Thursday, August 16, 2007

The top ten 'lost' classics

The record label boss Jonny Trunk has spent a decade releasing “lost” classics. Here, he plays pop picker to give us his top ten.

Just over a decade ago I asked for my P45. I walked out of normal employment. It was like rolling a very big dice – I had no work to go to, just my enthusiasm for music, charity shops, jumble sales and anything under the radar of normal life.

Following my instincts, and with very limited resources, Trunk Records was born, the slightly odd idea being to issue old music that no one had really heard before. It’s easy to set up a reissue label, it’s slightly masochistic to become a label that only puts out unreleased recordings from the past, but that’s exactly what I had in mind. I’d call it “lost music”, it was not even music sometimes, but whatever I dug up seemed to entertain a small, lively crowd of fellow musical daredevils. So I kept digging.

Now, “digging” is a good verb here, whether it’s in a boot fair, climbing about in someone’s shed or my own mind, it seems to suit the activity. It’s sonic archaeology, and in many cases the recordings, once cleaned up, can be of historic importance or of very serious new influence.

And because Trunk operates in an area not controlled or even considered worthy by the major record labels, licensing costs can be low, making small runs of these very special records workable, sometimes even profitable.

A decade on, Trunk is still alive, and other like-minded record labels have sprung up, mining the past, looking at older and stranger places for music that have never been tapped before. A fellow label based in Manchester called Finders Keepers is a great example; it is busy bringing out lost Czech film music, Turkish psychedelics and forgotten folk marvels to a new, excitable audience. And it’s working, too.

So, to celebrate ten years of existence I’ve compiled a Top Ten list. To make it easy for myself I’ve just concentrated on the music I’ve tracked down, dug up, rescued from skips and released over the past decade. One track a year if you like, which is about right, as most of these records take at least 12 months to excavate.


Right, let’s begin with one of my earliest loss-making releases. Marching There and Back is the real name of the track, and it’s by Sydney Dale. It’s massively nostalgic, very hooky, was never commercially available, and was guaranteed to lose money if I issued it. So I did. I couldn’t help myself. It offered up a fine opportunity to put a hole in Michael Rodd’s head.


This track comes from an album called Moonscape – the rarest British jazz record ever released. Only 99 copies were made, back in 1964. This is a beautiful bit of work; ethereal, slightly free, but still very listenable and sublimely melancholic in parts. I have now guaranteed that more than 99 people can hear it.


Another rather large Trunk obsession is the one all about underwater music. I blame it on old Sundays watching Jacques Cousteau. Well, this subaquatic recording was discovered in Australia. Just imagine, warm underwater music made by a Norwegian composer living in Sydney. It’s just got to be good hasn’t it? Like jazz for sharks and pop for porpoises.


This highlights a big Trunk obsession, and that’s good music from outer space. These knitted ETs come from the most charming sci-fi series yet made, a Smallfilms production that predates our now common thoughts on recycling, being nice to people and eating lots of soup. Vernon Elliott’s astro-classical quintet grows in sound and stature with each new episode of The Clangers, their first tiny crotchets eventually blossom into a glorious space symphony.


For a long while Trunk Records was just my part-time work. To make ends meet I’d also help my sister with her soft-porn mail-order business. She was a very popular topless model, had started a fan club and rude mail was arriving at her office by the van load. Some of the more curious correspondence caught my eye, I collected it and a couple of years later I produced a spoken word album called Dirty Fan Male using these genuine words of love and sex.


Naming a genre of sound after a children’s toy seemed like a really good idea at the time. The name was originally conceived by Martin Green, a fellow collector and vinyl nerd. He was simply mentioning that most of the folk music that I hankered after and issued had a naive, strange and dark quality, a little like Fuzzy Felt Hospital. Serial Killer Folk is another way of describing it, but then that’s not really for children, and this is.


A year after The Clangers I started to chase the music from Kes. It’s a harrowing movie by Ken Loach with a wondrous pastoral score played by a killer London jazz lineup. The score was “lost”, until I managed to track down the composer, John Cameron. He then managed to find the master tape in his shed. The soundtrack was issued, Jarvis did the sleevenotes, and the theme still flutters around my head every day.


Basil has to be one of our most popular, unpopular composers. An influence on Brian Eno and the industrial movement of the mid 1970s, Basil broke all the rules of recorded sound and what to do with it once you’ve got it. He hadn’t made any albums for years, but after I got in touch with him he kept sending me bizarre and beautiful music. This is a recording he made using insects, autistic children, a tram and his singing wife.


A classic example of what Trunk Records is all about. It’s a lost recording, originally issued by a Jewish charity back in 1968. It’s a Hebrew prayer ceremony featuring one of the true legends of jazz. When you listen it sounds all wrong and it’s all so right at the same time. It’s the music that the world has left behind, rubbished, thrown away, just like the other nine recordings on this special Trunk list.


Good vocal harmony singing is to die for, especially if it’s about wristwatches. Mike Sammes and his singers were the masters of this sonic art and were employed by just about everyone – Streisand, Sinatra, even Doonican. Tragically, I tracked Sammes down the week he passed away. His neighbour phoned me and insisted I came to rescue his belongings. When I got there all that remained were piles of manuscripts and boxes of forgotten tapes. In among them were all Mike’s period advertising jingles. I put them all together into a new album of period TV sound called Music for Biscuits. Apparently it gets played on Saga Radio.


Consider digging both in town and way out of town. Don’t be put off by thinking that every crate in a busy town has been well picked over. This is a common misconception. And remember, people are often not looking for the same thing as you. Examine everything quickly but efficiently and carefully, because vinyl condition is of the upmost importance most of the time. There is nothing worse than an unplayable record in a nice sleeve. Don’t be hassled by other diggers trying to move you along quickly. Remain relaxed and, if needs be, assert yourself – tell them you’ll be ages. Always ask if the shop – especially if it is a charity shop – has “any more records out the back”. Buy anything that you have never seen before, as well as anything that gives you a “funny feeling”.



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