Prior to forming world-famous bands, even some of the best-known musicians around have tried their hand at sneaking shop tinnies into the student union. Though it might be hard to picture a half-cut Brian Eno taking part in a fresher’s week fancy dress party at Southampton University, or Pet Shop Boys‘ Neil Tennant doing a history degree at London Metropolitan, many of your favourites have been freshers at some point. A fair few of them didn’t end up finishing their degrees, and, judging by their subsequent successes, they probably made the right call.
Still, whether they attended for a single day or for the full three years, these musicians have set foot in some of the very same academic buildings that still exist today. Here are a few of the musical alumni that you might well share a uni with now.
- Read more: “There’s more of an understanding that it’s OK to not drink” – how Freshers’ Week got woke
Leeds has a thriving music scene, and so it’s perhaps little surprise that the Yorkshire city has hosted its fair share of creative characters over the years. “It was so fertile and so alive with so many ideas,” Hayden Thorpe of the now-defunct Wild Beasts told DIY about his short but sweet stint at the city’s University of Leeds. Three quarters of the band briefly attended the uni, and they also played their first gig at local venue Trash (then called The Mixing Tin).
Perhaps there’s something in the Leeds air when it comes to artsy-minded bands: Alt-J also formed here when they were studying Fine Art and English degrees. There’s also very a decent chance that Dire Straits’ Mark Knopfler or Dan Smith from Bastille might’ve sat in your chair at some point – both of them studied English at Leeds Uni before forming their respective bands.
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Some of Scotland’s best-loved bands have roots at the city’s university: Biffy Clyro‘s bearded rock-hunk Simon Neil briefly studied Electronics with Music here, and also took a year’s foray into Film and TV. Stuart Murdoch of Belle and Sebastian, meanwhile, was a radio DJ for the student station Subcity Radio.
Lauren Mayberry from Chvrches did her Masters in Journalism across the city at University of Strathclyde (where bandmates Iain Cook and Martin Doherty also studied music), while Franz Ferdinand bassist Bob Hardy graduated from the painting department at the Glasgow College of Art in 2003
Unsurprisingly, the UK capital is heaving with musical alumni, with some of the biggest bands in the world having potentially formed in a seminar room near you. Dave Bayley – frontman of Glass Animals – was originally on course to do a medical degree at King’s College before he hit the big time, while various members of Coldplay met each other at the nearby UCL. Chris Martin – the absolute show-off – studied Greek and Latin, and got a first. Of course he did.
The city’s artistically-minded academic establishments are also jammed with famous graduates – as well as those who dropped out to pursue music. Back in 1988, Damon Albarn enrolled on a part-time Access To Music course at South London’s Goldsmiths in 1988 with the sole intention of being able to access the student union bar (fair enough), but luckily met two students studying French there. Their names? Graham Coxon and Alex James.
Over the years, the likes of James Blake, Katy B, Brian Molko from Placebo, Velvet Underground founding member John Cale and many of the brains behind bloop-specialists PC Music have also passed through the gates of Goldsmiths.
Across the river at Central Saint Martins, meanwhile, lies the inspiration for Pulp’s ‘Common People’: Jarvis Cocker presumably met the unknown girl who “studied sculpture at Saint Martin’s College” while doing a degree in Fine Art and Film there. Cocker is listed alongside the likes of M.I.A, PJ Harvey and the late Joe Strummer as Central Saint Martins alumni.
Excellent picture of honorary graduate PJ Harvey in the Goldsmiths alumni magazine… pic.twitter.com/yGMLCEhT5e
— Mike Winship (@MikeWinship) July 20, 2015
To be honest, though, London College of Fashion is clearly the place to be for pop icon history. S Club 7 noughties hero Rachel Stevens went there, along with Sara Barnard from Bananarama.
University of Edinburgh
If you’re rolling away your stone to study at Edinburgh Uni, you may well find yourself treading the same path that Mumford & Sons warbler Marcus Mumford once trod. After studying Classics there for a year Mumford dropped out, and he and his banjo returned to London. There, he and the band penned their debut album ‘Sigh No More’ – and they’ve done alright since then, haven’t they?
Keane‘s Tom Chaplin also studied in the Scottish capital, while Pop Idol favourite Darius studied English Literature and Philosophy there before lending his pipes to ‘Colourblind’ – and he’s done alrig… OK, maybe not.
The West Country’s unofficial capital is a city of variation, and so it’s perhaps no real shock that both James Blunt and IDLES‘ Joe Talbot – two men with very opposing musical sensibilities, it’s safe to say – both studied here. While studying Sociology at Bristol University, Blunt wrote a paper titled ‘The Commodification of Image – Production of a Pop Idol’ *ahem* and then later went on to try and become one. His former university later awarded him an honorary degree.
Meanwhile, IDLES frontman Talbot quickly grew bored of his own film degree at the nearby UWE, opting to put on techno nights with his now-bandmates Mark Bowen and Adam Devonshire instead. “Dev and I then decided to have our own band because we decided we could do something better than all the shit indie bands that were knocking about,” he reflected on his time there in an interview last year.
Inspired heavily by the ‘Diff, Los Campesinos! may not have any Welsh members but the Welsh capital is a city deep at the heart of the band all the same. After meeting at uni, they played their first-ever show at a student union club night – where they caught the ears of knowledgeable Welshman DJ-type Huw Stephens. Between them, Los Camp studied a range of subjects,] spanning from history to modern politics, and back then, they had to cram their tours into reading weeks.
Fatboy Slim went to the University of Brighton in 1981 to study English, politics, and sociology, and ended up loving the city so much that he bought shares in Brighton & Hove Albion. He’s also lived in the place where he first honed his craft as a DJ ever since.
Former Maccabees singer Orlando Weeks – who these days is focusing most of his attention on his illustrated book The Gritterman – studied illustration at Brighton and submitted a couple of early band flyers to his portfolio. Meanwhile, Joe Mount tried his hand at skateboarding around campus, and went to indie disco nights by the beach prior to forming Metronomy. Perhaps Brighton is the real English Riviera after all?
Mark Hollis of Talk Talk, Jessie Ware and Mura Masa – who all studied up the road at the University of Sussex – certainly think so, too.
Oxford and Cambridge
Boasting their fair share of opera singers – the medieval-age equivalents to Ed Sheeran – and a handful of famous conductors, Oxford University was also where Yannis Philippakis met his Foals bandmate Edwin Congreave for the first time. Both musicians dropped out after a year of studying English Literature and pursued the band instead, trading in poetry textbooks for throwing raucous house parties.
Hot Chip – who first met in Putney, London – split themselves between the two: Joe Goddard did Modern History at Oxford, while his bandmate Alexis Taylor went to Cambridge. Nick Drake also studied there, with the city’s river eventually finding its way into ‘River Man’.