St John’s May Ball 2013

TIM SQUIRRELL, filling in as reviewer, declares St John’s May Ball a resounding success.

AlunaGeorge gentlemen of st john's hey jude Mac 'n' Cheese No Bins st johns

St Johns May Ball

Tuesday, 18th June, £155

I wasn’t originally supposed to review John’s – our reviewer succumbed to copious amounts of alcohol and doesn’t remember most of the night, a ubiquitous May Ball risk.

This can probably be put down to the huge array of alcohol made available throughout the night: to the committee’s credit the booze never ran out, with entire punts filled with ice, beer and non-alcoholic drinks providing ball-fuel long after many of the stands had run out and shut down.

The food, too, was excellent (chicken chorizo paella was a personal favourite) and present in large quantities. Having been to Jesus the previous night I recognised a good number of the food stands – the luxury Mac ‘n’ Cheese (surely a contradiction in terms) and burgers made from exotic meats were present on both nights, though this wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Although I never thought I’d hear myself saying ‘I think I’ll have a kangaroo burger, I had ostrich last night’.

All a bit of a haze

I’m not sure how I felt about the ‘No Bins’ policy. We were actively encouraged to simply throw our rubbish on the ground, where it could be picked up by roving peasants/workers. Not only did it feel unnecessary – bins aren’t really that hard to find, even when drunk – but it could have been actively dangerous, as I’m sure the Trinity-goer with the glass in his foot can attest to.

One minor but persistent gripe was the near-constant checking of wristbands. Every single time you went from one court to another, your band was checked not once but twice, and it broke up the flow between different areas quite a bit. The heightened security and precautions against gatecrashers are understandable, but it often felt intrusive.

The ents were exceptional. I’ll admit that I didn’t stay for AlunaGeorge, preferring instead to retreat to the acoustic tent where I stayed for the entirety of Sophie Grant’s set, due to a combination of exhaustion and the fact that it was incredible. Simon Amstell also delivered sterling comedy, with his tent absolutely packed out. The AV team did an exceptional job for most of the night, with my only problem being the fact that half of the audience during Amstell’s set wouldn’t shut the fuck up.

Bridge it on

At 5am the Gentlemen of St John’s came on to the main stage to a dog-tired but enthusiastic crowd. Their voices were incredible and their set-list impeccably chosen. Their comic timing failed to live up to their musical timing, with their between-songs patter primarily consisting of self-indulgent singling out of audience members who had slept with members of their group. The atmosphere, though, was incredible – the feeling when they had the entire audience singing Hey Jude at the top of their lungs is difficult to top, and the song continued to be sung as we waited for the survivors’ photo at 6am.

Going through a May Ball thinking about whether or not you’ve got your money’s worth is the most masochistic practice possible, even though it’s often difficult to avoid. At times it felt like there wasn’t a huge amount to separate John’s from any other large-scale ball, but the sheer scale of the operation was what was dazzling. That and the fact that the fireworks consisted of a twenty minute eye-and-ear-gasm justified the expense of the tickets.

Food and Drink:


Wow Factor:


Value for money:


Star attraction: Fireworks

Biggest Turn-Off: Excessive Wrist Band Checking