For a dozen years, from the early nineties, my brother Simon and I ran a dance band. We had played together as children and teenagers but our adult lives had taken us in different directions and it was only when we both returned to Scotland at around the same time – Simon from Caracas, me from London – that we had the opportunity to do what we had so often talked about.
By luck, our return coincided with a time when people we had grown up with had children who were either coming of age or getting married, and we very quickly found ourselves in demand. We played mainly for weddings, anniversaries of all kinds, and charity balls. We travelled the length and breadth of Scotland as well as south of the border. We even made it to the Home Counties on occasion.
Being a band in Scotland meant that we were expected to play the Scottish country dance music, generally known today as ceilidh music, which we had played in our teens. But we had also by then both played in pop and rock bands, and we wanted to offer something contemporary as well. Being able to do both equally well was, at the time, something of a unique selling point.
We managed it by using backing tracks which Simon composed, thus eliminating the need to have a large number of musicians, half of whom would be redundant half the time, while still sounding acceptably ‘live’. Simon played bass or electric guitar and sometimes keyboards, as required. I played keyboards. We also had a singer, fiddler, saxophonist and percussionist.
The ‘band years’ were enormous fun, if taxing for our long-suffering partners. We would often leave on Saturday afternoon and not get home till lunchtime on Sunday. In our busiest year, we played on average every other weekend. We became connoisseurs of B&Bs, party planners, caterers – with whom we fought a running battle, and wedding speeches. We also laughed ourselves silly. I don’t know why gigging musicians should be particularly quick-witted, but in my experience many are and we had at least three people in the band who could be side-splittingly funny. Journeys to and from the gig, not to mention the craic in whatever kind of green room we were provided with, tended to be hilarious.
We got very good at knowing what to expect from a booking – the kind of venue, the quality of accommodation, the general treatment we might receive from the customer. But there was one thing we could never predict and that was the mood of the party. In the most lavishly decorated marquees, with sumptuous food and drink, we might find ourselves having to work hard to get people onto the dance floor, while in the most unpromising of venues, a village hall set out with sausage rolls and sandwiches, for example, the dance floor might be packed all night.
I found myself thinking about the band years on Saturday night. After days of rain, Jake and Nics’ wedding day dawned bright and sunny. The sun was still shining mid-afternoon when we got to the church. The bride and groom glowed, the two best men produced the rings on cue, and my youngest grand-daughter, the least biddable child I have ever come across, did exactly what was asked of her as flower girl and walked solemnly up the aisle holding her older cousin’s hand.
Back at the venue, the beautifully tended grounds of a large private house, reception drinks on the lawn, still in sunshine, were followed by speeches and dinner in the marquee. Then the band started. I knew they were going to be good because I’d looked at their website; also because three of them, guitarist, percussionist and saxophonist, had entertained us outside during the reception and had people around the lawn swaying and tapping their feet. Now, come the evening, there were nine of them including two girl singers, with a repertoire of unadulterated Motown.
It’s a long time since I’ve danced, but Sarah and I stepped onto the floor as the first chords were struck and didn’t leave it till the band finally put down their instruments three hours later. The time passed in a dream, from which I can still picture delirious fragments. I was aware that we were all in a kind of energy loop with the musicians – the harder we danced, the harder they played, and the harder we danced. The exhilaration was extraordinary, and so was the emotion.
I remember dancing with my wife and three daughters at once. I remember the photographer darting in and out of the moving bodies. I remember Jake and Nics dancing together in the centre of a circle while the girl vocalists sang ‘Ain’t no mountain high enough, ain’t no valley low enough.’ I remember thinking: this is my son’s wedding and he looks ecstatic, and: we were good as a band but never as good as this, and: this party must be a dream for the musicians, and: this is what it’s like to be transported; and finding myself in tears of … what? Pure joy and love, I guess.
Maybe, at some wedding somewhere in the nineties or noughties, the Jauncey Bothers Band had the same effect on some unsuspecting father of a groom. I hope so.
Don Roberto: the Adventure of Being Cunninghame Graham is now available to order from Scotland Street Press. There’s a 20% discount for online orders throughout the month of May. Quote the code DONROBERTO20 at checkout.
Aw, brought a tear to my eye! Lovely!
Glad the wedding went so well and that you enjoyed it all.