Friday, December 14, 2007

Observer Music Monthly, July 15 2007

by Simon Reynolds

For over a decade, a gentleman called Jonny Trunk has trawled the charity shops, bargain basements, and jumble sales, sifting the dreck for bygone oddities and queer delectables. Chasing down obscure objects of collector desire (often barely more than rumours) or stumbling serendipitously on unknown treasures, Trunk has then tracked down the music’s elderly creators (invariably languishing in neglect and penury) and prised the right-to-reissue from their bony, arthritic mitts.

Jonny Boy specializes in genres of marginal reputation: never-before-available soundtracks from horror movies like The Wicker Man, incidental music from kids’ TV programmes like The Tomorrow People, fey folk-pop, library music. His sensibility lies at the exact intersection of Stereolab, Saint Etienne and el Records, but if that sounds too Anglo aesthete tasteful, you’ve got to factor in Trunk’s penchant for period pornography. Not only did he reissue Mary Millington’s spoken word records, he made a brand new one, Wisbey’s Dirty Fan Male, which involved an actor friend reading out lewd letters sent (so the story goes) to Trunk’s sister, a soft-porn starlet. One appears as a hidden track at the end of this excellent compilation: “…I think that my tongue would have to be surgically removed from your mouth-watering botty…”

There’s a serious core behind all this dotty whimsy: Trunk’s most crucial excavations have been works by maverick composers like Basil Kirchin, Delia Derbyshire and Desmond Leslie, pioneers of a peculiarly English form of musique concrete and analogue electronica that often sounds like it was cobbled together in a garden shed. The late Kirchin features with the uncharacteristically wispy femme-pop of “I Start Counting,” while the even later Derbyshire briefly appears with a 37 second synth-interlude. But overall Now We Are Ten downplays electronics in favor of acoustic instrument-based soundtracks and light-on-the-ear Briz-jazz. It’s a shrewd move, resulting in an unusually coherent, all-the-way-through listenable compiliation, unlike the ragbags of out-takes and “famous guest remixes” labels usually put out to celebrate their anniversaries.

Highlights include the pastel-toned poignancy of “Dark World” and “Nature Waltz” by Sven Libaek, the fragrant waft ‘n’ flutter of Paul Lewis’s “Waiting For Nina”, and Trunk’s own “O Zeus” (meta-library music woven out of samples from that incidental music genre typically churned out of Wardour Street studios by session-men and moonlighting composers). If the cloying flute of John Cameron’s theme from Kes really requires the sour bleakness of the movie to offset its sweetness, Vernon Elliott’s “Clangers--Music” has a stand-alone magic, although if you’re of a certain age the tinkling harps and tootling woodwinds will inevitably flash you back to the charm and wonderment of watching all those Postgate Films. Rescuing figures like Elliott, Kirchin and the rest from history’s rubbish tip is a valuable feat of cultural archaeology, and Now We Are Ten is the sweet and softly sad sound of someone giving their own trumpet a well-deserved blow. Fnarr fnaar.

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