St. John’s May Ball

ANNA SHEINMAN finds John's just short of utopia in our highest rated May Ball review.

St John’s May Ball

19th June 2012, £150

St John’s May Ball is a lot like finishing finals. The anticipation is sky-high, the quid pro quo is gruelling (£150, ouch) and the reality (sorry Freshers) is pretty bloody brilliant. But unfortunately it’s not nirvana, you’re not floating on cloud nine, because the laws of physics still apply. Here’s what I mean:

As per my former advice, while acts kicked off on seven stages, I went to find food and was well rewarded. No clichéd hog roast nor chocolate fountains for John’s, instead juicy steak frites, flaky fish and chips and smokey, chunky halloumi kebabs were particular highlights, and the chocolate fondant was transcendental. The surprise culinary gem of the evening was the rather superior selection of cured meats and cheeses in the hall. But the triumph was tempered by reality. Food required queuing and most stalls ran out by 2ish, leaving a hungry gap before an admittedly plentiful 4am breakfast.

The drink was good: cocktails from The River Bar punchy and generous, and the Pimms bar never ran dry. However, there wasn’t as much champagne on offer as one might expect for the price tag, and given the long queues for cocktails, a shots bar, or more beer in the punts around college would have improved matters. While I’m grumbling, the ball booklet was totally crap, pernickety perhaps, but small font, busy pages and an unlabelled map are easily avoided.

The fireworks, however, were flawless. Thousands of faces were lit up as an epic fire-show played out across the sky. The magnificent brass band and soaring string soundtrack was perfectly coordinated, and gave the display a real sense of occasion. An explosive finale, and then the college façade, exquisitely lighted, was again busy with students streaming in to watch the big acts.

Headline act Magnetic Man was a disappointment. Too niche to be an easy crowd pleaser like Trinity’s Vengaboys, but too fragmented to dance to. I instead headed to a small stage on second court to see cheesy Cambridge band Orphans of the Beefy Incident and found 40-odd ball-goers having a total rave to covers of Bon Jovi and Queen.

It was moments like this that epitomised the ball – whenever one aspect fell down, something else more than compensated. Comedy was really strong (The Pin were as confident and charming as you might expect), Dodgems are as fun as you remember, and an audience with superstar composer Nico Muhly was nothing short of an honour. For many the Denim drag queens were the real headliner. Even with terrible technical difficulties, they were energetic, likeable, and provided some of the silliness that an otherwise rather earnest line up lacked.

So this wasn’t ball Utopia, but something else meant they pulled it off. Whether it was the warm evening, the beautiful decorations, or just an awful lot of gin in those cocktails, the ambience was just right, and even in glare of the 6am sunshine there were still an awful lot of smiling faces.

Food and drink:


Wow factor:


Value for money:


Star attraction:

Breathtaking fireworks

Biggest turn off:

Magnetic Man

  • Jamie Crawford


  • bullshit

    The food ran out, the queues were too long and the headliner was shit. But 5 stars. Right…

    • true pedant

      while i do agree with you, I must point out that she has very visibly not awarded the ball 5 stars. she's given it 4 and a half stars.

  • Axtual

    Did we go to the same ball? Food ran out and it gets five stars? Props to committee for trying hard. But food only provided by crucial cuisine and johns catering staff smacks off lack of thought. From someone who lives by the sea, the fish and chips were shit. Overall, I was left entirely underwhelmed. I hate queuing for drinks, and past midnight one had to! And the beer ran out! What?! All in all, for £150 it was a massive let down (though denim were a saving grace).

    • "Props"?!

      "Props to committee"… What the fuck?!

    • NotAFresher

      Completely agree to disagree.

      Sure, every year the fireworks are among the best, and if you like the noise called dubstep, then you probably enjoyed Magnetic man (even if nobody actually can dance to that). The other acts were not worth mentioning in my opinion, but then that's only my opinion.

      However, most aspects of the ball can not be discussed, and were objectively rubbish. At no point of the night I managed to get even tipsy. The punts were full of water bottles, pussy energy drink (which is disgusting, sadly), and ginger beer.. who the fuck drinks ginger beer? The vodka bull bar ran out of ice within 2h, try drinking lukewarm Imperial vodka (the cheapest brand there is) with lukewarm Redbull… you have to be a fresher to think this is ok. River bar was really crowded all night because that was the only place to get a decent drink and they prepared the drinks on demand. How cumbersome is that for a May ball? At least a shots bar, more cocktail bars, and actual beer in the punts would have been the minimum!

      Have you ever eaten good food, Anna? The food was probably the worst aspect of this ball. The lamb (was it lamb?) and haloumi kebabs were awful, nobody finished it. You don't need to live by the sea to realise that the fish and chips were totally greasy and tasted as if it had been prepared 3 days earlier… barf! The asparagus soup was similar to a low-budget ready-to-eat soup from Sainsburrys, the dry burger was simply inedible, and I haven't seen any dessert worth the name. You could see full portions of food left everywhere, so much food went straight to waste, disgraceful.
      I agree, the highlight was the cheese and meat in the hall, but without fresh bread (was it made of plastic?) and port (ran out after 2h), it was rather sad to see the meat placed among boxes of cardboard and plastic coffee cups. You see what I'm pointing at, right?

      Presentation and decoration… poor. Moulin rouge, or just short on cash? Japan themed court, or just out of ideas? Greek statue, or just piece of plastic? Rarely have I seen so cheap looking decoration. The Marylin-inspired stage (the one with a fan blowing) was a good idea, but again was executed poorly. 'St. John's May Ball' it said, painted with watercolour and an unsteady hand. Second richest college, really?

      This was a sad, sad ball.
      You should have gone to TitHall June event the night after to see how it is done right. For a fraction of the ticket price, they managed to beat John's in every department. And I'm neither from John's, nor from TitHall, I might add. Just someone who has been to nearly a dozen balls, of which this one was bottom of the list.

      It hurts a little, but I am not afraid to say what everybody thinks, but is not willing to admit: I wasted £150.- at John's May ball!

      • shut up

        blatant tit hall committee member.

        • Tit Hall Committee

          John's is the night before Tit Hall so none of the committee were allowed to go to a ball the night before their own event. Makes sense

      • yeah mate


      • Alex

        Dude you suck. Don't go to any May Balls, you sound like you are an intrinsically miserable and pernicious person.

      • Hmmm…

        Chip on your shoulder? Most of the above is simply not true. Fantastic ball, and I'm sure almost all who attended would agree.

  • Kant Pedant

    Just what was it about the chocolate fondant that concerned a priori conditions on human experience?

  • Grump

    Shut up you Kant!

  • Impressed

    Easily the best ball I went to this year. Yes, Magnetic Man was a let down, but DENIM were awesome! Livened up everyone's evening with a bit of cheese. Ok, so the queues got quite long for drinks, but seriously, there were 9 or 10 hours of Ball…spending 10 minutes to get a cocktail from the River Bar with extremely generous servings of alcohol isn't going to kill anyone! The ambiance was awesome, the fireworks flawless, and the decorations delightful. Definitely deserves the high ratings given!

  • worker

    A very generous review giving 5 stars for a ball that still had many shortfalls. poor main act, very disorganised, and given it's johns, sparking wine running out at 3ish is a let down. Also no workers breaks were scheduled, meaning half on half off workers had no break, and many of those working the full night (11-13 hours) received only a brief 10 minute break when the fireworks were on the grab food. Not quite what it's hyped up to be in my book

    • Man up

      4 or 5 hours without a break is totally doable. Supervisors knew what they were getting themselves in for.

  • Johns person

    Agree with Axtual – not nearly as good as previous years!

  • Reviewer Judge

    Trinity review = "The ball was overall very well run blahblahblahblah" 11/15
    John's review = "The ball ran out of food, queues were long, Magnetic Man was shit" 14/15

    Poor reviewing

  • Tabby

    Clichéd, pretentious twaddle.

    • If you think that…

      …don't go anywhere near the Clare review!

  • Urgh

    Anna Sheinman's articles… in fact most of these may ball reviews… are just total balls. (i.e. shit). Magnetic Man were fine. The technical difficulties during Denim ruined the Denim set and made it frankly a bit shit. The comedy was awfully similar to last year. Therefore disappointing to the majority of people there and the pin (good as they are) only did 30 mins. Yes the fireworks were great. In fact phenomenal. Food and drink were good too and plentiful. But there were unacceptably few good things to see from the end of redlight until the gents (who were, as per, fantastic). urghhhhh. you guys dont know shit about may balls

  • Let's be honest

    It was fucking awesome.

  • Let's be honest

    st johns can buy a lot of fireworks, food and drink. but at the end of the day, they can't organise anything and they totally suck

    • True story

      exactly the same as them buying a load of professional athletes to play sports, only to lose to fitz at rugby, football, mixed netball, cricket and midget tossing

      • Jamie Crawford

        to be fair we're fucking good at midget tossing

    • Sidneyite

      This is a rubbish post but it still has to be thumbsed up. Fucking John's!

  • TPJ

    I missed U21s training for this. I wish I hadn't.

  • the ball

    was fucking awesome.

    what is all this chat about magnetic man – THEY WERE FUCKING AWESOME. anyone who disagrees literally has no taste in music. absolutely smashed it, what a fantastic shout from the committee.

    the ball was excellent, let's be totally honest here. yes some food ran out – but that's to be expected. when has food ever been in infinite supply…. uhh never?

    everyone's letting classic johns hate get in the way of the fact that this ball was so so so much fun. everyone had a fantastic time and scene was absolutely gorgeous.


  • Truth

    Over-rated. Too many queues. The only good thing about it was the beautiful surroundings. Definitely lost to trinity in terms of wow factor, all-round entertainment and drinks.

  • Guest

    Went to the big two this year (Trinity and John's), and not a member of either college. In my opinion, Trinity was miles better than John's in all aspects except the fireworks. Really expected more from John's. Sub-par.

  • Wow…

    Clearly a lot of angry people commenting.

    Inconsistencies in the review aside, nobody can dispute the 5-star 'wow factor'. Stunning fireworks, excellent lighting throughout the college, great decoration and a large variety of ents, food and drink. There were obviously a few small blemishes here and there, but the overall feel of the ball was electric. Maybe not a great review, but I wholeheartedly agree with the ratings. Best ball I've been to yet.

  • Sounds like

    a shit version of Caius

  • Anna Sheinman


    5 stars

  • bored

    I don't know why tab commentors get so angry when it comes to may ball articles. Chill out guys.

  • Klubnacht –

    Klubnacht was the highlight of the entertainments, by some distance. Which, while they are excellent DJs with impeccable taste, is something of an indictment, considering I saw 8 hours of them in Fez for a fiver on Sunday. The rest was a huge letdown.

    Food and booze was pretty good though, and complaining about queuing seems thoroughly petty.

  • Terrible review!

    I had an insane night at this ball and just stumbled across this is a hilariously poor review. I'm quite shocked at how subjective it is. Surely you have to try in some way to summarise everyone's experience of the ball, rather than just your own?? This is like a shit diary entry. So many people have said that this was the best ball they'd been to for years!!!

    I can appreciate that you don't like Magnetic Man, but how can you possibly say they were a disappointment when they made a huge crowd go absolutely nuts?? They were carrying girls out because it was so crazy!! 'For many the Denim drag queens were the real headliner'… Pull the other one. We all know how heavily involved with Denim the Tab's editor is.

    You also haven't a clue how food works at balls. There was so much all the time, you clearly missed it.

    I'm glad that this is a very positive review but its detail is completely fixated on your own taste, and does not represent in any way how a majority of people enjoyed it. Those guys on committee worked so hard to produce an event that you clearly enjoyed, and you've been quite careless and rude in your criticisms. What a shame that you were asked to review it.

  • Jackson Bollux

    all of the reviews for the may balls are in no way concordant with the rating given, and actually a pile of shit.

    May balls were ace, stop complaining- best nights of my life :-) x

  • Matt Wyman

    I loved it

  • I've

    been to more John's balls than any of you. (Probably anyway – 5) and I'd say it was an averagely-to-quite good John's ball………2008 was the best.

  • Johnners

    This is absurd. Magnetic man were not only brilliant as in 'that ball headliner were brilliant' but brilliant in terms of all gigs ever. If they didn't turn a thousand ball goers on to poppy dubstep i don't know what would have. The food and drink was admittedly poor, especially compared to last year, but overall one of the top three balls i've ever been to (with peterhouse three years ago and king's last year).

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