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Hope and Anchor: Legendary Upper Street gig venue’s star-studded past – and ambitions for the future

PUBLISHED: 07:00 07 March 2017 | UPDATED: 18:11 07 March 2017

The Hope and Anchor team from left: general manager James Smith, barman Andy Skelly and entertainment manager Nick Quirk. Picture: Polly Hancock

The Hope and Anchor team from left: general manager James Smith, barman Andy Skelly and entertainment manager Nick Quirk. Picture: Polly Hancock

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Upper Street’s Hope and Anchor is legendary to music fans thanks to its enviable gig roster in the ’70s and ’80s. The Gazette swung by to find out why it was a stepping stone for so many famous bands.

A ticket stub for The Specials. Picture: Polly HancockA ticket stub for The Specials. Picture: Polly Hancock

Even on a Monday afternoon, the Hope and Anchor basement has the unmistakeable stench of a gig venue.

Decades’ worth of beer and sweat hang in the air.

Thirty-eight years ago this month, Joy Division played a show with entry just 75p – try seeing how far that would get you in Upper Street today. The Gazette is here to find out more about its history as London’s ultimate pub music venue.

Its heyday was the ’70s. The Jam played in this basement. The Clash played here. The Specials played here. U2, billed as “V2”, played one of their first London gigs here in 1979 in front of nine punters. The Edge broke a guitar string halfway through, and the band walked off, never to return.

The Hope and Anchor's musical history is celebrated in the old posters and decor. Picture: Polly HancockThe Hope and Anchor's musical history is celebrated in the old posters and decor. Picture: Polly Hancock

The list continues with The Police, The Pogues and The Ramones. But landlord James Smith stresses: “The thing to remember is, no band was ever famous when they played here.

“This pub was the most fertile breeding ground for acts. It became the venue to play before progressing to Brixton Academy or the Marquee.”

Barman Andy Skelly has been to hundreds of Hope and Anchor gigs. An Islington boy who lived across the road, his first gig was Madness as a nine-year-old in 1984.

“My sister snuck me in,” he reminisces. “I don’t know if I’m dreaming this up, but I remember drinking a can of Hofmeister beer topped up with some lemonade.

Famed: The Hope and Anchor. Picture: Polly HancockFamed: The Hope and Anchor. Picture: Polly Hancock

“As a venue, it used to be much bigger. It’s an 80-capacity room now, but back then it would fit 200. Fire regulations weren’t as comprehensive in those days, so packing people in wasn’t seen as a big deal, and there weren’t any toilets as there are now.

“I remember not being able to move for people. The room would be stained with sweat and smoke. But funnily enough, there was never much trouble. You would get skinheads coming here – but skinheads in the musical sense, not political!”

Not that a bunch of lairy punk fans went unnoticed: “I’m not old enough to have come here in the ’70s and ’80s”, James says, “but from what I know, the council didn’t like all these punks running around and it had the music licence revoked in the ’80s.

“That legacy still lives on. We have a licence restriction that effectively asks our customers not to p*** in the streets, and I think that originates from those days.”

Nick Quirk and cousin James Smith want to re-establish the Hope and Anchor as a grassroots pub music venue again. Picture: Polly HancockNick Quirk and cousin James Smith want to re-establish the Hope and Anchor as a grassroots pub music venue again. Picture: Polly Hancock

He adds: “Growing up, there were a few good north London music venues, but this was top of the list. Everybody had heard of it, and that reputation survives to this day. You see tourists from around the world taking photos outside.

“A few times I’ve been abroad on holiday having a chat and the ‘what do you for a living?’ conversation will come up – and they know the pub. It shows how important it has been in musical history.”

But will the Hope and Anchor ever be as relevant as a gig venue? Nick Quirk, James’ cousin and the pub’s new booking manager, certainly hopes so.

“You get genres that sprout up in certain places,” he says. “The Manchester sound of the late ’80s, the Seattle sound of the early ’90s. It definitely applies to London in the ’70s and the Hope and Anchor was a huge part of that.

“Why can’t we have that again? We want to get that grassroots culture going again, similar to what this pub had in the 70s. I want this pub to be a starting point for bands again.”

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