Many student unions are now booking big-name acts, at low, low prices
So you thought Wales and the West country was dull? Well, think again. Cardiff University has one of the biggest student unions in the country and with its 1,600 capacity Great Hall (a prime venue on the national tour circuit), it can pull bands with the best of them - past triumphs include The Prodigy, Oasis, Jamiroquai, Pulp, Radiohead and Super Furry Animals.

Cardiff's 1,600 capacity nightclub and seven bars means the union pretty much has its hand's full, but even so it's aiming to expand.

"We're trying to get the atmosphere right, give everyone a chance to enjoy themselves, and give great value for money," says student union president, Paul McCarthy. Expect to pay around pounds 3 for a night out, sometimes as low as 80p.

Not to be trumped by its rival over the Severn, Bristol University holds over 45 major events a year and manages to pull some big names - Goldie, Eddie Izzard, Massive Attack, Robbie Williams - largely because its Anson Rooms provide the largest standing venue in town. The campus scene has "kind of exploded" and the union has had to get a second "ents" manager to cope.

Bath is hoping to expand on its current assets - a nightclub and bar on the campus. There's something on every night of the week, from karaoke to mainstream dance music, costing pounds 2-pounds 3 a ticket on average. Recent big acts include names such as Rory McGrath, Craig Charles and Kula Shaker.

Bournemouth, by its own admission, has woken up a lot in the last few years. The union social scene is dominated by its own club, The Old Fire Station, a refurbished Victorian fire station in the centre of town complete with Europe's longest fireman's pole running through the main bars on two floors. There are different themes every night, from comedy to live bands, and most cost less than pounds 3 entry.

One of the largest higher education colleges in Britain, Southampton Institute, has around 15,000 students and no less than five balls a year. Past acts include Dannii Minogue, Louise, Dodgy, and Terrorvision, and entry costs pounds 10 to pounds 30, depending on the ball.

Those who think Wales is the back of beyond, socially speaking, should reflect on the number of top bands coming out of the country in recent years - Catatonia, Manic Street Preachers, 60ft Dolls and Super Furry Animals. That said, the smaller institutions do have to try hard to make up for their relative lack of pulling power, but Bangor, for instance, has managed to attract the likes of Catatonia and St Etienne at recent events.

The University of Glamorgan in Pontypridd has two bars - the George Knox traditional-style pub and Smiths, a continentally influenced cafe bar offering a variety of food. It also has its own nightclub, Shafts, that holds discos, live bands, films, cabaret and comedy nights. A ticket is typically pounds 2-pounds 3, with a pint of lager from pounds 1.30. The union also runs a free minibus home, as well as special coach services to clubs further afield every week, often with an all-in cost as low as pounds 3.

Dartington College of Arts, with its rather isolated campus, tries equally hard to keep its students entertained, with a big Freshers ball and something on every Friday night in the student bar. "We can't afford big names, but we do have home-grown talent," says student union president Andy Clarkson. "Lots of the entertainment is provided by the students themselves. It gives a chance for students to perform, and for us to save on our budget."


John Nettles, actor, star of `Bergerac' and graduate of Southampton University