Clare May Ball


BEN DALTON and MICHAEL FREEDMAN review Clare May Ball and its amazing smoked salmon.

Clare May Ball

18th June 2012, £130

Our sense buds begin to germinate fully on approaching the smoked salmon. Literally swimming through an entire shoal of succulent fish breast, one bejewelled reveller, eyes alight, testifies loudly to the serenity of the evening’s ambiance.

Long gowns whisper and tickle at the carpeted gardens of Clare, and even though we are told by the sweet shop lady that ‘things just aren’t quite ready yet love’, this does nothing to deter our excitement. Michael’s stomach has not incurred such butterflies since his Bar mizvah.

The triumph of the Clare May Ball aesthetic is to be found in the detail. Lights in the most unexpected of places bring subtle yet sumptuous attention to the shrubbery. Here is an elegance which lies not in the brash thump of a Trinity firework display, but in the mystique of a well-placed dry ice machine and in the animated twitch of the CCMS conductor’s baton.

The main act of the night, DJ Fresh, is an expected disappointment, trotting onto the stage, he looks from the beginning very much the defeated one-trick pony. Having opened to an energized audience, his later cries of ‘Jump! Jump! Jump!’ are met by several groans, and the exasperated slump of many the high-heel wearer. But we aren’t here for DJ Fresh, no siree! This is not a ball that needs to ‘get louder’. In fact we’re quite alright the way we are and we were doing just fine at the smoked salmon stand.

The unmitigated triumph of the evening proves to be the Ceilidh, complete with lovingly grumpy instructor. ‘ONE AND ONE DOESN’T MAKE THREE MADAM!’ he screams at a threesome attempting to polka their way around the room. With rigid imaginings of the gender of dance etiquette, males and females are strictly separated. We are transported back to a time where women were women and men were men, and in the ecstasy of the moment, we jump up and down with delighted behinds and sweaty monobrows.

The Avenue of Sins turns out to be our most treasured resource, and in fact the perfect tonic to any encroaching slumber, a fate endured by many languishing in the shadows of the Clare cellars. No throat is here left insatiated, as the lady at the smoothie stand playfully teases together bananas and kiwis aplenty; very much the tropical apothecary to all over our wearies.

A huge well done to the minder of the Buxton bottled water and juice stand who triumphantly stands by her liquids to the very death and is very much the face of the festival. Outrageous queues however are to be found at the caffeine stall, testament unfortunately not only to unprecedented demand, but also to the bumbling slowness of the staff. Clare Ball knows what we want. There aren’t so many surprises to be found here, yet old favourites and friendly faces such as the silent disco, smoked salmon and moneyless casino were carried out with aplomb. Like a Waitrose yoghurt.

A great night from a clearly dedicated committee.

Food and Drink:

Wow Factor:

Value for Money:

Star Attraction: Smoked Salmon

Biggest Turn-Off: Grumpy Ceilidh instructor

@benbriangeoff
  • not a jew

    don't you mean bar mitzvah?

  • Disgruntled

    This was by far the worst May Ball I have ever attended. Poorly lit, dangerous uncovered cobbles, terrible presentation of cheese and crackers, no entertainments aside from the ubiquitous and mundane casino and punting. Lukewarm food and lukewarm drinks. Very little available alcohol (mint juleps, mohitos and dry ice cocktails were all promised but never appeared), poorly signposted, shisha tent packed up early. Overall: fucking dire.

    • ooohhhh…

      a part of me loves that I attend a university where someone would sincerely comment on the poor presentation of cheese and crackers; another part of me wants to crawl up inside myself and die.

    • Gruntled

      Which ball did you attend? Certainly not Clare!

      "No entertainments…" At Clare there were 5 separate, concurrent music venues, the casino, punting, the shisha tent, massage, a cariacaturist, a fortune-teller and a few comedy and magic acts…

      "Lukewarm food…" Clearly a chocolate fountain, ice creams, fresh doughnuts, fresh crepes, bacon butties, the hog roast and the barbecue cannot have been "lukewarm". Cracker presentation was poor, yes, but is essentially irrelevant; the pate, cheese, smoked salmon, fruit and salad was all delicious (easily the best salmon I've had, and I'm a big fan).

      "Very little available alcohol…" At one point during the night I would've agreed with you. I'd had 6 glasses of champagne and a vodka luge as a warm up, had headed down to cellars for the whisky tasting, and found when I returned that the Old Court bar was closed. But after waiting for around five minutes the flow of drinks resumed. I didn't even try the wine bar, or ale, cider and porter bar, or the cocktails – but I saw no shortage of alcohol.

      "Poorly signposted"? We had a map in our programmes! A clearly drawn, unambiguous map. Besides, with so many venues and events, I'm not sure how useful signs alone would have been – knowing you're in the "Garden of Love Excessive" is useless without knowing what's going to happen there, and when.

      I'm sorry you didn't enjoy yourself, but you won't make it better by lying on the Tab!

      • Don't agree

        The alcohol situation was aweful. The bar by the main stage, although well stocked as I entered the ball, within an hour or so had run out of glasses and queues were forming- not what you expect when the drinks being served are cheap spirits and mixers! Before long that same bar had completely run out of mixers.

        And I'm pretty sure that the cocktails and vodka luge just didn't exist- either that or they were hidden away somewhere or only lasted for a short amount of time?

        Yes, the salmon was nice, as were the crepes, but other aspects were completely terrible- who thought of putting a pizza stand (who were only capable of providing dry, disgusting food) in the first court guests enter into? Not a good first impression!

        Also, did you forget that the ball was going to be at night time? Because it would seem that lighting was completely overlooked, especially in the "garden of paradise". The small amount of lighting which was employed was of poor taste and generally looked tacky.

        Finally, within a few hours of opening the ball was littered with broken glass and rubbish, especially the cheese area! It was frankly disgusting!

        I really do struggle to see how the committee spent £130 per guest, and also how the Tab article writers can give such a positive review for what was clearly a poorly organised event!

      • Spot the

        Committee Member

        (PS you gave it away when you used 'we')

        • Moriarty

          One deduction too far, Sherlock.

          As a guest, I had a map in my programme. So did the other guests in theirs. So "we had a map in our programmes" suggests only that "Gruntled" attended the ball.

          Which he'd already told us.

          • darwin

            by our programmes they could mean the programmes we had made

            • Mathmo

              Yes, they could. But it's wrong to make that deduction.
              We call that "necessary but not sufficient". There exist people who would say "our programmes" who are not committee members (ie the set of committee members is a proper subset of the set of ballgoers).

    • Also Disgruntled

      The Ents variety was shocking. Aside from a few actual bands (The Klezbians were excellent at 4am), the music was just dull singer-songwriters and mind-numbingly repetitive DJs. Clare's Ents are supposed to be brilliant and this year's team should be ashamed.

    • really?

      "terrible presentation of cheese and crackers?"

  • Disappointed guest

    I don't honestly know how in all good conscience you can give the food and drink 4 stars. Having been to the hawks event on Friday which is £50, you expect to notice a step up between the two, which quite frankly wasn't there. The only difference between the food at was that at Clare there was a doughnut stall. The drinks were equally bad, with the two bars employing a club system of making drinks on demand, rather than continually making drinks available for people to take. This meant that unless you happened to be at the bar during a lull in activity the experience was similar to cindies.
    After midnight it got to the point where due to a lack of vodka, so gin was being used as a substitute. There was also nowhere (obvious at least) to obtain energy drinks without queuing at the bar for ten minutes.

    The biggest problem was however the lighting, with most places being too dark making it impossible to find friends or spot where people were sitting. The opposite problem arose in the gardens where two LED spotlights were directed at eye level, making it too bright to recognise anyone.

    I've been to June events and much cheaper balls that would have put this to shame. A generous 4/10

    • Delighted Hawk

      Pineapple based cocktails would have solved these problems, and many more

  • Clareite

    I reckon that review of DJ Fresh is totally unfair. You can't deny the band got the crowd going, and it was obviously the biggest headliner in Cambridge this year. What more do you want?!

    • Obvious Answer

      Um, The Feeling?

      • Non Caian

        Or Rizzle Kicks. Or Pixie Lott.

        • or even

          kelis (everyone forgets she has milkshake, trick me, acapella and bounce, which is more his than the others)

    • Disgruntled

      Or a cheap, fun, washed out band who everyone knows and can dance along to some cheese (Vengaboys) and then you have some money to spend on a ball.

  • Ball Boy

    I'm aware that May Ball experiences are subjective but this is taking the piss. Ignoring the fact that this entire article is written in an infuriatingly self-aggrandising way, I fundamentally disagree with pretty much every point you make.

    The savory food (pizza, bbq & cold meats and cheeses) was lacking in variety and was generally pretty average. The drinks were weak and took a long time to get, meaning I was sober for the whole ball and so was painfully aware that there was nothing to do. And on top of this the whole ball was shrouded in darkness. The only redeeming part of the night was the way DJ Fresh managed to get the crowd going – even though I went in only knowing a couple of his songs I enjoyed the whole set.

  • the truth

    I am poorly represented in this article

  • literally swimming?

    i doubt it

  • D. Alighieri

    This is a very strange review.

  • Ben

    This ball was run by a bunch of cretins who couldn't organize a piss up in a brewery. Truly rubbish from start to finish.

  • Maggie

    Clare fights on. Clare fights to win.

  • Guest

    If you couldnt be arsed to get someone to write a proper article should have just said so.

  • probablyamcqueen

    Here is a list of things that are worth £135 pounds exactly:
    Panasonic SZ1EB compact camera
    Category C tickets to 100m Final at 2012
    A happy ending massage with Ranya
    The handset price of an iPhone 4s on numerous £30/month contracts

    Here is a list of things which are not worth £135 and were an absolute moist prawn:
    Clare May Ball

  • Observer

    DJ Fresh was the bloke on keyboards. The guy shouting 'Jump!' was an MC. Clue's in the name.

  • Imjustsaying

    When a ball review has 4 mentions of smoked salmon you know something's fishy

  • Inferno?

    I wanted more serpents. And giants. And general Dantean fun. There wasn't.

    • That isn't fair…

      Somebody had written that one line everyone knows in very small letters on some stairs.

  • Pseuds Corner

    "…as the lady at the smoothie stand playfully teases together bananas and kiwis aplenty; very much the tropical apothecary to all over our wearies."

  • Sidneyite

    According to the Tab and its commenters at least, it sounds like everything's been average-to-disappointing so far, which is pretty unusual.

    S'ALL ABOUT SIDNEYYYY TONIGHT!! #mymilkshakebringsalltheboystotheyard

  • Common Sense

    You don't have to go to Cambridge to realise that one poorly-staffed (4 people) and under-supplied bar cannot serve drinks to 500 people at the main stage. I tried so hard to get drunk but for the life of me all I could find readily poured was cider that tasted more ashtray than apples.

  • Anya

    I thought the coffee boys were lovely…queue was long-ish but only because everyone was desperate for warm drinks as the chill set in and the music failed to kick off. Best hot chocolate I've had in years!

    X

  • Damp Squid

    I misspoke

  • Johnsbridge Megalad

    Ello! ello! ello! Any more silly questions? I went to Clare May Ball with a few of the garçons. Sick night – can't remember any of it though, which is probably for the best because it sounds like it was a really shit May Ball. Before I got there I'd already chopped an LBC, 10 Buds and a bottle of Port so I was steaming. The lads said I was great value though, so pleased to hear I was on top form. Anyway, having chundered on the centrepiece apparently I then chopped more face and pissed all over the main stage while Clare's terrible main act was boring the place dry. Rating = 1/10. Went to the Johnsbridge Ball too, which was sick. A few of the boysies helped set up the dodgems, which was great bant. Big Davey P chundered again – still feeling rough after the night before; apart from that though, nothing happened and we celebrated a job well done with a session, 777 at the college bar. Ad gladium, JM x peace out

  • Clareite

    I think you 'disgruntled' people need to get some perspective. I go to Clare, and I know that practically every committee member has totally sacrificed their degree this year, just so you guys can have a good ball. I was walking through college at 5PM on Tuesday, and they were still cleaning up, apparently they hadn't slept for 48 hours. It's so so easy for to sit there behind a computer screen and criticise. But before you do, just realise how much hard work has gone into doing this. As far as I'm concerned, their hard work paid off. If you feel differently, then I expect you'll be signing up to run the Ball next year? But then I guess most of you won't do that. You'll probably just click the thumbs down button or have a go at me for having some appreciation for others.

    • yes but

      i don't think appreciation for others comes under the 135 pound pricetag

    • Missing The Point

      People aren't criticising the effort, they are criticising the outcome. Nobody cares how much time people have spent if the result is shit. Effort does not compensate for criminal incompetence.

      If you'd gone to anything else this May Week you'd know that Clare was £130 thoroughly wasted.

    • Clarerite 2

      We know they worked very hard but the fact is I've spent a lot of money on something that really was not worth it. They had all year to work on making this ball great and previous committees have been populated by stressed finalists who were still able to pull off an incredible night.

      The whole thing was obviously not planned properly – they were setting up the bar at 4pm on the day of the ball. Even the committee members were still decorating the gardens while the VIP reception had already started and the gates were due to open within two hours. I've honestly never seen another committee so chaotic at the last minute.

      And yes Clareite I would sign up next year if I could if I weren't leaving this year to help ensure this never happens again. I do appreciate the committee and I know some of them quite well but at the end of the day I am paying for what promised to be an amazing evening and it simply didn't deliver. If you buy a service, ticket or product etc you have a right to complain about the results whether it is run by stressed students or a corporation. You can be the nicest and most hard-working committee or indiviudal in the world but people still have a right to complain when they have parted with their money and feel let down.

  • Rip Off

    As a fourth and final year Clare student this my last and, by a long distance, worst May Ball.

    There was truly nothing to do, I cannot begin to see where my £130 has gone.

    As a vegetarian the food choice was absolutely dire, the only savoury food I found was margherita pizza, a couple of burgers and a bit of cheese with bread.

    Never saw the fabled mojitos, whisky tasting needed a bigger area in which we could hear the distiller speak.

    Putting a giant cage in the great hall for the Ceilidh band, while aesthetically pleasing, was moronic…. The ceilidh is normally packed even with the full hall and so cutting that in half is just insane.

    Also who the hell is DJ fresh, what happened to the days when Clare could get Feeder and Faithless to a ball???

    I would not have been willing to pay more than £50 for the ball had I known how completely terrible it would be.

    • What About The

      Smoked salmon? Apparently it made one's sense buds germinate.

  • Clare Finalist

    I really wish they had made more of the Dante theme. In 2010 the ball was themed Scheherazade and had fire dancers, belly dancers, a mechanical bull , camels parading up the queue etc. In 2011, the Alice in Wonderland theme had actors in costume as the evil queen, jugglers entertaining in the queue and a tea cup and saucer ride. In both these themes the food reflected the theme also ie- there was morrocan food in 2010. Although Dante might be a difficult theme to innovate on in terms of food, why not something simple like red vodka jelly in 'hell'? It just didn't quite feel like the whole thing fitted together.

    This time there was no queue entertainment, only one food stand which everyone ignored because they had waited so long. The majority of people had also never heard of DJ Fresh. The worse thing was that it was built up as a major act – I was expecting the standard of previous years and was quite disapointed by the email announcing the act.

    I was still sober at 1am due to queues. They even served vodka and cream (yuck) on the bar near the stage. The coffee stand was poor too; a queue that stretched back to the bridge with two people serving. And I couldn't even get into the hall during the entire ball because it had reached maximum capacity due to the enormous cage inside.

    However – chocolate fountain, champagne jelly, sweet stall, doughnuts and hog roast were supplied really well. I just wish they had managed to go a little further with the theme and created the same spectacle as previous years!

  • Clare Finalist

    I really wish they had made more of the Dante theme. In 2010 the ball was themed Scheherazade and had fire dancers, belly dancers, a mechanical bull , camels parading up the queue etc. In 2011, the Alice in Wonderland theme had actors in costume as the evil queen, jugglers entertaining in the queue and a tea cup and saucer ride. In both these themes the food reflected the theme also ie- there was morrocan food in 2010. Although Dante might be a difficult theme to innovate on in terms of food, why not something simple like red vodka jelly in 'hell'? It just didn't quite feel like the whole thing fitted together.__This time there was no queue entertainment, only one food stand which everyone ignored because they had waited so long. The majority of people had also never heard of DJ Fresh. The worse thing was that it was built up as a major act – I was expecting the standard of previous years and was quite disapointed by the email announcing the act.__I was still sober at 1am due to queues. They even served vodka and cream (yuck) on the bar near the stage. The coffee stand was poor too, a queue that stretched back to the bridge with two people serving. And I couldn't even get into the hall during the entire ball because it had reached maximum capacity due to the enormous cage inside.__However – chocolate fountain, champagne jelly, sweet stall, doughnuts and hog roast were supplied really well. I just wish they had managed to go a little further with the theme and created the same spectacle as previous years!

  • Off the bandwagon

    Having been to several balls over the last 7 years, and having been at most balls this year at least for a bit, and half the night at Clare, it seems to be getting a really harsh treatment to me.

    Headline acts at may balls are typically one of two types, either older groups that are a bit past their prime (e.g. Vengaboys or faithless) or up and coming stuff (e.g. Florence and the machine or snow patrol). Clare have done exceptionally well to get the acts they have in the last 2/3 years, and I think that the fact that most of you are complaining about having a top current DJ play a live set is more showing that you have been spoilt recently than anything else.

    Having sampled a lot of may ball burgers this week, I can say that the bacon and cheese burgers at Clare were a big highlight for me. Veggie wise I can't really comment though.

    Im not saying it was exceptional for a may ball, but it was certainly of a standard with all the others I've been to. If you didn't think this was worth the money, don't go next year, I have plenty of friends who would love to have your ticket.

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