Trevor Charles Horn CBE (born 15 July 1949) is an English record producer and musician. His influence on pop and electronic music in the 1980s was such that he has been called "the man who invented the eighties".[1][2]

Trevor Horn
Horn in 1984
Horn in 1984
Background information
Birth nameTrevor Charles Horn
Born (1949-07-15) 15 July 1949 (age 74)
Hetton-le-Hole, England
Genres
Occupation(s)
  • Music producer
  • studio and label owner
  • musician
Instrument(s)
  • Bass guitar
  • vocals
Years active1963–present
LabelsZTT
Member of
Formerly of
Spouse(s)
(m. 1980; died 2014)
Websitetrevorhorn.com

Horn took up the bass guitar at an early age and taught himself to sight-read music. In the 1970s, he worked as a session musician, built his own studio, and wrote and produced singles for various artists. Horn gained fame in 1979 as a member of the Buggles, who achieved a hit single with "Video Killed the Radio Star". He was invited to join the progressive rock band Yes, becoming their lead singer.

In 1981, Horn became a full-time producer, working on successful songs and albums for acts including Dollar, ABC, Malcolm McLaren, Yes, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood. He ventured into business with his wife Jill Sinclair, purchasing Sarm West Studios and establishing the publishers Perfect Songs and their own label, ZTT Records. In the following year, Horn co-formed the electronic group Art of Noise. He achieved hits in the following decades with Seal and t.A.T.u. He has performed with the supergroup Producers, later known as the Trevor Horn Band, since 2006.

Horn's awards include Brit Awards for Best British Producer in 1983, 1985, and 1992, a 1995 Grammy Award for Seal's song "Kiss from a Rose", and a 2010 Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music.[3]

Early life Edit

Trevor Charles Horn was born on 15 July 1949 to John and Elizabeth Horn in Hetton-le-Hole, England, and grew up in Durham City.[4][5][6] The second of four children, he has two sisters, including the novelist Marjorie DeLuca,[7] and a brother, the television producer Ken Horn.[4][8] His father was a maintenance engineer at the neighbouring dairy[9] and a professional musician who played the double bass in the Joe Clarke Big Band during the week.[4][10][11] Horn attended Johnston Grammar School in Durham.[4]

At around eight years of age, Horn took up the double bass and was taught the basics by his father, including the concept of playing triads.[10] He taught himself the bass guitar and became confident in sight-reading music, using guide books and practising on his father's four-string guitar in the spare room of the house. In his early teens, Horn filled in for his father on the double bass in the Joe Clarke band when he was late for a gig.[10] At school Horn was given a recorder which he picked up with little effort as he already had music knowledge, and performed in the local youth orchestra.[10][4] His interests turned to contemporary rock acts such as the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Dylan. At 14, Horn played electric guitar in his first group, the Outer Limits,[12] named after the 1963 television series, playing mainly covers by the Kinks.[10][5][13]

Horn went on to pursue a "succession of day jobs", including one at a rubber company.[10] He also put on a Bob Dylan imitation act for two nights a week "with a harmonica around my neck", and played the bass at odd gigs.[10] Then, at seventeen, Horn decided to pursue a career in music and "woke my parents up at 4am to tell them".[4] They were reluctant at first as they wanted him to become a chartered accountant as he performed well in maths, but Horn had failed the required exams.[4] Horn's parents pleaded with him to try one more job, but three months into his role as a progress chaser in a plastic bag factory, he was fired. "I said, 'That's it, I'm never going into that world again!'", and the next day, received an offer to play the bass in a local semi-professional band at a Top Rank Ballroom, playing top 40 and dance music for £24 a week for five nights' work.[4][10][14] Horn also received airplay on BBC Radio Leicester, performing self-written songs on a guitar.[10]

Career Edit

1971–1979: Early work Edit

At 21, Horn relocated to London and took up work by playing in a band which involved re-recording top 20 songs for BBC radio due to the needle time restrictions then in place. This was followed by a one-year tenure with Ray McVay's big band,[10] included performances at the world ballroom dancing championship and the television show Come Dancing.[11] He also worked as a session musician for rock groups and jingles.[5] At 24, Horn began work in Leicester, where he had a nightly gig playing bass at a nightclub and helped construct a recording studio.[14] He produced songs for local artists, including a song for Leicester City F.C.[10][14]

By 1976, Horn had returned to London. He played bass in Northern Lights, a covers band, which also featured the keyboardist Geoff Downes and the singer Tina Charles.[15] Horn formed Tracks, a jazz fusion band inspired by Weather Report and Herbie Hancock, with the future Shakatak drummer Roger Odell, before he left to play in Charles's backing band.[16] Also in the band were the keyboardist Geoffrey Downes and the guitarist Bruce Woolley, both of whom Horn later worked with in the band the Buggles.[citation needed] Horn and Charles entered a short relationship, and Horn learned from her inspiring producer Biddu.[14][17][18][19]

In the mid-1970s, Horn worked for a music publisher on Denmark Street, London, producing demos.[11] From 1977 to 1979, Horn worked on various singles as a songwriter, producer, or orchestra director, but without profit.[20] Among his first was "Natural Dance" by Tony Cole and "Don't Come Back" by Fallen Angel and the T.C. Band, featuring Woolley as songwriter, which Horn produced under the name "T.C. Horn".[21] He wrote "Boot Boot Woman", the B-side to the Boogatti single "Come Back Marianne".[22] In 1978, Horn wrote, sang, and produced "Caribbean Air Control" under the pseudonym Big A, which features Horn pictured as a pilot on the front sleeve.[23] In 1979, a full studio album, Star to Star, by Chromium, a "sci-fi disco project", was released. Itfeatured Horn and Downes as songwriters and producers, and Horn's future Art of Noise bandmate Anne Dudley on keyboards.[1][24] Other artists that Horn worked with included Woolley, John Howard,[1][25] Dusty Springfield ("Baby Blue"),[11] and the Jags ("Back of My Hand"). Horn achieved his first production hit when "Monkey Chop" by Dan-I reached No. 30 on the UK Singles Chart in 1979.[14]

1978–1980: The Buggles and "Video Killed the Radio Star" Edit

 
The Buggles: Geoff Downes (far left) and Horn (far right) on the show Caspe Street in 1980

In 1978, Horn and Downes formed the new wave band the Buggles with early contributions from Woolley. They secured a recording deal with Island Records and spent much of 1979 recording their debut album, The Age of Plastic (1980). The credits list Horn with co-production, lead vocals, guitar and bass.[citation needed]

The Buggles' debut single, "Video Killed the Radio Star", was released in September 1979 and reached No. 1 in the UK, propelling Horn, then aged 30, to fame.[1][26] In August 1981, "Video Killed the Radio Star" became the first music video to air on MTV.[citation needed]

1980: Yes Edit

The Buggles secured management from Brian Lane, who was also managing the progressive rock band Yes.[27][28] The Yes singer, Jon Anderson, and the keyboardist, Rick Wakeman, had both departed. Horn and Downes were invited to replace them, and Yes recorded an album, Drama (1980), with Horn on vocals and bass.[27] On tour, Horn was poorly received by fans, who reacted poorly to "this fat, dumpy guy at the front singing ... it was an absolute nightmare from start to finish".[29] Yes sacked Horn after the tour.[29]

1980–1982: Dollar, ABC and Malcolm McLaren Edit

In 1980, Horn married the music executive Jill Sinclair, who became his manager.[30] Sinclair told him that as an artist he would always be "second division", but if he pursued production he would become the best in the world.[14]

 
In the 1980s, Horn incorporated samples into pop music using a Fairlight CMI synthesiser.

Horn assembled studio equipment, including a Roland TR-808 drum machine, a sequencer, a Minimoog synthesiser and Simmons electronic drums.[31] He spent £18,000 on a Fairlight CMI, an early digital synthesiser, one of four in the UK at the time.[14] The Fairlight was one of the first digital samplers, allowing musicians to play back samples such as sound effects at different pitches.[32] He said later: "I knew what it was capable of, because I understood what it did. Most other people didn't understand at the time – sampling was like a mystical world."[14] Horn is credited as the "key architect" in incorporating sampling into "the language of pop".[32] His understanding of electronic equipment made him influential on the development of pop music in the following decade.[33]

In 1981, Horn completed a second Buggles album, Adventures in Modern Recording, largely on his own following Downes's decision to form Asia.[citation needed] Horn produced The Dollar Album (1982) by the pop duo Dollar, writing the songs "Mirror Mirror", "Hand Held in Black and White", "Give Me Back My Heart" and "Videotheque". All four became top 20 hits in the UK.[citation needed] Though Dollar were a middle-of-the-road band with little credibility, Horn saw an opportunity to combine the electronic music of Kraftwerk and the crooner Vince Hill.[28] The music journalist Alexis Petridis said that The Dollar Album "mapped out ... the sonic future of 80s pop", with "booming" drums, high-drama" synthesisers and sampled voices.[28]

Horn's success with Dollar generated interest from other acts. He next produced The Lexicon of Love by ABC, which became one of the best-selling albums of 1982.[28] During the recording, he persuaded ABC to replace their bassist, feeling he was subpar. Horn regretted the decision, and later learnt that U2 had declined to work with him as they were concerned he would split the band.[14]

In 1982, Horn and Sinclair formed a music publishing company, Perfect Songs.[citation needed] In 1983, Horn produced Duck Rock by the former Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren. It featured the single "Buffalo Gals", credited as the first British hip hop single.[28]

1983–1989: Frankie Goes to Hollywood and Grace Jones Edit

In 1983, Horn and Sinclair purchased Basing Street Studios in west London from Chris Blackwell and renamed it Sarm West Studios.[14] With the journalist Paul Morley, they co-founded a record label, ZTT.[30] The first act they signed was Frankie Goes to Hollywood,[34] for whom Horn produced their successful debut album, Welcome to the Pleasuredome.[17] He dramatically restructured the lead single, "Relax", described by Sound on Sound as a "hi-NRG brand of dance-synth-pop" that "broke new sonic ground, while epitomising '80s excess in all its garish, overblown glory".[34] "Relax" reached number one on the UK Singles Chart.[34] At this point, Horn was working with Foreigner in the US on their album Agent Provocateur (1984).[35] He left the project to work on the followup Frankie Goes to Hollywood singles "Two Tribes" and "The Power of Love", which also reached number one.[34]

Horn worked with Yes again, producing their 1983 album 90125. He persuaded them to record "Owner of a Lonely Heart", which they resisted, deeming it "too poppy". It became their only number-one single in the USA.[28]

In 1983, Horn co-formed the band the Art of Noise, co-writing several hits including "Close (To the Edit)", "Beat Box", "Moments in Love", and "Slave to the Rhythm". This was originally intended as Frankie Goes to Hollywood's second single, but was instead given to Grace Jones. Horn and his studio team reworked and reinterpreted it, jazz style, into six separate songs to form Jones's album Slave to the Rhythm. It features the Pink Floyd guitarist David Gilmour.[36]

In 1984, Horn was approached by the singer and activist Bob Geldof to produce the song "Do They Know It's Christmas?", but he was unavailable. Instead, he gave use of Sarm West Studio free of charge to the project for 24 hours, which Geldof accepted, assigning Midge Ure as the producer instead. Horn produced the B-side featuring messages from artists who had and had not made the recording, including David Bowie, Annie Lennox, Paul McCartney, Big Country, and Holly Johnson. They were also recorded over the same backing track as the "Do They Know It's Christmas?"

In the late 1980s,[14] Horn relocated to Bel Air, Los Angeles, where he established Sarm West Coast LA, a residential recording studio. Horn produced another Yes album, Big Generator (1987).

1990s: Seal Edit

In 1990, Horn produced the debut album by the English singer Seal. This began a multi-album collaboration which Horn reasoned down to his liking of Seal's voice and a "musical empathy" with how he works and the songs he writes.[31] Seal reached No. 1 in the UK and lead single "Crazy" went to No. 2. The album marked a turning point in Horn's production method, switching typical studio hardware for computers, and recorded tracks on Seal using MIDI and Studio Vision software. Horn was pleased with the results and sold his PC equipment for an Apple Macintosh.[31] At this stage of his career, Horn had lost his enthusiasm for producing 12-inch mixes of songs and brought in other remixers to make them, while concentrating on albums.[31]

He also produced half of the songs on Marc Almond's 1991 album Tenement Symphony, including the three singles on the album: "Jacky", "My Hand Over My Heart" and "The Days of Pearly Spencer", which reached #4 in the UK charts.

In the 1990s, Horn wrote two songs for solo female singers. "Riding into Blue (Cowboy Song)" was recorded by Inga Humpe and "Docklands" was recorded by Betsy Cook. He also co-wrote two songs with Terry Reid for his 1991 album, The Driver and "The Shape of Things to Come" for Cher's 1995 album It's a Man's World.

 
Hook End Recording Studios, purchased by Horn in the 1990s

Horn co-produced Mike Oldfield's 1992 album Tubular Bells II alongside Oldfield and Tom Newman. Oldfield was a fan of the Buggles song "Video Killed The Radio Star" and described Horn as like being a judge in a courtroom when presenting some of his ideas for the album, to which Horn would either nod or shake his head. This, according to Oldfield, gave him a kind of a filter for which ideas worked.

Horn co-wrote "Everybody Up", the theme song to the TV programme The Glam Metal Detectives, a comedy sketch show which appeared on BBC Two in 1995. This was another collaboration with Lol Creme. In 1992, Horn collaborated with composer Hans Zimmer to produce the score for the film Toys, which included interpretations by Tori Amos, Pat Metheny and Thomas Dolby.

In the mid-1990s, Horn and Sinclair bought Hook End Manor in Oxfordshire and renamed its recording facility Sarm Hook End.[37][38][39] In 1995, Horn produced "The Carpet Crawlers 1999", a rerecording of "The Carpet Crawlers" by Genesis, which featured vocals from their former singers Peter Gabriel and Phil Collins. It was released on the compilation Turn It On Again: The Hits (1999).[40] In 1996, Horn produced the multi-platinum album Wildest Dreams by Tina Turner.

2000s: t.A.T.u., LeAnn Rimes and Belle and Sebastian Edit

In the 2000s, Horn was hired by Interscope Records to create English-language versions of songs by the Russian pop duo t.A.T.u. He wrote new lyrics for "All the Things She Said" and "Not Gonna Get Us" and coached t.A.T.u. to sing them in English. He also rerecorded the instruments, as he did not have access to the original multitracks.[41] "All the Things She Said" reached number one on the UK Singles Chart.[42] In 2020, The Guardian named it Horn's greatest work since the mid-80s.[43]

For the 2000 film Coyote Ugly, Horn produced "Can't Fight the Moonlight" by the American singer LeAann Rimes. It sold more than two million copies worldwide and reached number one in the UK and Australia.[44] Horn co-wrote "Pass the Flame" (the official torch relay song for the 2004 Olympics in Athens) in collaboration with Lol Creme and co-wrote the title track from Lisa Stansfield's 2004 album The Moment.

Horn co-wrote "Sound the Bugle", performed by Bryan Adams and featured on the Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron soundtrack and produced 3 tracks (La Sombra del Gigante, Un Angel No Es and Mujer Amiga Mia) of Stilelibero (Freestyle) Estilolibre by Eros Ramazzotti, released on 29 May 2001.

Horn produced the 2003 Belle and Sebastian album Dear Catastrophe Waitress. Horn, known for using electronic equipment to transform music, was seen as a surprising choice for the band, who were described by the Guardian as "the last living purveyors of arts-and-crafts indie values".[45]

On 11 November 2004, a Prince's Trust charity concert celebrating Horn's 25 years as a record producer took place at Wembley Arena, featuring performances from Horn and many acts he produced.[46] It was released on DVD as 25 Years of Pop: Produced by Trevor Horn and accompanied by a compilation album, Produced by Trevor Horn.[47][48]

 
Horn performing with the Producers in 2007

In 2006, Horn co-formed the supergroup the Producers, with the singer Lol Creme, the producer Steve Lipson, the drummer Ash Soan and the singer-songwriter Chris Braide. They performed their first gig at the Camden Barfly in November 2006. They continue to perform, now under the name the Trevor Horn Band.

Horn produced the ninth album by the synth-pop duo the Pet Shop Boys, Fundamental, released in May 2006. It reached No. 5 in the UK chart. In the same month, he featured in a Pet Shop Boys concert specially recorded for BBC Radio 2. Horn produced an album version of the event, Concrete, released on 23 October 2006. Horn also produced Captain's debut album, This is Hazelville, released late 2006. In the same year, he also worked with British band Delays on their song "Valentine", which was released as the lead single from their album You See Colours. He has also worked with John Legend and David Jordan.

On 25 June, 2006, Sinclair was accidentally hit by a pellet from an air gun, causing irreversible brain damage and paralysing her.[49][50] The following year, Horn sold their Sarm Hook End residential studio for £12 million and relocated to Primrose Hill, London.[37][38][39]

For the 2008 movie Wanted (starring James McAvoy and Angelina Jolie), Horn produced Danny Elfman's vocals on the closing credits song "The Little Things".[51]

In 2009, Horn produced Reality Killed the Video Star, the eighth album by Robbie Williams.[52] Aside from the album title paying homage to Horn's hit single with the Buggles back in 1979, it also reflects Horn and Williams' mutual disdain for the ongoing crop of reality television and music contest programmes in the UK and elsewhere. It was Williams' first studio album not to reach number 1 in the UK, by the debut album by JLS, who were runners-up on television's "The X Factor" in 2008.

2010s–present Edit

Horn was the executive producer of Jeff Beck's 2010 album Emotion & Commotion. He returned to work with Yes again, producing their new album from October 2010.[53] That album, 2011's Fly From Here, is a reunion of sorts for Horn's former bandmate Geoff Downes; not only is Downes a member of the band's current incarnation, but the album also takes its title from a song written by Horn and Downes and performed by Yes during their original stint with the band in 1980.

In 2017, Horn wrote the music for the Stan Lee co-produced anime The Reflection,[54][55] the soundtrack being released as the first album under Horn's name.[citation needed] Horn remixed 2011's Fly From Here with Yes, adding new vocals and editing parts. The album is called Fly from Here – Return Trip and was released in March 2018.[56] He has also been working on musicals, including one called "The Robot Sings".[57]

In November 2018, Horn performed a one-off concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London.[58] Horn's new album, Trevor Horn Reimagines the Eighties, was released on 25 January 2019.[59] A single, "Everybody Wants to Rule the World", with vocals by Robbie Williams, was released on 24 October 2018.[60] Further guests include Rumer, All Saints, Simple Minds and Gabrielle Aplin. In late 2017, Horn's Sarm West Coast residential studio in Bel Air, Los Angeles, was destroyed in the Skirball Fire. Horn was not present at the time of the fire.[61]

Horn toured as the bass player in Dire Straits Legacy in 2018–20.[10][62] In late 2022, he published a memoir, Adventures in Modern Recording: From ABC to ZTT.[63] He joined Seal's 2023 tour, playing bass in Seal's band and reviving the Buggles as an opening act.[64]

In 2023, he is releasing Echoes: Ancient and Modern, another album of covers with guest singers.[65]

Influence Edit

Musicians and producers including Gary Barlow, DJ Shadow and Nigel Godrich cite Horn as an influence.[66][67][68]

Personal life Edit

Horn met Jill Sinclair, a former mathematics teacher and business partner, in 1977. They married in 1980 and became business partners.[38] They had four children: two sons, Aaron and Will,[69] and two daughters, Gabriella and Alexandra,[70] the latter of whom has worked as a trainee solicitor.[4] Aaron (known in the industry as "Aaron Audio"), like his father, is a musician and producer. He was in the band Sam and the Womp[71] and frequently DJs around London (he lives in north London).[72] Both Aaron and Ally Horn are co-directors of Sarm Studios. As of August 2016, Horn has three grandsons.[70] He is not Jewish, but has attended synagogue with his children, who were raised in his wife's faith.[73] In a 2019 interview, he said that he "believes in [Judaism] more than anything else".[74]

On 25 June 2006, Sinclair was accidentally hit by a pellet from an air gun, causing irreversible brain damage and paralysing her.[49][50] She died of cancer on 22 March 2014, aged 61.[75][30]

Discography Edit

Awards Edit

  • BRIT Award 1983 – Best British Producer
  • BRIT Award 1985 – Best British Producer
  • BRIT Award 1992 – Best British Producer
  • Grammy Award 1995 – Record of the Year (as producer of "Kiss From A Rose")
  • Horn was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2011 New Year Honours for services to the music industry.[76][77][78]
  • Honorary degree of Doctor of Music (2012) by Southampton Solent University, England.[79]

References Edit

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