A first look at Bonnie & Wild's first White Heather Club ceilidh at the St James Quarter
I should have worn tartan to Bonnie & Wild’s first White Heather Club – it’s a classic event, in not-so-traditional surroundings.
Unfortunately, the only item I own in this pattern doesn’t fit me anymore. The zip just wouldn’t go up any further.
Thus I’m at Edinburgh’s St James Quarter in jeans, watching a mass of 250 people birl across the floor to the tunes of accordionist and compere Charlie Kirkpatrick – a regular presence on the BBC Radio Scotland show Take the Floor – and his band. He has all the chat to get the party pumping.
“Are you enjoying yourself?” he asks the crowd. “If so, we’ll soon fix that.”
The team at Bonnie & Wild have created this free evening in tribute to the eponymous BBC television programme, which ran from 1958 until 1968.
“Although critics mocked its kitsch tartanry, the White Heather Club was an iconic show of the ‘60s that broadcast ceilidh music and dancing into people’s living rooms and made household names of the likes of Jimmy Shand and Andy Stewart,” says Mr Kirkpatrick. “Our own ambitions aren’t quite so lofty. We just want to see folk coming to Bonnie & Wild and having a great time.”
These are certainly not the most traditional surroundings. It’s nothing like the village hall, school gym or wedding venue where most of us might have done the Gay Gordon. We’re in the most modern of settings – right outside the one-year-old destination’s food market, where an area has been cordoned off.
The sounds of the accordion, drums and keyboard echo around level four of St James Quarter’s gallery, as they play Strip the Willow and the Highland Schottische. Mr Kirkpatrick’s trio must be like the pied pipers of shopping destinations, as I can see a curious crowd drifting towards the jaunty music.
They take the escalator up from H&M, just below, to see what’s going on, and drift away from their bowling at lane seven. Once they’ve made it there, a few non-ticketed splinter groups start to freestyle pas-de-basque beside the poster of a grinning Gordon Ramsay, which advertises his soon-to-open branch of Street Burger.
According to Bonnie & Wild’s head of operations, Ryan Barrie, they sold out admission to the White Heather Club in an hour. And, though most of the guests look under 30, there’s a mix of ages as well as nationalities.
There are also a few young waiting staff, who are doing the Dashing White Sergeant in their green aprons and I’m glad they’re not being told to get back to work. On my visit, it’s August, and 30 per cent of tickets were bagged through the Edinburgh Festival Fringe website. After this evening, they’ll be running the White Heather Club at 8pm on the last Thursday of every month.
For the inaugural event, everyone has made a sartorial effort.
There’s someone in excellent ‘50s-style high-waisted tartan trousers and red braces, another in regalia that includes a white dickie bow and gloves. I also see shiny brogues, swinging sporrans, a few kilts in various clan colours, and a casual sash or ribbon or two.
This lot have all been treated to a fiver voucher, for their commitment to plaid, and Bonnie & Wild will be offering the same deal in the following months. You don’t get anything if you’re wearing jeans.
However, I think most of tonight’s participants must have spent their tokens at the bar, to lubricate their polkas.
We’re only half an hour in, and there are already a lot of red sweaty faces from the exertion, though Mr Kirkpatrick doesn’t think they’re being loud enough.
“I want to hear you go ‘heugh’, wiggle your hips, stamp your feet and make a noise,” he says.
Sadly, I am not in the mood, since I forgot to bring a plus one, and that’s pretty obligatory when it comes to these partner dances. I say ‘forgot’, but my husband is totally allergic to ceilidhs, simply because he is hugely unco-ordinated. He’d only ruin it for everyone.
I watch from the sidelines, looking sad and trying to catch a victim’s eye.
Mr Barrie tells me he can only ceilidh when he’s had a drink, and he’s on duty, so that’s a no.
Luckily, I spot the first National Chef of Scotland, author and former MasterChef: The Professionals contestant, Gary Maclean. He’s just finished a shift at his Bonnie & Wild seafood restaurant, Creel Caught, and tells me about his second venue, Soup & Caboodle, which will open in the food market soon.
I think he might be a little bit allergic to ceilidhs too, since they remind him of school days, though he eventually takes pity on me.
I drag him up for the Boston Two Step, and I can feel my Bonnie & Wild dinner of Leith Woks’ cloudy lemon chicken and Joelato’s salted chocolate sorbet jigging around with me. The only saving grace to this dance is that it seems much easier than all the others so far. There’s a few pointy-footed trots to the side, then we face each other and kick (I try hard not to bruise the shins of the National Chef of Scotland), a jig, and a twirl.
Although I am usually on the wrong foot and staring at the floor most of the time, I survive. I’m still probably the worst dancer in this place. There are a pair of six-year-olds that are better. However, Mr Maclean keeps me moving, so I’m not like a fish swimming against the direction of the shoal.
If I can find myself a partner and get into that tartan skirt, I will haste back.