The Cambridge Junction plays host to a variety of live music events.Instagram/@cambridgejunction

Since starting university at Cambridge, I’ve been keen to get to know the music scene her – being from Liverpool, which has a thriving scene and gigs basically every night, I thought it would inevitably be really easy to meet other musicians and jam. However, despite an abundance of organ recitals and choral evensongs, there isn’t really what you’d call a ‘scene’ here. I suppose Cambridge isn’t a ‘music city’ like Liverpool, but there’s always something around: you just have to look for it.

Yet that’s fairly strange, considering the number of classically trained musicians here. I’m inclined to think that the competitive mentality of the University – exemplified in the vast amount of sports played here – is what keeps people sticking to classical music. With its performance, there is a certain perfection that can be attained that fits that studious ideology. Don’t get me wrong – I’m in a college choir myself, and am also classically trained. But with the thriving theatre scene and the clear creative flair of so many students, it just struck me as strange that there’s not more live music going on.

I suppose it's also the nature of student life – for one, students tend to move out of Cambridge after their studies, and so the perpetual movement of band members means a constant change of personnel (like with esteemed student band Colonel Spanky’s Love Ensemble), or indeed the collapse of the band altogether. On top of that, the busy nature of student life means that rehearsals are perhaps harder to hold regularly. Cambridge student bands are known for only coming out of hibernation at May Balls – but where are they for the rest of the year?

"I feel like a real ‘scene’ in a city comes from the collaborations of different people"

It’s also a lot to do with this town/gown divide. Cambridge’s scene in venues around the city isn’t really on students’ radar. Many venues (rightly so) charge about £100 to hire the venue and pay the sound engineer. Obviously, this is necessary to keep the venues going, it’s the way things work; but when we’re talking about a student-run gig, it’s less likely students are going to want to pay to play some music together. So in terms of the venues round town, it’s a bit harder to get stuck in. Of course, there’s a fair few gigs that happen in college bars – Clare Cellars, for one, has multiple gigs a term and showcases everything from jazz to hip-hop to folk. The bars at Downing, Catz, and Homerton also have regular jazz nights, as I’m sure many others do. However, I feel like a real ‘scene’ in a city comes from the collaborations of different people, rather than highlighting a divide between students and residents, central college bars and peripheral pubs.

And so, after a bit of Googling and a couple of Facebook posts, I managed to find four different venues, and enough acts to fill the line-ups. I purposely chose venues that would be well-attended by both students and residents alike: Liquor Loft bar, the Tram Depot Pub, Clare Cellars and Relevant Record Café. The venues were all very friendly and happy for us to play without a fee. I was also very lucky to have the support of the wonderful sound engineers at Clare Sound, who set up every gig and even recorded the set at Clare Cellars.

And so, Raspberry Jam was born. It’s a bit of a lame name, but the jam part is because there’s a jam at the end of every event. As much as it’s about people going to see their mates, the fact that these events are free and open to all is about making music accessible and visible on the scene to encourage making connections and getting out of the Cambridge bubble a bit. Plenty of players approached us after the gig, saying how there’s not a ‘scene’ due to the lack of regular gigs, and it made me really smile seeing musicians who’d never met jamming along together.

Another huge incentive for this was my concern for female representation on the music scene. Female representation is an issue I can’t seem to get away from – my own experiences of discrimination, belittlement and all these subconscious microaggressions make me really eager to create a space where anyone that might normally feel marginalised or shy or unwelcome, can feel supported. For me, the focus is on womxn (I run a project about fxmales on the Liverpool scene on Instagram @wherearethegirlbands) – but I’m aware that it affects other minorities based on class, race, sexuality, ability and so on – not only that, but even people who feel out of their depth because they’re just starting out. So, rest assured, this whole thing is a big laff, and the jam element is open to absolutely everyone. We managed to get female/non-binary representation at every gig (get in), but there’s still work to be done.

Who knows if there’ll be gigs running any time soon, or what the future of live music looks like – but even if we’re all bobbing our heads two metres apart, here’s some pointers as to where you can quench your gig thirst, or even get involved yourself:

  • Cambridge Junction (Their ‘Fiver’ nights put on five bands and cost a fiver)
  • Cambridge Corn Exchange (usually bigger names play here)
  • Portland Arms pub
  • Relevant Record Café
  • Hot Numbers Café, Gwydir Street
  • The Boathouse Pub
  • The Flying Pig
  • Blue Moon
  • Hidden Rooms Liquor Loft (open mic nights on Mondays)
  • 2468 (open mic nights on Wednesdays)
  • Tram Depot (jazz nights every Sunday)
  • La Raza
  • The Alma
  • Green Mind Gigs (various venues)

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In Unaccompanied Company

Clare Sound are also always looking for sound engineers to come and train/work with them. No experience needed – message their Facebook page directly to get involved!

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