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How To Enjoy a Musical Burns Night 2017

Burns Night 2017 will soon be upon us and we’ll be honest – if you’re still looking to book a bagpiper to pipe in your haggis, you’re about 9 months too late!

Most bagpipers will be checking their kilt, sticking their dirk (dagger) carefully in their socks, and preparing for Scottish Burns Night suppers across Scotland and beyond on Wednesday 25 January.

Most Burns Night suppers actually employ two or three different types of entertainer: a bagpiper, a singer, and a band or group to accompany the singer and perhaps play during the dinner if required. Some larger gatherings might benefit from a professional toastmaster or speaker, since there is a lot of formal speaking and reciting to be done!

If you’re planning a Burns Night celebration, traditional or not, and you want some superb entertainment, call us, even if it is last minute. We have an extensive ‘black book’ of contacts and can usually find some act to really inspire and fire your guests.

The Gather

Every Burns Night supper follows a traditional format. While guests assemble, you may have a piper playing, or perhaps a Scottish folk group if wall-to-wall piping really is too much of a good thing for Sassenach ears. Once the high table is seated, the formal ceremonies can begin.

The Welcome Grace

Once the host has greeted the assembled guests, the Selkirk Grace is recited. Also known as “Burns’s Grace at Kirkcudbright”, this short prayer in Scots dialect acts as the introduction to the meal.

Some hae meat and canna eat,
And some wad eat that want it,
But we hae meat and we can eat,
And sae the Lord be thankit.

The Parade of the Haggis

By this time, any bagpiper will be on standby for their big moment, ready to pipe in the haggis. A procession delivers a piping hot haggis on a silver platter to the host, led by the piper, followed by the chef and the person who will address the haggis. Usually at this point a fourth person is required to carry in the traditional whisky for the toasts.

Addressing the Haggis

Next is the traditional address to the haggis, Burn’s poem in praise of the spicy blend of meat, offal and grain held in a skin (more usually these days, a plastic one). At the appropriate moment, the reader of the address is required to plunge a knife into the haggis and release the tasty mix within. A sensible reader will have actually made a small slit in the haggis skin prior to its arrival at the table, as vigorously piercing a haggis skin taut with steam can result in a minor explosion and a shower of low-flying haggis!

At the end of his address, the reader raises the haggis,everyone claps, and raises their glass in the toast “The Haggis!”. Often at this point the haggis returns to the kitchen to be served out (escourted by the piper once again – a haggis never travels alone). Revellers then sit down to a menu of:

  • cock-a-leekie soup
  • haggis, neeps and tatties
  • a pudding of clootie dumpling or Typsy Laird
  • cheese with oatcakes

The First Song (or Poem)

The first part of the traditional entertainment is a singer or musician performing classic Scottish songs such as:

  • My Luve is Like a Red Red Rose
  • Rantin’, Rovin’ Robin
  • John Anderson, my jo
  • Ae Fond Kiss, and Then We Sever

Alternatively, an actor or speaker may recite a Burns poem, such as:

  • Tam o’ Shanter
  • Holy Willie’s Prayer
  • To a Louse
  • Address to the Unco Guid
  • For a’ that and a’ that

Immortal Memory

A keynote speaker now gives a speech on the life and achievements of Robert Burns, and conclude with a toast to Scotland’s national poet. It’s usually a serious and considered tribute, lasting about 20 minutes max.

Songs, Music and Reading

Burns Night is about people joining in with their own ‘party pieces’, be they more traditional songs, musical performances, readings of Burns’ work, or even their own works.

The Toast to the Lassies

This is a humorous, light-hearted speech on the role of women (especially those in the room) drawing on quotes from Burn’s works. The toast is given “To the Lassies”.

Reply to the Toast to the Lassies

The ladies, as in all good democracies, get the chance to reply (i.e. get their own back) with a witty speech in Reply to the Toast to the Lassies.

Music, Dancing and Whisky

Depending on the timescales, members of the audience offer their own renditions of poetry and song, or sit back and enjoy some traditional entertainment such as Scottish dancers. They may prefer to dance themselves in a Scottish ceilidh, which the wonderful Hg2G website describes as “A mixture of drinking, Scottish Country Dancing and close-quarters unarmed combat”. Alternatively guests can just work their way through any available list of single malts!

Auld Lang Syne

Every Burns Night MUST end with a rousing renditions of Auld Lang Syne, before the guests pour themselves into a taxi for the journey home.

Burns Night with a Twist

Given the multicultural nature of modern Scottish society, there is certainly room for a little ‘updating’ of the Burns Night, if you feel so inclined. (And are prepared for the potential wrath of the traditionalists who don’t realise how difficult it is to find a piper at two weeks’ notice.)

Why not drum in the haggis with Dohl drummers, have a trio of lady singers singing in harmony rather than a solo singer, or a ballet troupe performing extracts from the classical ballet with a Scottish setting, “La Sylphide”. For your ceilidh, hire a folk fusion ceilidh band that bring the sounds of different genres to energise traditional Scottish dance tunes.

And, if like some of the Matters Musical team, you’re a vegetarian or don’t fancy haggis much, here’s a range of tasty alternative recipes for a contemporary Burns supper: Recipes here