Q&A With Jonny Trunk

I’ve mentioned Jonny Trunk several times this week; since Trunk Records released the Tomorrow People CD that got me into all this, he’s the person you can (very, very indirectly) thank or blame for the epic word-count I’ve inflicted on you this week. Trunk Records deals in wonderful bits and bobs of otherwise lost or forgotten music for British television, film, and advertisements—here you can find the music for The Clangers, advertising jingles composed by Barry Gray, and library music by John Gale. In the words of Simon Reynolds, “With their aura of wistful reverie and faded decay, the sounds exhumed by Trunk offer a portal into Britain’s cultural unconscious.”

Trunk was good enough to take some time to answer a few questions of mine regarding the radiophonic revival.

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What do you think accounts for the increased interest over the last decade or so in the output of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and other soundtrack, library, and advertising music from the mid-twentieth century?

It’s a mixture of several things; there was a generation of people who grew up watching good and strange TV in the 60s and 70s with radiophonic and library music as the soundtrack, and then (like me) wanted to hear it again and track it down. Also, the music is interesting, and not like anything else. As genres, library music, TV music, radiophonics etc are very deep, kaleidoscopic, creative and cover many small eras and styles, so unlike many other musical genres they can sustain your interest. Also, if you think back to the mid 1990s, this was a huge musical area that had not been properly explored and exploited, unlike every other kind of music. It was seen as trash. So now, 15 years on, there has been much excavation, research and issues, which in turn has brought in new listeners, and the cycle continues.   

The stories of a lot of composers in this line tend to be rather sad, even outright tragic, as in the case of John Baker; there’s a recurring underdog/labouring in obscurity theme. In what way do you think the narratives are a big part of the audience interest? Is that the case for you?

Yes, many of these composers had tragic lives in the end, some die alone and lost, others are alcoholic, suicidal etc. But this is pretty standard across the whole music business.  There are also a lot of film music and library composer who have been very successful indeed and have fabulous lives. I think good back stories in all music is important. 

As far as you can tell, what’s the demographics of the Trunk Records customer base? Musicians, music fans, casual listeners? Is it primarily UK? How much is overseas?

The music appeals to lots of collectors and specialists. These people are all across the UK, all across the USA, across Europe, Australia, all over. There are not many of us but we are everywhere… 

What do you think is the primary appeal of this material for your customers? 

First the appeal is in the music - what it sounds like, then the history of it, then maybe the nostalgic element, or the surprise element or just the madness. 

What’s the general process for sourcing, obtaining the rights to, and releasing material, such as the Tomorrow People soundtrack or the John Baker Tapes? What sort of challenges or barriers do you encounter?

It is much easier now thanks to the internet. You can normally find a company or a composer in seconds. Before we were all electronically connected, the process was much more complex, harder, much more work was involved - phone calls, letters, taxes, travel. Now anyone can find a composer and license his music, sometimes within hours. It is quite easy these days. What is difficult is to have the ideas and the motivation I think. 

Do you have a “wish list” of material you’d like to track down and release? If so, what are a few of the things on it?

Not really. My mind doesn’t work like that. I tend to wake up and think of something and then try and pursue it. If it doesn’t work then I wait for another brainwave…