“Grasping the nettle of now”- a review of ‘Punks’ at Museum of London


Lesley Edgar- then and now

I visited Punks, the punk fortieth anniversary exhibition, at the Museum of London today.  It was a last chance trip to see it, as it closes on January 15th, so this is a very belated review.

I was involved with the Punk Waltham Forest 40th celebration as an oral history interviewer and had a chance to speak to several people who had used and visited Small Wonder records in Walthamstow.  My last interviewee was a Dave Smith, a British Museum employee, who featured quite extensively in the MoL show: a leather jacket and home-made badges of his were there, along with an interview and a video installation featuring him touring many of the key punk locations of 1976 London- Sex in the Kings Road, Rough Trade in Kensington Park Road etc.  Almost none of these now survive; for example, The Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park is now an evangelical African church.


Having waded through the crocodiles of school kids come for the Fire of London display, I found the exhibition hidden away on the lower level. It was quite small (smaller than the very good exhibition at the British Library last year and (possibly) the equally good exhibit at the Barbican Library) , but it features ‘then and now’ photos of the contributors, interviews and artifacts from Londoners who were inspired by punk in their teens (Dave included).  Here are a few of the more memorable quotations:

  • Paul Horobin: “In punk, you don’t wait for someone else to do it for you; you’re not a consumer of it, you make stuff happen yourself.  You do it your way; it didn’t matter what the rules were.”
  • Stephen Micalef, writer with the fanzine ‘Sniffin’ Glue’: “Punk wasn’t about nostalgia; it was anti-everything as an energy…  Anyone who remembers much really wasn’t there: it was a non-bookish, non remembering time… Grasping the nettle of now.”
  • Crass: “Be warned: the nature of your oppression is the aesthetic of our anger.”


Soho, 1978 by Derek Ridgers


2 thoughts on ““Grasping the nettle of now”- a review of ‘Punks’ at Museum of London

  1. […] It would be possible to overemphasise the anti-capitalist, anti-establishment aspect of these initiatives.  Despite the anarchist associations of the punk movement, these new labels were not (other than Crass Records, of course) some gesture against commercialism; they were just a way of small, new bands getting themselves heard and, once the independently released single had attracted the desired attention, many of them (for example The Police, Buzzcocks and The Skids) quickly signed to major labels.   Nonetheless, as I have suggested, the ‘DIY’ ethos was quickly internalised into punk: homemade clothing, badges, jewellery, hair styles and fanzines rapidly became markers for the new genre (see too the quotes from the Museum of London punk exhibition in my previous post). […]


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