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the soft boys' cambridge today
a short musical history tour (and sixteen pubs)

N.B. This article originally featured a map, which has not yet been digitized. For the time being, if you want a copy, please write to either of the Positive Vibrations addresses.

The walk starts from Reality Checkpoint (1), a solitary lamppost in the centre of the Parker's Piece park. Parker's Piece is about ten minutes walk from Cambridge city centre and easily reached from the bus and train stations. Unless you know Cambridge very well, don't try and drive in Cambridge you'll pay extortionate parking rates after waiting a hour to get a space, and be shunted between one-way systems all day. Cambridge is very well served by rail, and adequately served by buses (and if you're particularly rich, has its own airport and a high-speed rail link to the international terminal at Stansted). Cambridge Youth Hostel is very near the BR station, and Cambridge has dozens of hotels; phone (0223) 322640 for tourist information.

From Cambridge BR station, come straight out of the station. Walk straight ahead until you the road ends at a T-junction; turn right down Hills Road (passing Syd Barrett's childhood home, behind Threshers on your right) and right again at the corner with the huge gothic church and hideous Lloyds Bank offices. Parker's Piece is on your left.

From Cambridge bus station (Drummer Street) simply follow Drummer Street, which becomes Parker Street, which becomes Parkside Parker's Piece is on your right. To your left see Britain's First Round Postbox (only in England would anyone bother putting up a tourist information sign about it).

Reality Checkpoint is sadly tatty today. In 1974 Cambridge's artistic/student/trendy community turned out en masse to decorate the lamppost; it became a hippy shrine, painted in psychedelic colours and plastered with posters for various odd causes and for local bands. It was maintained by locals throughout the 1970s but fell to ruin in the 1980s.

Parker's Piece has four corners. One has a huge gothic church; one has the University Arms hotel, with it's hideous green mock-turrets; one has a huge fire station and a equally huge swimming pool; one has nothing. Head for this one (opposite the church). Cross the road and head down Clarendon Street, immediately opposite the corner of the park. On your left pass the denture shop, with a unique window display (on the Jubilee it featured models of the Royal Family wearing dentures) and the Clarendon Arms, the first and possibly the best of the many pubs you'll go by. If you're at all hungry it's well worthwhile eating here; the best and the cheapest food in Cambridge, and totally undiscovered by the tourists. Continue down Clarendon Street. On your right is a slightly larger house with a lamp over the door, and a sign on the gate saying 'Clarendon House'. Spaceward Studios (2).

Carry on down Clarendon Street. Pass the recently-revived park of New Square and turn right at the Eden Chapel into Fitzroy Street. Up Fitzroy Street a bit; ahead of you is the entrance to the Grafton Centre shopping mall. On your left is the legendary Andy's Records (3), possibly the greatest of all independent record shops. Nothing here is ever where you expect it to be (Soft Boys records are filed under R, for Robyn) search about. Be sure to check out upstairs, which is where the rarities and second-hand stuff live. Opposite Andy's is Burleigh Street, a rather tatty shopping street; at the other end of Burleigh Street is the Boat Race (4), a pub/music venue, which is the spiritual heir to the old Portland Arms; whatever band's on is likely to be one you'd like. (when Robyn & crew were doing the Soft Boys 'reunion' at the Astoria in January Kimberley was playing here.)

Go into the Grafton Centre, next to Andy's. Carry on straight through the Grafton Centre; turn left at the exit marked to Napier Street & Cobble's Yard.

Out the exit and go straight on. The Ancient Druids pub on your right is quite nice if a little noisy at times. Just past the Ancient Druids, on your right, is the Cobble's Yard shopping centre this experimental cluster of mini-shops is constantly changing but is usually worth visiting.

When you reach the main road (Newmarket Road), you can turn left to visit the Burleigh Arms and the Zebra pubs (the Burleigh is a bit sleazy; the Zebra has seen better days but is still quite nice). Otherwise turn right down Newmarket Road, and cross the road at your first chance.

Up the road a bit. On your left is the Cambridge Evening News, notoriously inane local paper who have only once reviewed Robyn in their entire history. ("Mumbling unintelligible garbage at beer-swilling folkies is not big and is not clever.") Opposite the Evening News is the Duke's Court office complex. In front of Duke's Court is a car park; all that remains of Sun Street (5).

Carry on down Newmarket Road to the roundabout, passing the Bird In Hand, today a rather dull little pub. Left at the roundabout and over the bridge. As you go over, look down on your left, on Midsummer Common, home of countless second-rate music festivals and third-rate funfairs, and on the River Cam, spiritual playground of the ruling class. Carry on down the road, pass the Fleur de Lys pub (if you've been visiting the other pubs en route, you've visited six already should either be drunk enough not to mind missing this pub out or alternately, you're so drunk you won't mind the fact that this pub has all the charm of the gents at a student union. Turn down Montague Road, on the left. Carry on down Montague Road and down the second left Kimberley Road (6).

Trudge down Kimberley Road. Robyn's old house is on your right, with the red door. (Incidentally, please don't try and find Syd Barrett while you're in Cambridge - quite apart from the fact that you're currently about as far from his house as you can get and still be in Cambridge, he does not want to talk to you.

First right, first right again. At the end of Pretoria Road left and immediately right. When you reach the main road turn left, past the Old Spring, another great pub that's fallen on hard times. Carry on down the road. On your left pass Private Shop, a symbol of all that's wrong with Cambridge; London has Soho, Hamburg has the Reeperbahn, New Orleans has the French Quarter, Cambridge has one tiny shop with a "mags and poppers sold here" sign handwritten in felt pen. Pass the Jolly Waterman pub.

By now, if you've been going to the pubs en route you've visited nine pubs and probably won't have the energy to cross the road. Cross the road.

And in front of you is a hideous red 1930s building. This is (as you know if you read the sign) the Portland Arms (7), shrine to folkies and scruffy men with beards and the launchpad of the Soft Boys. In you go, but prepare to be disappointed.

After the Portland Arms, cross the road again, and down the side of the Jolly Waterman. Go down Victoria Avenue and over the bridge. You Are Now Entering Historic Cambridge. Immediately over the bridge, turn left and down the river to the Fort St George (In England), an over-touristy but lovely ancient pub (which used to be on an island) and then back to Victoria Avenue. Alternatively, just go straight down Victoria Avenue.

At the end of Victoria Avenue is a roundabout. Go straight across the roundabout (second exit) and take the second left to get back to Parker's Piece. Otherwise, take the third exit off the roundabout and down King Street.

King Street is, like most of Cambridge, nothing like what it once was, but is still the best bit of Cambridge for records, chips and beer (and what else is there?).

On your right is the St Radegund, the worst of the King Street pubs (but still quite nice). Next is the Horse and Groom, on your right; quite a nice place, and surely the only pub to have a jellybean advert nailed to the ceiling. On your left is Parrot Records, an occasionally good but generally dull bog-standard indie stockist.

Further up on your right is Mr Chips, perhaps the best chip shop in England. Even if you hate chips you'll like these. (Especially if you've been to the thirteen pubs you've passed so far.) Just past Mr Chips is Streetwise Music, Cambridge's second-best (after Andy's first floor) second-hand record shop; just past Streetwise is Garon, an interesting record shop, but one that specialises in jazz. Past Garon is the Champion Of The Thames pub (average); opposite the Champion is Parrot Records' folk section, which is, I'm sure, good if you like that kind of thing. Just up from Parrot Folk is the rebuilt Bun Shop, a twee but nice pub. And opposite it, the last pub on the tour and the second best (after the Clarendon, the first pub on the tour) the Cambridge Arms. Be warned that this place fills up very quickly. At the end of King Street the road makes a kink and splits; go under the archway. On the kink is Ken Stevens/Millers, the legendary music shop. Go straight on, under the arch and you're in old Cambridge.

Now, whichever way you go you'll hit a historic building; you're in the heart of tourist-land. I'd advise you to go ahead and veer leftish you'll pass the Market Square, with lots of bargains and interesting things, Kings College Chapel, arguably the most beautiful building in Europe and well worth visiting, even for those who hate churches & buildings and the Corn Exchange, an incredibly eclectic music venue. (Recent events have been Julian Cope, Rowan Atkinson, a screening of Schindler's List, Michael Nyman conducting the music from The Piano, Iron Maiden and East 17. And, of course, the Soft Boys.)

And that's about it! This tour will take about an hour to walk. Cambridge is a lovely city to visit, in easy reach of most of Britain, and is well worth a visit; call the tourist information number at the start of this number or write to PVs for more information. Enjoy it!


This article originally appeared in issue 3 of Positive Vibrations, the Soft Boys/Robyn Hitchcock/Kimberley Rew magazine. It may be distributed freely but may not be sold except with permission of the author or publisher.

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