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Last Updated: Thursday, 11 November, 2004, 15:05 GMT
How Trevor Horn became pop royalty
Trevor Horn
Trevor Horn helped define the sound of the 1980s

Decades of pop stars join forces on Thursday to celebrate the career of record producer Trevor Horn with a one-off charity concert at Wembley Arena.

ABC, Pet Shop Boys, Seal and Russian duo Tatu are among the acts taking part in Produced by Trevor Horn, raising money for the Prince's Trust.

It is a mark of how far Horn has come since he hitch-hiked to London from his native Durham at the age of 17.

A classically trained musician, Horn spent his teens and early twenties working as a session musician, playing double bass and later, bass guitar.

In the mid-1970s, he joined the house band at the Hammersmith Palais in London, whose repertoire ranged from the foxtrot and the quickstep, to Saturday Night Fever.

It was an apprenticeship Horn claims taught him "the dynamics of the dancefloor" and allowed him to identify the catchy basslines that later defined hit songs like Frankie Goes To Hollywood's Relax.

The original idea was to make disposable pop that could be produced by a machine and made human input almost unnecessary
Trevor Horn

At the age of 25, frustrated by his stagnant career, Horn moved back to his parents' house near Leicester and set about creating a recording studio with a childhood friend.

But it was not until 1979 that life as a record producer really began to evolve when Horn wrote the the hit that was to make his name.

"I had this track called Video Killed the Radio Star and I knew it was too good to ignore," he told London listings magazine Time Out.

Horn donned a pair of giant red spectacles and he and keyboard player Geoff Downes created the unfashionably-monikered band the Buggles.

"The original idea was to make disposable pop that could be produced by a machine and made human input almost unnecessary," Horn told The Independent. "Little did we know how that would ring true later on."

'Disposable pop'

The electronic duo and their "disposable pop" struck a chord with the record-buying public. Video Killed the Radio Star reached number one in 16 countries and two years on would achieve immortality as the first track ever played on MTV.

Horn was tapping into the rapid developments in recording technology and the pioneering influence of Kraftwerk's The Man Machine.

Grace Jones
Grace Jones reportedly recorded Slave To The Rhythm in one take

But while his production instincts were sound, his career choices were less so.

Following the collapse of the Buggles, Horn briefly fronted progressive rock band Yes. But as bassist and lead singer, he received dire reviews.

He turned to his wife and music manager, Jill Sinclair, for direction. She told him to ditch the singing and concentrate on production, nominating the girl-boy duo Dollar as his first project.

Four Dollar hits followed, attracting the enthusiasm of music bible NME and the attention of journalist Paul Morley who would go on to collaborate with Horn on the innovative Art of Noise.

Horn's ability to combine emerging technology with rhythm and drama gave even the cheesiest tunes their sense of adventure and a futuristic allure.

Pet Shop Boys
He takes a banal pop song and gives it a clever subtext and a great shine
Neil Tennant on Trevor Horn

Next to emerge from the Horn chrysalis was ABC, a Sheffield-based group whose Horn-produced classics included the hit tracks Poison Arrow and The Look of Love.

For a man who was stridently anti-punk, there followed an unlikely collaboration with punk maestro Malcolm McLaren on the Duck Rock album, marrying hip-hop with world music.

The producer returned to Yes in 1983 for the album 90125, single-handedly reinventing the ageing rockers with chart-topping anthem Owner of a Lonely Heart.

Cutting edge

In the same year, Horn signed Frankie Goes to Hollywood, fronted by Holly Johnson, to his new label ZTT.

Horn used drum machines and sampling to create the symphonic dance tracks Relax and Two Tribes.

Propelled to public attention by its suggestive lyrics, Relax topped the charts in January 1984, making Horn the first producer to have a number one on both sides of the Atlantic with two separate acts.

Six months later came follow-up Two Tribes, which stayed at number one for nine weeks.

Tatu at Eurovision
Tatu's lesbian overtones have attracted controversy

Through long hours in the studio, Horn dominated '80s orchestral pop, including hits with the Pet Shop Boys, Tina Turner, Simple Minds and Grace Jones' mesmerising Slave To The Rhythm.

But the 1990s marked a creative lull for Horn, although his work on the Seal album Crazy proved the producer still had his finger on the pulse.

He also produced Tubular Bells II, at the request of Mike Oldfield whose original work had acquired a cult following - although some fans claimed Horn altered the spirit of the piece.

2003 saw Horn's return to the charts with the Russian duo Tatu bringing him his first number one in almost a decade.

More surprising is Horn's recent work with Scottish indie stars Belle & Sebastian, introduced to him by his daughter.

The unlikely collaboration led to the critically acclaimed album Dear Catastrophe Waitress.

Aside from a notable falling-out with Holly Johnson, it is a testimony to Horn's talent that so many stars will line up for Thursday's tribute concert.

Horn told the Times recently: "I'm just paid by the artist to take them through the horror of the recording studio.

"I was just very lucky in the late 1970s because some big things happened."

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