Punk revival is no small wonder

Emma Betts celebrates a legendary local record label

Pete Stennett

Small Wonder Records owner Pete Stennett at the Walthamstow exhibition that celebrates the label’s legacy (credit Neil Meads)

Walthamstow has been experiencing a dynamic punk revival of late with the launch of Punk Waltham Forest; a diverse programme of events celebrating Waltham Forest’s unique contribution to punk culture.

The season is part of the year-long Punk London festival celebrating 40 years since the advent of punk music. This year also marks 40 years since the band Sex Pistols played at Walthamstow Assembly Hall!

At the heart of Punk Waltham Forest has been an exhibition dedicated to Small Wonder Records, the seminal record shop and label located at 162 Hoe Street from 1975 until 1983.

Small Wonder was home to the debut releases of bands including The Cure, Crass, Bauhaus, Cockney Rejects and Patrik Fitzgerald.

The exhibition at Hoe Street Central was curated by BBC video journalist and Music Like Dirt blogger Neil Meads, with curatorial support from artist and DJ Julia Spicer. In describing his motivation for arranging the exhibition, Neil said: “It started when I googled ‘Small Wonder Records’ and got back nothing beyond a brief discog.

“So in 2012 I tracked down and interviewed the bobble-hatted label owner, Pete Stennett, in a picturesque Suffolk village. The stories Pete told, coupled with the deluge of ‘Small Wonder changed my life’ style emails that followed, meant I felt an obligation to bring some overdue public recognition for what was achieved from a tiny shop in Hoe Street.”

Included in the exhibition has been an installation of the Small Wonder shop, painstakingly recreated by Andrea Purcigliotti, Tony Barber and Matt Tully.

The exhibition welcomed over 2,000 people through its doors since opening on 5th September. Alongside the exhibition, the programme included two gigs; the first, curated by Walthamstow Rock ‘n’ Roll Book Club’s Mark Hart, featured Small Wonder bands The

Cravats, The Proles and Geoff Deane from the Leyton Buzzards and the second, curated by Stow Festival committee member Julian Marszalek, celebrated the ongoing influence of punk on music today, with Spanish punk band Guadalupe Plata, Pussycat and The Dirty Johnsons, and local band The Wimmins’ Institute. This event, along with three panel discussions and two music history tours also featured as part of this year’s Stow Festival.

Reflecting on the panel discussions which included Glen Matlock, former bass guitarist in the Sex Pistols, Mark Hart, said: “Having a Sex Pistol top a fantastic talk by playing one of the band’s songs in Walthamstow Library in front of 100 people, 40 years after the original punk band played Walthamstow’s Assembly Hall, was beyond cool.”

Panel contributors also included Gina Birch from the Raincoats, Geoff Deane from The Leyton Buzzards, and The Shend from The Cravats.

Other events comprised of a Pop-Up Punk Art School with artist and curator Ellie Pole and graphic designer and lecturer, Gillian Fielden, and Stow Film Lounge screenings of Radio On and Taxi Driver.

A condensed version of the Small Wonder exhibition is now at Hale End Library until 22nd October. There is a launch event with Zillah Minx, vocalist in punk group Rubella Ballet, who will be screening her film She’s a Punk Rocker UK, a documentary about punk rock women on Saturday 8th October at 2-4pm.

The Small Wonder exhibition then moves to Leytonstone Library between 7th and 26th November and will be launched with a punk gig.

Both exhibitions will also include work by art, fashion and media students at Waltham Forest College, inspired by the exhibition and their study of punk culture.


Tickets for the Small Wonder launch event at Hale End Library on 8th October are £4 and are available to buy online:

Visit bit.ly/ZillahMinx

Punk Waltham Forest is commissioned by Waltham Forest Council, part-funded by Heritage Lottery Fund, and produced by Beatroots Creative CIC. It is a part of Punk London. For more information:

Visit facebook.com/SmallWonderE17

Visit beatroots.org