Girlband have it all: languages, multi-instrumentalists and a band with absolutely no men allowedWilliam Blakesley-Herbert with permission for Varsity

I walk into the Catz music room and Girlband are sitting in a jam circle, spouting musical words I pretend to nod along with to hide my deep-rooted fear of musicians. “Why are you writing for the Music section? Why are you studying a music degree?” you might ask; to this I say, mind your own business. When in a room of such talented women, you would be intimidated too.

I felt like I was intruding on a sacred temple, a circle of women with their shoes off in musical prayer. They laughed and smiled as I took a seat just outside their circle, ready to observe. To be perfectly honest, I felt a bit starstruck. If you have experienced any of Cambridge’s rich musical scene, I guarantee you have seen a member of Girlband. I immediately recognised Didi Robinson from her JazzSoc presidency, Alice Durand and Anna-Maria Woodrow from Colonel Spanky’s Love Ensemble and the EmmaJazz presence in saxophonists Durand and Jo Fang.

“We can improvise freely without worrying about being judged”

Hot and flustered, I blurted out, “I love your hair,” to Robinson, internally cringing. While I was there to discuss music, it would be a crime not to mention her Amélie-style bob that very few of us could make work.

Girlband is comprised of Didi Robinson (vocals), Sarah Wald (tenor sax), Jo Fang (alto sax), Alice Durand (sax and keyboard), Summer Beechey (drums) and Anna-Maria Woodrow (bass), although they’re certainly not limited to those instruments. My half hour of wallflower watching made me ask, “why bother trying?” They are just that talented. While I’m semi-joking, Fang was playing tenor sax, Robinson was on bass, Durand on keys and Woodrow on vocals. To top it off, they then all contributed harmonies to the song they were working on – a song in Portuguese. They’ve got it all: languages, multi-instrumentalists and a band with absolutely no men allowed.

“Without men, we feel so happy and confident. It is a safe space and we work collaboratively”

“This is the band I take most seriously and I have improved so much because of it. We can improvise freely without worrying about being judged,” says Fang, discussing the band as a space for female musicians only.

“There is no competition or hierarchy,” Durand follows, “Without men, we feel so happy and confident. It is a safe space and we work collaboratively.” In agreement, Beechey adds from behind her kit, “I’m not as confident a singer as some of us but I feel comfortable doing it anyway. Unlike other bands, where the performance is the best bit, the rehearsals are what I look forward to most.” It’s clear the band are friends as much as creative partners, choosing their songs collaboratively and creating space to improve as musicians.

“Alice is the messiah. She does all our arrangements”

Not that they need to improve. “Alice is the messiah. She does all our arrangements. She is talented and amazing and perfect,” explains Didi, “We couldn’t find a pianist so she just taught herself piano over the Christmas break.” I sit speechless, mulling over the thousands of pounds my parents must have spent on ten years of piano lessons. And for what?

Formed last year, they didn’t start taking the band so seriously until Lent 2024. Having heard all about their recent performance at The Portland Arms (to great acclaim), I ask them what their first gig was and they erupt into laughter. “Do you guys remember? Our first gig was at Sidney Sussex Boat Club. It was tipping with rain and the whole club was rowing next to us on ergs,” recalls Durand. I get the impression it took time for them to find their identity outside the classic “Cambridge Funk”, deciding to blend their music tastes to create poppy, jazzy, beautifully harmonised arrangements completely different from other Cambridge bands.


Mountain View

Girlband and Daniel Daley Sextet at The Portland Arms

“Ok, three songs that define the band?” I ask, hoping to establish myself as the serious journalist I clearly am. They murmur and eventually conclude: ‘Baby, This Love I Have’ (Minnie Riperton), ‘Pretty Please x You Don’t Know Me’ (Dua Lipa x Ray Charles) and ‘Girls Just Want To Have Fun’ (Cyndi Lauper). I won’t hold them to this, though: “We have covered four new songs in today’s rehearsal, ready for a gig tonight,” says Woodrow.

With that, I slip out as they practise the bossa I heard earlier. Go see Girlband if you get the chance. Punch someone for a ticket, I don’t know. Utilise the black market. They are worth risking your life for.