The Junction – Happy 25th Birthday

Valentine’s Day anniversary of much-loved Cambridge arts centre

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The Junction celebrated its 25th birthday on Valentine’s Day with a characteristic mix of music, comedy, drama and workshops. Now an essential part of the Cambridge cultural landscape, this arts centre has blossomed after a shaky opening night.

In 1990 The Junction appeared on the wasteland of the old Cattle Market like an Ark for the arts. For a quarter of a century it has hosted music, dance, comedy and theatre events of every species – from fey shoegazing bands to bizarre and exotic performance artists. Looking at the venue’s first-ever ‘what’s on’ leaflet, you are struck by the eclectic line-up and by how The Junction has stayed true to its original artistic vision.

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Back in February 1990, you could go and see local indie bands, Latin-American percussion, soukous from Zaire, ‘alternative’ comedians such as Jo Brand and Sean Hughes, a new UK play or Polish mime. You could go raving at the cum cum club, or participate in a variety of dance and music biz workshops.

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Fast-forward 25 years and The Junction’s February 2015 menu offers an assortment of Lithuanian pop, original drama and dance for adults and children, a Northumbrian piper, hip hop trailblazers Arrested Development, a trio from Mali, comedy from Josie Long and a couple of indie bands. The famously eclectic John Peel, who opened the venue, would have approved.

As someone who went to that first gig on Valentine’s Day 1990, I remember the UK’s ‘first ever purpose-built music venue’ having a few teething problems. The house lights stayed on throughout the evening, including the set by local boys-made-good The Bible. The rather soulless new auditorium, with its exposed ceiling air-duct tubes, did little to generate an exciting atmosphere, and the floor was sticky from spilt Red Stripe.

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Happily, things quickly improved, and the Junction has since paid host to countless up-and-coming guitar bands, hip-hop heroes (Public Enemy, Ice T, Gil Scott-Heron), and iconic singers who are no longer with us (Lou Reed, Amy Winehouse, Jeff Buckley, Ian Dury). Personal highlights include gigs by Manic Street Preachers (bassist Nicky Wire nodding along in the wings to Cambridge support band, Nutmeg), Blur (Damon Albarn climbing the speaker stacks as Security fretted below him), Pulp (Jarvis Cocker telling a story about a bee) and a flamboyant Suede. More recently, for those lucky enough to get a ticket, next-big-things Royal Blood reportedly went down a storm.

Of course, The Junction is much more than just a music venue. It means different things to different people. Clubbers will remember Boogie Wonderland, High & Dry and the Dot Cotton Club, where Steps once played at the height of their fame. Kids will cherish weird and wonderful theatrical events in the J3 space. The school students involved in the 2014 Sonic Pi: Live & Coding project, which taught music composition and computer coding side by side, will have been inspired to make their own music on a Raspberry Pi.

As Junction Director Daniel Brine writes, ‘it’s a special place because the programme is so varied … there is something for everyone. And there is an awful lot that goes on behind the scenes and not just on our stages, so the work with young people as apprentices, or the Performing Arts BTEC delivered with Parkside Federation, or Total Arts the disability arts workshop – these are all things which make Cambridge Junction special, a hub of creativity for the people.’

What does the future hold for The Junction? Despite ‘feeling squeezed’ in these times of austerity, Brine writes: ‘We’re keen to keep offering great art, entertainment and creative learning to the people of Cambridge. We’re particularly passionate about supporting the ‘up-and-coming’ – both young people and new ideas. We’d love to develop our buildings to include a few more spaces for community groups and young people.’

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