Powercuts and pouring rain: Bongo Ball 2014

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If there’s one thing Bongo Ball certainly didn’t lack this year, it was style.

Billed as St Andrews’ most unique and colourful event, as always the Bongo committee had managed to turn the disused venue at Crail Airfield into something spectacular.

Given the majority of balls in St Andrews are held in either Kinkell Byre or Lower College Lawn, to see a run down and decrepit cinema, holes in the ceiling included, revived for one night of “Bongo-ing” is quite an experience.

For some reason it makes the evening seem more authentic, more of a labour of love than other events, which is probably why for the past three years I’ve been telling anyone who’ll listen that it’s my favourite event in St Andrews.

The unmistakable style didn’t end with the venue either, with the theme of the evening – “Africa meets Black Tie” – evident in the revellers’ choice of clothing. This year the Bongo committee tried their hardest to push a move away from animal print and towards more colourful, “African” attire. Although not wholly successful, there was a noticeable number of people wearing Bongo’s own Rafiki trousers, which had been sold prior to the event in order to raise extra money for the Xavier Project.

Unfortunately, given the effort that had clearly been put into transforming the space, and the impressive press campaign that had preceded the event, it was a shame that by the time I arrived at 10 pm, the venue was still largely empty.

Whilst there is much that is out of the hands of the event planners, I’d guess that the absurdly early bus times, which were arranged by matriculation numbers and left at 7.15 pm and 8.15 pm, had a part to play.

For an evening that doesn’t end until the wee hours of the morning, to expect party-goers to keep up their energy for over five hours seems a tad ambitious.

It was also incredibly disappointing that the coupons for the two free drinks and free chips that were supposedly included in the £35 ticket were only handed out on buses.

It’s true that the bar was one of the cheapest I’ve ever seen in St Andrews, with £2 mixers and £1 shots, and this did make up for the loss of coupons in part.

However, nowhere on the event page on Facebook was it mentioned that the coupons were exclusive to the buses, which, at best, makes it seem a little sneaky. At £35 a pop, without the added freebies, the Bongo tickets lost the extra value that makes the price seem more reasonable and sets them aside from similarly priced tickets to other events.

Whilst the music kept the energy coming throughout the night, both in the main venue and the smaller outside tent, the Zambula band were notable in their absence. Having played every year that I can remember, they have been a significant feature at Bongo, and definitely one of the highlights of the evening.

Nonetheless, their replacements this year, Channel One Sound System, still gave the crowd a chance to experience something different than the usual top 40 remixes we hear at most balls. As a reggae band, I’m not sure how reflective their sound was of Africa, but then again I’m no muso.

In any case their intermittent asides to the audience – “You are an individual. Be free. You are not an alien.” – probably resonated with the sort of existential crises drunk people have, and made the start to the evening quite a mellow one.

It must be said however, that one of the things Bongo does best is provide a variety of vibes across the venue. Not only was there the cosy bonfire outside, for those who wanted to catch their breath but not freeze to death, but the usual addition of shisha tent and smaller dance tent meant that if you lost your friends and had to do the rounds, you certainly weren’t bored.

Unfortunately, for the closing act in the main venue, DJ Klose, the peak of the evening was cut short by an untimely power cut. Spluttering on for a couple of songs, it soon went off again and with people waiting 50 minutes until the first bus meant that it wasn’t the best end to the evening.

To top it off, the heavens decided to open as well; though in Scotland it’s not advisable to rely on the weather.

As I left, I couldn’t help but wonder: has Bongo finally run out of steam?

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