February 18, 2015
Our Crate Diggers series profiles record collectors across the globe. After probing Motor City Drum Ensemble on personal records and strange digging experiences, we sit down with Jonny Trunk, the man behind cult British imprint Trunk Records to discuss all the “mad shit that shouldn’t be on record.”
An expert in film music, library music, early electronics and exotic recordings, welcome to the weird and wondrous world of Mr Trunk.
VF Crate Digger 02
Name: Jonathan Benton-Hughes Aliases: Jonny Trunk, Trunk Records Age: 40-something Nationality: British Size of collection: ???
Where's home for you Jonny?
Hackney, Stoke Newington. Well, I was born in West London, a place called Ham and then we moved out to Aldershot, home of the British Army in… I don’t know when it was, and then I came back to London in the late ’80s. And now I reside in Hackney, have done for 12 years I think.
Is that where you keep your records?
All the records are in the Trunk office, which is also in Hackney. Everything’s in Hackney.
Any idea how many records you've got?
No. I don’t really want to know either. There’s a lot.
Not into counting?
Well I don’t see the point. I’ve got better things to do than count. There’s a shitload. Imagine a room. It’s like that [points out a large section of the room]…and then there’s another load like that and another load like that and then another load up there [points up]. There’s a shit load. And there’s a load on the floor and then there’s some in the basement.
Is it organised?
Yeah, by genre. Otherwise you can’t find anything. At that level you have to have some kind of organisation. If you’re doing the radio or DJing, and you’re like “Where’s that jazz record that does that on it?”, you can go “I know! It’ll be in the jazz section”. If it wasn’t you’d be scuppered.
The worst thing that can happen is a record not being where it should be, which tends to send me into some kind of weird spin. I was looking for a Demis Roussos record the other day and I couldn’t find it and it wasn’t where it was supposed to be and I just went spare for about an hour trying to find the bloody thing. And it could have been somewhere else and it wasn’t there either. Things just started getting desperate because then you start going “Where is it? What do you mean the system’s not working?!”
Where was it in the end?
I haven’t found it yet [laughs]. It’ll be in the one place I haven’t looked yet, which is in the basement. What’s weird is that I got rid of a Demis Roussos record and the next day he died (I’m not saying it’s my fault).
Weird. So within the sections do you arrange things alphabetically?
Yeah it has to be. Well, no, only the film music actually. And the library music is organised by library as you’d expect.
Is film the biggest collection you have?
Pretty much, yeah. Film music and library music but they’re kind of the same.
The difference is that library music is commercial, right?
Yeah library music’s produced by libraries where as film music is composed by Hollywood composers and other people. So yeah, there is a difference but there’s a similar thing going.
So those are your two biggest sections.
Pretty much yeah, and sort of esoteric odd shit is the other quite big section. Just weird old stuff. There’s been loads of brilliantly weird records made since people started making records. So there’s a big section for that as well. I’m quite obsessed by outsider kind of stuff. Just mad shit that shouldn’t be on record.
When did you first start collecting records?
What was the first one you bought?
Well the first record I bought was younger than that. But the first record I bought in terms of collecting was probably the soundtrack to Dr. No, which was almost a stake in the ground. That was a big moment. It was a film record, and it took me to another place which I was interested in.
So that's the record that kicked it all off.
I think so, yeah. Watching the tele and getting into that sort of music. I found the music on the television more interesting than the music on the radio. It’s the sort of music nobody was really interested in shops. You didn’t see it racked up: it’d be on the floor, underneath everything, tucked away – “what do you want that rubbish for?”
What have you been collecting recently?
I bought 5 records yesterday. A weird spoken word one. A strange Brazilian thing from 1954 made in England which I’ve not seen before. I’m getting quite into weird yacht rock. I bought a couple of yacht rock-y records in the last week. It’s an on-going exploration.
What exactly is yacht rock?
It’s kind of ’70s, especially sort of mid ’70s. Lots of Americans, most of them have got facial hair – beards or moustaches. It’s kind of adult-orientated rock but a lot of it was played by jazz musicians so it’s got the smooth edges. The Japanese call it smooth jazz. Beautiful vocal hooks, beautifully played music. It’s quite calming, it’s quite elating: you know it’s quite exciting in a calm way. And every now and again it’s really nice to listen to something so beautifully made and so beautifully played. It’s a lot of stuff that was rejected by Americans. Made by Americans and rejected by Americans so it’s massive in Japan and big in Europe. It’s the sort of music you listen to in the luxury surroundings of a beautiful yacht in the sunshine.
And where do you listen to it?
In the front room [laughs]. Just after breakfast, early evening… It’s great. It’s been a very interesting few months of listening to a reasonably amount of it. Ned Doheny – Hard Candy is a good place to start. It’s a high point: beautifully sung and played, and highly unpretentious.
There’s an underground swelling going on for yacht rock at the moment. The summer might be quite big for it, I don’t know why… It’s just a really nice sound. Steely Dan, Doobie Brothers, that sort of thing. It’s an interesting scene, and I play it because my kids like it. I brought one of them on to the radio the other day and I said “What do you want to bring with you?” He went “Ned Doheny please” and he’s eight.
Where do you go to find records?
Well, yesterday I was in Harold Moores. It’s always quite good fun in there. It’s the classical music one, downstairs, on the corner of Poland Street and Great Marlborough Street [in Soho, London]. That was the last record store I was in. I did quite well there.
What did you get?
I got a weird thing called Noye’s Fludde which is a Benjamin Britten musical and the one Wes Anderson used it in… that one where the scouts go off, what’s it called… Moonrise Kingdom! It’s all through that. It was made in about 1960. It’s got a mad picture of these kids on the front playing. You know in that film there’s Noah’s flood and they’re all wearing funny masks aren’t they? Well what he [Wes Anderson] did is take that cover and turn it into a bit in the film.
You don’t see the English pressing, that’s really unusual. But there it was. Five quid. Bargain. Comedy price that one.
How come they weren't on to it?
They just thought it was worth a fiver. That’s what’s great about that shop, it’s brilliant. if it looks a bit shit, they don’t look it up.
Did the British pressing come first?
Both the same time. But for a lot of people British pressings are better than American ones, I dunno they’re slightly pressed different. The sleeves are better as well. There’s a certain snobbery in American records that have British pressings, and if you get the British pressing they’re rarer and weirder and sound a bit better. According to some.
According to you too?
Yes I prefer it. If there’s a good jazz record and there’s an English one, I’d rather have the English one.
Are you just being patriotic?
Yeah a bit of that [laughs] and a bit of snobbery. And they’re harder to find and I kinda like that.
Do you care about first pressings?
No. Not anymore. A lot of the records I’m into only had one pressing anyway. There is a thing inherent with all record collectors that the original one is always… well I dunno, it’s the first one innit. But I mean if it’s a difference between five hundred quid for one and £18.99 for the other, I’d rather have the £18.99 one. What I tend to find if that was the situation is that I’d buy the £18.99 one and never play it anyway. So the whole thing with pressings is a giant ball of confusion really. It’s very odd the way record collectors behave over certain things, it’s completely unpredictable.
Would you ever sell your records?
It’s funny actually, out of all the collectors I know there’s only one person who’s got rid of the whole lot. He worked in a record shop, a techno artist called Steve Stasis. He was an amazing collector of authentic hip hop breaks, techno, British jazz, library music… and he dedicated himself to those fields and collected all the top records in those fields. He had his mum’s attic full of all these amazing records. Worth loads of money, £500-£600 records all over the place. And then he had this weird epiphany, where he went “I don’t want to do this anymore” and sold them all in two weeks. They went in big bulk – like all the library went to one person, all the jazz went to one person and just sort of got rid of them. Nothing left, gone.
What was the epiphany?
He wanted to become a masseuse. He just had enough, he wanted to get rid of it all. All the baggage. If you move, the amount of work… they’re not light, they are bloody heavy. One hundred records is heavy, so if you’ve got eight thousand, it’s a lot of lugging around.
Do you think you might have a similar epiphany one day?
Do you know what? I’ve got no idea. No idea. I can see it being whittled down. I did a bit of whittling the other week and got rid of about one hundred and fifty records in about an hour.
So you're not a hoarder.
No, no, no. I think you’ve gotta keep tabs on it otherwise it does get completely out of control. You’ve got to be really careful, otherwise you end up walking through little passage ways in your office. You’ve to got to be careful. It’s really easy to get out of control and of course the passion is very all consuming. I got rid of say one hundred and fifty records last week and then two days ago I came back with twenty. You just got rid of a load, you don’t need to buy any more!
Here's a tough one: if your house was burning down and you could only save one record, what would it be?
I don’t know, there’s too many.
Ok but if you had to choose one.
Well you see this is an interesting question because as a collector you’d go for really the most valuable because all the others are kind of replaceable but the most valuable to a certain extent isn’t. If you’ve got a £2000 record you’re gonna try and save the £2000 record because all the others you can probably try and get again.
So have you got a £2000 record then?
What is it?
Michael Garrick – Moonscape. It’s about two grand now, probably a bit more.
What did you pick it up for?
Is that the most you've spent on a record?
Yeah. So it’d probably have to be that one, just because it’s worth so much money. And it would pay to get some of the other ones back.
There's a good logic to that.
Well there’d have to be. It’s different to a desert island disc. If you’re asking the question: they’re all gonna go which one is worth saving? The most expensive one because then you can flog it.
Is there a record you'd buy if money were no object?
Not really, no. I don’t really have a want list anymore. I don’t have that need to have. You do get to a sort of period in collecting where you go “Oh my god I’ve gotta have that”. After time that goes and you go “Oh I don’t need that anyway because if I do get it, I’ll just put it on the wall anyway or stick it in the racks and I won’t play it for two years”. So, no hit list really, no. Not bothered.
Have you got a record that makes you cry?
God, I don’t know, there’s loads! Ennio Morricone – Maddalena maybe, that’s a great record. That’s a real blubby one that one.
Don’t really have one. I like them all. I’ve always been a fan of Sermi, that’s a really obscure Italian label, just because it’s just a mad thing. Sort of library music but it isn’t really. It’s kind of film music done by people like Alessandro Alessandroni. I was after a few of them and they took me fifteen years to get them some of them – just incredibly rare and just great records really. It’s a funny looking label. It’s one of these geeky collector things: you go into a certain area, library music, and this one label for me is the pinnacle of weirdness. There’s not really much archive about who owned it or why they did it and everything they did is mad.
Favourite album cover?
I almost can’t answer that because it’s just too much of a mad question. They’ve all got funny things going on. I’m always a fan of the graphics of library.
Strangest digging experience ever?
I was in Italy once. You go record shopping in Italy and there’s hardly any shops because they don’t do second hand. There were a couple of shops in Florence that, when they decided to open, had some stuff but it wasn’t like here where you’ve got second hand dealers and so on.
At the time I was sort of into Italian library music and funny stuff. This is going back maybe ten years or something. I think we were in… where were we? Tuscany, that’s it! Bloody hot, boiling hot. Going on the road looking for somewhere to go have something to eat, I can’t remember what we were doing exactly. I think we were going to San Gimignano or one of those mad places. And there was a kind of junk shop on the road selling pots and crap. So I thought I’d pull over and have a look inside.
Carnage inside, junk all over the place. And then for some reason, right in the middle of the floor, on the floor, was this bizarre record called The Folk Group which is a Piero Umiliani record. Really obscure thing. It’s sort of infamous because it’s got The Rolling Stones on the front cover and it’s not The Rolling Stones, and it’s not a folk record either. I didn’t even have to dig it was just looking at me in the middle of the floor, I’ll never forget it – it was in the middle of the floor, on the floor. No other records anywhere!
Illustration: Oliver Watson