Meet… James Luff

A headshot photograph of James Luff

What has your road to librarianship been?

After finishing a music degree at Goldsmiths, my initial route into library work was by shelving my way around the libraries at UCL and Senate House in central London, where I also did quite a long stint sticking spine labels on books. It was a pleasant and peaceful road, which was exactly why I found it so appealing in the first place. That and all the books, of course.

Before working at the Pendlebury Library, where have you been?

After my years of shelving and labelling, I eventually found a job as a library assistant at the Jerwood Library of the Performing Arts at Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance, which besides having a very long name, is also noteworthy for being a great place to work and being in a very pretty building in the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich.

For the last few years I’ve also been running a London-based concert series for new music called 840. Most of our concerts involve quite a few new pieces commissioned especially for the occasion and feature a whole range of different ensembles and compositional approaches.

Photograph of a singer and three cellists performing in a dark and crowded room.
840’s 5th Anniversary Concert in January 2020 at Cafe Oto, Dalston. Photo by Ilme Vysniauskaite.

What do you like most about the music collections?

Printed music is one of the most interesting things in the world to me. I find it endlessly fascinating, and the more time I spend around it the more endless and fascinating it seems. So just being surrounded by scores all day and having new books and music constantly passing through my hands suits me just fine.

Do you read any foreign languages?

Only German, quite badly, I am fairly ashamed to say.

Best day at work?

One day while I was at Trinity Laban the well-known guitarist Julian Bream donated a large part of his personal collection of scores to the library archive and I was the one tasked to open the boxes and sort through the contents. Being a classical guitarist myself, I grew up with Bream’s recordings, so to be the first to go through his private library of scores and discover the treasures therein was incredibly exciting to me. Amongst other things, there were the scores he used in the actual recording sessions of the CDs I knew so well, as well as a whole stack of his own meticulously neat pencil-manuscripts of his arrangements of music for guitar. It was a great day!

Worst day at work?

This doesn’t really count as a day at work, but as a student I recall once having to catch a 4am Megabus from Norwich to London in order to be back in time for a day of lectures and seminars. It was mid-winter, dark, freezing cold and pouring down with rain. That’s already not a good start to a day, but just as the decrepit bus swung around the corner to leave the terminal, what seemed like an entire bathtub’s worth of freezing rainwater that had been pooling in the ventilation duct above my seat dumped itself on my head. A bad day ensued…

Favourite composers/types of music?

I suppose my main interests seem to be in either very old or very new music in the western tradition, although I find musical enjoyment all over the place, really. Lately, I’ve been listening to a lot of music by people like Marin Marais and Sainte-Colombe, as well as pretty much anything released by the record label Another Timbre, which puts out a constant string of fascinating and compelling CDs.

What is/are your instrument(s)?

I compose and I play classical guitar. I’ve also just acquired an 11-course baroque lute on loan from the Lute Society, which is exciting.

What do you like about working in Cambridge most?

Starting work during a global pandemic has certainly been an unusual way to begin, and I don’t really feel as though I’ve yet had a chance to find out what Cambridge life is really like. But just having a reason to be out and about cycling again is such a joy, and as lockdown eases I’m very much enjoying seeing the university starting to come to life again.  That said, right from the start I was just amazed at the sheer scale of the network of libraries here.

Any hidden talents?

I also have a master’s degree in philosophy. Does philosophy count as a talent?



About jamesluff

Senior library assistant at the Pendlebury Library of Music, University of Cambridge
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