Perfect Sound Forever

Trunk Records

by Keith Wallace
(December 2007)

Meeting Jonny Trunk in a bustling London train station seems apt - here is a man eager to find the tracks that matter to him. A cheeky, effusive chap, full of enthusiasm, laughter and many tales, Trunk is a purveyor of rare recordings and an expert on film and television music: whether collating coffee-table books full of far-out library music album artwork, rescuing master tapes from skips or presenting his soundtrack show on Resonance FM, Jonny is a man on a mission - to discover strange and beautiful lost music and channel it out into the world via his label, Trunk Records. From the retro-futurist flashbacks of the music from Oliver Postgate's old-school cosmic children's TV programme The Clangers and the vintage sci-fi radiophonic vibrations of The Tomorrow People, to the proto-ambient soundscaping of Basil Kirchin, the hyperactive harmony jingles of Mike Sammes, the psychedelic-pastoralism of Fuzzy Felt Folk and the widescreen melancholia of John Cameron's score for Kes - welcome to the weird and wonderful world of Trunk Records.

"Trunk started just because I reached a point where music that I wanted wasn't available so I thought I'd make it available" says Jonny. "It was just a natural progression because there were holes in my musical world and I thought I could fill them." Working as a musical archaeologist has led him to seek out sounds in some peculiar places. "You have to go where the music is. Sometimes it's under people's beds, sometimes it's in their sheds - that Kes soundtrack came from a plastic box in John Cameron's stable in the middle of his garden! I got some master tapes out of a pile that was about to go into a skip to be incinerated! A lot of artists keep their own archives but they are normally in terrible shape. Very rarely do you get someone whose catalogued it or kept everything brilliantly because what they tend to think is that a recording done in 1967 is done- it's finished with, no one's ever gonna want that again. They come from all over the place really. Sometimes they don't even exist and you have to take them from DVD's and stuff."

Possibly Trunk's most celebrated release was the eerie and erotic soundtrack to the cult 1973 British horror classic The Wicker Man, an album which has had an incredible influence on a generation of weird-folky musicians like Tunng, Espers, The Memory Band and the Deserted Village collective. Jonny spent three years tracking down the music in what proved to be a baptism of fire into the world of finding 'lost' music. "The hardest one to sort out was The Wicker Man, that was really difficult because nobody knew who owned it. It was a mystery as to where the reels were, who owned the music. It was endless chasing, a lot of phone calls and letters and faxes. This was in the days before the Internet. In those days, you really had to be immensely determined. It was a missing link, filmically, because I collected film music since I was a kid really. Where I grew up as a teenager, it was a bit of a laugh of a film- it was brilliant, really funny, beautiful, and weird. Edward Woodward is hilarious in that film. We used to laugh our heads off at it and recreate scenes from it in the park when we were stoned! It was a cult film where I came from but it wouldn't have been in the top hundred UK films or anything. The music on it is great and it wasn't available and so I started thinking "I could do this, I could find it, I will find it." I was determined to do it for my own personal reasons. There were so many rumours about Paul Giovanni's soundtrack to the film - it existed, it didn't exist. I took it off the music and effects tape at Pinewood Studios after they had given me permission to, which is why there's weird effects on my one, frogs croaking and stuff. Two and a half years on, I got permission from Canal Plus, the French company who owned the film to issue a limited number so I did. It was amazing. I'd only got permission to do a very limited run, otherwise I'd have kept pressing the bloody things! Then my record was bootlegged, and then all of a sudden this other one came out which was an agreement between Silver Screen, Gary Carpenter (a musician who played on the soundtrack) and the publishers, which was an agreement saying they owned it. I actually think different: I think it's owned by the estate of Paul Giovanni, but it's an untraceable estate no one's gonna come forward and say 'that's mine' - so they just get on with it. It's all very weird. If I hadn't done it, it would still be in a shed. The weird thing about it is it's an American composer doing British folk music and he didn't do anything else. It's so peculiar."

Trunk gets very animated when discussing the swings and roundabouts he encounters when searching for incredibly strange music. "I find it really thrilling! I think deep down, I wanted to be a bit of a detective - I've always wondered about shoes on motorways. How did it get there? It's all just detective work. It's really exciting when you crack something. These days, it's a bit easier you know, you find some weird old artist you've never heard of and you just Google them and they come up and then you click on their homepage and then you email them and you get an email within an hour and this might be an artist who's not been spoken about for twenty years about their old work and they've got all the reels there and they mp3 them to you! I like the fact that these are all 'lost' records, they don't exist really, you can't get them anywhere. The only way you're gonna get them is through me, and a lot of them are a little bit naive, which I love - the music doesn't date if it's simple and sort of charming. But with a lot if it, there's this strange undercurrent of dark, odd shit, which I quite like."

In the current music business climate of flux and fear, Jonny sees Trunk Records as having a specific function. "I'd like the label to keep going and I'm sure it will - it's never gonna die. I'll make sure of that, 'cause its too much fun and there's enough people who'd get really upset if it stopped. Well, they might send an email saying 'please don't stop!' I think the musical world is changing quite drastically with shops and chains shutting - I think little labels like me might ride out this funny storm because we're more established, it's an established niche. I think people are starting to come to the niches more and more going "well done!" Because we're very specialised, if I put out a thousand LP's, they all sell in about two days, which is good in terms of things like income or cashflow - as long as that keeps going it might even grow a bit, if people start hating downloads and mp3's! If I press vinyl, it goes in seconds and that's brilliant for little companies like me. You know that you can put out a record and people will buy it and it pays for itself, and if that keeps going, then you can survive anything. The future is alright for little people like me. I might even be doing this when I'm sixty - putting out weird little things I've found that are a bit lost or could do with a kick up the arse."

To celebrate a decade of unearthing unusual music Trunk has just released a budget-priced compilation called Now We are Ten, featuring twenty-two tracks spanning the Trunk records oeuvre, forthcoming finds and a lost recording by Herbie Hancock. "It's an intro, a retrospective view and there's seven tracks on there that haven't been issued before," says Jonny. "It's a look at the future, a look at the past and an introduction into a funny little world. The music is a bit more measured and a bit more beautiful."

So anything that gets more people listening to completely overlooked music can only be a good thing? "It's great for the artist if these things can happen and I think there's as much interest in the past as there is in contemporary artists. I can put out a record and it can end up in Japan or in a charity shop or in a bin or it can end up anywhere. That's what I really like about the whole thing: the way it travels. There's nothing tangible with the Internet - you don't get that mystery with mp3's." As Jonny Trunk disappears into late afternoon London, he leaves me with these parting words, which could very well be his manifesto: "There's this other really interesting stuff out there but you won't have time to find it, so I'll find it for you."

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