Wedding fairs are nearly a rite of passage for couples planning their big day. So, a wedding band fair kind of make sense, says Ailin Quinlan.
Maybe it’s the sparkling tree, the tinkle of sleigh bells – or even too much eggnog - but every year thousands of guys are inspired to pop the question under the mistletoe.
Statistics show that around one in four couples get engaged over the festive season, and, come the New Year, they’re facing a lengthy wedding to-do list.
One of the most time-consuming chores is sourcing the perfect wedding band, a job which can involve much traipsing around watching different groups perform.
“One couple we know went to five different venues over five nights – it’s tiring, expensive and time consuming,” says music promoter Eugene McGrath.
Two years ago his girlfriend Hilary-Ann Long had an idea:
“At the time we’d been going to a lot of weddings and couples were talking about the hassle of finding a wedding band,” he recalls.
Hilary-Ann wondered why nobody was bringing bands together for a night to showcase them to wedding couples. Eugene set up Bridal Rock to enable top wedding ensembles to strut their stuff before brides-to-be in Cork, Dublin, Galway and Kilkenny.
“We handpick the bands and showcase the best. We pretty much do the work for the bride and groom.
“The brides love it, the entry fee is reasonable – €15 online and €20 at the door – and we’re saving people an awful lot of trouble.”
If anyone knows wedding music, it’s Shane McGrath, founder and frontman of Harlequin, a top wedding band and one of six groups, including Hot Topic, Manhattan, Platinum, The Tonic and Sundown who are scheduled to feature at the next Bridal Rock, which takes place in Cork on Sunday night.
McGrath has spent much of his career performing at weddings, many of them involving celebrities – he recently sang a duet with Hollywood star Michelle Rodriguez at a wedding in Kenmare.
The Kildare man is to perform at the weddings of “two of the biggest names in soccer” next summer and also reportedly – though he trenchantly refuses to discuss the matter – played at the Beckham wedding some years ago.
Rodriguez was “very nice and down to earth,” he says, recalling that performing the duet with her “was a really cool experience which got us a lot of exposure.”
Finding the perfect wedding band is not always easy, McGrath acknowledges.
First, make a point of seeing the band perform, and take the time talk to them, advises the father of three.
Ask yourself if you got a really good vibe from their performance, and whether your chat left you with a good gut feeling.
Check out a band’s flexibility in terms of what they’re willing to perform. Are they open to playing songs the bride and groom and their guests would like to hear?
“If they start saying ‘oh we only do x,y,z,’ then they’re not your perfect band. A lot of bands just go out and play a set list.”
Wedding bands must cater for different age groups – and McGrath has found that country and traditional music tend to be particularly popular outside the Pale. “Many people love a bit of country or Irish traditional music, and if your band can’t play the Siege of Ennis at a wedding in Clare for example, older guests may feel left out.
“Ask them about their guarantees on filling the floor. You need people who will work with you on the day.
Some bands work harder than others to fill a dance floor, so make sure you pick the hardest-working band. Ask if songs can be requested in advance or even from the floor.
If you’ve previously seen a band perform at a wedding, he says, try to recall how lively and entertaining they were, whether they were enjoying themselves and making guests laugh. Getting the music mix just right requires clear communication, he warns. Couples should express their musical preferences, make it clear what they don’t like and discuss their expectations with the group.
Don’t rely solely on online reviews.
“Word of mouth is crucial. Get recommendations from other people who’ve seen the band.”
Wedding entertainers Harlequin
Be organised: “You should ideally book your band 12 to 18 months before the wedding – some of the very popular bands can be booked out 12 to 18 months ahead or more.”
Before you book, check the band’s availability, its repertoire, its willingness to travel and the fee which, he says, can range from €600 to €6,000. “There are no set rules on pricing, so do your homework.” However, flinging a lot of money at a band is not always the way to go: “I was once at a wedding where the couple had paid €300,000 for entertainment from a number of well-known performers and the dance floor was empty.”
So what’s Harlequin’s secret?
“We’re very interested in what we do and we love what we do,” he says.
“We’re interested in our customers and passionate about getting to know them in advance of their wedding.
“We find out everything that they would like to see happen and then we exceed that.”
Bridal Rock comes to Cork at The Oliver Plunkett, Oliver Plunkett St, 4pm-8pm this Sunday ; at the Sugar Club, Leeson Street, Dublin, on Jan 18, and at Monroes Live Music Venue in Galway on Jan 25. www.bridalrock.com.
Shane’s Top 10 Wedding playlist
1. Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran
2. Uptown Funk by Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars
3. How Long Will I Love You – Ellie Goulding
4. All of Me – John Legend
5. Shake It Off – Taylor Swift
6. All About That Bass – Meghan Trainor
7. Bang Bang – Will.i.am
8.Thunderstruck – AC/DC
9. You Shook me All Night Long - AC/DC
10. Wagon Wheel - Nathan Carter
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