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Arts & Culture: At A Crossroads

Opened by broadcaster John Peel in 1990, Cambridge Junction celebrates its 30th birthday next month with plans for a major renovation. Louise Cummings chats to Rob Tinkler, popular culture manager, about the stars who’ve graced the iconic arts centre over the years. . .

If you want to know what’s been going on behind the scenes at Cambridge Junction - all those juicy morsels that only insiders are privy to - ask Rob Tinkler. He’s been booking bands and shows for the past 25 years, and attending gigs for 30, so he’s been there, got the T-shirt and committed the finer details to memory. . .

Which musicians have been a joy to work with?

I remember Ian Drury came here on one of his last tours, and he was a nice fella, willing to chat with anybody. Ed Sheeran was really down to earth too; he played here around 2008 supporting Example, and then he came back and Example was supporting him, so I don’t know what that says about Example! I once got chatting to a lady on bus who teaches hockey at Norwich High School for Girls and she mentioned she played hockey with Ed Sheeran’s wife, and one weekend they were short of a player, so Ed drove over and played hockey with them; apparently he was pretty good and scored a goal!

Ed Sheeran (24428575)
Ed Sheeran (24428575)

And the most challenging?

Shane MacGowan was a little challenging; it took us a while to coax him out of his hotel room in Cambridge. He didn’t want to do the gig so we had to shout under his door, and we may have pushed some pound notes under there too!

There was also an American artist called Gil Scott-Heron who missed the flight to come over from New York five times and finally missed the last possible flight on the morning of the gig, which was sold out.

What’s been your favourite gig?

Most recently, The Flaming Lips gig was amazing because even though we’re a venue that’s probably four times smaller than what they’d normally play, it didn’t stop them bringing their whole set and effects, so they basically crammed their festival show into a small 850 capacity venue.

Has anyone had ridiculous rider demands?

We get a lot of requests for illegal substances; just last week somebody asked for ‘cosmic green haze, for those positive vibrations’!

Amy Winehouse played several times. What was she like?

Amy Winehouse live in concert at the Cambridge Junction on 19 November 2006 (24428343)
Amy Winehouse live in concert at the Cambridge Junction on 19 November 2006 (24428343)

The first time she played was just after the tsunami in Thailand for a benefit. This was before she’d released her first album and was pretty unknown. I remember her turning her up and she was the smallest person I’d ever seen, didn’t have any tattoos or the big hair; she did four songs acoustically and was brilliant. The next time she came it was the Back To Black tour so she was massive and the change in her was incredible. Luckily this was at the start of whatever journey she went on, so she was covered in tattoos and had the massive beehive, but could still sing, and performed brilliantly. Then I saw her at the Corn Exchange and I left after 20 minutes because she was shambolic.

And comedian Tim Michin?

We did a couple of shows in J1 with him and he shouldn’t really have been playing here as we were too small a venue, but he wanted to do some warm up gigs. He was great, there was no airs and graces, and he did two brilliant shows.

How was Boy George?

He’s only ever played here as a DJ and DJ’s generally never interact with anyone! They turn up five minutes before they’re due on, play their records and leave. He played Dot Cotton, which was always a good, happy night.

Boy George djs at Dot Cotton Club (24428414)
Boy George djs at Dot Cotton Club (24428414)

Tell us what happened when Blur played. . .

We had the longest queue we’d ever had, right across the car park in the snow, and sold all the tickets in 20 minutes. Funnily enough we’ve been going through our archives and yesterday we found a letter from Food Records, Blur’s original record label, saying ‘Have you heard of this band Blur? They’re really good, would you like to put them on?’ They were great, apart from Alex James’s dodgy political views!

We hear Coldplay’s visit was disappointing?

They were booked one of our rooms to rehearse for a few days prior to their gig and so we were sat in the office thinking we’d get to listen to Coldplay do their whole set, but no, they pretty much did the same song, Yellow, for two days. It was a relief when they left.

We also had a theatre company book our room downstairs and play distorted guitar pretty much eight hours a day for a week while we all sat in the office stuffing sandwiches in our ears!

What do you think of the Junction’s regeneration plans?

I think it needs it. The important thing for me is that we don’t lose the feeling we have. Even though the venue is tired and could do with a lick of paint, the actual spaces where you watch the shows are perfect; you can see wherever you are, the sound is pretty good. We definitely need to do something, but make sure we retain whatever that magic is that we have.

Looking back. . .

Thanks to a £49,900 National Lottery Heritage Fund grant, Cambridge Junction will be able to deliver :

Levitt Bernstein's vision for Cambridge Junction (24428466)
Levitt Bernstein's vision for Cambridge Junction (24428466)

Lost Nights & Love Songs, an arts and community project exploring the history of the much-loved arts centre. Beginning as a response to the illegal party scene in the county, Cambridge Junction (built on the site of a former cattle market) has developed into a renowned arts centre.

Lost Nights & Love Songs will collect people’s memories and create a physical archive of ephemera, engage with audiences and local school children and present creative displays and events, in partnership with the Museum of Cambridge, who will host the exhibition from the project in 2021.

Looking forward. . .

Award-winning architects Levitt Bernstein have been appointed to mastermind the regeneration of Cambridge Junction. The project, due for completion in 2024, will look at expanding the arts centre’s existing performance spaces, and explore options for new complementary uses within the leisure park site. It’s hoped the new-look space will attract new audiences and secure Cambridge Junction’s long-term future and environmental sustainability. Cambridge City Council approved funds of £250,000 to engage Levitt Bernstein to produce a masterplan and redevelopment designs for Cambridge Junction to RIBA Stage 1. Watch this (amazing arts) space!

Find out more about Cambridge Junction at junction.co.uk

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