The Cambridge University Botanic GardensMartin Pettitt/Flickr

The University Botanic Gardens might not immediately come to mind as one of Cambridge’s principal music venues but, over the course of July, every week, the Gardens’ main lawn became host to the Sounds Green series of open air concerts. Among some of the rarest and most unique plants in the world, those of us lucky enough to be languishing in Cambridge after the end of term had the opportunity to enjoy the relaxing sounds of everything from brass to folk to indo-jazz.

“Sounds Green succeeded at injecting the serene beauty of Cambridge’s wildlife hub with the energy of live performance”

Every Wednesday evening, I made use of the Botanic Gardens’ free student entry to join people of all generations – families, students and tourists alike – for some alfresco revelry. Seasoned regulars came well-prepared with lawn chairs, blankets and picnics. Others, myself included, decided to peruse the selection of food and drinks stalls, including Cambridge classics like Jack’s Gelato and Garden Kitchen. Once I’d acquired a distressingly priced £8 Pimm’s, I sat down at the back of what had become a large crowd, all excitedly cheering on the arrival of the ensemble Prime Brass.

This ten-strong band of trumpets, french horn, tuba and percussion promised “toe tapping music that is sure to have you up and dancing”. I admittedly had my doubts about their ability to energise the crowd, given that the ensemble’s usual terrain is performing alongside choirs in Ely Cathedral or King’s College Chapel. However, their eclectic combination of classical and contemporary, including their own compositions, a version of Eric Whitacre’s ‘Lux Aurumque’ and a cover of ‘Here Comes the Sun’, showed a clear mastery of the lighter end of the musical spectrum. Although the act was a little less high-energy than their description suggested, their skill across multiple genres convinced me that brass is in bloom this summer.


Mountain View

Is the Cambridge music scene unique?

Although Prime Brass set the bar high, folk duo Honey and the Bear was the only act to successfully infiltrate my Spotify playlists. Unfortunately, while the Botanic Gardens’ Facebook page had promised “a warm and balmy evening”, in typical British fashion, the skies split open midway through their gig. After seeking respite in the glasshouses, among some of the flora of the Cape and southwestern Australia, myself and the rest of the audience eventually braved the outside world, attracted by the duo’s evocative songwriting and creative storytelling. The pair were dynamic performers, who were good humoured about the fact that the weather had considerably dampened audience morale. Their delicate vocal harmonies and whimsical references to Suffolk folklore conveyed a love of nature that perfectly suited the setting. Meanwhile, their romantic love ballad to coffee definitely left many of the students in the audience feeling represented. As the clouds cleared, the gig really did manage to get people of all ages on their feet and dancing.

During term time, I’ll often forget that there’s a world of live music beyond Cellars’ open mic nights, may balls and lunchtime recitals. Part of a summer-long programme to encourage the public to discover the Botanic Gardens, the July live music series certainly inspired me to explore musical genres outside of my regular, comfortable rotation. Sounds Green succeeded at injecting the serene beauty of Cambridge’s wildlife hub with the energy of live performance. My stint as a Botanic Garden regular left me with a strong sense of the vitality and community spirit that can be gained by celebrating nature through music.