A Musical Aside: Trunk Records and a Moment in British Music

Posted: July 14, 2013 in New Music and New Discoveries

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While I’m whiling away the tail of the weekend spreading news of obscure music I’d like to draw attention to what I believe is the most bizarre record ever released. I’m referring to Trunk Records’ release of the buffet carriage announcements from the Midland Mainline train company’s London-to-Leicester route.

I’ve known of the release for years but never had the courage to order it. Basically, Trunk Records is an exqusitely eccentric outfit run by one Johnny Trunk. They seem to make many of their release decisions by going down the pub, drinking twelve pints of beer and waking up two days later to discover whether they unleashed a moment of genius or madness. I swear to you now, if you like downloads, take a look, if not, then make your life better by ordering one of their final copies of the “Now We Are Ten” sampler – it’s less than five pounds (as is the latest Lard sampler) and will make your life better.

http://www.trunkrecords.com/intro.shtml

At its most eccentric, Trunk has released recordings of his sister’s porn starlet fan mail set to music and other material that is funny for a listen or two but no more. At the other end of the spectrum, however, it has been an outlet for an entire era of British music that has been overlooked, minimised, dismissed and under-appreciated. The label specialises in rare film music (the finest are the soundtrack to Blood on Satan’s Claw and the Psychomania soundtrack), TV soundtracks with quite a few children’s shows (I own both the Fingerbobs music and The Clangers), old BBC electronics music (I recommend the Tristram Cary compilation, The John Baker tapes and an old school programme called The Seasons), plus a load of jazz-orientated material with other deviations into advert music and commercial music libraries.

Now, let’s be fair, I’m not expecting to be more than bemused by the MMS Bar Recording – I’m certainly going to wave a copy at my father and at my uncle (both train fans). The label, however, by its willingness to pursue a vision to the nth degree, to pause for playfulness, combined with the obvious effort put into finding much of this music and the extensive notes that help me make sense of their discoveries, have made a loyal fan.

The music I love from Trunk is that which captures a particular time in British music when the world was trying to come to terms with the arrival of new instruments – electronics – that offered a brief window when escape from the traditional structures of the western musical tradition seemed possible. its that sense that here i’m listening to a genuine moment of escape – to music that was trying forty-fifty years ago, in vastly more difficult technological circumstance, in a deeply conservative environment, to flee centuries of inherited musical systems. The window never opened too far, most music ever since has retreated to the rulebook with the new musical potential of electronics simply added to the palette alongside traditional acoustic instrumentation rather than acting as a way out into something truly new.

That doesn’t mean I think “modern life is rubbish”, not at all. The prominence of these experimental forms in primetime TV broadcasts helped create the vast appetite of today’s music for sounds and styles that are a world beyond what came before. Even in the most mainstream pop recordings we’re regularly hearing sounds that squelch, crackle, burr and quiver in ways that would never have been envisaged as any part of musical composition barely a single lifetime ago.

The other element that’s so potent (the Ghost Box label really delves into it), particularly on the Blood on Satan’s Claw soundtrack, is the brief openness to quite esoteric subject material. This was the height of British consideration of laylines, druidic rites, UFOs, mysterious big cats loose in the countryside – the merging of the ancient, wild and uncontrollable rammed directly into the ultramodern and similarly unknown potentials of new technology and new futures. It was a tantalising vision and a beautiful meshing of what seemed at first to be opposing interests. Musically the result was recordings that featured the latest in synthesiser technology, tape experimentation and early drum machines – while ghostly string and wind instruments played over the top or known forms would intrude.

On Psychomania,the link between past, present and future is made explicit. It follows the attempts by a young biker gang delinquent to use his mother’s talents as a witch to die and return as the undead. The soundtrack flares in all directions with modern funk and acoustic interjections sitting alongside slithers of uncomfortable conversation from the film and haunting electronic effects…

…What the hey. Go buy the samplers. I just fleshed out the collection a little and barely spent a tenner. Have a good Monday!

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