For a “brilliant ride” through British record shop history, look no further than Jonny Trunk’s bag collection
Sharing his favourite bags from the collection and a few juicy anecdotes, Jonny discusses his new publication with Fuel.
- Elfie Thomas
- 28 April 2022
When looking back to the design legacies of British music history, there are a few obvious places to start. Old gig posters and illustrated record sleeves are often the go-to's for the musically-inclined design enthusiast. Records and their sleeves were made to be collected, saved and revered, but what of the disposable plastic bags which ferried these worshipped items from the shop? Jonny Trunk’s extensive compendium of record shop bags weaves together a less conventional history of British music, celebrating the shops where musicians and fans bought and sold their first LPs. Many of these spaces are “long gone”, Jonny tells It’s Nice That, “thanks to unwanted planning redevelopments, traffic rerouting, changes in taste and format”. His new book is a love letter to these forgotten spaces, accompanied by a juicy selection of anecdotes and little known facts about the record shops and their bags. Readers, gear up for a “brilliant ride down the old British high streets and low streets too,” stopping off to see where “Morrissey, Dusty and Bowie all worked and where Ray, the angry Bristol record shop owner, had a weird wet and shiny face…”
Jonny has always had a knack for seeing beauty in things that others have thrown away or overlooked. He has written books about Sainsbury’s Own Label packaging, vintage car brochures and sweet wrappers, to name just a few. But Jonny’s speciality is finding lost and unreleased music – film music, TV music or “esoteric things like music made by school kids in the 1970s,” he tells It’s Nice That. He is now one of the foremost collectors of library music and exotic recordings in the world, he has his own record label and Patreon channel and, if he’s “asked nicely”, he’s known to sniff out the perfect affordable tune for a film, TV show, or advert.
Now, on the release of his book AZ Record Shop Bags, we see the glorious result of Jonny’s two great talents combining – his expertise in the history of British music and his keen eye for finding overlooked or forgotten “graphically-striking” gems. Taking us back to the birth of his collection around six years ago Jonny explains that he started looking for bags when he was feeling nostalgic for the shops he used to hang out in, particularly the ones that are no longer around – “Places like Woolworths, Our Price, 58 Dean Street, Cheapo Cheapo etc.” He printed a few of his initial finds on some T-shirts around Christmas time and they sold out fast. Realising he was onto something, he embarked on a more thorough hunting expedition: “asking record shops and record dealers if they had any stashed away, then I started running adverts for them in record collecting magazines”.
With the help and contributions of other bag collectors he met along the way, Jonny Trunk has now documented over 500 bags for the book which boasts ephemeral beauties from the post-war period to the late 1940s, to the early 1990s. Across this far-reaching period, the bags narrate an exhilarating story: “We see the rise of the teenager and the birth of early pop boutiques born out of old TV repair shops and electrical retailers,” says Jonny. “We have shops that started in the last 19th Century and still run strong, we see the rise and fall of the classic chains, birth of the Beatles, death of the listening booth.”
When asked about some of his favourite bags in the collection, Jonny immediately points us towards a yellowing paper bag with a delicate mauve illustration – a naked woman falling into a psychedelic vortex of patterns. It was designed for Ecstasy for Records, a shop in Chelmsford – “the centre of the burgeoning pub rock scene in the mid 1970s”. Jonny tells us that the shop was a sponsor of Chelmsford City Rock Punk Festival – a “legendary” failure. Among other mishaps, a large scaffolding structure was taken down while Eddie And The Hot Rods were playing by some disgruntled scaffolders who hadn’t been paid. Jonny found out that Chelmsford was also the shop where Grayson Perry got his first LP. When he printed a T-shirt with the Chelmsford record bag on it, Jonny went knocking on Grayson’s door to offer him one. “He told me that he even went to the failed festival – he said the scaffolding being taken down and thrown at the audience was the most punk thing he’d ever seen.”
Another favourite is a bag from Musicwise which features a little owl holding out his wing, an illustration that reminds Jonny of “classic British pottery, like John Clappison designs for Hornsea Pottery” with a “whiff” of Kenneth Townsend. Finally he points us to Hermons, a bag featuring an illustration of Preston bus station: “I mean it gets no better – a small, short-lived independent record shop with Northern Soul tendencies, situated in one of the retail units inside the brutalist bus station in Preston.”
Jonny assures us that we can expect a few more exciting publications to come out of the strong partnership he’s been forming with Fuel Publishing. While we’ll have to wait till next year to see the first of these, Jonny’s got a few more plans to keep us entertained. He’s got a new release from Trunk Records coming soon (“a great outsider LP by an Anglo Asian hippie who lived in Drop City in the late 1960s”) as well as “More T-shirts. More fun. And more of my Patreon show.”
HMV (Copyright © Jonny Trunk/ Fuel, 2022)
About the Author
Elfie joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in November 2021 after finishing an art history degree at Sussex University. She is particularly interested in creative projects which shed light on histories that have been traditionally overlooked or misrepresented.