Born in 1949 in Durham City in the North East of England, Trevor Horn drew his immediate musical inspiration from his father. A dairy engineer by day, John Horn played double bass in the local ballrooms with the Joe Clarke Band by night. His school days were spent at Johnston Grammar in Stonebridge where he too took up the bass, playing in the school youth orchestra as well as standing in for his father during Joe Clarke’s residency at Durham City’s Astoria Ballroom.
Immersed in music throughout his childhood, the first record to really click into Horn’s conscious was ‘Walk on By’ by Dionne Warwick. The Beatles also played a major influence (to the point that they he blames them for helping him fail most of his O-levels!), to say nothing of Yes – a band he would later join. “I think it's difficult now for kids to realise how important records were to people in the 60s, because it was so different and it was all so new,” he later recalled. “Music seemed to hold out so much promise. Everybody felt like something was happening and I always had this idea that a record was like a journey. It led you somewhere, and by the end you felt like something had happened…”
As a school leaver Horn moved to Leicester and earned a living as a bass player for club bands and spent every spare moment messing around with primitive recording technology. Microphones, headphones, all manner of tapes decks - any sort of hardware he could lay his hands on would all come under his wing.
By his 30th birthday Trevor Horn had set up his first recording studio and was taping local bands and recording TV ad music with his friend Hans Zimmer, who went on to become an Oscar-winning soundtrack composer. “One day,” he remembers, “this guy called Bill Coleman, who used to play with Johnny Johnson and the Bandwagon, said to me, ‘You know that thing you're doing? That's called being a record producer.’ I said, ‘Well, that's what I want to do…’”
If the success of a record producer can be judged by the weight of awards on their shelves then Horn ranks as the world’s number one. He has a hat trick of Brit Awards for Best British Producer from 1983, 1985 and 1992. In the 80s he was Rolling Stone’s Producer of the Year 1983. In the 90s, Best Producer at the 1991 Q Awards. And in the 00s, Music Week’s 2004 Producer of the Year.
But for Trevor Horn these accolades mean little – success comes from creating records that feel as important as the ones he bought as a child, and music that can hold out that same “promise”. This he has achieved by producing legendary singles like Band Aid’s ‘Do The Know It’s Christmas?’ and Godley & Creme’s ‘Cry’; the mainstream pop of Robbie Williams and Olly Murs; cult classics like Malcolm McLaren and the World's Famous Supreme Team and Kid Harpoon; and the whole spectrum of groups, with Genesis on one side and Spector on the other.
Then there’s his work with vocal artists both male - ranging from Paul McCartney to Shane MacGowan and from Gary Barlow to Bryan Ferry. And female – Estelle to Cher, Leann Rimes to Kelly Rowland. To say nothing of a continued passion for nurturing brand new talent which, in the last few years, has included Dog Is Dead, Blackfield and Azekel. “There’s one only common theme that links all of Trevor’s work,” says the founder of Island Records, Chris Blackwell, “and that is excellence.”
What does a record producer actually create? Paul Morley, Horn’s co-founder on projects such as Art of Noise and ZTT Records explains it best. “If in the 60s, Phil Spector created a ‘wall of sound’,” he says, “by the middle of the 80s Horn had already established his sound, a whole room of sound, the walls, floors, ceilings, doors, windows, decorated with absolute flourish. As an architect of sound, Horn is unashamedly an exhibitionist, an utter show off... He has proved time and time again that pop is an art form, and that he is the supreme pop artist.”