We went to Cambridge to spend the day punting with Alt-J
Cambridge is possibly the most frustrating city in the world. Biscuit-tin-beautiful, it even looks good on Google Earth; a concentrated cluster of putting-green lawns and 16th Century buildings made for painting. It’s how, you imagine, Middle America might envisage England – a lush Arcadia, regal and historic, handsome and pompous. The thing is, Cambridge operates a strict look-don’t-touch policy. Those lawns and buildings, they’re the university’s, and ‘the gown’, it seems, doesn’t not like to share with ‘the town’. Cambridge is to visitors what Willy Wonka’s factory was to its victims. It’s one big tease.
Save for a small portion of the town centre, everywhere is off limits to those that don’t belong to one of the city’s prestigious colleges, and even if you do, you daren’t think about walking on the grass; it’s just not cricket. At every entrance there’s a tubby warden to shoo away the plebs, which today includes us and ∆ who relocated here eight months ago from another university town, Leeds. Today they’re showing us the sites of their new neighbourhood, which includes, in order, a famous bakery (slagged right off by our taxi driver on account of them dining out on the fact that Prince Charles bought a sausage roll there once), a pub where Pink Floyd played their first show, a punt on the River Cam, the pub again, some colleges we can’t get into and keyboardist Gus’ flat.
“We find Cambridge quite lonely,” says singer Joe Newman as the rest of the band echo the sentiment. As the guard at King’s College waggles her finger, we can see why.
“All the colleges have quite insular social scenes, so they go to their college bar and plays their friends are putting on,” explains Gus (Unger-Hamilton). “They’re doing college shit and it’s hard to get involved in that.”
“We’re not very proactive in penetrating that,” says Joe, before guitarist/bassist Gwil Sainsbury notes that Cambridge is so without a music scene that they’ve been to just one show (Portico Quartet) since living here.
“There is a band from here called Clean Bandit who are going to be massive,” says Gus. “I think they’ve moved to London now,” he laughs.
Of course, ∆ could have done the same having graduated and changed their name from Films to a delta sign. When we last interviewed them, in May 2011, they were still unsure of where they’d make their new start. They decided on Cambridge because it wasn’t London – a measured, pragmatic decision from a measured, pragmatic band. There are no tubby wardens in the centre of London, but there are plenty of distractions that most young musicians giddily hoover up.