When is a record shop not a record shop? Any ideas at the back, don’t be shy now, no, then I’ll tell you. A record shop is not a record shop when it’s an exhibition, a record shop is not a record shop when it has been built by a set designer from New York, and a record shop is definitely not a record shop when it doesn’t sell records. Taking all this in to account, it’s fair to say that Small Wonder Records on Hoe Street is not actually a record shop, but it is a triumph. I ventured out in to the rainy afternoon on Saturday to pay it a visit, and I was a little taken aback by what I found. I discovered that back in the 70’s and 80’s, Small Wonder was way more than just a record shop. I discovered a part of Walthamstow’s past that I didn’t really know about. And happily, I was reminded of the sheer joy of flipping through vinyl, reminded of the excitement of buying music in a shop.
The new Small Wonder Records in Central Parade on Hoe Street, is an exhibition about the old Small Wonder Records which was, when open, based at 162 Hoe Street. The original shop, which was also home to an independent record label of the same name, played a not insignificant part in the British Music Scene. It was part of a network of independent record shops which also included the likes of Rough Trade and Probe Records in Liverpool. This network gave people access to non main stream music, and gave new bands an outlet to get their music heard and sold. Through the use of mail order, Small Wonder made this music accessible all over the UK. Fill in a form, stick a postal order in the envelope, and soon after a brand spanking new record would drop through your door.
Of course, Pete and Mari, the owners of Small Wonder, didn’t just sell records, they made them. Artists such as Bauhaus, The Cravats and The Cure, all released tracks on the Small Wonder Label. I sort of new about Small Wonder before I visited the exhibition, but standing in the shop yesterday, reading about the bands they released and looking through the Small Wonder discography, it made me think, bloody hell, this is pretty amazing. That’s not just me right? this is pretty amazing stuff isn’t it? There’s a fair bit of music history linked to Walthamstow, the Beatles played at what is now Mirth, Marvel & Maud, Ian Dury studied at the Walthamstow College of Arts, and oh yes, The Cure were signed to a record label on Hoe Street.
Honestly, I could go on about this all day, but I should probably get back to the exhibition. The shop on central parade is packed full of memorabilia and posters. The walls are lined with everything you need to know about Walthamstow’s contribution to punk music. There’s even a recreation of the Small Wonder Shop, which was put together by Damage Studios who are based in New York. If like me you spent much of your youth hanging around in record shops, you will no doubt feel right at home here. So this isn’t a record shop, but it’s the history of a record shop, a pretty important shop at that. I said at the beginning of this post that this exhibition is a triumph, and it really is, the team behind it have done a great job. Small Wonder runs until 24th September, if you do nothing else this month, do this. Click here for more information, or visit the Small Wonder facebook page.