Clean Bandit was formed at Jesus in 2008Justin Higuchi/Flickr,

Most of us are aware of the vast array of celebrities that have attended this university. Some may have even chosen their college (or indeed the University) for this reason. Whether it’s Tom Hiddleston at Pembroke, or Emma Thompson at Newnham, every college has their fair share of names to brag about. Few, however, appreciate the range of musical talent that the town and University have produced: from Clean Bandit to Alt-J, Cambridge is a hotbed of inspiring musicians.

Undoubtedly the most famous band to have originated in Cambridge are prog rock legends Pink Floyd. Founding members Syd Barrett and Roger Waters both attended Cambridge High School for Boys, while David Gilmour, Barrett’s replacement, knew him from his days at Cambridge Tech, where they would perform together at lunchtimes using guitars and harmonicas.

“Their name derives from the Russian phrase for “utter rascal”

The most successful student band, however, would be Clean Bandit, who, since their formation at Jesus in 2008, have gone on to release four number one singles including “Symphony” and “Rockabye”. Speaking to Varsity in 2011, cellist Grace Chatto explained their motivations: “when we started, we just wanted to make music we and everyone else could dance to that was a bit different”. This they achieved through a unique combination of electronic and chamber music, accentuated by unusually shaped instruments and wacky designs.

While at Cambridge, the group’s members studied degrees ranging from Russian to architecture, and, for a while after graduating, the band remained a staple at St John’s May Ball. Their original singer, Ssegawa-Ssekintu Kiwanuka, left to pursue a PhD in laser analytics, and if you think it can’t get more ‘Cambridge’ than that, their name derives from the Russian phrase for “utter rascal”. Kiwanuka has since returned to music and is now artist in residence for the Royal Festival Hall’s Philharmonic Orchestra.

Five of the members of Sports Team met whilst studying at Cambridge.Stian Schløsser Møller/Wikimedia Commons,

Flying the flag for Homerton are alt-rock icons, Sports Team, all but one of whom studied at Cambridge. Varsity described the band as having an “air of mystery” at their very first interview in 2015; indeed, the then quintet included among their influences the Home Counties, the proletariat, the shadow cabinet and the North. Even after receiving a Mercury Prize nomination for their debut album, Deep Down Happy, the group have retained their wacky personas, inviting entire venues to the pub and organising booze-fuelled coach rides. Nevertheless, their Cambridge educations haven’t gone unnoticed: in an age in which bands like Idles and Fontaines DC have promoted working-class lyrics, Clash ended up concluding in 2019 that “Sports Team can’t quite shake off their entitlement”.


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At the height of student rebellion in May 1968, Fred Firth and Tim Hodgkinson channelled this rebelliousness into music, forming the anti-commercial experimental rock group Henry Cow. After meeting at a blues club, the pair began exploring such obscure genres as “dada blues” and “neo-Hiroshima”. Besides performing at the Midsummer Common Festival and on the roof of a 14 storey building, one of their first concerts was supporting Pink Floyd at the Architect’s Ball at Homerton. Meanwhile, it was King’s College’s resident composer Roger Smalley who introduced bassist Andy Powell to the concept of producing complex pieces for a rock group.

The ’70s saw Cambridge’s The Soft Boys revive psychedelic rock, while their guitarist, Kimberly Rew, went on to form Katrina and the Waves, responsible for the earworm “Walking on Sunshine”, as well as Britain’s 1997 Eurovision victory. Its precursor, The Waves, played in and around Cambridge from 1975, and despite releasing no recordings, gives Cambridge a bit of Eurovision history. Musicians born in Cambridge include Muse’s Matthew Bellamy, Olivia Newton-John and Charli XCX, while Alt-J moved here after graduating from Leeds.

When placed among all the celebrities to have lived in Cambridge, these stars tend to fade into obscurity. Yet, they have all made important contributions to the UK music scene. As this list represents just a fraction of the immense talent to have emerged from Cambridge, and with so many incredible student bands performing right now, who knows who will top this list in the future?