Go Higher: The North - A bit of northern soul...

The North: ...or hip-hop, drum'n'bass and house. Or maybe a gig, or some stand-up. By Heather Welford
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Indy Lifestyle Online
Those in the know direct you to the North if you're keen on non- stop partying. "Manchester's still got a good reputation for great student entertainment," says Michael Wood of the StudentUK webzine (www.studentUK.com). "But Leeds is pretty good, too, and Bradford is forging links with the student-friendly venues in the city. There's a growing comedy circuit that takes in a number of venues in the northern universities."

Nick Kirton, at NUS Ents, says that competition is fierce. "Obviously, the places with the big student populations - Liverpool, Leeds, Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield - get the biggest names. But the student unions are also in competition with the massive club scene in these areas - they have to know their market very well to make sure students stay at the union for their major source of entertainment."

He points out that some student unions are battling head-to-head with the biggest-name venues outside London - with bigger promotion budgets and sky's-the-limit ticket prices - and and yet the unions manage to produce top quality entertainments that caters to a variety of tastes.

Nick says that smaller unions have a thriving ents scene as well. "Warrington's very active and innovative, for instance, as is York, making the most of what they have, with loads of enthusiasm and commitment."

Former ents officer at York, now deputy president, Aidhean Campbell, naturally agrees. "In any case," he says, "Britain's not exactly a huge place - even the smaller places like York are near to big places. We're two hours from London, and a short train journey from Leeds and Newcastle - students often go to these places for a night out, and your NUS card gets you into most student union gigs without a problem."

Campbell says the Northern "ents" scene has changed in the past few years. "There's less emphasis on live music, and visiting DJs are among the big names now. Loads of unions are having dance nights, with specialist drum'n'bass nights, for example. You'd pay about pounds 3 for a bog-standard cheesy disco or a Seventies night, and maybe pounds 5 for something more specialist, with a big-name DJ."

Hull students union prides itself on offering real value for money. "On Friday nights, we keep the price as low as possible so people can see as much as they can while at uni," says ents officer Emma Bownes. "On Gene's national tour, ticket prices were pounds 7 or pounds 8 everywhere - but only pounds 3 here. We must be mad!"

The name bands - such as Gene - are far from being in the background, despite the way DJs have come to the fore. Attracting the names and putting on a gig with a band like Shed Seven or Terrorvision for pounds 11-pounds 15 is still a major part of the ents officer's job. Bands still like doing the uni circuit, says Nick Kirton. "They get treated better at student unions than almost anywhere else - the people working in ents are mainly volunteers, doing it for love, not the money, and they appreciate that."

He says: "It used to be you'd book anyone as long as they weren't local, but that's all changed. Lots of places have campus band nights, where you can listen to live music for maybe a couple of pounds." Glenn Robertson, president at Chester College, says smaller colleges are cashing in on this trend. "We can be a showcase for local bands who maybe wouldn't get the chance to perform elsewhere."

The comedy circuit that's extended to the North now means many unions have a comedy night once every two weeks or so in term time - expect to pay pounds 3.50 or so.

Student unions are a traditional training ground for people who want to get into the music or promotions business after graduation. There's lots of hands-on experience at different levels, from negotiating with some of the top promoters of the big-name bands, to putting on a disco with a couple of hundred people who want no more than a cheap bar and some loud music. "Ents officers are the most hated - and the most liked - people on the campus," says Colin Telford, president of University College Warrington's union.

The North will satisfy the most diverse of interests and passions, so if you're looking for adrenalin rushes as well as academic know-how, you know where to go.

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Mystic Meg, the astrologer and media personality, graduated from the University of Leeds

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