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Our Ethos is: Local Bands, Local Callers, Local Dancers

The Exeter Ceilidh series is based on three important principles:

  • 1) Devon has a number of high quality bands and callers
  • 2) There are enough dancers out there to hold regular dances
  • 3) The bands and callers deserve to be paid a decent rate

In order to pay the bands as much as possible, they are given all the ticket money less the cost of the room. Everything else is done on the cheap or with donated funds.

This way the bands would be encouraged to publicise their own gigs (as well as others), and they would take the reward along with the risk.

In the beginning…

For many years Exeter had a thriving ceilidh scene, thanks largely to the Great Western Ceilidhs that used to run once a month. Good bands, good callers, and an enthusiastic core of dancers who made every ceilidh a roaring success.

Despite being popular, for a number of reasons to do with the organisers (Great Western Morris) the ceilidhs became less frequent and soon stopped altogether. One of those reasons was that they were losing money.

This was shame not only for the dancers but for the local folk dance clubs, for whom public ceilidhs act as a feeder for new dancers.

Germ of an Idea

Jeremy Child is an Exeter based caller who, rather than being tied to a particular band, calls with a number of local ones. Over to him for the next part of the story...

Whilst doing the occasional public ceilidh, I noticed that many of the former attendees of the Great Western Ceilidhs bemoaned the lack of the series, while others frequently asked where else they could dance.

It was at a Spinach for Norman ceilidh to celebrate 25 years of playing that I realised just how much enthusiasm there still was for ceilidhs.

The thought sat in my mind until the demise of the Exeter Folk Dance Club. The club kindly volunteered the balance of its funds to be used for promoting and advertising folk events in Devon.

This was when the idea started to fully form. I used my contacts with numerous bands and started to call in some favours. The idea was:

The bands would take all the gate (money on the door) less the cost of the room. This way the bands would be encouraged to publicise their own gigs (as well as others), and they would take the reward along with the risk.

First Steps

So far so good. I wanted bands who had their own following, particularly for the early gigs. This would only work if we started with a bang and kept the pace up. The more people go to a dance, the more people go to the next one, and the next one...

So I went for organising a series rather than a couple of test gigs - if you're going to go for it, go for it big style!

The first test was would the bands be up for it? These were after all Saturday evenings, the times when most bands get their best paying gigs.

Sharing the Idea

I chose eight bands, seven I had called with (and hence knew what they were like to work with), and one I had great respect for. Three of those (Spinach for Norman, Pigs Might Fly and Dartmor Pixie Band) had their own following amongst local dancers, a fourth also had a following, but was not quite so local (Bloatertown, North Devon), and the remaining ones (Amber Fire, Stick the Fiddle, Dumbo's Feather, Phoenix) were bands I knew were good to dance to.

To my great (and pleasant) surprise, they all said yes, and with enthusiasm. That was my biggest hurdle over. Or so I thought.

Dates and Venues

I wanted a regular date and a regular venue - that way dancers are encourage to keep coming. The regular date proved fairly easy - the key thing is to avoid clashes. The only regular local dances are at Willand (second Saturday) and Bridport (first Saturday, and an hour away). So I settled on the fourth Saturday, as far away as possible from the Willand dance, and avoiding Bridport. I knew I was going to have to adjust in the first year as doing it all at relatively short notice not everyone / everywhere would be available on the dated I wanted. A few phone calls identified two of those Saturdays that would clash with other dances.

I wanted to start in October (September was too early to get the publicity machine going) and go through to June, missing out December. This gave 8 dances for 8 bands. Perfect.

I looked at sixteen venues around Exeter. My favourite (St Matthews Hall in Newton) was quickly ruled out. They had just imposed a 10pm curfew for new bookings, and that just wasn't going to work. the others were whittled down fairly quickly - too expensive, too small, no alcohol, carpeted, not available... Even the old GWC venue of Bowhill Primary School couldn't be used as the caretaker wasn't prepared to lock up on a Saturday evening.

So it came down to St James Church Hall and the Kenn Centre at Kennford. The Kenn Centre was mostly available and St James wasn't, so the Kenn Centre it was.

Initially I was wary of a venue outside Exeter without public transport connections, but then I realised that for those travelling (and there would be quite a few) the Kenn Centre was nearer and easier, thus expanding our "range". Add to this it's cheap, excellent facilities, lots of free parking and nicely sized, and it became a no-brainer.

And it came to fruition - mostly

My initial plan of eight gigs failed, sadly, as combinations of band and hall availability meant we just could not find an October date, and (again because of clashes) the November one wasn't going to work. However December 1st worked for everyone, and decided to start the series then. This gave plenty of time to prepare and to advertise it to the local folk dance clubs and other avenues.

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What's a Ceilidh?

Pronounced “kay-lee”, it's a dance suitable for anyone, from 8 to 80, whether you've been dancing for years or yet to venture out on a dance floor. It’s also great fun - think lively barn dance.

Tell me more...

The dances are held at the Kenn Centre, Kennford (map), The centre is an excellent venue, with modern facilites, ample free parking and a lovely large hall. It is also very easy to get to. Cost is £8 for adults, £4 under 16, Under 10s free.

But I've never even danced before...

This is where the caller comes in. They are in charge of the evening, and tell everyone what to do. It's their job to pick dances suitable for the audience, to organise getting people onto the dance floor in the right place, and telling them what to do. Dances are walked through first, which means you are talked through the dance a couple of times, then you dance it to music while the caller continues to remind you what to do.

I can’t dance for toffee, you can’t possibly want me there…

Nonsense! Ceilidhs are accessible to everyone. All experience levels are totally welcome. We were all beginners once!

Do I need a partner?

For most dances, yes - but you don't need to bring one! People freely swap dance partners throughout the evening.


Dances are generally held on the last Saturday of every month, excluding July, August and December. Sometimes this is changed to avoid conflicts with other events or hall restrictions, so please always check the website.

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© Jeremy Child 2018
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