With their jazzy, soulful sound, Girlband are one to watch this EasterSarah Wald with permission for Varsity

To bring Lent to a close, a dedicated body of jazz lovers descended on The Portland Arms to hear student-run outfits Girlband and Daniel Daley Sextet (DDS) play incredible sets on the pub’s hallowed stage. As someone who is not only new to Cambridge’s student music scene, but had never visited this venue before, I was curious to attend the gig – and I was not disappointed. The Portland Arms is a warm, almost labyrinthine venue; the stage and pub are separated but the space maintains a friendly, informal atmosphere, perfect for smaller concerts. Beyond showcasing a colossal amount of talent, the bands revealed just how important student-run music is to the university’s social life.

“The bands revealed just how important student-run music is to the university’s social life”

Kicking off the night was Girlband, a self-described “all-girl funky jazzy soulful” group consisting of Didi Robinson (vocals), Sarah Wald (tenor sax), Jo Fang (alto sax), Alice Durand (keys), Summer Beechey (drums) and Anna-Maria Woodrow (bass). Beginning with Amy Winehouse’s ‘Mr Magic’, Girlband executed their setlist with incredible skill. My personal highlights were ‘Smooth Operator’ (also a crowd favourite) and ‘Roxanne’ but a rendition of The Jackson 5’s ‘I Want You Back’ with stunning guest vocals from alto saxophonist Jo was also a high point of the night.

Girlband are undoubtedly one of the most exciting new collectives to grace the stages of Cambridge, particularly because they respond directly to the student body’s unusual level of jazz appreciation. Their all-female sound is certainly a refreshing and unique selling point, following in the footsteps of groups like Le Tigre, The Bangles and Indigo Girls, but their sheer melodic talent is what makes them one to watch in Easter Term.

“Their sheer melodic talent is what makes them one to watch in Easter Term”

After a brief intermission, Daniel Daley Sextet took the stage to perform a slow, soulful cover of Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ (Cécile McLorin Salvant’s version) led by Maya Moh, whose stunning vocals continued throughout the night. Accompanying her were band members Milo Flynn (keys), Taylor West (bass), Kiran Buzza (guitar) and Charlie Saville (drums). While the crowd’s favourites were certainly two amazingly energised performances of PinkPantheress and Ice Spice’s ‘Boy’s a liar Pt. 2’ and Blur’s ‘Girls & Boys’, for me, the band’s ultimate gem was their jazzy rendition of ‘Appletree’, Erykah Badu’s 1997 R&B masterpiece. The set was finished off with an electrifying execution of Azealia Banks’ ‘212’ and an encore of Beyoncé’s ‘Déjà Vu’ to rousing applause. DDS’s sound is perhaps so appealing because of its breadth and variety; they demonstrated in their setlist that they’re comfortable with an unusually wide range of genres, refusing to be categorised.


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With that, the night came to a close. On the walk home, my friend and I discussed not only the technical brilliance of the sets, but how warm and inviting the atmosphere had been – how we appreciated the importance of live music and the connection it fosters between colleges. Events like this are not only crucial to the university’s social life, but also to the creative development of the student body. It’s no secret that the academic rigour of this university takes a toll on every one of its members. I’d argue that live music is a necessary cathartic and creative release for both musicians and audiences and urge everyone to explore the student music scene in either capacity. As DDS say in their Instagram bio, there really is “something for everyone”.