Whether it’s a harp at your lochside ceremony or a saxophonist blasting Ibiza classics as the sun sets, there’s an outdoor entertainment option to suit every wedding style, writes Olivia Simpson
I don’t know what it is about us Brits, but as soon as the days start to lengthen, it’s like we’re biologically programmed to gather in fields and parks to listen to music. You’ve got a range of options: if moshing in a muddy field isn’t your bag, you could always sip prosecco from a plastic cup at the Proms in the Park. Either way, one thing’s for sure: it ain’t summer until we’ve enjoyed our favourite tunes in the great outdoors.
If you’re planning a summer wedding, chances are you’ll be hoping to enjoy at least part of your day outside, so we asked Scottish entertainers to fill us in on all you need to know about alfresco entertainment.
Not all venues are created equal when it comes to outdoor entertainment, I’m afraid. Apart from the obvious need for enough space in the open air for musicians and guests to gather, there are other matters to be considered. “Some venues have had complaints from neighbours about the noise of music being played outdoors,” points out saxophonist Marshali Scott. “The sax is a loud instrument, and it isn’t comfortable for me to constantly play at a very low volume. On top of that, my speaker music needs to match my saxophone volume. Before asking your musician to set up outside, it’s good to check that your venue’s outdoor space can handle loud music.”
Perhaps you’d prefer ethereal harp music as you glide down the aisle? You’d better check the terrain. “Patio slabs or concrete are ideal for me and my instrument,” notes wedding harpist Sam MacAdam. “If it’s on grass, I’ll bring a rug with me. Gravel isn’t possible with the big pedal harp, but I also play the clàrsach which is the all-terrain version of the harp: I can play it absolutely everywhere. I’ve been up hills, on gravel, across lochs on stepping stones – anywhere I can reach, the clàrsach can come as well.”
Bands requiring staging will also need a flat surface to set up on, so if your venue doesn’t have a level area in the garden, this could be an issue. Trav Panesar from Tartan Entertainment raises the question of parking access, since acts with a lot of equipment may struggle to carry it if their van is parked a fair distance from where they are to perform.
That being said, the majority of the musicians we spoke to said they could play almost anywhere. One-person acts, like pipers, are among the most versatile here, and should be able to follow you up glens and onto beaches should you wish.
Come rain, come shine
As much as we might long for blue skies, we all know the reality of a Scottish summer can be tricky. The first and probably the most pressing issue would be rain. “Some venues allow for us to play under a bandstand or canopy, or just inside some doors in case of rain,” shares Siobhán Daly from trio Amarone Music. “Where possible, we generally bring less expensive instruments with us if the weather isn’t looking too promising – but realistically, if the weather is too bad for us to play outdoors, your guests won’t want to be out there either!
“It’s always important to have a Plan B,” she continues. “On the rare occasion there has been difficulty playing outside, we have set up just inside the doors or in a porch, with our amp facing out. This is actually ideal for when some guests are braving the Scottish weather and others have decided to stay inside, so everyone can enjoy the music.”
Even a hardy piper will need to take some extra precautions should the weather take a turn for the worse, as Craig Ward Piping explains: “Bagpipes actually hate moisture, and it affects the quality and steadiness of their sound, which can mean increased adjustment to their tuning. The pipes might hate the rain, but I’m Scottish, so it comes with the territory. As long as I remember my waterproof cape, me and my kilt will be just fine.”
Love ’em or loathe ’em, there’s no denying the bagpipes can produce a powerful sound.
According to Craig, this makes them ideal for playing in the elements: “Bagpipes are a very loud instrument. They don’t need any amplification and guests will definitely hear me, wind or no wind! Well, maybe I’d be drowned out by a tornado, but we’d have bigger problems in that case!”
Other acts, however, will need a helping hand should the breeze pick up: “We use amplification, which will ensure you hear us over any wind,” Aimee Penman from WooHoo Band assures us. This will require an electrical power source outside, or extension cables, which your venue should be able to provide.
Even if you hit the jackpot and your wedding day’s a scorcher, there could be issues, as Gerad McArthur from GeO Gospel Choir explains: “The Scottish sunshine can actually be a big problem too. There have been times in the past when we’ve required shelter for our sound system to stop it from overheating and cutting out. This tends to be something couples don’t think about, not surprisingly, but it’s always good to be prepared for the sunshine too.”
No matter the conditions you’re up against, Sam MacAdam offers a simple guide to whether or not to expect musicians to play in the fresh air: “Generally, if your grandma couldn’t be outdoors for that length of time and in those conditions, then neither can I!” she laughs.
Pick your moment
Judging by all the real-life weddings I’ve seen (and trust me, it’s a lot), the most common time for the party to head outdoors is the drinks reception. Marshali Scott likes to soundtrack these moments with dance classics that transport guests to sunnier climes and indicate a shift in gear from the more formal part of the day to the party: “There is something extra-special about music being played outside: the atmosphere bumps up a notch if the sun is shining and it can feel like you are abroad in a sunshine destination,” she smiles. “People love it when I play house music and often come up to me smiling from ear to ear, saying they feel like they’re in Ibiza. I’ll take that!”
As idyllic as that sounds, it’s important to keep practicalities in mind. “If your musician is playing an outdoor drinks reception followed by an indoor wedding breakfast, there will be a short turnaround time (perhaps 20 minutes) to move equipment indoors and do a quick soundcheck in the new room, as playing indoors requires different volume levels and sound settings.”
While they can provide a duo to perform during the ceremony or drinks reception, Skara Ceilidh Band specialise in the full reeling experience, and tell us this works fantastically out in the fresh air. “We have played outside a few times over the last couple of years due to Covid restrictions on dancing indoors. We discovered that ceilidhs work brilliantly outdoors – when the weather stays dry, of course!” says the band’s Mhairi Marwick.
That’s me adding a Strip the Willow under the stars to my dream wedding.