With tickets for Grad Ball 2009 selling faster than this time last year, the rumours of dissatisfaction circulating around campus seem to be unreflective of the majority of students.
Since the line-up and price for Grad Ball 2009 have been announced, there has been criticism of LUSU and complaints over the acts chosen. Headlining this year is pop star Alesha Dixon, of Misteeq and Strictly Come Dancing fame. Other headlining acts include Bjorn Again, an ABBA tribute band who recently played for Russian President Vladimir Putin, and the Puppini Sisters, a 1940s style trio act.
But the feedback on the union’s choice of act has not been completely positive. Fergus Jones, a member of one of two Facebook groups expressing annoyance at this year’s Grad Ball, spoke of his feelings on the line-up. “I think it’s just a bit of a slap in the face to graduating students to charge them £47/£57 for an incredibly sub-par line-up,” he said. “It seems to show that LUSU has a distinct lack of imagination or very little contacts in the entertainment industry.”
Other students have also complained about the dominant genre of music the night is catering for. Daniel Jarvis said: “The line up is a massive disappointment. I understand when organising the graduation celebrations for the whole university you have to cater for the masses… [but] who actually wants Alesha Dixon?”
But LUSU general secretary, Janie Coleman, defended the decisions on line-ups, saying that it was “not practical to ask for an act all people want and be able to get it – and also there’s never consistency between people.” Speaking of the choice of Alesha Dixon, she said: “people don’t realise she’s only on for half an hour and there’s a lot more to the night than just her.”
After one student had criticised LUSU for a “severe lack of negotiating skills”, Coleman replied; “It’s very difficult to get hold of any large acts to play at Grad Ball – and even if they sign contracts, they can never guarantee they can come – if there is a better offer, acts have clauses in contracts to appear elsewhere.”
Of course, there are students who are happy with the line up. Rosie Holliday, a final year student in County, is – like many – unsure of her feelings towards Ms Dixon, but said: “I think the complaints about Bjorn Again are a bit harsh, because you’re never going to please everyone’s taste in music.” She added: “I suspect even those that would prefer some indie rock band will be enjoying themselves when Dancing Queen comes on.” Jennifer Gaskell echoed such sentiments, saying that she thought Bjorn Again was a “perfect choice”.
Another complaint has been about the price of the ticket. Although the ticket is only £2 more expensive than last year, there have been worries that the bulk of the revenue will be spent on an act that many are not bothered about. But Coleman informed SCAN that although an act such as Alesha Dixon costs about £20,000 for half an hour set, the money goes to many different places to make the night a success. Areas which need to be budgeted for include room and cleaning costs, VAT, security, decor, drinks reception and the Funfair which, contrary to many rumours, is included in the price of the ticket. “Grad Ball doesn’t have a subsidy from LUSU, because of the subsidy that goes into the Extravs. We simply can’t afford it.”
The issue of food has also been a problem for students and LUSU alike. Many students have been asking why at least there is not a buffet included in the ticket price. Coleman explained why the Union had not incorporated any food. “Generally in the past, when held at Winter Gardens, the food was not very good quality. Most complaints in the past have been about food, not necessarily the acts. In the past there have been options for discounts but nobody really took up the offer.” She added that although the idea of a big sit down meal is lovely, “we can’t please everyone and it would mean pushing ticket prices higher.”
Another problem students have been airing, that LUSU claims would again raise ticket prices, is the venue. One student commented that the Great Hall was “a venue that hardly cries out sophistication”. In response, Coleman explained: “there are not many places that can hold 1,500 people with a large stage apart from Sugarhouse. We tried it there and it was not what students wanted.”
She went on to say that historically Grad Ball has been held on campus. “When it’s decorated and it’s got the bars in, the acts in their different places and people dressed up and lighting, it doesn’t look like the Great Hall of exam sittings.” Laura Whitaker, a politics finalist agreed, saying it made sense to hold it in “the epicentre of our degrees”.
Demonstrating the dissatisfaction, an ‘Alternative Graduating Students Social’ facebook group has been set up, which, at the time of writing, had 637 members. Charlie Ross, one of the group’s founders, explained its aims: “We started the group because we weren’t happy at the cost and the quality of the Grad Ball but still wanted to spend a night with all our friends,” he said. “The event is in no way trying to deter people from going to Grad Ball, we simply wanted to put on an extra night so people can go to both, or at least have the option to go to something. Our event will be considerably cheaper.” The group is focussing on getting local bands, but there is no fixed price or acts as yet. Another, perhaps more cynical group took inspiration from Mastercard adverts, naming itself; ‘Grad Ball £57…for everything else there’s…’, and a whole range of suggestions, both humorous and ridiculous, of how to spend the ticket price for Grad Ball.