A Musician’s Guide To Exeter’s Music Scene

by Tom Elliott

Did your heart sink when you heard the ancient myth that Exeter has a shocking music scene? Perhaps you were unlucky enough to meet one of the cynics who said that there is “no music” in the city? Fear not! While this may not be a place that screams “Music!” in the same way that Dublin, Bristol, or London do, with a little searching and the smallest glimmer of motivation, you’ll discover a whole community of kindred souls who love nothing more than real people that create their own sounds.

There’s room for pretty much everyone here. You could be the next Mozart, Libertines, Kraftwerk or Stan Getz. There are orchestras and open mic nights, as well as a burgeoning electronic scene on your doorstep. Here are a few pointers to kick things off - after that, I expect you’ll plot your own musical map to the city, full of hidden gems that will guide your whole University experience.

Best Societies Societies are probably the best place to start if you’re new to the University. There is a society for almost every hobby, activity, or interest and for music it is no different. If Jazz is your thing then be sure to check out Exeter University Jazz Orchestra (EUJO). They’re a friendly, sharp-suited bunch who regularly gig around town, pulling in crowds at The Monkey Suit and Timepiece. With multiple concerts a year and a tendency to collaborate with other societies, Symphony Orchestra could be a good bet for those who are more classically inclined.

Beats and Bass, champions of electronic music, are one of the most dynamic societies on campus. With workshops, socials, regular nights and opportunities to DJ on the same bill as bigger names (they brought Artwork down last year), they’re definitely worth getting in touch with. Those with a preference for A Capella might want to audition to be a part of the award-winning Semi Toned or Sweet Nothings. One of the most dominant music societies at Exeter is Campus Bands. Be sure to get involved and get jamming. It’s a great opportunity to meet like-minded musicians and set up a band. They even provide practice rooms and equipment. Later in the year, the annual Battle of the Bands will see many of the best groups on campus compete for free recording time and bragging rights.

Of course, if you consider yourself more of a writer than a player, then check out PearShaped and Exeposé Music for some of the best student music journalism around. There are plenty more great musical societies on campus. All of which can be found in on the Students’ Guild website.

Facilities Any student looking to practice on campus should make it a priority to pick up a music card. For a relatively small price, the music card gives you access to the University owned facilities. This includes a couple of practice rooms and an ever-improving recording studio over at Kay House. Societies also provide a decent link into rehearsal spaces and boast various exclusive rights to rooms. A vast majority of the music department is based in Cornwall House (the mysterious other half of the Lemmy).

All the guitarists out there must make a promise to themselves that they’ll take a trip to Mansons Guitars. It’s the best music shop in town. The pictures of Matt Bellamy and Dave Grohl using Manson guitars support this statement.

Live Music While Timepiece, Arena, and Mosaic tend to dominate Exeter’s nightlife with plenty of Avicii singles and various hits featuring Sean Paul, there are a few gems in Exeter that prove time and time again to be welcome havens of live and original music. Cavern is famous for having a knack for booking bands before they reach stadium heights. In recent years, Coldplay, Muse, and Biffy Clyro have all rocked up to the 200 person capacity basement and played to a small crowd who probably didn’t have a clue quite how popular those bands would go on to become. There’s also a growing amount of DJ nights taking place there. Expect this to grow following the recent closure of Exeter’s home of electronic music, the Cellar Door.

Just over the road is the Phoenix, which is bigger and tends to have a much more varied programme. Mama Stones, owned by Joss Stone’s mother, is always a great bet to hear brilliant bands that range from acoustic to rock to soul. The funky décor and comfy seats add to the more relaxed feeling of the place.

On campus, it’s definitely advisable to keep an eye on the Lemmy’s bookings. Over the past few years, Don Broco, Palma Violets, and Lucy Rose all graced the Lemmy stage. Exeter’s biggest venue is the University’s Great Hall. Clean Bandit will be there in October. Recently, Gabrielle Aplin, Kaiser Chiefs, and Babyshambles all played on the city’s largest stage. In short, it may take a little bit of googling, but there are plenty of places to watch live music in Exeter.

Gigs Exeter’s a pretty accessible city for aspiring musicians looking to get on the gigging circuit. While the circuit isn’t huge, there are some decent places to start out playing and a few established venues such as the Cavern, the Phoenix, and Mama Stones that provide opportunities to support touring bands. Due to the huge amount of pubs, Exeter is particularly tailored to acoustic musicians.

ExTunes put on a great night of University bands/singer-songwriters at the Old Firehouse every Sunday. The Firehouse is a welcoming venue to play due to its friendly crowds and unique setting. Good acoustic music can also often be heard at On the Waterfront and John Gandy’s. Live at The Bowling Green on Tuesday nights also provides good opportunities for student bands to get gigging.

The same applies to Campus Bands’ regular Monday night gigs at Timepiece. Those more experienced might look to get in touch with promoters at the Cavern, Mama Stones and the Phoenix to see if they can support some established names. All three are great venues with experienced sound technicians and decent crowds.

Conclusion I’d need more pages to mention every musical gem that this city has to offer. I’m still discovering stuff after two years. There’s a growing amount of music-loving students who are putting on nights, forming bands, and setting up promotion companies. Exeter isn’t quite Nashville yet but it still has a strong musical community and provides plenty of opportunities to get involved. Ignore the myth that music is non-existent here and with a little bit of luck, you’ll find the venue/band/society that suits you. Enjoy!