Trevor Horn – An easily overlooked yet deserved CBE recipient

Trevor Horn
Trevor Horn - Ignited my passion for making music

While browsing the New Year Honours list, one name in particular stood out – record producer Tervor Horn. He has been awarded a CBE for his services to music.

About time, and rightly so.

The list of records he’s worked on is staggering (viewable here) and always springs a few surprises. For example, I had no idea he worked on Jeff Beck’s recent Emotion and Commotion album, although now I know, it’s obvious his unique polish is present on that record.

And therein lies the problem. He whistles by most of our ears unnoticed, with only a few gear headed geeks like me aware of his omnipresence in and continuing influence on popular music. I’m sure a lot of people will only have a vague recollection of his name and its tie with The Buggles’ famous MTV opener Video Killed The Radio Star. That’s a great shame.

Anyone who knows how hard it is to write, record and produce catchy, memorable music will know just how enviable Horn’s talent is.

More importantly, this guy ignited a passion in me for making music, which still captivates me to this very day. As a young boy, on first hearing Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s Relax, I was instantly addicted to its thumping kick drum/slap bass rhythm and explosive synth sounds (alas, I was far too young to understand quite what both the lyrics and aforementioned sounds were referencing).

Innuendos and bans on radio play aside, Relax inspired me to sit at my Dad’s Atari ST for hours on end, surrounding myself with midi cables, GM sounds, Steinberg’s Cubase and straining sound modules to within an inch of their lives, endlessly trying to reproduce that sound, which I would hear again on countless Horn-produced tracks including most notably Yes’ Owner of a Lonely Heart. Sampled drum breaks and double-tracked acoustic guitars? On the same record? Mega, as I’d probably have said back then.

I’m yet to find that sound, but I continue to make music. Trevor Horn is up there with my dad in terms of inspiration; two men I’m immensely jealous of in terms of how they fill their working day.

I won’t delve into his other work, as there’s a great BBC article which recalls it perfectly, but I will conclude by saying that in this world of overhyped fly-by-night talent, those pioneers who have shaped the sound we hear emanating from every radio and music tv station are so easily overlooked. Rather than mourn yet another year without notable mention of Mr Forsyth, I suggest we celebrate the inclusion of one of the best producers of all time. A man worthy of mention alongside the great Quincy Jones.

A post a day? I give myself until February.

An email from WordPress dropped through my inbox this morning, pointing me in the direction of this.

It grabbed my attention because I really should be making more of this blog. Its progress is a slow trickle at the moment and it really should be motoring along; I have so much I want to write about but, more often than not, talk myself out of doing so. I’m normally too busy (read: can’t be arsed).

This is silly, as there are so many methods of posting to WordPress. Via your laptop, iPhone, iPad, SMS… I think it’s even possible to send your post to WordPress by just thinking it and bashing your head against the computer screen, but I’m not sure on that one. Regardless, wherever you are, posting a few thoughts is stupidly easy and I will therefore endeavour to exploit these technological conveniences.

I’ll give it a go. I can’t guarantee it’ll yield many interesting posts (in fact, I know it won’t), but it’ll at least give me something else to aim for in 2011.

2010: A year of politics and football

Cameron and Clegg
Politics. Proving just as fickle as football. Goodbye 2010.

2010 has been a milestone year for me, which included the long overdue proposal of marriage to my girlfriend of nine years, an amazing family holiday and a headfirst smash into the 30th year of my life.

It’s the latter that has prompted me to take stock of things and consider what I really should be doing. What should be making me happy. It’s funny how you see certain things for what they are when you hit the big three-oh. More than anything, and without trying to sound like an American, I’ve realised there are certain paths I really should explore before I hit the next milestone in ten years’ time. If I don’t, I know I’ll regret it forever and I urge anyone reading this to do the same.

But what of 2010 in general? As usual, I feel it prevalent to write my end of year blog for those that care (hi, Mum).

It has been a big year, no doubt. The recession is anything but over and we have a newly formed coalition running the country. A coalition that is, day by day, obliterating the Lib Dems and creating a solitary, solemn, once-revered figure in Nick Clegg. The man’s fall from near superstardom to a widely despised recipient of burning effigies in a matter of months has been nothing short of startling. Still, at least Cameron’s enjoying himself.

However, the most lingering memories of 2010 are football-related and all nod to what is a rapidly self-destructing force: English football.

Firstly there was the Word Cup which was, and let’s make no bones about this, an utter disaster for the English game. We looked uninterested, out of ideas and, worst of all, not up to standard. It’s not about the manager, or the players – it’s about the lack of interest or investment we put into football in this country. Like so many things, the men in charge just don’t care enough. Until that’s put right we won’t win a thing and we might as well just get used to that fact. I have, finally.

Then there was Mr Rooney, who hammered his own nail into the coffin of English football with what has to be one of the most poorly orchestrated, ill-conceived contract negotiations of all time. It was a week which left a decidedly sickly taste at the back of my throat and one which Wayne and his entourage should be eternally ashamed of.

Money is killing our game, but it’s not just at a local level. Oh no. FIFA confirmed once and for all that it is readiness of money and influence on global trade that wins you votes by awarding future World Cups to Russia and Qatar. The latter, in particular, is about as barmy a decision as you’re ever likely to see and has presented a genuine case for the English FA to pull us out of FIFA altogether.

So there you have it. Politics and football dominated my year and proved they’re intrinsically linked. I suggest we all set our sights and hopes relatively low for 2011. As defeatist as that sounds, at least none of us will be disappointed when it all goes Nick Clegg.

Technology over substance

Airplay. Brilliant, but a techno-wow too far?

As Band Aid stuttered through the hifi and – after a valiant effort to make it to the first chorus – eventually disappeared entirely, I knew only one thing; my Airport Express had decided to cease working for the second time that day and at an equally inconvenient juncture.

We were hosting our first and only Christmas party of the festive season and, an hour before our guests were due to arrive, my rarely used AE had decided to remove itself entirely from my home network. There was no trace of it, it had indeed gone AWOL and hadn’t even bothered to say goodbye. The green ‘everything’s ok!’ light stayed steadfastly lit, grinning at me like an illegitimate, spoilt child.

After a tiny amount of non-festive swearing and a great deal of self-persuading that throwing it down the street would not a fix produce, a full reset to factory settings did the trick.

This lasted approximately three hours, by which time we were all sitting down to enjoy the hearty Christmas dinner my fiancé and I had slaved over. No sooner had I plunged my fork into a sizeable chunk of turkey had Boy George started doing an impromptu bit of beat boxing instead of his usual verse.

“Mark, for Christmas, I’m going to buy you a CD player and some CDs,” said my friend.

That struck a chord, if you’ll excuse the pun. As clever as the Airport Express/Airplay setup I’d been relying on was, it was proving to be, unfortunately, completely and utterly unreliable.

Yes, it looked cool. Swanning around the house with my iPad, showing anyone who cared (there weren’t many) that I could make music come out of my hifi via my oversized iPod Touch without wires made me feel like Steve Jobs, striding across the stage at an Apple event leading an expectant crown on to the next ‘wow’ moment.

That’s great, until the bloody thing stops working. And, then, yes, why not just go back to good old CDs? What was wrong with them?

It’s made me question the benefit of such technological wizardry.

Apple made a big thing about Airplay this year and rightly so. Being able to wirelessly stream audio and video around your house is convenient, enjoyable and, in this form, relatively inexpensive. But, then, where is Mr Jobs when it all goes wrong? Quite often, he’s standing there, pointing the finger, blaming us, the humble user. We’re holding it wrong. It wasn’t designed for that. It’s Thursday. You’ve got an uncle called Jim. It’s your fault.

As much as I felt like heading over to the Apple boss’ house to wrap my iPad around his neck and force-feed him the Airport Express, I couldn’t afford the time or air miles, therefore settled for good old MTV instead. That worked. Flawlessly.