Coulan Sona Irish Ceili Band

A traditional Irish Ceilidh Band, this experienced band capture the dynamic flow that is the essence of Irish music and dance. If playing for a dance, the band have a caller to guide the dancers, so that everyone can enjoy the eveing. Yes, be sure that we do dances that even beginners can do. It is not Irish step dancing like you see the likes of Riverdance do. That takes years of training. But if it's a real Irish event and there are people who can do it, we are thrilled to play for them. 

Coulan Sona plays in a number of line-ups;

  • Three Piece Band (typically fiddle, guitar, bass/caller OR fiddle, guitar, caller/flute/piccolo OR),
  • Four Piece Band (typically fiddle, flute/piccolo/caller, guitar, bass OR fiddle, Irish whistle/flute, guitar, bass/caller).
  • We also play as an instrumental band playing music to listen to (much as often happens in pub sessions in Ireland.) Here the line-up can be Three Piece Session Band (typically fiddle, flute/whistle or Irish piccolo, guitar) or Four Piece Three Piece Session Band (typically fiddle, flute/whistle or Irish piccolo, guitar, bass). We do not do vocals.


Follow the links to find out more about  Irish Ceili Traditionstraditional Irish ceilidh bandsthe Irish Ceili and traditional Irish Dance Styles . Coulan Sona is a capable and experienced Irish ceili band which can provide an enjoyable, fun-filled ceili event for people of all ages, featuring dancing that everyone can get involved in and a distinctive Irish flavour, along with laughter, relaxation, and a sociable atmosphere. We can provide the music for any type of event or mood you might want - If you've never done Irish ceili dancing before, there’s no need to worry, in fact that’s great: we also have a caller to take you through all of the dances and give you all of the instructions you need. 


Who we are


Coulan Sona is a ceili band (ceilidh or barn dance band) offering a very distinctive Irish flavour and providing something for everyone. Usually we provide music for dancing and our line-up includes a caller, but we also have available just an Irish instrumental band without a caller, playing Irish music for people to listen to.


Some forms of Irish dancing have increased greatly in popularity and fame outside of Ireland, particularly the type of Irish step dance which has become widely associated with Riverdance. This type of dancing is the subject of competitions and performances in Ireland and elsewhere. However, the Irish ceili dancing that we do is much simpler in terms of footwork than those more intricate dances that are more of a performance art, and Irish ceili tends to emphasise the figures and formations of the dancing (and not least, some teamwork!) rather than the individual steps. In this way, it is more of a social activity and it allows lots of non-expert people to get involved.


The Coulan Sona ceili band has a large repertoire of Irish music, and we play a wide variety of well-known Irish favourites for people to dance to, along with a selection of other Irish folk tunes to listen to. Some popular types of dance from Ireland include reels, hornpipes, jigs and slip jigs.However, if you want a band that plays a lot of Irish music but also includes some music from other traditions such as Scottish, English, American and Welsh if you would prefer to have some more variety during the evening, then you shoud book the Ringerike Ceilidh Band (Coulan Sona only plays Irish music). But you must tell us at the time of booking if you want lots of Irish music so that we can ensure the band line up is appropriate. We can provide music and dance for any sort of event and group, however large or small, and for virtually any type of occasion including wedding receptions, parties and special events - especially St Patrick’s Daythe traditional Irish celebration in the middle of March.


Whatever type of music you prefer, be it exclusively Irish or with a little bit of a flavour from other traditions, we always make sure our dances are accessible to everyone, from complete beginners to experienced Irish dancers. This means you can always count on it being a happy, enjoyable and inclusive occasion where everybody and anybody can enjoy being part of the fun and no-one is left out.


(If you really want less of a focus on specifically Irish music and dance, and would prefer more of a range of nationalities and traditions from around the British Isles, then you might want to consider booking our Ringerike band which is less exclusive to a particular tradition and provides more of a mixture of Irish, Scottish, English and American music and dances.) If this is all a bit confusing, have a look at bands explained.


Types of dance we use


Circle dancing is believed to be one of the oldest traditions in dancing and it is a way in which community spirit is manifested in lots of different cultures worldwide. It's a great way to begin an Irish ceili because everyone has the opportunity to get involved. Each dancer has an equal place in the circle, and because of the way people are arranged, everyone in the dance can see everyone else. In the Coulan Sona ceili band we usually start an evening with at least one circle dance, in which we arrange everyone in a big circle all around the room. Sometimes, if there is a very large number of people, and if the room is big enough, then we could form two circles - a smaller circle inside a larger outer circle, with each dancer standing alongside their partner and everyone facing in towards the centre. In traditional dances, if partners were woman-and-man and were standing together then it would be normal for the man to stand on the left-hand side of his female partner. However these days our dances are very inclusive and so we don’t necessarily assume that partners are couples consisting of one man and one woman, even though that is usually the case (and in fact we also don’t necessarily assume that dancing partners have even met each other previously!)

“Set dancing” is an expression people sometimes use when they are talking about a particular formal style of Irish dancing, but in our Irish ceili dances we tend to use the term to refer to any dance which features two rows of people opposite one another down the room. Traditionally this would be a row of men facing a row of their women partners, where each person faces their partner across the room - although again, more recently, we would certainly not assume that everybody is necessarily in a mixed-gender couple.


Hornpipes came originally from Ireland, as well as Scotland and England, and people often think of them as dances traditionally performed by sailors. In that traditional form they were sometimes carried out by a single person but for Irish ceili dancing, hornpipes are generally danced with one row of dancers facing partners in sets.


The Coulan Sona Irish ceili band has a wide repertoire of well-known Irish folk tunes including these:


  • Drowsy Maggie
  • The Blackthorn Stick
  • Donnybrook Fair
  • Saddle the Pony
  • A Visit to the Cottage
  • The Connaughtman’s Ramble
  • Harvest Home
  • The Rights of Man
  • Linhope Loup
  • Farewell to Erin
  • The Sally Gardens
  • The Ballydesmond Polkas
  • The Lark in the Morning

outdoor ceilidh and barn dancesWhere we play


Most of the members of our band live in Worcestershire and Herefordshire, and over many years we are experienced in playing for a great number of Irish ceili events all over the “Three Counties” of Herefordshire, Worcestershire and Gloucestershire and in the nearby Counties. As a general rule we’re happy to travel up to an hour and a half’s drive from our bases in Ledbury, Herefordshire and Malvern, Worcestershire, but we have been known to travel somewhat further when the need arises, with gigs as far away as northern Shropshire, Oxford, western Leicestershire, Cardiff and Bath (never as far as Ireland though!). We’ve played in a huge variety of venues ranging from function rooms in pubs, little village halls, and occasionally (in the summer) marquees in gardens, up to much larger hotels and corporate venues. On a few occasions we’ve actually played for barn dances in actual barns, which is often great fun, although we have found to our cost that they can be very chilly indeed unless it’s a midsummer evening with good and warm weather. Here are some links with details of venues where we’ve played in Herefordshire, Worcestershire, Shropshire, Oxfordshire, Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, the West Midlands, North Somerset, Warwickshire, and South and Central Wales.


Although there is a huge range and variety of venues, one pretty obvious thing is common to all of our Irish ceili events - there has to be enough room for people to dance along with sufficient space so that the band can set up their PA equipment and play. The room for the event has to be about the right size for the number of dancers: occasionally if there is a really small number of dancers in a very large room there can be a slight feel of “rattling around”, but in reality that’s rarely a problem. Slightly more frequently, it can sometimes cause difficulty if a large number of guests has to squash into a very small space, and obviously that’s something to think about when you’re booking a venue. Usually it’s great if a bar is available in the same room as the ceilidh dancing, and it helps if there are some seats and tables so that people can sit and watch or have a chat whilst they’re not actually dancing. (Our music has to be loud enough for the dancers to hear, of course, but it’s never so loud that people can’t talk!). From time to time we find that if the bar is situated a long way away from where the dancing is taking place, and especially if it’s in a different room, there is a danger that people go to the bar and get settled there, neglecting to come back for more dancing, and occasionally that can mean that later on in the evening, there is a bit of a drop-off in the number of people who are up for dancing.


At most venues ideally there is a suitable car parking space for the band to park, enabling us to easily and quickly carry all of our instruments and PA equipment into the hall. For example this might mean opening a back or side door (often, a fire exit!) so that the band can get through without disturbing anything else that might be going on in the room at the time. However, having said that, for obvious reasons it’s not always necessarily possible to manage this, but we always succeed in carrying our equipment into the venue and getting set up by whatever means we can.


From time to time we get asked to play for Irish ceilis outside in the open air, especially if the event is scheduled to take place in the summer months. Very occasionally we might be able to agree that this is possible, as long as suitable arrangements can made for cover and shelter for the band and their instruments and equipment, and provided there is a suitable power supply. However, in anything except the best summer weather, this isn’t really possible, and certainly not in a way that can be confidently predicted (what if it rains?!) and in Britain even during the best of the summer months we really can’t assume in advance that the weather will be OK. It would be the same if we were in Ireland! Our best advice is that in general, playing for a ceili outside is not usually a great idea. Follow this link for more information on this 


How a typical event works


For most Irish ceili events the members of our band arrive at the venue approximately 45 minutes before the dancing is scheduled to start, so that we have time to set up our PA equipment, tune our instruments and do a soundcheck. This is the way we confirm that all of the technical stuff is working well and that we’ve got a good balance of sound at an appropriate level of volume – thinking of the size of the room and how many people will be dancing. There is no problem if there are people in the room whilst we set up, or even if guests are arriving at the venue whilst we’re doing so; we can do our setting up without making a fuss, pretty quietly, and without needing any particular help from anyone (although the offer of drinks is always appreciated!). The only point in the proceedings when we have to make some significant sound is, fairly obviously, to actually carry out the soundcheck, but that is just a matter of about five minutes immediately before we’re going to start playing. In our soundcheck we will probably play one or two traditional Irish tunes such as the Lough Gill, Western Lilt, Star of Munster, the Teetotaller Reel, or the Irish Washerwoman.


All we need to get ourselves set up is a sturdy table just in the area where we’ll be playing, either on the stage or at one end of the room, for us to put our equipment (amplifier and mixer) on, and a normal 13-amp electrical socket not too far away from it - although we do have extension leads in case they are required. If there is a stage area, (often if the venue is a village hall or something similar), then that can be quite useful because it means that everyone dancing can see the ceili band clearly – and from the practical point of view of safety it ensures that dancers will not be able to collide with the band or their equipment. However, it’s certainly not essential to have a stage, and very often we just set up in whatever space there is at one end of the room, being aware of course of the amount of space that will be needed for dancing.


From time to time, especially if we’re playing in a function room in a hotel, we find that the management at the venue have put down a temporary wooden floor on top of a carpet in the room, thinking that this will be helpful for dancing. This works really well for disco dancing but the reality is that unfortunately it’s not great for Irish ceili dancing. If dancers are going to be moving round the room rather than just dancing on one spot, then the edges of the wooden floor can be quite dangerous as a trip hazard, and in our experience ceilis go much more smoothly and safely without the additional flooring.


You can find some more details of how we set up, and some helpful advice about ways in which you may be able to save money by avoiding early setups, in 3 ways to save money


Frequently we start the evening with a circle dance that can involve everybody who wants to get up and dance. One thing people sometimes like to do at wedding receptions is for the bride and groom to dance in the middle of the circle, so that everyone can see them and celebrate their marriage. For some couples this is a preferable alternative to the more traditional individual “first dance” which can be a bit intimidating or exposing. After our first number, we generally continue with some other straightforward but fun Irish dances which are accessible for everyone to try - this might include “set dances” where every dancer is facing their partner in two straight rows. Our caller always gives full and clear instructions so that nobody has to worry about not knowing what they need to do, and everyone is able to get involved straight away.


When we’ve done two or three ceili dances we’ll see how everyone is feeling and whether they want to carry on, or whether they’d like a quick break to have a bit of a breather or go to get some more drinks (but we do hope that they’ll come back for more dancing very soon!) If we decide to have a bit of a break from the dancing, then we’ll play one or two Irish tunes that people can listen to. Maybe at that point we might play one or two slower tunes, like waltzes, and although the caller doesn’t need to be involved in this, people can still dance to these in a more traditional style. We sometimes find that this works well for older guests.


Usually the programme for our ceili events is that we’ll have one set of dances, maybe incorporating a little music to listen to as well, for something like one and a quarter hours. Then the band will take a short break lasting roughly half an hour, during which quite often food is served and we play a selection of recorded Irish folk tunes to provide background music, using our PA equipment.


After the break, we sometimes start the second half of our evening (another hour and a quarter or so) by playing a couple of well-known Irish tunes like “The Star of the County Down” and “Cooley’s Reel”, and then continue with a selection of other dances and tunes from our repertoire of Irish music. Sometimes the caller will make a decision to introduce some slightly more complex Irish dances - although it has to be said that all of our dances are pretty accessible, straightforward and easy for anyone to get involved in, and of course the whole point of having the caller is to make sure that the dancers always know what to do. As we get to the end of the evening’s dancing, we always include one or two easy and inclusive dances which can bring in any number of people - hopefully that gives an opportunity for everyone to be involved towards the end of the evening and nobody has to miss the last dances.


When everything’s done, the band puts away their instruments and all of their PA equipment, and if we are fairly quick, this can be done in about 20 minutes. Then everyone heads for home, hopefully taking happy memories of an energetic and sociable evening.


The programme above would constitute our normal schedule but of course not all events follow exactly this timeline - everything depends on just what sort of occasion you’re looking for. The exact programme of every event depends on how many people will be there, the age range, the nature of the venue and the size of the room, and how much time you want the dancing to take. Normally we would provide three hours including a halfway break but from time to time, especially if our hirer wants to combine some Irish ceili dancing with other things such as a disco after the ceili dancing, then we might only play for two or 2½  hours instead of three. Or sometimes the break for food might be scheduled for a different time - it all depends on what’s planned for the rest of the day, and sometimes there is also a need to fit in with the catering that is available at the venue. Sometimes people prefer food to be provided at the start of the event before the dancing, for example if a dinner is provided as part of a St Patrick’s Day event, and in such circumstances then sometimes we might end up playing for a shorter time and/or allow for a shorter break for the band in the middle. At the end of the day, it’s all about exactly what you want to happen and how your event will go best. We’ll always do our utmost to determine what is the best arrangement for you and work alongside you to ensure that what we do meets your needs.

Instruments and lineups for the band


All of the members of the band are trained musicians with many years of experience of providing Irish ceili music. However, between us we also have a much wider musical background, meaning that we can offer a lot of versatility, and we can provide several different combinations of musicians and instruments depending on what you particularly want.


Our different band lineups can accommodate a range of needs, depending on your budget, the size and nature of the venue, how many guests you’re expecting, and the type of event that you’re aiming for. Usually our bands have either three or four players, generally including a caller, although we can also offer bands to play background music with no dancing in which case there is no caller. For example, we might provide background music for a drinks reception, a meal, or a wedding reception.


When we are a three-piece band with a caller, then usually there needs to be an instrument which takes the lead playing the tune, such as a fiddle (violin), and at least one instrument giving rhythm, like a guitar. The fiddle or violin is a very important instrument in traditional Irish music, with a history dating back many centuries, and in the form of the modern violin at least back to the 1700s. Occasionally, in place of (or in addition to) one of these, we might deploy an accordion, which has the twin functions of handling both melody and rhythm. It is another important instrument in traditional Irish music, with a history dating back to its introduction in the later part of the 19th Century. As well as this, our caller is almost always someone who plays another instrument as well (although not necessarily at the same time as calling!), in which case it is likely that the band lineup would also include a flute or whistle and/or a bass guitar in addition to the lead and rhythm instruments. So in a typical three-piece band for an Irish ceili event we might have fiddle, guitar and bass, or fiddle, guitar and flute/whistle, including a caller.


If we are a three-piece Irish band providing music to listen to (rather than for dancing) and consequently there is no caller, then usually we would offer a similar combination of instruments - so for example fiddle, guitar and flute/whistle or bass.


Sometimes we are a slightly larger four-piece Irish ceili band with a caller. This gives some more variety, richness and depth to the sound that we can make, and generally it means that we are able to field two instruments playing tunes, such as fiddle and flute/whistle, in addition to two rhythm instruments like guitar and bass. As above, one of these instrument players is able to act as the caller for the dancing.


Occasionally we do go out as a five-piece Irish ceili band which generally means that we have a 4-piece band of instrument players and a separate caller. This give the opportunity to have all of the band member instrumentalists playing at all times, so that can give a fuller and more varied sound, but still with the caller able to lead all of the dances.


Helping you organise your Irish ceili event


Our FAQs give some general information to help you plan your Irish Ceilidh, but there is a lot more made available to you if you book us


See us playing in our other Incarnations of our 8 in 1 band, as Scottish, AmericanEnglish Bands, or as a Mixture of All Styles

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