Local music vs. student bands – why the divide?

Tristram Fane-Saunders 8 November 2013

For many people in Cambridge, live music exists for perhaps ten days a year: the odd ArcSoc shindig, various early balls and the glorious mess of May Week. Tragically, for them, that’s all.

This can be a problem, for both venues and performers. Without local acts and audiences, venues close down – as was the case with The Man in the Moon only a few weeks ago. So where are the student bands?

Guy Clark is a second-year at Trinity, and plays bass for Dirty Blonde, the in-house band for Clare Cellars’ Burlesque! The band are auditioning for balls, but when I spoke to Clark he admitted that looking at local, non- uni venues wasn’t something that had occurred to him. Maybe live music isn’t seen as a central part of Cambridge’s nightlife? Clark agrees: “there’s not a huge culture of it. People go clubbing… I don’t know what’s on where [but] I’d love to be more involved.”

There are local gigs, but few people hear about them, and student musicians can be hesitant about looking for bookings. Douglas Tawn, second-year at St Catharine’s, plays mandolin for the Tin Pigeons: “I’ve encountered very few university bands… there’s a thriving dramatic scene [but] music is less established.”

Let’s ignore the unexciting-but-commercially-viable Corn Exchange and Junction. If you’re a band looking for bookings, or a gig-goer looking for loud noises, where can you go? Clare Ents are reliably brilliant. Elsewhere, The Fountain occasionally produces something great and La Raza and The Vaults both have live local live music every week. As with the cocktails, so with the gigs: La Raza is better.

The real undiscovered gem, though, is The Portland Arms. Tucked away near The Boathouse pub, the Portland has a consistently first-rate range of acts. Local amateurs rub shoulders with the NME’s latest darlings in a varied and surprising line-up. Student rockers take note, this sweaty pub backroom has the best gig-atmosphere in Cambridge. If only more people knew.