They’ve got some balls

Art & Lit Music

Tom Moyser debates artists at balls

It’s a tough gig, the college ball; you have to be all things to all people. An energetic act to dance to; enough musical talent to validate your booking; the soundtrack to idiots throwing up in flower beds.

Yet, every year the promise of all-you-can-eat, all-you-can-drink and, if you’re a big name, all-you-can-squeeze-a-ball-committee-for-financially, lures the big and small names alike towards the bright lights of Oxford colleges.

We had Pendulum. I didn’t see them because I was enjoying lemon flavoured shisha at the time but I heard that some dishevelled guy turned up with a cap and a T-shirt that said “I’m from Pendulum” and played some CDs for half an hour before trying to sell some stolen watches to drunk first years.

My favourite booking this year was a folk singer named Chris t-t who played Keble Ball. Chris has frequently coloured his recordings revolutionary red. Whether he’s a Communist or not, he’s spent his musical career more than happy to let people believe that he might one day lead the proletariat uprising. How did the white tie opulence of the summer balls take to that one he does about supporting police brutality if it happens to be against the Countryside Alliance?

But I don’t want to write off ball music with needless digs at class difference. The music scene at Oxford, although thriving, doesn’t usually reach everyone. The balls let everyone enjoy the same live music together, instead of excluding by scene or genre.

At the very least, that must be a good thing, even if everyone must include those people who throw up in flowerbeds.

Richard O’Brien has his turn to discuss the issue

It’s about midnight at the St Hugh’s Ball watching Chesney Hawkes singing a song that isn’t ‘The One and Only’.

As a matter of fact, it’s the Kaiser Chiefs, and as a cover it’s expert; it sounds exactly like the Kaiser Chiefs. It might as well not have been Chesney Hawkes at all; but St Hugh’s can’t afford the Kaiser Chiefs. I suppose my question is: why? Why him, why here, why now, why this song?

The selection of music for balls seems remarkably esoteric. The Brasenose Quincentenary Ball aimed for the middle ground with the Mystery Jets, then upgraded to superstar Calvin Harris. It’s certainly a coup, but a confusing one.

Calvin Harris is used to festivals, to big stages and elaborate light shows. Playing to five hundred drunken toffs and weirdos in a small marquee probably isn’t high on his list of career ambitions. And more importantly, meaning that much of the music is wasted on us. We wander blithely in, dance to the hits (or the hit, if you’re Chesney), and quietly leave again.

It’s hard to know quite who this is for, or whether it’s worth the money.
Pop-stars at balls are a strange presence. Everyone’s drinking, eating and dancing regardless of where the sound is coming from; hardly the most appreciative audience to try out your sensitive new material, or relaunch your stillborn 80s career.

That said, Chesney Hawkes needs to put food on the table. In this, as in many situations, putting myself in Chesney Hawkes’s position provides the only logical solution.

As I say, we were all quite drunk.