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Why you should check out Jonny Trunk and his treasure trove of strange music

The trailblazing figure, who now presents a regular show on Patreon, loves to share his weird discoveries and the music is always lovingly selected, writes DJ Deb Grant.

As committed music nerds at school, there was only one sport that my friends and I took seriously: mixtape making.

Tapes were created equal parts affectionately and competitively, each of us aiming to create a perfectly balanced playlist of tracks both unfamiliar and astonishing to the recipient.

Without the assistance of the internet, at least in the beginning, we went from scouring our parents’ record collections to spending hours in record shops, judging albums by their covers, taking chances on bargain-bin treasure, and listening obsessively to late-night radio. My favourites were a Dublin pirate station called Phantom FM and John Kelly’s Mystery Train on RTÉ, which bounced indiscriminately between calypso, industrial, proto-classical music and all imaginable genres in between.

Guided by Kelly’s wisdom and warm voice, my tastes deepened. I kept a notebook next to the radio where I scrawled band and track names and snippets of lyrics in the hopes that, if the DJ didn’t name it, I could identify a song serendipitously at some later date. I was obsessed with that feeling of falling in love with a piece of music I’d never heard before, and I made mixtapes to pass that feeling on to my friends. I was drawn especially to sounds that came from unexpected places – test pressings, outsider music, film scores. In the dial-up era this stuff was hard to track down. Until I discovered Jonny Trunk.  

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Trunk is a trailblazer in the world of obscure and underground music. His OST show on Resonance FM, which I came across soon after I moved to London as a teen, was a portal to new worlds of weirdness. Its focus was on library (TV and film) music, which I’d never heard out of context before, and exotica; sleazy 1950s and 60s sounds based on tribal rhythms, gongs, congas, oriental bells and bird calls, rooted in jazz and created by artists like Les Baxter and Martin Denny.

Like me, Trunk has always had an obsessive ear.

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“It probably started when I was listening to a Burt Bacharach record through headphones at my granny’s house back in the 1970s,” he tells me. “I must have listened to it about 40 times – specifically the instrumental of Do You Know the Way to San Jose. In the 1980s I started going to jumble sales and boot fares looking for funny vinyl. And finally to London in 1989 where there was an explosion in looking for interesting, nerdy stuff.” 

Jonny Trunk’s A-Z of Record Shop Bags
Jonny Trunk’s A-Z of Record Shop Bags is out now (Fuel, £28)

Trunk Records, the label he set up in 1995, has brought some of his favourite seldom heard sounds to the fore; everything from David Shire’s skulking, uneasy score for the 1974 Gene Hackman film The Conversation, to Vernon Elliot’s eerie sonic noodling for stop motion animated classic The Clangers. Horror film soundtracks are a particular speciality – Trunk Records made the music from classics The Wicker Man and The Blood on Satan’s Claw available for the first time, instigating a folk horror appreciation movement which, 20 years on, is still influencing mainstream art and fashion.

Aside from music, his love of retro ephemera is reflected in his many published books, with subject matter ranging from old car catalogues, flexidiscs, sweet wrappers and most recently, a visual history of UK record shops, told through his latest book, The A-Z of Record Shop Bags.

Jonny Trunk has become something of a cult figure himself. His weekly newsletter navigates the deeper, darker corners of the internet, sharing bizarre 1960s educational films, lost art and nostalgic sleaze from a bygone era. He also now presents a regular show via Patreon, where listeners can enjoy his latest discoveries for a monthly fee. A recent show swung from New York bossa nova sung in Japanese to an easy listening tune where the singer earnestly comes out to his mum and dad. The kind of music that has you puzzling over its origin stories. Every track is lovingly selected, it’s clear that Trunk’s gut is finely tuned.

“It’s totally reliant on a physical reaction to music,” he says. “I can hear something and I get this strange kind of ‘tickle thing’ going on. This used to happen a lot when I watched the TV back in the 1970s, which explains my desire to find background music and film music from that era. But I can get that same physical reaction when I listen to a folk record, a jazz record, a female vocal record, a school record, a dub record – pretty much anything.” 

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Although I no longer make mixtapes, I still pursue that same feeling when I’m listening music, and Trunk’s devotion to the hunt is a reminder that no matter how deep you dig there’s always more to be discovered. 

Deb Grant is a radio host and Big Issue jazz critic  @djdeb-grant

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine. If you cannot reach your local vendor, you can still click HERE to subscribe to The Big Issue today or give a gift subscription to a friend or family member.You can also purchase one-off issues from The Big Issue Shop or The Big Issue app, available now from the App Store or Google Play.

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