The Live Music Forum

Hamish Birchall Bulletin


Monday 20th Ocrober 2008 - Is ceilidh like morris dancing?

Once again, the lack of clarity in the law that regulates music and dancing has exposed fundamental differences of interpretation between local authorities.

On Saturday 18 October thousands of people around the UK and beyond danced in the Big National Ceilidh to raise money for WaterAid:

More info about WaterAid:

Most if not all the 90 or so events took place in venues already licensed for dancing, including town halls and community centres. But need they have worried about entertainment licensing?

I asked six councils whether they would allow such ceilidhs under the Licensing Act's exemption for morris dancing and any dancing of a similar nature. Four failed to reply, but of the two who did one (Camden) said 'yes' and the other (Swindon) said 'no'.

A spokesperson for Camden said: 'We would take the view that this [ceilidh] would be of a similar nature to morris dancing and therefore exempt from needing to be licensed. The exemption also includes unamplified live music that is integral to such a performance.'

However, Lionel Starling, licensing manager for Swindon council, saw it differently: 'I think this ceilidh is licensable mainly because it is planned and widely promoted in advance. As with many aspects of the Licensing Act 2003, a great deal depends on interpretation. An exemption for 'morris dancing or any dancing of a similar nature' leaves many questions unanswered. Is the distinction based on the 'traditional' nature of morris dancing or is the emphasis on the fact that it is impromptu and therefore negligible in its impact? A performance of Riverdance involves a 'traditional' style of dancing but it would be perverse if that were exempt. For now, practitioners can only focus on the 'impromptu' aspect, in my view. Clearly, that does however leave us with the anomaly that a morris dancing festival is exempt from the scope of the Act.'

Richard Bridge, solicitor and founder of the Performer Lawyer Group, commented:

'I'm interested to hear of the views expressed by Camden council. It seems to me that part of the reason that one refers to a ceilidh as a ceilidh and to morris dancing as morris dancing is that they are very different. A ceilidh is one form of local social dance, whereas morris dancing is a display dance and indeed has only recently permitted the two genders to dance in the same displays!'


Hamish Birchall