply as “We‘re still here". and I think there‘s a similar sort offeeling being expressed in Scotland. It‘s an underlying thing. though - if you put it to the average ceilidh punter that

i j l

More relaxed. More sociable. You getto touch people, instead ot dancing with someone six teetaway.

they were making a stand against the fragmentation of their national culture, I don‘t know that you‘d get very far.‘

Stan Reeves. frontman with the Robert Fish Band. organisers of regular ceilidhs in Edinburgh. sees the music as a key element. ‘Folk music in general has often been tied in with political movements in a broad sense.‘ he says. ‘And there‘s definitely a thirst in the populace at the moment to come to terms with what being Scottish means, so

there's a resurgence of interest in traditional music. At the same time. you don’t go to a ceilidh for ideological reasons. you go because it’s a great night out. The best thing in the world to do with Scots music is to dance.’

And they dance non-stop at Glasgow‘s Riverside ('lub. where (.‘y and Mary Laurie have been running highly popular Friday and Saturday night ceilidhs for over six years. establishing themselves as the doyens ofthe current scene. From the first 'Will you take your partners, please. . .' to the laststrainsofAuld Lang Syne. the floor is full and the atmospheres wonderful friendly. laid-back and increasingly lively as the night proceeds. What‘s the secret ofthe Riverside‘s success? ‘I suppose it’s that I didn't start the club just as a way of making money. I started it from an interest in good traditional music.' says (7y Laurie. ‘I run it as the kind ofplace I enjoy going on a night out. I‘ve spent a lot of time around the folk scene. so I know how to create a good ceilidh atmosphere -— you need the right building. the right decor, you need to pack people in so they bump into each other. talk to i each other. A ceilidh just means a house-party. and that's the feeling i we‘re after— a big house-party.‘ I

The List 1 l 24 October 199169