Oh What a Night! Party like it’s 1999 with Beth Forsyth’s guide to the perfect reception playlist

I know I’ve had a good night out when I wake up the next morning with feet throbbing from dancing and a throat huskier than Rod Stewart’s (yes, I am one of those annoying people who likes to sing along – even if I don’t know the words!). While I wouldn’t wish these very minor afflictions on anyone, if you aim to leave your guests feeling like this the next day, they’ll think ‘Best. Night. Ever’ for weeks afterwards. There’s no better way to do this than by throwing a reception party with brilliant entertainment, a hit-packed playlist and a jumpin’ dancefloor. Below, we speak to some of Scotland’s top music men and women to hear their pick of the pops for an unforgettable night, from first dance to last chord…

FIRST UP: THE FIRST DANCE

If you and your H2B’s eyes first met across a crowded gig or you have fond memories of playing a particular song or album on repeat from your early days of dating, chances are you won’t have too much trouble pinning down your first-dance tune. But what if you genuinely don’t have a song that encapsulates ‘you’ as a couple?

“Unless you have something special in mind already, don’t strive for a song that ‘sums you up’ as a couple or indeed one that ‘tells your story’ – look for one that simply makes you both smile,” suggests Kim Shepherd of wedding band Cut The Cake (cutthecakemusic.co.uk).

It’s a sentiment that Stephen Lauchlan from popular wedding band Waterfront (waterfrontshowband.com) agrees with: “We would always recommend choosing a song that you both like and know well. Don’t spend endless nights trying to find a song with perfect lyrics. You’ll be much happier and much more relaxed about having your first dance if it’s a song that you know well.”

“If you and your partner don’t really have song that you feel sums you up, it’s always best to go with something that everyone knows. That way your guests can feel they are a part of your special moment too,” advises Chloe Mullen of wedding entertainment agency Freak Music (freakmusic.co.uk). “Something classic, like At Last by Etta James, is always popular – or even a modern classic, such as Adele’s rendition of Make You Feel My Love, can really set a romantic tone.”

Lynne Johnston – who runs Glasgow’s longest-running alternative club night Pretty Ugly (prettyuglyclub.co.uk) and regularly DJs at weddings – advocates listening online to get some ideas. “Spotify is a great place for inspiration. We have some sample wedding playlists on there that may have some tunes you won’t have thought of. Narrow it down to four or five songs you both agree on, then put them on and have a dance around your living room – it’s the only way to check if you really can dance to a song or not.” As an extra tip, she points out: “Don’t pick anything too upbeat if the pair of you are not confident dancers, and make sure the track is not too long – about three minutes is enough.”

Craig Munro, of Glasgow-based covers band Revolution 7 (revolution7.co.uk), has more good advice: “When it comes to first dances, we would always recommend that you don’t pick anything that’s impossible to dance to – you’ll just end up feeling awkward on the dancefloor. Usually, your wedding party will join you, so picking a song in a strange tempo will leave them standing still too,” he says. “If all else fails, ask your band what they would recommend. We play around 30 different first dances a year and we’ve learned what really works.”

MAKING YOUR MARK

The key to a stand-out first dance, it seems, is just that: DANCE. Asked what has been their ‘most memorable first dance moment’, almost all the wedding entertainers on these pages mentioned a choreographed (professionally or otherwise) routine. “Friends of mine got married a couple of years ago and broke out into a completely unrehearsed dance-off. Everyone loved it and it really set a precedent for the dance-filled evening that followed,” recalls Claire Weir of entertainment company Reel Time Events (reel-time.co.uk).

“We’ve done well over 1200 first dances, but one that sticks in my mind was a wedding where the couple requested Ring of Fire by Johnny Cash,” reveals Waterfront’s Stephen Lauchlan. “They had some dance moves arranged for this but nothing too serious! It got all the guests’ attention and was a great start to the night.”

Cut The Cake have played at many weddings, but for Kim there’s one that was particularly unforgettable: “We were asked to start the evening off with a ballad. The groom was famously not a fan of slow dances or indeed of dancing in front of people, so the bride was acting as if she had to drag him onto the dancefloor. The whole time he was pleading loudly with her not to do it and eventually he walked off, leaving the disappointed bride standing there by herself. Everyone started getting a bit embarrassed for them and didn’t really know what to do. Then all of a sudden we cut into Dance With Me Tonight by Olly Murs, the groom ran back on and the couple started performing a full-on routine that they’d been learning for weeks! All their guests were whooping and cheering in relief – and in disbelief that the guy was doing a proper dance routine! It was exciting – and a little nerve-wracking! – to be in on the act with them.”

For Alistair Gillies, the man behind Al’s Disco and Karaoke (alsdiscokaraoke.co.uk), a first dance where it was the guests with a surprise up their sleeves has left an indelible memory. “Last year at Duck Bay Marina, a couple who’d come up from Birmingham to get married in Scotland chose Slade’s How Does It Feel as their first dance. The couple had been to dance lessons and had rehearsed a routine to go with the song. Unbeknown to them, however, many of their guests had secretly learned all the moves as well, and joined in halfway through in flash-mob style! It was a great night,” he laughs.

THE X-FACTOR

What’s the secret to a great wedding party? Stephen reckons it’s one where the newlyweds are throwing shapes as much as their guests. “In our experience the best nights are always the ones where the bride and groom spend time with their guests on the dancefloor. All your friends and family will be much more relaxed about dancing and joining in if they see you and the rest of the wedding party on the dancefloor,” he suggests.

“I think the best tip to ensure a great wedding party is to cater to your guests’ tastes. You may be a huge fan of heavy metal, but it’s unlikely your granny will be! Having a variety of genres spanning a few decades will ensure that everyone finds a song to groove to,” says Chloe.

Craig concurs: “We always say that people make a great party. The more involved the audience is, the more they’ll let their hair down. It’s the job of the band to engage with their audience and try to suit the majority of the guests with the songs they play.”

READING THE CROWD

How can a band or DJ be sure they’re hitting the right notes with the audience? “That’s simple: look to the dancefloor,” Chloe says. “If everyone is up and dancing, you know that the songs are a hit. As soon as people start to wander off to the buffet table, it’s time for a change of tune!”

“Weddings can be a real mix of age groups so you need to play something for everyone. Most DJs will try a few different songs at the start of a set to see what works for that particular crowd, which is why it can be hard to make a playlist in advance as you need to see what works in the room,” Lynne notes.

While it’s worth letting your band or DJ know what your musical loves (and hates) are, don’t try to control playlists too much. “Let the band or DJ read the room and let them see what people are enjoying,” suggests Claire. “Often brides and grooms suggest which songs are to be played, but in our experience this does not always work. Trust your band’s experience: a band with many wedding gigs under their belt will know which tracks work – and in what order. This is largely what you’re paying the band for, so trust them to ensure your guests have a great party,” adds Craig.

“It’s definitely easier when we’re in control of the evening,” agrees Kim. “As soon as the guests arrive we look around at the range of ages in the room and try to establish a starting point for the night. Then, when we get the ball rolling and we see what people respond to, we’ll hopefully run the rest of the night like clockwork.”

Meanwhile, Alistair encourages guests to get involved pre-wedding: “I offer my clients an online event planner whereby they and their guests can access my music database and choose the tunes they want to hear. At the wedding, I also ask each table to pick three songs that they’ll get up and dance to.”

Don’t peak too soon is the sage advice from Stephen. “It’s always important to remember to build the night up at a steady pace and not play all the big hits right at the start of the evening. And, when reading the crowd, you’ve got to pay attention to the people who are not dancing, just as much as to those who are. Just because they are not up dancing doesn’t mean to say they shouldn’t be hearing music they enjoy. From this perspective, we try to play a wide mix of music – something for everyone.”

AVOID TUMBLEWEED MOMENTS
ON THE DANCEFLOOR

Any total no-nos for your wedding playlist?
Claire doesn’t think so: “No, every wedding is different and people have their own sound. If there are music restrictions, it can take the personal edge away from the wedding.”

Alistair and Stephen would both recommend avoiding anything football-related unless particularly requested by the couple, while Lynne suggests keeping the slushy numbers to a minimum. “Steer clear of too many ballads. If there’s a slow song that means a lot to you both, you’re best to have that as your first dance rather than kill the dancefloor later in the evening,” she says.

“I’d stay away from anything that the average person wouldn’t really know – it might be a great track to play, but if it’s not known by most of the crowd, you can expect an empty dance-floor,” Craig points out.

“And don’t play I Will Survive unless you want a floor full of half-drunk angry ladies!” jokes Chloe.

BEST TUNE TO MARK THE
END OF THE EVENING?

It seems you can’t beat Auld Lang Syne, The Proclaimers’ 500 Miles and Runrig’s Loch Lomond, with most of our entertainers giving these tracks the thumbs-up. If one of these isn’t music to your ears, Kim reckons it’s preferable to stick to something more conventional: “It rounds our set off nicely, flows smoothly and your guests don’t feel as if they’re left hanging; they love to sing along, jump around in a circle and celebrate the end of the evening with you.”

Talking of pogoing, Claire has had great audience reaction to Jump Around by House of Pain. “It is a well-talked-about evening finale as experienced by some of the Reel Time Team. It’s something slightly different to Auld Lang Syne and is always great at getting everyone on the dancefloor for the final send-off.”

“I’ve been asked for I’ve Had the Time of My Life from Dirty Dancing on a few occasions,” laughs Alistair. “All the men like to think they can hold their partner above their head as in the movie, but, yes, I have seen quite a few brides dropped!”

“You should finish up with one last tune that means a lot to you both but that everyone will know,” concludes Lynne. “Depending on the style of music you like, we would suggest something like Candi Staton’s You Got the Love, The Beatles’ All You Need Is Love or I’ve Had The Time of My Life.”