Monday, 25 June 2012

Review: Oriel Ball 2012 - Titanic

It might have lacked Magdalen’s price tag, backdrop and (as we heard midway through the night) fireworks, but Oriel’s Titanic themed ball proved a night to remember.

After the pain of finding a White Tie suit to hire on a night with two balls (note to self: don’t procrastinate so long next time, and don’t use web companies which send it a day late and without a waistcoat… Thanks Hire Society) and the drama of getting ready in time (7.30 seems very early for a night out) we taxied our way past the huge line of Magdalen-goers (with many a top hat in evidence) and arrived at Oriel for a queue of our own.

The ticket scanning system evidently worked well as the queue moved fast, and we were greeted by a very impressive Titanic ice sculpture, a glass of champagne and a delicious goats’ cheese canapé.  There were programmes provided in the style of passports, and a string quartet playing – already the difference in class between a Commemoration Ball and the earlier Black Tie Balls was obvious.

The canapé was just the start of a truly outstanding range of food.  The front quad (the ‘top deck’) featured an oysters, steak, risotto and desserts, as well as the plenteous range of canapés – the oysters in particular were an experience, although more for the comic value of watching others grimace and gurn than for their taste.  The third quad boasted further food, with pizza, falafel and (tragically elusive) pulled pork, with doughnuts and ice cream also available.

The music was also very good, although inevitably there were too many clashes to see everything.  Oxford stalwarts like Dot’s Funk Odyssey and Out of the Blue were in evidence, although for once they weren’t the centre of attention, and Exeter’s Arthur Sawbridge played a typically engaging set with a violin and loop pedal.  An honourable mention should also go out to Muntfinger, who I didn’t see but were reported to be excellent, with a ‘well fit’ bassist.

The true highlight though were The Feeling, who struck the perfect note to a crowded main tent at around midnight.  They played all their hit songs from their early albums (notably Fill My Little World, Sewn and Love it When You Call), which went down very well with an audience who clearly remembered them as the soundtrack to their secondary school years.  They wisely avoided their later albums, playing instead a range of crowd-pleasing hits including Walk This Way and Lose Yourself, and managed to create a giglike atmosphere, which was somewhat surreal with a crowd in full white tie.

Away from the music, the one weakness was perhaps a lack of alternative entertainment.  Early in the night there was Ballroom Dancing, but this ended very quickly, and the balloon artist was apparent only from the impressive range of animals on display (a 5 balloon spider hat in particular caught the eye).  There was a casino, but with fake money this could only keep you busy for so long, and the welcome seated areas (styled as Gentlemen’s and Ladies’ lounges) could maybe have been better used.

As the night wore on the drink levels remained stoically high, which (along with the very early 3am survivor’s breakfast) boosted flagging morale.  As the night came towards an end the music shifted towards the cheese, with Call Me Maybe bizarrely played twice in around 20 minutes, but crowd-pleasing hits in the vein of Don’t Stop Believing rewarded those who managed to dance through til dawn.

With the sun well up the night drew to a close; wine was still flowing as the crowd surged out for the survivor’s photo, which was cleverly situated outside the College to help disperse the crowd.  A Taxi ride later and the night was finally over.

On the whole, despite the hefty price tag, the ball seemed money well spent, even if only for the unique experience of an Oxford Commemoration Ball.  The biggest downside was probably the small group we came with, which did restrict us slightly as we had to stick together – that’s obviously a benefit that comes from attending your own College Ball.  Nonetheless with photos to fill in any blank spots in the memory, Oriel definitely provided a titanically good night.

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