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.