The one where Nemeth goes to the ball
So, here it is: my long-overdue blog about my experience at the Swansea University Summer Ball, which every year brings together hundreds of students at various stages of degree completion, but is the end-of-university-forever party for many. This makes everyone eager to get as much as possible out of the experience, which is a difficult task given that there is so much on offer. The tickets for 2012 were £40; slightly lower than in previous years, and comparable to (or cheaper than) some single-artist ‘big gigs’ (e.g. stadium gigs), where you don’t get a free funfair!
When I attended in 2006, it was to take photographs for The Waterfront (our university’s student newspaper), and I managed to get in for free. In 2007, I paid the full price, but pretty much stayed in the main arena. I never even got myself a pint (as the queues were too long), never went on any of the fairground rides (as I felt I’d have missed too much music), and only fleetingly whizzed through the other tents. I was far too busy with university work to attend any Summer Balls during the PhD, but in 2011 I stood behind the site for a little while to listen to the dulcet tones of Feeder sound-checking. I think that was the first year I regretted not buying tickets, although putting the PhD first was definitely the right thing to do. Although my thesis was submitted in September 2011, and my viva exam was in November, it would take me until February 2012 to edit, correct and submit the final approved thesis. I officially received my doctorate at the end of April 2012; going to the Summer Ball in ‘Feeder year’ to ‘celebrate the end of my PhD’ would therefore have been decidedly premature!
It took a little while for my head to clear, and to start thinking about what I’d do next. I did a spot of tentative job-hunting, and fanciful course-hunting…then, one day, I had the crazy idea to email the people in charge of entertainment at the Uni to ask if Thistledown (one of the bands I play with) could perform at the Summer Ball. They replied incredibly quickly, and to my amazement, the answer was an enthusiastic ‘yes!’ The whole band were overwhelmed with excitement, especially once they discovered who we’d be sharing the bill with…the one-and-only Tim Minchin!
We didn’t think it could get any better than this, so much so that we never anticipated it getting ‘worse’. In the run up to the ball, we had the star treatment – official passes, sharing the backstage area – and then came our big moment. Of course we knew we weren’t playing the main stage – this was reserved for Mr. Minchin, Pixie Lott, and Rudimental, amongst others – but I only saw two tents on the site. As we trekked farther and farther across the field, it slowly dawned on me that we were heading to neither of them. We left ‘civilisation’ behind, snuck through a gap in the shrubbery, past the burger vans, and into an understated but reasonably-sized marquee. Our stage may have been hidden from view, but it was fully-equipped with a lovely lightshow and a pretty large PA system. It wasn’t packed, but we had a decent crowd. We sound-checked, then we waited to be invited to start. And we waited. And we waited some more. The audience gradually disappeared as we started to play, but only after our set did we realise why. Reassuringly, it was nothing to do with our music (which the remaining audience enjoyed), but because we were schedule-clashing in the worst possible way, playing at the exact same time as the one artist that everyone in the band most wanted to see, as well as pretty much everyone else in existence – Tim Minchin. Even though we’d had a great time on stage, my elation was tempered by feeling more than a little sick, and not because I’d ridden the dodgems too soon after eating a burger. I ran as fast as my legs could carry me to catch the end of his set, but arrived only to see the remaining pieces of Tim’s piano being removed from the stage. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen; I knew in advance that we were scheduled to overlap with Tim’s set, but we were due to finish around twenty to thirty minutes before he did! Now the entire band had missed him, and even though the scheduling was completely out of my control, I felt somehow responsible.
We headed backstage, and were perked up by being asked if we wanted an interview, but the person holding the mic didn’t seem to know anything about us. It was a very short interview. We chatted, debriefed, chilled out, and then things began to turn around for the better. A load of us had a group photo with Mr. Minchin, one of our band managed to give Tim one of our CDs, and had a nice chat with him. I managed to get myself a pint (a 100% improvement in pint-buying, compared to the last Summer Ball I went to). Meanwhile, Queen B were the next band to grace the main stage; whilst I can’t testify to the authenticity of the tribute band’s performance (having never seen the ‘original’ Queen perform live), it was stupendous, musically brilliant, and overflowing with energy. After exploring the site a little, I remember stopping to watch Pixie Lott performing a strangely-structured set, which swung between her performing to backing tracks, and being accompanied by a guitarist (there was nothing wrong with her vocals, but I felt that they didn’t really gel with the backing tracks, with the result sounding musically ‘thin’…the set with the guitarist was far superior). On my way out, I got to see Rudimental performing their Number 1 single ‘Feel The Love’ live on stage. I say ‘on my way out’, because despite being the headliners, it seems they suffered from a schedule clash of their own, being billed to play at the same time as buses were beginning to take people away from the site to the afterparty! Still, they enjoyed (and Tweeted as much), we enjoyed, and it wasn’t all about everything going perfectly as planned, but about making the best of what you’ve got…and it’s not every day that you can (legitimately) say you’ve shared the bill with such a diverse range of famous acts. Our video turned out pretty well, too (though I wish I’d realised the lightshow was going to be so brilliant, as I might have brought better equipment in order to fully capture the audiovisual experience!)