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Hope And AnchorTelegram Frank
Hope And Anchor, London
Friday June 27 2008



Ah, the Hope And Anchor, Islington: one of London's most famous music boozers, with a history stretching back to the punk days of the late 1970s. Everybody from the Specials to the Stranglers, from Joy Division to Spandau Ballet has played in this pub's tiny cellar. Even U2 once graced the postage-stamp stage - and, legend has it, flounced off after only four people turned up to see them. Back in those days the Grope And Wanker was a rough old punker pub in a rough old area. I remember, as a wide-eyed teenage punk, being rather shocked when a skinhead offered me heroin in here once.

But that was then, and this is now. The Hope And Anchor still puts on gigs to this day, but many things have changed. Islington is now a millionaires' enclave and the pub, while still trading on its punk rock past and the famous bands that once passed through, is all brown leather seating and designer lampshades these days. In the agreeable surroundings of the ground floor bar, I order a pint of IPA. Nobody offers me class As.

Down in the cellar, suited, booted, and toting his Rickenbacker, Telegram Frank is about to start his set. Telegram Frank is, of course, the artist otherwise known as Frank The Baptist, playing his first UK gig in solo artist guise to a small crowd of aficionados. Rather disapointingly, the deathrock scene people who comprise Frank's usual audience have significantly failed to show. But then, that's only to be expected. Scenesters, by definition, only go to scene events. If Frank had played at a deathrock club, or a deathrock-oriented gig along with other bands from the scene, I'm sure he would have been greeted by a large and enthusiastic crowd. But here we are at a non-scene event - a regular gig on the London alternative rock calendar - and the scenesters are nowhere to be seen.

Telegram FrankUndaunted, and perhaps taking heart from the fact that while his crowd may not be large, at least he's beaten U2, Frank launches into a piquant, poignant set of songs and spoken word interludes. It's obvious that he's taken the trouble to assemble a bespoke performance. We are certainly not getting a simple run-through of Frank The Baptist songs without the band on hand. Telegram Frank has his own style, and his own show. Familiar Frank The Baptist numbers like 'Beg, Steal And Borrow' and 'Nautical Miles' have a sway and lilt that suits the solo guitar teatment rather well, and Frank's wistful, melancholy little stories which he interjects between the songs - when he's not trading banter with the audience - work splendidly in this intimate setting. His monologue concering the chequered life and ultimate fate of Mary the Weary, which leads, with a plangent strum off guitar, into 'Mary Magdalen Of Kettner Boulevard' is half way between a cautionary tale and a bleak romance.

As a whimsical troubadour, a teller of tales, Telegram Frank very definitely has his own persona. Meanwhile, his ability to take a sidelong glance into the heart of darkness, and then give the show a lift with one of his rousingly lilting refrains, means that by the end of the performance it's almost as if we've been taken on a journey through geography and emotion...all without leaving a cellar in Islington.

Afterwards, Frank remarks on the small audience he's just played to, and wonders why the venue itself doesn't have a ready-made, built-in crowd. Well, once, maybe, it did - but not now. Back when the Hope And Anchor was one of London's prime punk watering holes, a boisterous crowd used to hang out at the pub, keen to catch any bands that came through. But no longer. These days, notwithstanding the gig venue in the cellar, the Hope And Anchor isn't much of a rock 'n' roll hangout. It's a normal, meet-your-mates-for-a-pint kind of pub, catering for the affluent residents of Islington. Today, the venue expects the bands to bring their own audiences, which for any artist who relies on a 'scene' crowd, instantly throws up the problem we discussed above - if the gig ain't in the scene, the scenesters won't be seen.

If this experience prompts Frank to shift his career away from the restrictive boundaries of the deathrock scene, and go for the broad audience that I'm sure is out there for him, that'll be a worthwhile result. We've seen a great gig, but the limitations that go with being a 'scene' artist were starkly illuminated tonight.


Essential Links:

Telegram Frank: Website | MySpace

The Hope And Anchor: Website


For more photos from this gig, find Telegram Frank by name here.

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  Page credits: Review, Frank photo and construction by Michael Johnson.
Hope And Anchor photo shamelessly appropriated from Wikipedia.
Nemesis logo by Antony Johnston, Red N version by Mark Rimmell.