An authentic crate digger, he devotes his time to excavating the forgotten trenches of popular music to exhume audio gems as diverse as the soundtrack to seventies’ kids show Fingerbobs and Cults Percussion Ensemble – a private pressing of an all-girls school percussion band.
Through his Trunk records imprint, Jonny has released early electronic curios from the vaults of British TV, film, library catalogues and advertising jingles, introducing their strange sounds to a whole new generation of collectors.
He has also helped revive interest in the BBC’s experimental Radiophonic Workshop, releasing music from the likes of Delia Derbyshire, John Baker, Brian Hodgson and Daphne Oram.
We caught up with the eclectic label boss, writer, broadcaster, DJ, musician and curator, to learn where his fascination in all things weird and electronic has come from...
To this day I clearly remember have a spoon. This was when I was very young, and in a cot. The spoon had a sort of vortex design on the handle. When the title sequence for Dr Who came on (apparently my cot was in the sitting room, in front of the TV), the howlround effect on the TV was the same as the design on the spoon, and I’d hold up the spoon and sing along to the theme, doing a sort of num-e-nee-num thing. Obviously at such a young age I had no idea this was radiophonic music, but it had a unique effect on me.
Did that early experience shape your future tastes at all?
I think it must have done as I have been obsessed with TV and film music for moist of my life.
When were you first exposed to the sounds of Delia Derbyshire and the Radiophonic Workshop?
See the cot incident, above. After that, the pink album.
You’ve released loads of vintage electronica, library music and sound effect records through Trunk Records – what attracts you to that sort of music?
It all comes from my fascination with film music, TV music and library music. I’ve always found the link between strange TV and the strange music from that strange old TV far more interesting than pop, rock etc. I have no idea why. I think the TV I saw when I was growing up has a lot to do with it, shows like Vision On that utilized cheap library music and experimental film techniques had a profound impact.
There is a growing appetite for vintage electronic music and re-releases – why do you think that is?
Because the music is interesting and good, and a lot of the people who made are quite fascinating too. Also, I think people who like music eventually find themselves in a place where more unusual sounds are more interesting for a bit.
All the usual suspects, Oram, Fagandini, Derbyshire. I think a lot of light gets shone of Delia, but there are plenty of others at the Workshop who deserve a little of that light too (and not just the ladies).
Do you think these important women experimenters have received their fair share of kudos over the years?
I think they have enjoyed a little more exposure in the last five years thanks to new albums and some good PR.
You’ve put out music from Daphne Oram, Delia Derbyshire, Maddalena Fagandini – how did you discover their music? How easy was it to get permission to release it?
All very easy - some of it was in the public domain (easy), some I licensed from the BBC (not very easy and expensive), some from library companies (easy). So, all the usual ways.
How do you think these early pioneers have influenced electronic music today?
In all the usual ways, people have sampled it, remixed it, copied it. Most of the time you never know unless you were told.
You also make your own music. Has the work of Delia, Daphne and the Radiophonic Workshop influenced you? If so, in what ways?
Yes, possibly, but I have no idea how as I don’t draw my music onto bits of film and then feed it thought a machine that I designed and made, and I don’t have a green lampshade that I hit and record either. People forget that these woman made music in the most incredible inventive ways. Today you can make music with very little skill.
There have been loads of stories about Delia Derbyshire that have emerged since she passed away. Are there any other Delia anecdotes that have grabbed you?
Yes, there are loads. Her personal hygiene was apparently quite questionable. And she was pissed quite a lot of the time, drinking wine through a straw from a coke bottle.
We interviewed Jonny for our Women & Machines feature in the latest issue of M magazine.