It was surely only a matter of time before arguably the most important producer of the last 50 years put pen to paper, but Trevor Horn’s memoir ‘Adventures In Modern Recording’ was still one of the nicest surprises of 2022.
The opening section outlines his upbringing in the tough, industrial North East of England, and then each chapter is centred around one key track that made his name as a producer, from The Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ to Seal’s ‘Crazy’.
We trace Horn’s early days as a Beatles and Dylan fanatic, self-taught guitarist (his musician father buys him a knackered old four-string which gets broken and is never replaced) and upright bass player in the school orchestra.
There’s the constant fear of going down the mines, a fate that had befallen most of his relatives. Young Trevor eventually has to move in with his grandparents (sharing a bed with Uncle John), though they are supportive of his musical talent.
Horn moves to Leicester and starts playing double bass with big bands whose repertoire includes pop covers and light jazz. By this time, he has become an ace sight-reader, something that he values throughout his career.
He relocates to Blackpool to take up a residency with the band, his dad dropping him off with the words: ‘Well, you’re on your own now, son. You just watch it.’ Horn then hits London to play with a band called Canterbury Tales and pick up various function gigs.
As disco takes hold, Horn finds himself on the studio scene, getting a regular gig with Tina Charles and ‘fixing’ a lot of duff songs, including Leicester City’s ‘This Is The Season For Us’. The penny drops – he suddenly realises he’s a record producer.
This becomes his driving force as he moves away from the bass and meets Jill Sinclair, studio manager of SARM West (formerly Island’s Basing Street studio) and soon to be both his manager and wife. We get the fascinating story of Buggles’ ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’, Horn literally having to construct a hit out of various disparate elements.
We learn that Horn sacks ABC’s bass player Mark Lickley just before the recording of Lexicon Of Love (Horn reports that U2 later got wind of this and refused to work with him!) – he is fairly ruthless as a young producer, always with Jill in his corner, but is now repentant.
There’s a very funny chapter on working with Malcolm McLaren and The Supreme Team on Duck Rock and a toe-curling account of cooking up Yes’s US #1 single ‘Owner Of A Lonely Heart’.
We get the inside story on making Frankie’s ‘Relax’ and Holly Johnson’s court case plus Horn’s involvement with the 12” version of ‘Do They Know It’s Christmas’. Horn reports that when he first meets Bob Geldof, the Boomtown Rats frontman immediately tells him he preferred Bruce Woolley’s version of ‘Video Killed The Radio Star’ to the Buggles’. Horn reacts thus: ‘What a twat. After filing him under “Rude Fucker”, I moved on…’ (They later made up.)
There are tales of painstakingly piecing together ‘Slave To The Rhythm’, Seal turning up for his 2004 Wembley charity gig (see below) at the last minute, and a trained Special Branch dog making an immediate bee-line for his bag in the dressing room. You can read the book for the funny punchline.
‘Adventures In Modern Recording’ is the very definition of the muso page-turner. Full of interesting titbits and amusing gossip, you need it if you have even the slightest interest in 1980s and 1990s pop.