Rough Trade – February 4th
Sloping onto the tiny stage with the confidence of established rock stars, Telegram look like the long-haired and leather-clad offspring of Hawkwind and The Horrors. It comes as no surprise then that an intrigued audience is treated to half an hour of aural pleasure. Overflowing with riffs and beautifully synchronised harmonies, Telegram make us earn their admiration on a night of exemplary rock n’ roll.
I last saw Telegram at Leeds’ Brudenell Social Club in October 2013. That night, they supported and upstaged Temples, who suffered from horrendous technical gremlins. Support bands don’t usually grab my attention, but their flowing manes, blistering krautrock and spiralling jams owned the night. Then they disappeared abruptly: for two years they hibernated, plotting and concocting with only a few teasing singles to show they were still active. Finally, they’ve remerged with Operator, an album throwing those expecting Kraftwerk tribute after Faust paean.
Having said that, ‘Follow’ is Neu! on a jetpack and the set’s apex. “Follow, follow, there you go!” sings frontman Matt Saunders, hauling you with him to the horizon. Certain songs are so energetic they radiate nuclear energy, making you feel like you’re taking over the world: The Stones’ ‘Street Fighting Man’ has it, The Damned’s ‘Neat Neat Neat’ spews it and Spiritualized’s ‘Electricity’ crackles with it. ‘Follow’ joins that elite club and is a welcome inclusion on Operator. When bands include ancient singles on later works it suggests a shortage of ideas, but ‘Follow’ is an important signifier of their roots and how they’ve changed since.
Hence “today, today, just like yesterday” being the most misleading line ever. As their abridged set progresses, Telegram’s new, angular glam becomes evident. Guitarist Pip Stakem wears a David Bowie t-shirt, just in case you were unsure which era they’re channelling. ‘Taffy Come Home’ is a jittering, Can meets Roxy Music rout, “I am restless, I am all the pieces on the ground” capturing the song’s neuroses. ‘Aeons’ carries the same restless stomp, its glam-kraut marriage sending cameras snapping. All the while Stakem plays his guitar as if his life depended on it. His histrionics might seem cliché, but they sum up the band’s genuine enthusiasm at being able to play their lovingly crafted tunes.
In the intervening period, Telegram could’ve lost all momentum and released a wrinkled debut. Thanks to their vast reservoirs of punky energy and eclectic inspirations however, they are the latest guitar band to establish a niche for themselves.