Tag Archives: Rock music

University balls and dances

With the academic year having come to an end and the celebration of summer balls having recently passed, we look back at a selection of the balls and dances which populated the University calendar in the decade following the University’s receipt of its royal charter.

Student social events have formed part of the University’s calendar since the early days of the institution. Looking at a student handbook from 1906 one can find a number of social functions listed for the session, including a series of soirées, a joint musical evening by the Choral Society, and a garden party. By the time the institution received its royal charter in 1952, becoming a full-fledged University, balls and dances had become a prominent feature of the student social scene.

Programmes for the Union Ball, 1939 [MS 310/78] and 1959 [MS 310/23]

Programmes for the Union Ball, 1939 [MS 310/78] and 1959 [MS 310/23]

One of the key events to mark the beginning of the academic year was the Freshers’ Dance. Specifically aimed at first year students, the dance was intended to provide a sample of University entertainment. However, as with many of the student dances held during the 1950s, the venue for the ball was the old Refectory (forming part of what is now Garden Court, Building 40). The venue proved inadequate, with the student newspaper the Wessex News noting that it was “not designed to accommodate two hundred and fifty whirling couples”. The result was often an overcrowded, hot and noisy event, with the behaviour of certain seniors leading to the annual dance becoming commonly known as “the cattle market”.  The late 1950s and early 1960s was a period of major expansion for the University and by the time of the 1960-1 session the Union was ready to move into the whole of the West Building, providing sufficient space for dances and live performances.

Next on the calendar was the Halloween Ball in October. Established by the Scottish and Old Time Dancing Society, the dance incorporated traditional Scottish music and was host to a selection of witches, devils, bats and similar nocturnal creatures. In 1956 an unexpected guest made an appearance: “Quite in keeping with the general atmosphere of diabolism was the sudden and unexpected entry of Kelly [the Engineering faculty’s mascot] surrounded by hooded engineers, bless their little cotton socks, furiously exploding Bangers.” [Wessex News, 6 November 1956, Univ. Coll. per LF 789.9]

Kelly the skeleton, the Engineering faculty’s mascot, was a regular guest at student balls and dances [MS 1/7/291/22]

Kelly the skeleton, the Engineering faculty’s mascot, was a regular guest at student balls and dances [MS 1/7/291/22]

A range of faculty and society balls populated the calendar throughout the decade. A description of the Interstellar Ball held by the Science Faculty in January 1957 reads:

“In front of the West Building stood a rocket ready for take-off, and inside the theme was carefully repeated with star-studded portholes, martian television sets, a flying saucer and various galaxies, not to mention a rather static mobile.” [Wessex News, 29 January 1957, Univ. Coll. per LF 789.9]

One of the most prominent social events on the University calendar was the Engineers’ Ball held in the late autumn. By the 1950s the ball had established itself as a tradition and was widely considered one of the most memorable events of the year. A great deal of effort went into planning and organising each ball. The refectory was decorated with gadgets and other mechanical wonders, bringing welcome relief from the “tedium” of its natural decor. Each year the venue was decorated to a particular theme, including the “Festival of Britain” in 1951, the “Brussels Exhibition” in 1958, and “Underwater” in 1959.

Photograph of students setting up the Engineers’ Ball, c. 1952 [MS 310/34]

Photograph of students setting up the Engineers’ Ball, c. 1952 [MS 310/34]

A review of the 1957 Engineers’ Ball in the Wessex News reads:

“No one who has not seen the Refectory when the Engineers have finished with it could believe that such a transformation of this monstrosity was possible. This year visitors found themselves in a fairground cum circus, with the usual appendages including, strangely enough, a Big Wheel. A large cage divided the bar in the annexe from the dancing room, an excellent idea, since it was mostly monopolised by the jivers who are always a nuisance to civilised dancers.” [Wessex News, 10 December 1957, Univ. Coll. per LF 789.9]

The Engineers’ Ball was considered more glamourous even than the Union Ball (though it lacked the gloss of officialdom that the latter possessed) with the same reviewer writing:

“The Engineers set themselves a very high standard, which they manage miraculously, year after year, to live up to. One can never judge an Engineers’ Ball by comparing it to other Union dances because they are not in the same class…” [Wessex News, 10 December 1957, Univ. Coll. per LF 789.9]

The popularity of the event meant that tickets were made available in order of precedence, as follows: Ball Helpers, engineering finalists, a limited number of other engineers, members of the Union, and even members of the University staff.

The spring brought two key events to the Union calendar: Rag day and the Union dinner and ball. Rag day was traditionally held on Shrove Tuesday and consisted of a variety of activities aimed at raising money for charity. It was seen as an occasion for “fun and high spirits” as well as being a means of bringing “pleasure, help and happiness to others”. Central to Rag day was the Rag procession which paraded through the city with all manner of floats accompanied by students in fancy dress. The day’s events culminated in the Rag ball which generally took place in the Guildhall in the city centre.

Route of the Rag procession, 1948 [MS 310/31]

Route of the Rag procession, 1948 [MS 310/31]

Rag day induced a particular atmosphere which some have described as “riotous”. This, on occasion, led to inexcusable acts of hooliganism which threatened the very existence of the Rag. Detailing the revival of Rag in 1948 after a lapse of many years, an article in the Wessex News notes that: “Over enthusiasm on the part of the students had caused the police to intervene in no uncertain manner, and the Rag machinery fell into disuse.” [Wessex News, 16 October 1951, Univ. Coll. per LF 789.9] A similar situation occurred in 1959 leading to the abolishing of the Rag for a number of years. While it was proposed that new University Arts Festival could act as a replacement, the Rag was reinstated again in 1963.

The Students’ Union held its own dinner and ball around the same time as the Rag (with an oversight in 1957 leading to the two events clashing). The event, regularly criticised as elitist, consisted of a dinner with speeches and toasts followed by a ball at the Guildhall. Looking at a programme for the Union Ball from 1939 one can find various ballroom dances listed, including quickstep, waltz, foxtrot, tango, etc., with the evening ending with a toast to “The King”. Fast-forwarding to 1959 we find both an orchestra, with traditional ballroom dances listed, alongside a jazz-band.

Photograph of students at the Union Ball, 1959 [MS 310/23]

Photograph of students at the Union Ball, 1959 [MS 310/23]

By the late 1950s, jazz had established itself as an integral part of the student social scene with nearly all dances and socials featuring jazz groups, either as support or as the main attraction. While balls remain a standard of the University calendar, options for live music at the University broadened in subsequent decades as live jazz and rock became an integral part of many student’s lives.

Today, the Freshers’ Ball, Graduation Ball and Engineering Ball remain some of the most prominent social events of the University year.


Tour of the exhibition ‘Music hath Charms’: the musical life of the University

To mark the final week of the current exhibition in the Special Collections Gallery, we take a brief tour of the gallery and explore the musical life of the University!

On entering the gallery, the first case introduces us to music as an academic discipline, and includes a score for “Sleep, my little one!” by George Leake, who became the first Professor of Music in 1920 and saw the department given faculty status in 1924. Across from this we find a score commemorating the battle of Waterloo, which not only represents the select range of special collections relating to music held by the University, but also ties in with one of the University’s most prominent manuscript collections, the Wellington Papers! A selection of other material in the case reflects student engagement with music, including photographs of master classes for music students using the Turner Sims Concert Hall.

Score for Beethoven’s Symphony no.9 with annotations by Mahler - MS 22 (M 302.B4): 73-032425

Score for Beethoven’s Symphony no.9 with annotations by Mahler – MS 22 (M 302.B4): 73-032425

Moving on to the second case we are introduced to what is probably the most significant of the music manuscript collections held by the University, the conducting scores of Gustav Mahler. As is noted in the exhibition catalogue, like many conductors of his era, Mahler made alterations to scores in his repertoire, with the scores on display bearing his annotations made in the process of conducting, as with the Beethoven scores, or whilst reworking his own compositions.

Next we move on to one of the real standout features of the exhibition in the form of a series of beautifully shot black and white photographs by John Garfield on display in case three. The case extends along the back wall of the gallery with the photographs showcasing a range of performances at the Turner Sims Concert Hall from the past two decades.

Photograph of the Southampton University Operatic Society’s production of The Mikado, 3-6 February 1960 - MS 1 UNI/7/198/1

Photograph of the Southampton University Operatic Society’s production of The Mikado, 3-6 February 1960 – MS 1 UNI/7/198/1

Case four then draws us into the world of light opera and, in particular, the world of Gilbert and Sullivan! The photographs and pamphlets on display are drawn from performances by three operatic societies, the Choral and Orchestral Society (from the 1930s); the Southampton University Operatic Society (from the 1960s); and the Southampton Operatic Society (from the 1970s and 1980s). Moving around to the opposite side of the case, we find a range of college songs and student song books associated with the University during its previous incarnations as Hartley University College (1902-14) and University College Southampton (1914-52). The songs are primarily light heart compositions reflecting aspects of student life at the University, with a number of transcriptions available in the exhibition catalogue.

The final part of the exhibition focuses on the vibrant music scene at the University from the 1950s to the 1970s, specifically in the form of jazz and rock. Case five, together with an accompanying screen display, provides a series of articles and reviews from a range of student publications covering this golden era of live music.  While the early 1960s saw the Southampton University Jazz Club emerge as the University’s biggest student society, largely thanks to weekly live sessions, both the 1960s and 1970s brought a range of performances by the likes of Manfred Mann, T-Rex, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, The Velvet Underground, Captain Beefheart and Led Zepplin. A particularly fun feature of this part of the exhibition is the audio recording accompanying the screen display, which provides the opportunity to listen to recordings by the University’s own jazz bands, Group One and Apex Jazzmen, originally recorded in 1960.

The areas covered in the exhibition only provide snapshots of the dynamic musical life of the University. Equally, the exhibition only provides a glimpse of the range of music related resources held by the Special Collections Division which consist not only of music sheets and scores, but also material relating to the history of music, the University’s music societies, acoustics and architecture, and cantorial music.

The exhibition runs until Friday 20 March, with a special opening on Saturday 21 March 12pm-4pm, in conjunction with Beethovathon at the Turner Sims Concert Hall.

Exhibition: ‘Music hath Charms’: the musical life of the University

Music as an academic subject has formed a part of university life since the early days of the Institution, growing from a small department in the early part of the twentieth century to the international faculty of today. Since the inception of the Hartley Institution in 1862, the University Library Special Collections has acquired a select range of collections relating to music that support research activities: the most significant manuscript collection probably being that of the conducting scores of Gustav Mahler.

Musical activities, particularly in terms of social events and performances, also have been a regular fixture of University life. Groups such as the Southampton Operatic Society and the Choral and Orchestral Society have performed shows at the University for decades, while the Student Union has been the hub of musical entertainment and social events, with many major bands and performers appearing. The construction of the Turner Sims Concert Hall on campus in the 1970s added a further dimension to the musical life of the University, providing a purpose built performance space for professional concerts as well as for teaching.

Drawing on the Special Collections, this exhibition reflects academic study and the social scene, from rock and jazz to classical, from amateur to professional.

The exhibition runs from 16 February to 20 March 2015. There will be a special opening on Saturday 21 March 12pm-4pm, in conjunction with Beethovathon at the Turner Sims Concert Hall.

A private view and drinks reception will take place on Thursday 26 February 5pm-7pm.  All are welcome.

Where to find the Gallery:
The Special Collections Gallery is situated on Level 4 of the Hartley Library, University of Southampton. The Library is on the east side of the University Road, on the University’s Highfield campus.

Opening hours:
During exhibitions the Special Collections Gallery is open to the public Monday to Friday 1000 to 1600. Admission is free. Visitors may be asked for proof of identity by Library Reception staff.