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

  • 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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