The Mermaid Café is made up of Ruari (left) and Joanna (right)Joanna Ward

Please introduce yourselves!

We are The Mermaid Café, a performing/writing/curating duo made up of Joanna Ward and Ruari Paterson-Achenbach, both 3rd year music students. Joanna is at Jesus and Ruari is at Girton. 

Describe your musical style in three words?

Eclectic, atmospheric, delicate

What was the process behind your group’s name?

Our group’s name is a Joni Mitchell lyric, from her song Carey on the album Blue: “let’s go down to the mermaid café and I will buy you a bottle of wine...” — she’s a big influence on us as people and musicians and it only felt fitting that she gave us our name! ‘The Mermaid Café’ also has something delicate and unreal about it which suits our vibe, as well as being non-specific about what we do meaning, we can expand in future!

Tell us about being in a band at Cambridge?

We haven’t got too much experience with this as our first substantial gigging was in last May Week (which coincidentally would definitely be a highlight of operating in a student city, and Cambridge especially — the potential for playing at lots of uni balls and events etc!). It can be difficult, though — for example, building up to our first gig, which was in Downing bar, we had so much rep to learn at once and hardly any time, so it was definitely stressful. Another thing that can be tricky is when you just want to rehearse and experiment, but Cambridge business gets in the way. We’re lucky that there are only two of us and we don’t need any special kit to rehearse, so we don’t have to schedule rehearsals and book space — but I think that can be a nightmare for student bands!

We are disillusioned music students with a love of experimental, contemporary and popular music

How do you think your Cambridge experience has shaped your music?

I think our Cambridge experience has shaped our music quite a lot. I think it’s safe to say that we are both disillusioned music students who are super bored with our degree’s focus on the classical canon of music (which is incidentally almost all dead white men) — and that’s only amplified our love of experimental, contemporary and popular music. It makes sense then that we’ve started to perform it as a way to escape all that tradition and formality. Performing and writing music can also be extremely cathartic as a visceral and direct way of expressing yourself. I think in Cambridge, which is stifled by tradition, as well as very stressful, The Mermaid Café has become a sort of reaction against/coping mechanism for both of us! It feels really liberating to be doing something which some of our lecturers would definitely turn their noses up at.

What are your goals as a group for this academic year?

We’re looking to expand our scope beyond being just a live covers band. As well as writing and performing original material, we are also organising/performing in new music events. We also want to try and record a lot more so that we have a substantial and varied portfolio, as well as organise more curated music events while we’re still in Cambridge so that students can experience different kinds of music in different settings. On that note — keep an eye out for our ‘curated cuddles’ happening throughout the year, they are gonna be lush and really chill events to take some time out to listen and relax.

One piece of advice for people starting a band?

Force yourself to do a gig! Our first proper live show at Downing College bar may have been stressful, but it forced us to learn lots of new material that we could then use for future shows and gave us the confidence to put ourselves out there! College bars are a great place to start, especially the ones with more established live music programmes, and keep an eye out for open mic nights. There are some great ones run by student charity groups such as Amnesty which occur regularly.


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Where can we find you?

You can find us doing several gigs this term which will be a bit more experimental than our May Week sets (but with the same ‘honeyed vocals and mellow guitar melodies’ — thanks Varsity!). On 3rd November we’re doing a recital slot in Jesus College Chapel, doing more experimental covers of songs and maybe some original material. On 26th November, we’re really excited to be curating a new music/poetry event in Jesus Chapel— an ‘Alternative Lessons and Carols’, featuring pieces we have commissioned from student composers, as well as speakers from the Cambridge Poetry and Prose Society. We’ll be performing some of the works too! Also, while we’re plugging — listen to our Soundcloud and follow our Facebook and Twitter accounts! Just search ‘the mermaid café’ and you’ll find us (we are both ginger, you can’t miss us)

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