Choosing the right venue for your wedding entertainment

Swing SingerOnce the ceremony, reception and meal are over, its wedding party time and choosing the venue with the right kind of room to party in is not to be underestimated!

Venue sales managers will give you lots of good reasons as to why you should book their venue from the point of view of location, food, price, service and so on.

However what they very rarely talk about is how practical the venue actually is when it comes to wedding band entertainment. Some venues are better than others in terms of the suitability for your wedding entertainment and this can affect the whole party atmosphere and how the band sound.

Having played at hundreds of venues across the country in the last few years, we get to see how venues operate behind the scenes. So when you are choosing your wedding venue here’s some things to look out for to avoid disappointment.

  • Layout of room for entertainment
    • Is there enough room for the band and the dance floor and will everybody be able to dance close to the band?
      Are there any pillars in the way which block the entertainment?
    • If the room is L shaped, or the bar is in a separate room, this can make it extremely difficult to create a party atmosphere since guests may congregate for the evening in areas far away from the band.
    • Is the evening buffet in a separate room? This will take guests away from where the entertainment is. Much better to have the buffet in the same room.
  • Timings
    • Is the venue rigid on their timings? (E.g. are they thinking of their own Timings for service and food organisation rather than planning your event based around what you want ?) For example, if they insist on serving the meal at 5 o’clock, but the ceremony is at 2 PM and the evening guests arrive at 7:30 PM (and there’s no separate bar area or lobby where dinner and evening guests can be around in in a break) then this can cause problems since guests need to always be taken care of.
    • The venue should confirm how long they take to turn the room round after the meal and before the entertainment, and how they will provide access for the band to set up quickly and efficiently. Otherwise this can throw your carefully planned timings into disarray.
    • Most weddings run a little late, either the photographs might take a little longer than planned, or the venue might be late with the meal service and this can affect things considerably. Remember that all the other suppliers are dependent on the venue being flexible, (e.g. Chocolate Fountain, photo booth etc) otherwise things may not go to plan.
  • Acoustics: The best acoustics depend on a number of factors. Obviously there’s a difference between marquees and function rooms. Sound in general needs to have walls to bounce off; high ceilings are not ideal. Best to have a chat with the bandleader, they will advise on what works best.
  • Noise Limiters
    • If the venue has a noise limiter installed then beware! Sometimes these contraptions can be a source of irritation and spoil your party.
    • If the noise limiter is set up correctly then depending on the type of music (e.g. as long as you’re not booking a heavy rock band or an insensitive DJ) there shouldn’t be a problem. We have worked at many venues with noise limiter’s installed and have had no problem, whereas with others where they are not set up properly the moment you play the first note all the electrics cut out. This has nothing to do with the band, for more information see my article on noise limiters.
    • On the night you must have someone from the venue who is able to disable the sound limiter it if it’s not functioning correctly, otherwise the band/DJ will either be forced to play quietly or the party will keep on getting disrupted. Many venues gloss over this point; do not compromise.
    • Many bands actually refuse to play at venues where there is a noise limiter installed. It’s a bit like having potholes on a racetrack. The whole point of being there is to drive. So if you are a venue with a ropey sound limiter, you should not be advertising yourself as a venue for loud entertainment.
  • PA: Does the venue only allow you to use their PA? Sometimes aht they have installed can be totally unsuitable for all but the simplest forms of musical amplification. This can restrict your choice of band and since some venues have serious noise limits it can be disastrous if you only find out after you’ve booked.

Wedding Entertainment-Choosing the right wedding Band

Stirling AustinChoosing the right band for your wedding reception needn’t be a daunting task. The key is finding a professional band that is experienced performing at wedding receptions, is diverse enough to accommodate a wide range of musical selections, is efficient, professional and reliable service…and most of all turns up on the day with a smile and produces a great sound!

It takes more than just good musicians to ensure wedding entertainment runs smoothly. Not only will your wedding band provide party entertainment, but the bandleader will often times act as emcee in introducing the wedding party and turning your guests attention toward particular highlights of the evening, such as the first dance, father/daughter dance, and any special requests.(Even announcing the buffet!)

So great care and consideration should be placed in choosing the right band as well as the right bandleader.

When contacting different bands you should have several goals in mind. You want to know something about the band, the musicians, their history and level of experience performing at weddings, the general style of music they play, how they dress, and of course the logistics… rates, packages, options, availability, etc….

Of course one of the most important factors in choosing a wedding band or orchestra is their sound, however most professional function bands only play private events so it’s not easy to see them first. But a good band should be able to provide you with a live music sample or live showcase video performances on their website.

Firstly, make sure the videos are truly live, not mimed. You’d be surprised how many bands (sadly) do this and it really does make a difference, as some bands are simply better on stage performers than others. If it looks acted on the video, then how good are they at managing a live audience…a very important skill to keep the party flowing!

Make the investment in a professional band, and always speak to the bandleader before booking-you won’t regret it!

Top quality entertainment is crucial to the success of your party and you and your guests experience(and memories), so Its important to put as much emphasis on the band’s budget as you would on any other part of the event, otherwise you may be disappointed on the day.

With wedding entertainment and function bands it is definitely a case of “you get what you pay for”. It’s a common mistake to start by booking the wedding dress/suits, venue, catering, flowers etc. and then use the remaining budget for the band, which means the decision is made on price. Although more expensive is not necessarily better, this is a key investment area, especially for the one day you need to be certain that the entertainers really know what they are doing. Some key points to consider:

• If you choose a band on price alone, then you may be disappointed. Professional bands do cost more because they pay good rates to professional musicians, have top quality equipment and insurance, give better service and have a great repertoire.
• Bands that charge more tend to offer higher level of service and attention to detail. They have better quality musical arrangements and most of all simply sound great and give great live performances!
• Choose a professional Band with experience of performing at weddings, who take the time to understand what you require before you book them. Talk through your plan with the bandleader first.
• Look for video and audio examples. An established group should have their music on their website and references from previous clients available for you to view.
• Where possible, book the band direct rather than through an agent. From years of experience I can tell you that most entertainment agents are simply salespeople who don’t necessarily understand much about music (yes really!) or event entertainment, whether the bands they market are actually capable of providing a great live performance or know how to act and deal with situations that arise on the day of an event. Many of the bands they market are hobby bands. Put simply, the importance of the occasion warrants a decent investment. Would you ask a hobbyist plumber to install your central heating and new boiler just because he has a nice website and he’s cheap?

Some bands and agencies take double or triple booking for the same band on the same night. This can be a quality control nightmare and you may end up getting a completely different level of musicianship than what you saw on the video.(you might have the substitute reserves) Once again, check this with the bandleader.

• Contracts and booking. Once you have found your ideal band, it is important for both yourselves and the artists to have an agreement in writing. The band should send you a contract, so make sure you have an agreement that covers these points:
o Date, venue, arrival time for artists and time they should be finished setting up
o Performance times, length of sets, how many
o Can the artists provide recorded music during their breaks / is this required?
o What equipment do the artists provide? (Sound system, lighting)
o Artist’s performance area requirements (stage size, power supply, dressing
room, storage for cases etc, meals and or drinks)
o Total fee including all extras. Also how and when this will be paid.
o Artists equipment and public liability insurance

It is imperative to have the whole agreement written down so both you and the artists know what to expect. The last thing you want is a nasty surprise on your special day!

Great entertainment can make or break an event, and is one of the things that people will remember for years to come. Whoever you chose (and of course I hope you choose us!) I hope this helps in your selection process. Call me if you would like to chat through things.

Pentatonic Power

McFerrinHere’s an amazing video, showing Bobby McFerrin demonstrating the power of music with audience participation. Let’s call it pentatonic power.

We don’t know much about the human brain on music. Do people instinctively know the sound patterns of the pentatonic scale? Is there a base level of musical knowledge in all of us, just waiting to be tapped? Or is the pentatonic scale simply so common in Western music that it has become ingrained in all of our minds? Improvisational genius Bobby McFerrin uses audience participation to demonstrate the power of the pentatonic scale—or at least the audience’s familiarity with it.

live stings and music for awards events

awards event‘Stings’ have their origins in the broadcast world, where they are also known as idents and are widely used to reinforce channel branding. In this environment they are just a few seconds long, they provide short visual and musical punctuations between programmes, and capture attention before shows begin, much the same as jingles. These stings give TV and radio channels a real personality, and sometimes even become better known than the programmes themselves – think of BBC’s Pick Of The Pops or the Parkinson show theme.

Stings can kick start the event announcements or be used to get people to take their seats. As the name suggests, stings should be short and sharp. In the broadcast world, they’re sometimes just 4-5 seconds long; in the events world, no more than 1 minute in total, and then only if you are waiting for winners to pose for photographs and to fill the time till the next announcement.

A good sting has flair and personality and brings events to life. Most corporate awards events tend to use pre-recorded stings, since very few bands have the ability to play live and do it well. Any covers band can try, but unlike a live dancing set they need to be absolutely spot on and know how to cue in and out in perfect timing to suit the compere and what’s happening on stage.

Don’t underestimate the extent to which the right music played by the right band can really make your event fly. Music both sets the tone for an event, and provides an atmospheric undercurrent. We have a specially written and arranged repertoire of live stings for awards events that we know work well.


A bandleader, or a musical event planner?

Swing Singer for Weddings StirlingAustinA function band’s role is not just to turn up and play music, that’s only one aspect of what should be provided.

When you book a band for what is a very important occasion, it’s important to know that you are dealing with people who not only have a great live sound, but also know how to deal with of all the other aspects of providing successful event entertainment. Booking a band is a big investment, and you can’t afford not to know who you’re dealing with; only finding out on the day is too late.

Most people looking for bands listen mainly to the demos online, but that doesn’t tell you how good the band actually is at managing all aspects of their environment on the day so that everything works well. Searching through agents give you lots of choices, but (sorry to say this) most of them don’t actually know much about musicians or event management and usually even less about a bands ability to provide good service as with any other event supplier. Good wedding planners and event managers know this from experience.

When you search online you’re confronted with thousands of bands all claiming to be something special, agencies that promise you an amazing choice, and some have great sites and demos, others not so great. But to use the BBC documentary title – “Behind the music” is often what counts. So when you’ve identified your favourites, always talk to the bandleaders before booking to ensure they “get” the following points:

  • Planning and discussing beforehand so as to get an understanding of client’s expectations, liaising with the venue and other suppliers. That will make all the difference on the day to the smooth running of the event.
  • Efficient logistics, e.g. access to the venue, when best to set up and where, get-in times, equipment, lighting, set lengths and timings, stage area, and so on.
  • Constantly checking on the day with the organisers/venue manager/caterers to make sure the band’s timings are coordinated and making sure that whatever the band does is tailored to best suit the program and keep things flowing smoothly.
  • Knowing how to work an audience, being aware of what’s happening in the room and responding to the mood of the moment to ensure they are having a good time throughout. There are non-stop dancing crowds, dance and sit’n listen crowds, guests who are not dancers so want to listen, chilled events where dancing is not on the agenda, and so on. Each event is different and each person has their own way of enjoying the party, and it’s important for the bandleader to be able to read the room.
  • One of the most important ingredients for any band is the setlist -this can make or break a party. Not just the style of music, but which particular songs to play at different times, based on reading the audience and the mood. It’s important to be able to switch styles at a moments notice, rearrange the order of songs, play special requests, or change the setlist timings so that the music actually works for the mood of the crowd.

Too many bands, especially the many hobby bands found online, (also known as weekend warriors) think that being booked for a wedding is just about turning up and playing the songs they like (and feeling cool on stage) – but ensuring that things run smoothly behind the scenes, knowing what works logistically at different times and having the experience to deal with any situation on or off stage is critical to you. So in other words, the bandleader needs to be a musical event planner as well as a musician.

Of course I would love you to book us. As a bandleader and performer, I care deeply about providing top-class entertainment and customer service second to none, and a memorable event.

But whoever you choose, always try to talk with the bandleader before making a decision. You will get a clearer idea of how good they are at providing an all round service and know whether they understand your vision. When you are satisfied they know their stuff, then (and only then)…book them. You will thank yourself later.



Do you really want a swing band?

Stirling AustinMost people love swing music in some form or other, and clients have the image of a Swing Band or Rat Pack Band providing a sophisticated atmosphere with quality music style for their event. Many people want something different and upmarket (as opposed to yet another generic pop band), and that’s certainly a great choice given that swing music is still massively popular.

Swing music is great to dance and jive to, but it can have limited appeal at a party. Yet another “Mack the knife” style song at 11.15pm after an hour and a half of swing doesn’t always hit the spot for party people, who by that time want something more funky!

So when it comes to private parties the band must be able to deliver and authentic Swing sound, whilst also having the ability and flexibility to play other, more contemporary dancing styles that appeal to a wider audience and make sure that all generations can party together.

Unless your event has a purely vintage theme, e.g. a rat pack evening, it’s important to ensure that the band has the ability to transform into a “party band” later on in the evening – and sound like one! Lets face it, “Everything” by Buble, although a great song, doesn’t have the same effect on the dance floor as Stevie Wonder’s “Superstition” or Lionel Richie’s “All Night Long”.

Not all musicians know how to play more than one style well. Playing big band style swing music from proper musical charts requires professionally trained jazz musicians, whereas pure pop and rock musicians can’t play swing. Jazz musicians however can play most other styles (think Funk Brothers, responsible for most of the Motown hits). The same goes for vocalists. To sing swing, you need that smooth crooner timbre in your voice and the phrasing, but not all singers have what it takes to cross over to other styles (without sounding like Sinatra channelling Otis Redding) where you need that raspy edge and rocker attitude for pop and soul.

So if you decide to book a swing band and you want them to be able to carry the evenings entertainment, then it’s worth spending some time scrutinising how well they play other styles. Having a variety of genres, a setlist that flows and knowing how to flexibly work the crowd with appropriate tunes at different points throughout the evening will keep the party flowing. Plus you can still finish with a grand “New York, New York” finale!


There’s no such thing as swing music, only music that swings!

Stirling AustinMany musicians say that there is no such thing as swing music, there is only music that “swings.” And when you’re dancing to swing music, it’s really got to be ” swung” and that involves musicians who understand the structure of the music.

To use the words of the Newcastle University swing dance Society.

“Almost all music in the modern charts has no swing to it at all. The tempo of the music is kept by the drummer, and every beat is as important as every other beat. The main notes of the tune and the main words of the lyrics tend to be played or sung on the beat, and the beat is relentless. This is sterile for a good swing dancer. There is nothing there for a swing dancer to work with.

Good music for swinging to has “hits” and “breaks”. A hit is an excuse for a wild kick or the like, it is a note or group of notes that stands out from the rest by being louder, or higher, or sharper than the others. A break is a moment in the music when there is a sudden lull, perhaps even absolute silence. This is an excuse to do the opposite of dancing to a hit – to slow things down, makes smaller moves, and perhaps even come to a complete halt.

Other styles of music may also have these hits and breaks, but importantly, in swing, these features are predictable – a dancer can hear them coming, even in an unfamiliar piece – because they are signalled by the musicians. This means that the dancer can make himself ready for them and honour them when they come, rather than be surprised by them.

In jazz music, the tempo is not kept by the drummer, but by the bass player. The drummer is therefore free to do what he wants, perhaps coming in late or early, perhaps using a stop-start style…

To understand swing music you’ve got to feel it and live it. For the musicians it’s all about playing with time, which is the exact reason it’s so danceable. The musician gives the dancer time and space to play, to create, to respond. There’s also the space for each instrument to play within the framework of the melody and rhythm and create spots in the music where there long or short notes, where the musician can take advantage of the structure to bridge phrases.”

In order for an instrumentalist to play swing music and really make it swing they will need to have either studied jazz (or to have the most amazing ability to play by ear). Jazz musicians can play other genres e.g. Soul, (The Funk Brothers were originally Jazz Musicians) but non-jazz trained musicians will not have the ability to play swing and jazz and really make it swing, since they’ve never played with time. ( as opposed to playing in time e.g. the correct rhythm)

Any swing band leader who plays for swing dancers should know the rules…songs should be no longer than 3 and a half munutes(so you can change partners), vary the tempos, mainly four in the bar and play for the dancers, not for yourselves!

Oh, The First Dance From a man’s perspective

Hey Grooms to be….let’s talk about the fearful first dance at your wedding. A scary thought? You’re not the only one. Almost every man fears the duty of leading their bride on the first dance. Whoever decided the man should lead the dance, anyway? We’re not know for our multitasking abilities, so I understand if it feels daunting!

It sure is an odd concept, but it’s an argument that isn’t going to win with your bride-to-be. You are going to have to learn how to dance to a swing band. But it doesn’t have to be as trepidatious as you anticipate it to be.

The first dance is one of the most popular wedding traditions. It has been carried on throughout centuries and centuries, and certainly isn’t going to fade away anytime soon. So you, as well as many other men, are simply going to have to put on some dancing shoes and step up to the plate. It may surprise you that the first dance is much more about the meaning than it is about the dance steps. This should give you some piece of mind, but not too much. After all, people are going to be watching you dance.

The importance of the first dance wedding tradition is because it is the very first dance you and your bride get to dance as husband and wife, and you’re also dancing to a song that you both picked out to represent your love and relationship. (As if your vows weren’t enough, right?) You still can’t skip this part, so you might as well prepare for those dancing classes because the first dance comes an abundance of camera lights shooting off in your direction. At least you’ll have tons of photos to captivate the goodwill of it, and your two left feet.

There are many different styles of dance that work amazingly with our swing band. Some are incredibly easy and will ‘get you by’, if you will. These are ideal for the men who are completely sold on the fact that they will never dance well, regardless of the price and amount of dance classes they partake in.

The foxtrot is one of the most popular styles for first wedding dances because it is so easy to learn and flows admirably with slow ballads. The waltz is a more formal style, and has a variety of levels of difficulties. Proceed with caution because you can really get into some heavy stuff with the waltz. The ultimate style of dance for your first wedding dance is going to be a mixture of the two – a formal appeal with easy steps. Swing dance is the epitome of just that, and if you hire a swing band for weddings, then you’re all set. It’s relaxed and cool, but has that youthful, flirty charm. Oh, and it’s easy enough to learn in a short amount of time!

Despite being extremely easy, they’ll make your dance moves look pretty flawless. Your wife will be proud and impressed, and everyone else will definitely be jealous that she landed such an incredible dancer. Yeah, right?

Your first dance doesn’t have to be a dreaded element of your big day. You can fool everyone into thinking you’re an incredible dancer by learning a few simple steps.

I’ve had a number of couples come to me a few minutes before their first dance, panicking because the groom has forgotten his steps. Being a swing dancer myself, and having done the some ballroom here and there, I’m always on hand to reassure the groom, show him how to sway to the left, twirl to the right, then a little dip.

But after all is said and done, it comes down to one thing, and one thing only guys. During the first dance, look into her eyes, hold that gaze and smile lovingly…because that’s the part of the dance that really counts!

Simon Cowell Plans: A Swing in the Right Direction?

Swing Singer for Weddings StirlingAustinIt’s been a frenetic start to February. I’ve been learning a whole new repertoire of songs for a Vegas gig (no I’m not off to Vegas, it’s for a corporate client!) as well as trying to get my fingers to stretch on the Spanish guitar and improve my renditions of Kenny Rankin’s excellent interpretations of classic jazz and pop songs in a bossanova style.

Yesterday I finally managed to grab some random browsing time – a rarity in the life of a function band leader with 10 different projects at once, but then our passions must come at a price mustn’t they?!

I was rather intrigued to read of Simon Cowell’s revelations regarding his love for swing and the Rat Pack. Yes, I did a double-take! Allegedly, the closet Sammy Davis Junior fan is currently procrastinating over the cash benefits of forming his own Rat Pack-Pack-swing band, spurred by the modern success stories such as Michael Buble. Could it be that the music mogul famed for his brutal honesty toward X-Factor contestants, is perhaps recognising that manufactured same-gender bands are past their sell-by-date?

Far be it from me to muse over ‘the mogul’s’ motivations, however I couldn’t help thinking how beneficial this could potentially be for function bands – especially those whose repertoires comprise many of the old swing, soul and Rat Pack greats.

If we were to see a talented group of true rat pack and swing band instrumentalists and vocalists succeed, by a show that obviously still has a cult following – imagine what this could do for the popularity of swing bands around the U.K! We may already be reaping the benefits of swing dancing being back in vogue, but this could launch a stepping-stone for the many talented groups who are yet still to find their feet in the business. This really could be a swing in the right direction for function and wedding bands! Ok, pun intended.

The Funk Brothers-a must watch for any Soul and Motown function Band !

Funk-Brothers-150x150Just watched again (for the 10th time!) ‘Standing in the Shadows of Motown,’ a DVD that recognizes the achievements of the Funk Brothers. Formed in 1959 by Berry Gordy, the Funk Brothers were essential to the Motown Sound of the 1960’s – they were the session musicians who actually played and recorded the tracks for most of the Motown Artists and the songs we all know so well. They defined the sound for Soul Bands and Motown Bands and some of the greatest musicians ever played in this band (the line up changed throughout the years).

The band played on more Number One hits than the Beatles, Rolling Stones, the Beach Boys and Elvis combined.

The Funk Brothers were considered the unsung heroes of the Motown label, playing on hundreds of hits such as the Supremes’ ‘Stop in the Name of Love’ and Marvin Gaye’s ‘I Heard it through the Grapevine.’

The band defined the Motown sound of the 1960’s, which fused gospel, soul and pop, included Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson and the Four Tops.

Sadly, a number of the “Funk Brothers” have passed away; but the surviving members appeared on a Thursday night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem in 2002, as part of the premiere for the launch of ‘Standing in the Shadows of Motown.

The group played backgrounds on the Motown songs:

‘Ain’t Too Proud To Beg’, ‘My Guy’, ‘For Once In My Life’, ‘Wonderful One’, ‘I Was Made To Love Her’, ‘The Way You Do The Things You Do’, ‘Dancing In The Street’, ‘Your Precious Love’, ‘I Can’t Help Myself’, ‘My Cherie Amour’, ‘You Keep Me Hanging On’, ‘My Girl’, ‘Shop Around’, ‘Going To A Go-Go’, ‘Get Ready’, ‘Heatwave’, ‘How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You’, ‘Baby Love’, ‘Cloud Nine’, ‘Ain’t No Mountain High Enough’, ‘Bernadette’, ‘Mercy, Mercy Me’, ‘Signed, Sealed Delivered, I’m Yours’, ‘Where Did Our Love Go’, ‘What’s Going On’, ‘Ooh, Baby Baby’…..the list is endless.

If you like Soul bands, Motown Bands or any king of Soul Music, then this is a must watch DVD.


Daunting Sinatra Classics

bogartCertain swing and big band songs are synonymous with Frank Sinatra  and a pleasure to sing, nevertheless it can sometimes be a daunting  privilege  performing some of his timeless classics with our Rat Pack Swing Band at functions.
Yet I can’t begin to imagine how Brian Duprey, of American formed tribute show “The Rat Pack is Back” must be feeling. I mean, how do you revive, or even begin to replicate that  trademark charisma, upon the legendary Vegas stage that Dean Martin, Sammy Davis Junior, Joey Bishop, Peter Lawford and Sinatra graced in the 60’s.  I listened to Brian and he’s one of the best I’ve heard. Apparently on The Howard Stern Show, Howard played a track of Brian singing  Come Fly With Me and special guest Nancy Sinatra thought it was her Dad singing.

That legendary stage in question refers to the well-trodden boards of the Sands Hotel on the Las Vegas Strip;  an historic and premier venue where the calibre of clientele could have pretty much been described as America’s aristocracy. Oh what I’d have given to have been among the audiences of 1964, when the very much alive and kicking Rat Pack, were nightly sell outs.

By the way, Humphrey Bogart is central to Rat Pack history. Although several explanations have been offered for the famous name over the years, according to one version in 1949 Sinatra lived just blocks from Bogart’s house and the story goes that when Bogart’s wife, Lauren Bacall, saw the drunken crew all together in the casino, she told them, “You look like a goddamn rat pack.”

Live music and new talent is being stifled in the UK – when’s our revolution?

gosforthhotelIn 1976 I lived in Newcastle upon Tyne and worked in a pub called The Gosforth Hotel. Yes, I know, I don’t look old enough. I was a barman and every Wednesday evening  I worked the bar in the upstairs room. Every three weeks or so there was a brilliant 4 piece band called “Last Exit” fronted by a teacher from Wallsend called Gordon Sumner, a.k.a. Sting. This of course was before he went to the city where the streets are paved with gold to find fame & fortune and joined the Police.

Wednesday nights listening to them was brilliant.They played both originals and covers, and built up a regular crowd.  I remember one time where Sting ran a live & spontaneous musical competition, playing a 3 chord E, A, B riff. They kept playing for as long as possible without interruption, whilst each band member had to think of a song that fitted. You hesitated, you lost. So it started with Hang on Snoopy, Twist & Shout, La Bamba and so on. It was great fun, with a warm friendly atmosphere, audience interaction, incredible entertainment and I have great memories.

The point is, all over Newcastle, and the rest of the UK at that time, bands regularly played in upstairs rooms in pubs. I remember lots of pubs where live music was easy to find and it was a period where UK amateur music culture was rich. Nobody seemed to complain, people were happy to be surrounded by a plethora of great bands and musicians were able and delighted to play to appreciative audiences. That abundance  seems to have been lost.

This country has produced some of the finest bands who naturally started playing to the public in the great British social institution – the pub.  But these days pub landlords and restaurant owners now have to get permission for the council to have even an acoustic duo for live entertainment. In turn, bands find it difficult to find places to play, since less and less venues are prepared to risk vexing the “protected” new neighbor who decides to move next to a pub and who then complains about the noise. That’s ridiculous. Don’t move there in the first place.

So what happened to this country’s commitment to fostering freedom for artistic development? If we want to continue producing legacy stars who play real instruments (as opposed to manufactured) in the future, then surely things need to change.

Unfortunately the power to influence certain things that affect whole generations, e.g. making it easy for musicians to play in pubs (especially when the pub trade is on its knees) is firmly centralised in the hands of politicians and councilors. In this instance, most of them have wrongly categorised all music as noise threats and thereby potential disturbance.

Perhaps they believe that the public (that’s you and me) should be protected. If so, then it’s from listening to real musical entertainment and and a place for developing talent. Frankly, our  licensing laws and noise limitations seem to me more like  a anachronistic human rights restriction on freedom to listen to real music at normal volumes. Read my blog post on noise limiters.

So when’s our revolution?

(Stirling steps down from soapbox)

Booking the band or the bandleader?

Swing Singer for Weddings StirlingAustinThere are only a few occasions in life when one needs to hire a band to provide music for an event, but just how does one go about this task? Excluding the obvious – hiring a band who performed at a function you attended and who you really thought would be ideal for yours – where do you start looking, what does one need to look for and how to choose wisely?

The interesting thing is, its not just about the music. You can book amazing sounding bands that look dazzling online, but delivering on the day has nothing to do with the website.

Lets use the example of a caterer. You would not simply hire a company to produce all the food for your guests without discussing the fine details at length with its representative, understanding what goes on behind the scenes for what they will prepare, making sure that expectations are understood on both sides and feeling comfortable that you are working with a solid partner who will make sure your guests have a great experience. Otherwise you might as well order online for delivery.

The same goes for a function band and its bandleader. It’s not just about listening to the music or watching the videos.You need to be talking to the bandleader to find out more substance, because it is he (or she) who makes the difference between simply having an attractive shopfront and delivering great musical entertainment. It is the bandleader who gets the best out of his musicians, who makes logistics work behind the scenes, reading the room, ensuring continuity during the sets and in band breaks, and  generally knowing what works in entertaining a crowd as well as dealing with any situation that may arise.

A good bandleader should take their responsibilities of performing at your big day seriously. If they and the musicians do this as a hobby then are you really booking the best?

A real professional will know about venues, timings, logistics, how to work with other wedding suppliers, band access, logistics –in short, someone who cares as much about the smooth running of the event as you do. Whether its a Swing Band for weddings, a wedding planner, a photographer or a caterer, it’s the same as with any business – you need to have confidence in the management.

If you’re booking through an agency, ask to speak to the bandleader first. You might get a totally different impression than what the sales agent is telling you. After all, they list hundreds of bands, they can’t possibly know them all and they are on commission…..

I’m always available to talk through events and I work really hard to cover every single detail beforehand to achieve your vision. On the day I’m totally hands on and I make sure things work, a bit like a musical event planner. Of course I hope you book my band, but whoever you choose…before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you choose the right bandleader who meets your expectations. Same as you want to book the right chef.

Because you only get one chance to get it right.

Best price for a corporate gig

mickjaggerWell now, that depends on what the going rate is.

As I mentioned in another blog post a couple of days ago,  there’s some really famous acts who play corporate functions and weddings. But their rates have gone up over the years.

According to a News Corporation report last year, Elton John serenaded 400 guests to celebrate the marriage of Rush Limbaugh to Kathryn Rogers in the Ponce de Leon ballroom of Florida’s fabled Breakers hotel in Palm Beach. Sir Elton’s fee was apparently $1 million. Now that pays for a lot of nappies. However, the kind dad actually donates all earnings from private concerts to his charity, the Elton John AIDS Foundation, rather than pocket the huge sums. That’s very honorable.

I also read in the New Zealand Herald that the worlds most expensive performers at corporate functions and weddings, according to a poll commissioned by Living TV are as follows:

1. The Rolling Stones – up to £5 million
2. Sir Elton John – up to £2 million
– Kylie Minogue – up to £2 million
4. Christina Aguilera – up to £1.5 million
5. George Michael – £1.3 million
6. Amy Winehouse – £1 million
–  Sir Paul McCartney – £1 million
–  Leona Lewis – £1 million
– Jennifer Lopez – £1 million
10. Barry Manilow – £750,000
11. Rod Stewart – £600,000
12. Duran Duran – £500,000


If I become a famous wedding singer…

Swing Singer for Weddings StirlingAustinA nice lady called Kate asked me on one of my blogposts; if I become famous, will I still do functions? That’s an excellent question. Well, yes I would.

Firstly you should expect no less of me than X Factor champion Matt Cardle, who is keeping his promise to the manager of The Bull pub in Halstead (where he used to work) to play at his wedding. Good on you Matt. Also, a lot of people don’t know that in 2000, Bublé’s career breakthrough came from being…yes, you guessed, a function band singer!

An aide to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney saw Buble’s performance at a corporate event and received a copy of his self-financed independent album. He showed the album to Mulroney and his wife and Bublé was subsequently invited to sing at the wedding of Mulroney’s daughter Caroline, where he sang Mack the Knife. At the wedding, Bublé was introduced to David Foster, a multi-Grammy Award winning producer and record executive. Well as they say, the rest is history.
Now when I play my next corporate gig or wedding perhaps we should introduce that well known classic hit from Bros “When will I be famous”.
So if I do become famous and Prince William and Kate Middleton ask me to play at their wedding..well you see, I’ll still be a wedding singer.


Swing Revival: Putting The “Cha-Cha” Into Charleston!

1102KM1_3710HurtleyWedding240813HoneybunnPhotographyNeo-Swing made an unprecedented comeback during the late 1990’s, and while many thought the revival had peaked post-Millenium; our own continued popularity for both function, and wedding coverage is proving that swing bands are still seriously in demand.

But why swing and soul bands, among the many choices for wedding receptions? Sure, the mien of a function band influences the party atmosphere, and the affectation of the genre’s lively rhythms can really get people in the mood to dance. But judging by two of our latest booking confirmations, the reasoning is actually a little more personal.

Now, I’m not sure if this new fixation with choreographed first dances has come about due to the YouTube Sir-Mix-A-Lot Wedding viral video, or if it’s simply a case of more couples seeking to stamp their individuality on the wedding reception. One thing is clear – the trends for choreographed wedding dances such as the Charleston and Lindy Hop are surpassing even our expectations!

From the mid 1920’s, to the late 1940’s, Swing gave birth to a number of sub-genres, mostly identified by geographical influence. In Harlem, U.S.A, Swing influenced an African-American style of dance known as the “Lindy Hop” – a two-partner dance characterised by the simple 8-step count, that was often subject to improvisation on the street. The Balboa; a dance which is seeing a considerable revival in the choices for wedding dances is distinguishably faster, and favoured due to the closer embrace required of partners. The Charleston is also popular, due to the lively moves which are often given a contemporary urban twist by dance choreographers.

Seeking out dance lessons, for that first wedding dance isn’t a new concept. Couples have been doing it for years, yet the new motivation seems to be about giving something back to the guests. As my most recent client put it, “we want to give our guests a memory of our day that won’t fade too quickly, and the element of surprise is a bonus”.

So, why did she book us? “With all the work that hubby-to-be and I have put into learning the right steps, dancing along to a CD just didn’t have the same appeal. This is about giving something back, and we know a live swing band will create the kind of ambience our grandparents remember from the first time around”. She also divulged that there was something pretty romantic about learning something new together, and celebrating the achievement with that memorable first dance.

Far from being a brief fad for on-trend wedding receptions, choreographed wedding dances look set to grow even more in popularity. Judging by the guest’s faces at the last wedding we covered, they certainly weren’t expecting a journey back in time! I wonder what kind of dance our next betrothed couple has rehearsed?

Ladies, why wait? The wedding proposal is your privilege!

wedding-bride-proposalLadies, if Valentine’s Day this year was promising and your man declared his love for you, then why not seize the opportunity and propose? After all, on February 29th it is your privilege!

Although some could argue that marriage proposals are no longer the  exclusive domain of  the guy, any one more shy and reticent waiting for the “get down on one knee  OMG this is it” moment  can use the day as an  officially sanctioned moment (in folklore) to pop the question.

There are different versions of where this tradition of women being able to pop the question on February 29  came from, depending on who you ask.   I read that some say St Patrick agreed the deal with St Bridget who supposedly bargained him down from every seven years to every four, whereas reckon that as the day stands outside the normal run of things and even has a debatable place in the law, it was natural for something unnatural (some may say) to be allowed.

So if you feel like your relationship is ready for the next stage and you  want some commitment so that you can book a band for your wedding, you can always refer to this blog claiming that as the choice of band is  really important, you need to know now so that we can block the date!

Corny but true!

Are you sure its just a swing band you want to book?

Swing Singer for Weddings StirlingAustinSwing music is great entertainment, and many clients have the image of a swing band providing a sophisticated atmosphere for their event. However unless your event has a purely swing theme, e.g. a rat pack evening, then in many cases there will be a requirement for a more “party time” part of the evening later on. Although swing music is great to dance  and jive to, there’s only so much you can do with “Mack the knife” and similar songs to really get an audience  to  “boogie on down”!

My point is, that many people, in search of something different and sophisticated, think they want a swing band. But what they really  need is a band that can play swing music well, reminiscent of Sinatra, Bobby Darin, the Rat Pack and so on, but then also have the ability and flexibility to play other styles more towards the “pop” genre that appeals to a wider audience.

Not all musicians play more than one style well. Indeed, to play swing music from big band style musical charts requires professionally trained jazz musicians. Not all jazz musicians are naturals at playing pop, however depending on the style of song they will be more likely to be able to turn their hand to other genres, whereas (untrained) pop musicians won’t be able to play swing chart arrangements.

What this all means is that if you book a swing band and you want them to really carry the evenings entertainment, then it’s worth spending some time scrutinising how well they play other styles and whether those other styles will really keep your dance floor busy. Playing the latest Buble song is not the same as a Stevie wonder dance floor hit, and after one and a half hours of swing it’s important to be able to work the crowd and please as many people as possible and keep the energy flowing.

I find  that in many cases  one of a bride’s key concerns is whether or not the band can keep the evening moving. In our case I can confirm that’s why (6 years ago) we expanded the repertoire to cover soul,  Motown and classic pop, genres that blend naturally with swing and  rat Pack.

Whether its a Swing Band in Manchester, London, Scotland or Singapore, it means that clients can be reassured that their swing band is also a party band.

Noise Limiters: Making and Breaking Sound Barriers?

ManCoveringEarsIt takes more than a little verve and practice to pull off the kind of party performance expected of a professional function band – and the other night was no exception. The latest in a series of early new year corporate entertainment functions was for us, an exciting opportunity to play in a large venue where you can have great fun. and really get a crowd going. (All 600 of them) Excellent night.

There was just one  issue that we seem to re-encounter more often than over-enthusiastic stage invasions – the noise limiter! For a great deal of function venues we’re booked for, noise limiters seem to have become a compulsory device in order for the allowance of live music. Understandable from a residential point-of-view, when you consider the average DJ-covered wedding party can continue well into the early hours; and a handy reminder to over-zealous rock function bands that they may actually be playing above the level of lyrical comprehension.

But when it comes to corporate functions and weddings, venues are in the business of charging to host client events and in particular live entertainment. My experience in quite a few cases in recent years has been that clients book venues and pay a deposit, only to discover on the night that the noise limiter is 3 metres away from the band and set at at 85 decibels, a low trip level. So venues promoting live entertainment for private functions have a responsibility to ensure they are (to use consumer rights jargon) “fit for purpose”. No problem when you have only background music, but not when you’re having a party.Let’s face it, you wouldn’t organise a large business conference for a company and tell the keynote speakers to keep their voices down to avoid the microphone cutting out.

We’ve experienced our fair share of sound-monitored venues where the acceptable volume level has ranged from around 60 decibels (the equivalent of 3-4 people conversing), up to 90 decibels which can equate to an entire 50+ wedding dance floor shouting encouragement!  Not only do we have to consider our own sound emissions when in the throes of a Sinatra number, but also that of an enthusiastic audience. Rapturous applause could trigger a power outage in the closing bars of a song, if we don’t get the microphone levels just right. I remember one well known venue we played in Richmond, just as we reached the bridge in “All night Long” the power cut out. Lionel Richie would not be pleased and nor was the client.

It all depends how these devices are configured, and if they are not set-up properly then it can ruin the clients entertainment. A fundamentalist culture of health and safety  regulations, over zealous councils and  jobsworth venue managers are not conducive to helping clients who pay decent rates and expect live entertainment loud enough to get the party going.

I can’t see these contraptions disappearing anytime soon, so we’ve tried to become attuned to the sensitivity of noise limiters,without impacting upon  performance delivery. Not an easy feat, but it’s part of knowing your trade as a function bandleader. Having said that, I know some bands who refuse to play at venues where there is one, they believe it compromises their act.

So before you book a venue for your event you’d be well advised to check whether the venue also has correctly configured noise limitation technology in place which fits the style of music. Not all bands can do justice to their setlist within such limitations, so better to be safe than  subdued!

How to ensure your wedding guests won’t evacuate the dance floor

DSC_3630Who can’t recall attending one wedding reception in life that could only be described as a washout? The guests were idly sat making polite conversation; the wine was flowing, but the dance floor resembled an ice-rink in the height of summer. Even the kids preferred the stilted conversation of grandparents, to the mediocre efforts of the wedding band. It probably wasn’t their fault. No doubt they were just playing the usual set-list reserved for receptions, but if the music isn’t catered for the guests in question – it can alienate everyone!

Although there are classic songs that tend to be the most popular, it’s important to personalise set-lists for each and every wedding, because no two clients ever have the same requirements.

Whether you’re seeking a customised play-list for a themed party, for example swing, salsa, jive, rat pack, or you’d prefer an eclectic mix of hits, it’s important to compile a mixture of energetic up-tempo rhythms (guaranteed to get everyone dance-motivated) coupled with a few slow, melodic ballads for those romantic moments.

With the average wedding reception comprising in excess of 150 guests, it can be difficult to find music that will appeal to all, however consideration for the diversity, age-ranges and conservativeness of your guests can play a big part in getting the music right.

Not everyone appreciates the contemporary efforts of boy/ girl-bands, and not everyone can “get down” to pop, club or hip-hop so it’s recommendable to consider a broad range of genres, yet sticking to tracks people will be familiar with. Your secondary consideration relates to the age-range of your guests _ the elders probably won’t appreciate an endless night of Lady Gaga and the latest chart hits.

If music is the recipe for a well-remembered wedding party, then variety is the vital ingredient. The ability to read a crowd’s response is key to the instantaneous decisions made during a live set. An expert bandleader can make such decisions based upon his interpretation of the crowd, knowing that too much of one genre will ultimately alienate others. Bear this in mind when you’re working with your wedding band to compile the set-list and try to please everyone you’ve invited..

A Ballroom Wedding!

DSC_7636Last night we played at the wedding of a wonderful couple, Steve and Laura at Airport House in Croydon. Full Swing / Soul Band line-up, with 5 horns.

Firstly I must say  that they were the nicest couple any wedding band could hope to be booked by – they really took care of us, and their family and ushers were so friendly,constantly stopping by to ask if everything was ok for the band.

What made it really special was that they are amateur ballroom dancers (although the word amateur in this case is wrong, they danced like professionals).They did a brilliant routine to their first dance” A Nightingale Sang in Berkeley Square” by Bobby Darin, which is in my opinion one of the tightest (in musical terms) and best arranged versions of that tune in big swing band style.

It was such synergy – the band played the exact same arrangements for that song, they performed “Strictly” in perfect time with flair, style and elegance, it was a magical moment.

But there’s more..throughout the evening guests were doing foxtrots, quicksteps, rhumbas…(and of course bopping and party-dancing) and during the break there was a 30 minute demonstration or all major ballroom styles in full costume by the couples from the Wimbledon school of Ballroom Dancing.( run by the lovely Olga) Unbelievably entertaining!

So between the Swing, Soul, Ballroom and with me doing a bit of impromptu “compering” (yes Brucey, you’ve got competition) a good time was had by all.

Thanks Steve and Laura. We hope to play for you to dance again someday soon.

Paris Swings as well!

eiffeltowerWe made a short trip to Paris last weekend, the highlight was Thursday night.

We were in the Café Brunel in the 17th district, when they started carting in guitars, keyboards, speakers etc….anyway to cut a long wedding bands story short, I (Stirling) ended up singing and jamming with the brilliant quartet run by Philippe Bensoussan, who also manages function bands in Paris with his agency Annapurna.

Great musicians, no big egos, just really nice people and they really know how to have fun. The bar was soon filled with Frenchies all singing and dancing….I must say I was impressed, they really know how to make a party band feel good!

A few too many excellent glasses of vin rouge, but a fantastic night was had by all. Thanks to Philippe and la bande, et le patron du Café Brunel. What a brilliant find, highly recommended any night, but especially thursdays!

Feed your children swing and jazz

scatcat-150x150There was an interesting article a while ago by Neil McCormick entitled “Do we really need ‘children’s music’? They’ll be fine with David Bowie”.

Firstly I must say that I do agree with Mr McCormick, he makes a good point. It should never be underestimated just how much influence the style of music that children listen to has on their personal development as a citizen of the world. In other words,  the music  but you are brought up listening to is probably what will inspire you,  not to mention how the adults who are around those kids will be affected.
Now that’s not to say that Humpty Dumpty will make you worried about sitting on walls, or that learning common usage expressions from listening to songs with explicit lyrics will affect your chances of getting into Eton, but  there’s definitely a link somewhere.
Now of course I’m biased. I love swing and big band music, 50’s etc. No nasty lyrics there, although perhaps a few disguised innuendos. (How about Bill Haley’s famous line in “Shake, Rattle & Roll” -” I’m like a one eyed cat, feeding in a seafood store”….)

Anyway, my theory is that if children were fed a musical diet of Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra, The Rat Pack, Nat King Cole,  Ella Fitzgerald and the like, then this would have  an extremely beneficial effect on their formative years, their language and their behaviour.

So if anybody  is interested in sponsoring a children’s album project, for example called ” Swinging in the Crib”, then do get in touch. You never know,  those children’s nursery rhyme lyrics might have a wonderful effect on the kids, whilst at the same time as giving both them and their parents that wonderful fuzzy feeling you get from listening to good old swing band music.

And perhaps I could calmly retire on the royalties…