Get the lowdown on each city's best bits from the students themselves too
Nottingham Trent University
It’s been a little under 18 months since Peace played a proper headline show. Given that, they’d be forgiven for being a bit rusty, but this band haven’t won the hearts of legions of fans over the course of two albums by being anything other than flawless. That’s the case tonight, too – a furious and fun set that feels both fresh and tight, as if the Brummie four-piece never stopped touring for a second. Nottingham reacts in kind, delighted to have songs like the bright, anthemic ‘Higher Than The Sun’ and the anti-capitalist strut of ‘Money’ back in their lives. There’s circle pits, crowdsurfing and sing-a-longs so loud frontman Harry Koisser might as well save his own voice. Add that up with the kind of infectious performances Will Joseph Cook and Liverpool’s Clean Cut Kid put in, complete with high kicks and hair whipping, and you’ve got an unbeatable start to the tour.
Student guide to Nottingham
There are four brilliant music venues that welcome a variety of artists from smaller bands to arena acts and the best bit is that they’re all within walking distance of each other so you don’t need to worry about travel costs. Nottingham is home to its own music festival, too. Splendour invites artists from different genres giving it appeal to fans of all different sounds. For those interested in finding new undiscovered talent, the city also hosts Dot To Dot Festival, while Detonate Festival showcases the UK’s best underground and electronic music.
Emily Henderson, Nottingham student
University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
“Happy Paddy’s Day!” yells Natti Shiner as Fickle Friends walk on stage in Glasgow. The drinks have already been flowing for hours on this annual excuse to get messy and the Brighton indie-pop group are the perfect soundtrack for letting loose and bringing out all those dance moves you’d normally keep locked away in your bedroom. ‘Cry Baby’ is pop perfection, all shimmering synths and cawing motifs that sound like a tropical bird’s flown in to join the party and closer ‘Swim’ ripples around the room like an understated and pastel-hued teaser that has you salivating for more.
Student guide to Glasgow
Glasgow is a bubbling city full of surprises – you never know what’s around the corner. There’s always new clubs to explore, playing a diverse choice of music with something for everyone. Some days I find myself struck with awe at the buildings you find around the city. They are a perfect mixture of old and new. For example, Charles Rennie Mackintosh, a famous Glaswegian designer, designed a building called The Lighthouse (it looks nothing like one), which has been turned into a gallery with a viewing platform. When you climb the many stairs to the top, a magnificent view of Glasgow awaits you to show you the diversity of architecture, culture and people. You are metaphorically blown away, as well as literally by the gusts of winds bashing against you.
Elena Koleva, Glasgow student
University of Hull
Those lucky students in Hull get more, with a double dose of gleaming synth-pop as Will Joseph Cook rejoins the tour. The Tunbridge Wells songwriter is set to release his debut album ‘Sweet Dreamer’ on April 14 and he showcases some of that record’s highlights tonight. ‘Beach (I Wanna Make You Mine)’ is a glimmering, arms-aloft gem while ‘Biggest Fan’ sees him whip out an acoustic guitar as he joins his backing band in building sweet, sunkissed pop brilliance. It’s not just us or the crowd who are enamoured – later Natti Shiner professes her love for him too, Fickle Friends’ leader describing herself as “a crazy fangirl”. Her own band’s set is something worth fanning out over too, their pop hooks sounding all the more bolder and working their way deeper into your psyche the more you hear them.
Student guide of Hull
Hull isn’t sh*t anymore! It’s City Of Culture 2017 for a reason: we have tons of the stuff including museums and our very own prized art gallery, which happens to be hosting the Turner Prize this year. With the City Of Culture title, also brings so many cool music opportunities. We’ve got Radio 1’s Big Weekend with the likes of Kings of Leon this summer, which my uni mates and I can’t wait for. Plus we have the cheapest alcohol in all of the land (to be consumed responsibly, of course), chip spice and Europe’s largest freshwater aquarium The Deep. What’s not to be proud of? Hull is the best, the uni is great, and the city is finally getting the recognition it deserves. ‘Nuff said.
Isobel Newby, Hull student
University of Leeds
Leeds sees Peace play their second of three nights on the tour and the students of Yorkshire have a lot to live up to, given how the first show went down. They don’t disappoint either, transforming the room into something resembling a particularly grimy sauna, mists of heat rising from the bodies thrashing and bouncing on the floor in front of the band. Earlier, Stealing play their first ever gig with an impressive set of atmospheric, electronic indie, while Will Joseph Cook does what he does best – making audiences dance and swoon at the same time.
Student guide to Leeds
Leeds is unique. It gradually infiltrates you with what can only be described as “edge”. We’re talking glitter, culottes and puffer jackets (to the extent that Leeds has its own @thatpuffa Instagram account dedicated to documenting that signature piece of clothing). Leeds is also renowned for its music scene and not just because it’s the place where that guy from Alt-J went to uni. It’s the home of the historic Brudenell Social Club, a small, two-room venue tucked away in the popular student area of Hyde Park that has been an important stepping stone for up-and-coming bands like Sundara Karma, and has been celebrated by Steve Lamacq in Independent Music Venue Week on BBC 6Music. Let’s also not forget that single day in April when over a hundred bands descend on the city for Live at Leeds, bringing together their fans in 24 hours of diverse music from musicians both young and old.
Jenny Pudney, Leeds student
University of Sheffield
A couple of days later in Sheffield, everyone’s gearing up for a big one. It’s Friday night, Peace and Will Joseph Cook’s last appearances on this run and locals Drenge are hanging out taking selfies with excited fans. Cook is first up, kicking things off right with the “la-la-la-la”s and subtle grooves of ‘Girls Like Me’ getting tonight’s early arrivals moving. Fickle Friends ramp things up further, Natti dancing around the stage and promising to join the now-heaving audience in the thick of things during the night’s final set.
She’s in for some up-close-and-personal bonding time with her fans because, as soon as Peace come on stage, things get very sweaty very quickly. “Does anyone remember laughter? Does anyone remember Dom Boyce?” asks Harry Koisser at one point, provoking a smattering of chants of the drummer’s name to ring around the venue. A stripped-back ‘Float Forever’ has the audience singing arms around each other, but soon it’s back to the serious business of leaping around. As ‘World Pleasure’ brings things to a triumphant end, Koisser promises to be back soon. The crowd’s reaction suggests Peace will be welcomed back with something even more raucous next time.
Student guide to Sheffield
Sure, Sheffield is home to Arctic Monkeys, but there is a whole lot more to celebrate in the Steel City than just that indie band. Here is what makes Sheffield such a great place to be a student both during the day and when the sun goes down.
Times Higher Education has ranked The University of Sheffield’s Student Union number one in the UK every year since 2009 – its “safe taxi scheme” means even if you are out of pocket after a few too many post-exam pints at Bar One you can be sure a cab will still take you home.
Venturing away from the uni and out to the edge of the city you will find The Leadmill, a must-stop venue for any touring band. Coldplay, The Killers and The Maccabees have all played some mad sounds at this infamous venue. It not only hosts some of the best gigs found in the north, but also some great indie club nights every week.
Uni life, despite its façade, can be extremely stressful and a huge benefit of Sheffield is the fact that it’s one of the greenest cities in the UK, so when you’re feeling like a mardy bum there are numerous parks and the nearby Peak District to take a load off in.
Will Fisher, Sheffield student
University of Kent, Canterbury
Due to the set-up at the University of Kent SU, the tour’s bands are given a well-deserved night off as DJs take charge. The students present don’t seem to mind – in fact, they’re just as energetic and enthusiastic as those on every other date so far. NME’s Rhian Daly opens as the students queuing outside eagerly filter in, grab cheap drinks from the bar and head straight for the dancefloor. Two hours of indie bangers later, BBC Radio 1’s Huw Stephens takes over the decks, bringing with him a mix of indie, grime and pop that loosens the ever-growing crowd’s limbs even further. BBC Introducing’s Abbie McCarthy nobly controls the final shift, dropping party-pleasing cuts that keep Canterbury dancing until the lights come on.
Student guide to Canterbury
Canterbury is a proper southern university town. Home Counties hipsters mix with Essex girls and the grime culture of London influences the music and atmosphere of the city just like it does in the capital thanks to the diverse student population. We drink in Tudor pubs in the week and cocktail bars that take themselves far too seriously on the weekend. There’s dive clubs with sticky floors, student clubs with sticky people and the new clubs who will do exactly what you want to get you through the doors.
The cobbled streets are like something out of a Harry Potter book in the winter and the quaint inner city gardens are a summer’s dream when the temperature begins to hit twenty degrees in early May. Skipping lectures for afternoon trips to the beach are a must and if you’re not drinking £2.50 snakebite you’re just not a Kent student. We graduate in the Cathedral, the home of the Church of England, but the real graduation is learning how to throw a messy house party without enraging your elderly Kentish neighbours.
Alex Miller, Kent student
The tour gets back on a live tip as it hits the north-west, this time bringing Dagenham grime veteran Devlin and promising Liverpool indie band Paris Youth Foundation with it. The MC has also been MIA for a few years, until the release of his new album ‘The Devil In’ in February signalled his return. Manchester greets him fondly, Devlin pointing out some diehard fans in the crowd, matching him word for word as he races through the likes of the whirring, gloomy, Labyrinth-featuring ‘Let It Go’ and menacing new cut ‘Cold Blooded’. “I’ve had sweat in my eye for the last 20 minutes,” Devlin laughs as he wipes his dripping face on a towel and closes things with an unaccompanied, fast-paced ‘F64’ before leaving the stage to appreciative, satisfied cheers.
Student guide to Manchester
Manchester is undoubtedly the most versatile city for music. The likes of the 1975, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Drake, and The Weeknd have all recently played at Manchester Arena while no other city can parallel Manchester’s ability to produce such talent in the indie/alternative department. The big city can take credit for creating the legendary status of bands such as Oasis, The Smiths, Joy Division, and The Stone Roses. Even Stockport band Blossoms have exploded in popularity with a little of their Mancunian predecessors, The Courteeners. Whilst Manchester Arena attracts the likes of global superstars, smaller venues such as the Ritz, The Apollo, Albert Hall and Manchester Academy provide a platform for emerging bands giving them a chance to become heroes. The alternative clubs such as 42nd Street and Venue are unique and are typical of the music scene in Manchester. Where better to get on your dancing shoes?
Harry Delaney, Manchester student
O2 Academy Newcastle
It’s a bumper bill in Newcastle as Kent’s The Bay Rays bring Talking Heads-infused indie, local trio SoShe add a touch of R&B-tinged class to proceedings and Devlin shows off his lyrical flow for another brilliant performance. “Let’s go fucking mental,” he yells midway through his set, livening up the crowd with the infamous chant. “You lot are the most respectful crowd I’ve ever had,” he tells them later. “Usually I get shit thrown at me.” There’s no rogue missiles tonight, just the offer of a free shot from a fan on the front row. Devlin turns it down repeatedly, joking that he doesn’t know what’s in it. “I’ll get my own shot,” he says as he winds things up and heads out into the night.
Student guide to Newcastle
The great thing about going to university in Newcastle is the welcoming atmosphere that it provides. There are around 50,000 students in the city, providing a diverse metropolitan experience for people coming to study here from all backgrounds. The city hosts some of the country’s best nightlife with internationally renowned clubs such as Digital, Tiger Tiger and Soho Rooms, which are all key parts of life as a student. The scale of the city also means that it attracts large artists such as Kings of Leon, Blossoms and Stormzy, but can also boast a flourishing local music scene with events hosted at a range of pubs and restaurants throughout the city at both amateur and professional level. It is a city that has changed my perspective and the longer I stay here, the less I want to ever leave.
Dominic Walton, Newcastle student
University of Loughborough
“This is the last night of the NME Topman tour,” says Fickle Friends singer Natti Shiner, “let’s go out on a bang.” To which end the tour surely culminates in Las Vegas, Ibiza or at least Newcastle Bigg Market on a Friday night? No, this is Loughborough University, an unlikely location for the party at the end of the universe.
Headliner Devlin seems overwhelmed by what he calls the “absolute bollock-fest” in the room, referencing the sea of men in front of him. He whips the frenzy further with his room-shaking deep sea bass whomps and grime-like speed raps about gang life and breadline living, swapping lines with his DJ wingman as if trying to outpace Skepta’s ‘That’s Not Me’. Loughborough laps it up, sending off TOPMAN ON TOUR WITH NME 2017 with a thousand-palm salute as if honouring the full cast of Britain’s best new bands that have sailed in her. And we, in turn, salute Loughborough: land of the rising fun.
Student guide to Loughborough
Whenever people write reviews about going to university in Loughborough they always throw in that it’s a short train ride away from Leicester and Nottingham because we are infamous for being a small uni town without a lot to offer. Forget that – Loughborough, small and mighty, is just as good as any big city.
In fact, living in Loughborough comes with an overwhelming sense of community and pride for everything the uni does and all of its many achievements, from sporting to volunteering. Loughborough spirit is a massive thing and we all embrace it. To be on most committees, whether it’s for halls or societies, we go through the process of hustings, which is essentially people doing stupid things to win votes – also known as the best time on campus. The students running to be voted as the exec team of the student union knock on our doors and give us free food in exchange for voting for them, and people go to lectures dressed as cans of beer or covered in face paint. Nothing is out of the ordinary here.
Lydia Kah-Pavlou, Loughborough student
“If you didn’t come here to have a good time… fuck off!” There seems little chance of anyone taking Devlin up on that offer tonight; the Dagenham MC is playing his final TOPMAN ON TOUR WITH NME date at the University of East Anglia, and if anyone here isn’t having the time of their lives, they’re doing a very good job of hiding it.
Having recently returned with new album ‘The Devil In’ after a four-year absence, Devlin is another of grime’s old masters who looks set to capitalise on its recent resurgence – he’s still only 27 years old, but the grey hairs on his head are a fitting testament to how long he’s been a fixture on this scene. The same could also be said for much of tonight’s set, which is split evenly between new material – the wonderfully in-your-face ‘Cold Blooded’ is a particular highlight, along with Skepta-featuring opening track ’50 Grand’ – and the early jams that made his name, like his 2010 Tinchy Stryder collaboration ‘Game Over’, or ‘London City’. Somewhat inevitably, the latter track is reworked as ‘Norwich City’, and dedicated to “the best city in the world,” which – for tonight, at least – doesn’t feel too far off the mark.
Norwich probably doesn’t necessarily sound like the coolest city in the world to move to for uni, right? Wrong. Norwich has everything a student could ever possibly want, all in one place.
Being a student in Norwich means spending a lot of your time in various locations across the university’s concrete-filled campus (you’ll probably think it’s ugly at first but will get very defensive eventually), whether that’s in lectures, the library or the LCR – the university’s on-site club/live music venue. UEA students tend to spend a lot of time in the former two at night, but probably have hell of a lot more fun in the LCR.
One of the best things about being at university in Norwich is getting to immerse yourself into its vibrant live music scene. The city is brimming with venues, from tour-stop favourites The Waterfront and Arts Centre, a converted church to smaller pubs like The Birdcage and The Owl Sanctuary. The opportunities to catch live music around the city are endless, regardless of your music preferences.
But being at university in Norwich isn’t just about nights out. There’s plenty to explore in the bustling city centre, such as the iconic market – the largest of its kind in the country – and the lanes, which are packed with quirky, independent shops that are full of surprises. There’s cinemas, restaurants, shopping malls, bowling, a trampoline park and so much more, you won’t know where to spend your student loan next.
One of the reasons we all fall in love with Norwich is thanks to its friendly vibe and authenticity. Best of all, there’s an indescribable quality to living in Norwich that, as a student, makes me feel proud to be a part of such a caring and conscious community, with a sense that our presence and contributions to the city are not only welcomed, but valued.
Katie Pilbeam, Norwich student
Student guides have been edited for clarity and length