Trevor Horn, music producer, songwriter, musician and singer chats with Kevin Cooper about joining Yes in 1980, the death of Chris Squire, Yes’ album Fly From Here – Return Trip featuring Horn and joining Yes on stage at The London Palladium and The Paris Olympia.

Trevor Horn, CBE, is an English music producer, songwriter, musician and singer. He has produced commercially successful songs and albums for numerous British and international artists. He won a Grammy Award for producing Kiss From A Rose by Seal.

As a musician, he has had chart success with the bands Yes, The Buggles and Art of Noise. He also owns a significant stake in the recording company ZTT Records, Sarm Studios and a music publishing company, Perfect Songs. The three are combined under the corporate umbrella of SPZ. In 2010 he received the British Academy’s Ivor Novello Award for Outstanding Contribution to British Music.

Horn worked with Yes on and off as a producer, including working on their 1983 album 90125 and the hit single Owner Of A Lonely Heart. He returned to work with Yes again, producing 2011’s Fly From Here, which featured the band members who appeared on Drama; Chris Squire, Steve Howe, Alan White, Geoff Downes with Benoit David on lead vocals and Horn in the role of producer.

This year Yes will release a remixed version of the album Fly From Here – Return Trip, featuring the Drama line-up complete with new lead vocals by Trevor Horn, to coincide with their 50th Anniversary celebrations. The album has developed into a labour of love for all involved and the new vocals were recorded over the past two years amidst other commitments.

Horn began re-recording the lead vocals the day after he guested with Yes at The Royal Albert Hall in 2016 and within 24 hours the rest of the band had joined him in the studio. In addition to re-mixing parts of the album, Horn has added personal liner notes and the sleeve design features the painting by Roger Dean which was originally used on the inside of the 2011 edition.

Whilst preparing to join Yes on stage at The London Palladium he took some time out to have a chat with Kevin Cooper and this is what he had to say.

Hi Trevor how are you today?

I’m not too bad Kevin thank you, how are you?

I’m very well thank you and before we move on let me thank you for taking the time to speak to me today.

It’s my pleasure, thank you for being interested in what I am up to.

And just how is life treating you at this moment in time?

I can’t complain (laughter). If I am totally honest with you then I would have to say that I am still a little tired as I have recently got back from America but apart from that I’m fine thanks.

During a recent interview I asked the same question and the reply was ‘well I am on the right side of the grass so I really shouldn’t complain’ (laughter).

(Laughter) what a great reply, I will have to remember that.

Before we talk about the remix album Fly From Here – Return Trip which you have been heavily involved with, can we talk about the original album which was released back in 2011?

Of course, sure.

As the producer of the album, were you happy with it?

Well, when you say was I happy with it, what I will say is that I did the best that I could with it. Back in 2011 I personally thought that the band were playing well, but for me, the main difficulty was getting the then new vocalist Benoit David’s vocals to sound just how I wanted them to sound. The problem was that English wasn’t his native language and when someone is singing in a foreign language it is sometimes quite hard to get the pronunciation right so that took a lot of time.

That shouldn’t have been a problem with the album this time around as I am led to believe that a certain Trevor Horn has re-recorded all of the vocals, is that correct?

(Laughter) yes that is perfectly correct. This time I was able to spend more time mixing the tracks because my voice is totally different to Benoit’s. My voice is harder and I found that it cuts through a lot more than Benoit’s voice ever did. So it allowed me to mix the tracks in a different way plus I was able to rewrite a couple of bits too.

Back in 2011 the fans gave the album quite a hard time upon its release. Did that play any part in your thinking regarding remixing the album?

No, not really. Back in 2011 that didn’t seem to be a problem because you are always bound to get a mixed review especially when it was not Jon Anderson and it was not the totally original band. So no, that didn’t affect it really, and I didn’t think about the record for quite a long time. It was only after I had got up to sing with the band at The Royal Albert Hall and Alan White said to me “why don’t you re-do the vocals on Fly From Here” which made me think ‘yes, why not’. The one thing that did sway my decision was that when I started working on the album I was working with the same personnel as I had worked with back in 1980 on the Drama album. So I just thought ‘yes, why not’ and that is why I did it.

And now that it is all finished, what is your honest opinion of the new album?

That’s easy, I honestly do think that it is better.

So just how much does it differ from the original?

(Laughter) all that I will say is that it is kind of different. Yes, it’s different (laughter). It’s pretty hard for me to tell you just how different the new album is from the original. There are a couple of songs which I feel came out better than they did before; Hour Of Need being one of them.

And from your personal point of view, producing, singing and playing on the album, did it feel good to be that involved once again?

Err, yes, no, well yes; I have to say that there were times when I actually did enjoy doing it. I had a whole album on which I replaced all of the original vocals, all the lead vocals together with Benoit’s harmony vocals. I have to say that it took me a little time but in general, yes it was good fun.

Just how difficult for you as a producer is it to make a new album sound fresh whilst still staying loyal to the original?

Well to begin with we had to mix the album again because my voice was now all over it together with my harmonies. So I took the opportunity to re-write a couple of the tracks, rather than just remixing them. So in that way I feel that the new album is refreshing.

The album will be released tomorrow, Sunday 25th March, are you looking forward to getting it out there finally after spending almost two years working on it?

Yes I am, I truly can’t wait for the fans to hear it and also to see their reaction to what we have done with the album.

You will be playing with the band tonight and tomorrow night at The London Palladium and also at the Paris Olympia. Are you looking forward to getting back out on stage with the guys?

Yes I am, I really am but let’s not get carried away as I am only singing one song.

Do you think that the purist Yes fans will enjoy the album? I ask that question because as you know there is disharmony between certain members of the band and that is why we are faced with two different versions of the band touring as we speak.

What can I say; this is always the way with human beings isn’t it, they fall out and stuff happens. I am sure that there will be at some point in the future where it will be as many of the original members from the classic band as is possible. I have to say that it is sad in one way and I know that Steve’s (Howe) version of the band, which includes Steve, Alan (White) and Geoff (Downes) make a real effort to sort of be playing the real Yes songs in the real Yes way. On the other hand I have no idea as to whether or not the other version of the band including Jon (Anderson) Rick (Wakeman) and Trevor (Rabin) are being as true to the original recordings or not. I don’t know as I haven’t seen their show so perhaps you can tell me better.

I have now seen both shows in the past few months and I have to say that, in my opinion, Yes including Steve, Alan and Geoff are more for the purists whilst Yes including Jon, Rick and Trevor are more pop driven, let’s say. Does that make sense?

Absolutely. They are both totally different shows. In Steve’s band you have still got Alan together with the excitement of that rhythm section. Steve is totally unique, and I think that they make a real effort to play the music in a proper way.

After seeing him in Birmingham just a few days ago I have to say that Steve’s playing simply gets better.

I have to say that Steve is incredible. What amazes me is that people forget that Steve was voted Best Overall Guitarist in Guitar Player magazine five years in a row, 1977 to 1981. Don’t forget that he was also the first rock guitar player inducted into the Guitar Player Hall Of Fame. Steve is a very unique and a very talented guy.

What I will say is that there are two different shows playing to two different audiences, why not just go along and enjoy it for what it is.

Exactly. What you have to remember is that fifty years is a very long time. Politics will, I’m sure, rear its ugly head at some point during that time as in all walks of life.

Taking on board the fact that Yes now have two distinct sets of fans, putting you firmly on the spot, do you think that both sets of fans will like the album?

(Laughter) I honestly don’t know. I think that anybody who liked Drama will like the new album. Although obviously the new album is not Drama because everyone is a lot older, and it was recorded at a very different time but yes, I honestly feel that the people who liked Drama will like it.

From a musician’s point of view, just how much of a loss is Chris (Squire)?

Chris was quite exceptional, a real one-off because he had a way of playing the bass which has to be said was quite extraordinary. If you think about bass guitar players, I don’t think that anybody played as many interesting licks as Chris Squire over his career (laughter). Some guys are quite unique, take the guy from The Stranglers, Jean-Jacques Burnel if you think of their single Peaches, but that was just the one single. However, when you listen to Yes, I can count five Yes albums straight off which I think are really good. Not only was Chris a very unusual bass player, he was also a brilliant harmony singer. He could play the bass, play his bass peddles and sing harmonies all at the same time, which is really quite something.

I have never been able to master singing and playing the bass pedals at the same time not in the way that Chris could (laughter). He was like a one-man onslaught. Having said that I think that Billy Sherwood does a very good job because he plays it more like Chris used to play it. For me it is very odd hearing Yes when somebody doesn’t play Chris’ bass parts right. For me being a bass player, that was one of the reasons that I loved Yes because I had never heard anyone play the bass like that before. If you had stood in a room with Steve, Alan and Chris playing together like Geoff and I did when we both joined the band back in 1980, they were just incredible.

I had never heard anything like it. Sometimes I would say to Chris “just how the hell do you work out what you are doing there” and he once said to me “it’s easy, we are playing in the seventh, we are just catching the offbeat on beat three on the first bar and then five on the second bar and then there is a three eight bar” and I just looked at him and said “forget it” (laughter). He had totally lost me and I am notorious for making the simple things complicated. When you are the singer you can jump all over it because it is my experience that singers never really know what is going on, they just sing and we fit it over whatever is happening (laughter). However, when there is a bass there, you have to know exactly what is going on.

You mention joining the band back in 1980, just how did it feel to be asked to step in and fill Jon Anderson’s shoes?

(Laughter) well firstly there was no call, I just happened to spend an evening with Chris Squire which really was a landmark for me because I had been such a huge fan of his and the band for many years. I had just had a hit record with The Buggles which as you will be aware was Video Killed The Radio Star and after you have had a hit record then everyone suddenly wants to know you. Anyway Geoff and I went down to Virginia Water to spend some time with Chris and I always remember his kids were outside waiting for us to arrive so that they could ask us for our autographs. Whilst we were there I sang Chris Fly From Here which I had written and thought that it might work for Yes.

Chris then said “why don’t you come down to rehearsals and run through it with us” and I immediately asked him if Jon was going to be there and would he be happy to learn the song. At that point Chris became very vague about Jon and what he failed to tell me at the time was that Jon and Rick had left the band after there had been a huge bust-up. Anyway, Geoff and I went down to the rehearsals where we were duped into performing Fly From Here (laughter). I have to be honest and say that the whole thing felt so surreal but I loved the way that the band played. Being close-up to them, it all felt so amazing (laughter).

Hearing the song in the rehearsal room felt amazing and during the course of the day we learnt that both Jon and Rick had left and then Chris asked Geoff and I if we would join the band. I just thought ‘Jesus I don’t know about that’ simply because I never really saw myself as a singer (laughter). Anyway, as you know I did join the band and it really was an amazing experience. I had a year of it, we made an album, we toured but I was at that point thirty years old and I had never been the lead vocalist in a band. So in all honesty it was a bit of a trip for me. Before Geoff and I joined the band, they had already booked forty-four shows. I was okay at the beginning but towards the end of the tour I was totally exhausted.

I suddenly realised that this was not necessarily the way that I was going to spend the rest of my career. But having said that, the experience of playing three nights at Madison Square Garden in New York plus having the opportunity to work with Chris, Steve and Alan really did give me the chance to learn quite a bit about harmonies. Chris was really great when it came to harmonies. Being with Yes for that period of time I think made me fearless. Once you have played three nights at Madison Square Garden then you really are not going to be that frightened about anything.

Whenever you think of Yes you automatically think of Roger Dean’s artwork, it’s absolutely fantastic. I would love to spend a day inside his head to see exactly where he goes (laughter).

Yes, it’s lovely isn’t it, and I totally agree, just where does he go (laughter).

I first became aware of his work back in 1971 when I bought a copy of Motown Chartbusters Vol. 6.

Roger did a cover for Motown did he, well I never knew that.

Yes he did and it is fantastic.

I will have to go and take a look at that sometime later today. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

I recently interviewed Seal and I said that, in my opinion, whenever the two of you get to work together, something special happens just like whenever Burt Bacharach gets to work with Dionne Warwick. Would you agree with that?

What can I say, when Seal and I first met, one of the main things that we had in common was that our favourite record was Walk On By by Dionne Warwick. So as you can no doubt imagine, I am always a little jumpy and wary about comparing myself to anybody like that. But I have to say that is very kind of you. If you look at the songs that Burt Bacharach has written over the years, the man is a genius. In my opinion he is without doubt one of the best songwriters ever really.

I will be asking you this question shortly because I ask everyone who I get to interview. I always ask “what was the last song or piece of music that made you cry” and when I asked Mr Bacharach he replied “that’s easy young man, it was The Stranglers cover of Dionne Warwick’s Walk On By”. I said “did it really move you that much” to which he replied “no, it was crap” (laughter).

(Hysterical laughter) god, I love that man, I just love Burt Bacharach. How funny is that (laughter). You have actually reminded me of something, I was once in the rehearsal room with a bunch of executive type French people back in the 1970s together with a guy called Frank Alamo who was a really famous French singer. God knows how it happened but I found myself playing the bass on a session for him and so I had got a band together. We were all gathered together in a rehearsal room and in the next room there was a Punk band and they were recording a version of Downtown, the old Petula Clark song. It was like a really badly recorded wall of sound with them all singing ‘daaaaaan taaaaaan’ (laughter).

The French musical director turned to me and said “what is this music, it is horrible” (laughter). It was very hard for us to continue as Alamo was a ballad singer and this fucking Punk band were so loud (laughter). It was almost impossible for us to ignore it so you have just reminded me of that bad memory; what can I say but poor old Burt (laughter). So let me warn you, if you do ask me that question then the answer will be an interesting one (laughter).

Now is your chance to dispel an urban myth. I was recently speaking to Norman Watt-Roy (Ian Dury, The Blockheads, Wilko Johnson) and he informs me that you had him in the studio all day and most of the night recording the bass for Frankie Goes To Hollywood’s debut album Welcome To The Pleasuredome and that you only paid him twenty-five pounds. Is that correct?

Yes its true (laughter). Having said that I don’t think that it was twenty-five quid; I wouldn’t have paid Norman that much (laughter). I actually saw Norman not that long ago and despite his recent health scare he is still going strong. Norman is a lovely bass player, he always was. That bass part that Norman plays on Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick is one of the all-time great bass parts.

You recorded Video Killed The Radio Star back in 1979 when video was all the rage and it did in fact help to sell records. However, fast forward to 2018 when the method in which we consume our music, streaming and downloads has drastically changed, do you feel that the rock/pop video is a dying thing?

No not at all. In actually fact I think in a strange way video can still have the same sort of impact. However, video will never have the same cultural impact. Back in the 1980s it was all so very new and everyone was interested. I actually think in a funny sort of way that video actually did kill off the radio star for a while but then the radio star is back and I think that video has taken second place to it in levels of importance. Talking of urban myths have you ever read Hammer Of The Gods by Stephen Davis?

Unfortunately not. That’s the unauthorised biography of Led Zeppelin and more importantly John Bonham isn’t it?

Yes, that’s the one. I like you had never read it but for some reason I picked it up and started to read it last week. I was reading it and I came across the most blatantly untrue statement in it; it was so untrue that it almost gave me a shock. The writer claims that sometime after John Bonham passed away he still had influence from beyond the grave because Frankie Goes To Hollywood used some of John Bonham’s drumming on their single Relax (laughter). They claim that it was the engineer over in New York who had done this and there are actually a whole two paragraphs about it. It is total nonsense.

I happen to know the guy who programmed the drums on Relax because it was me (laughter). I know myself slightly better than most people and it was most definitely me and I can say with hand on heart that there were no John Bonham loops. What frightened me was that people will read this garbage and believe that it is true. You have to be so very careful what you believe and what you do. I most definitely think that John was an interesting character and I personally don’t think that anyone has ever played the drums in quite the same way as he did.

I take that on board but I have to say that Jason his son is a fantastic drummer.

Yes he is, I will agree with you on that. Chris was on the supporting bill when Led Zeppelin reformed for the Ahmet Ertegun Tribute Concert at the O2 Arena in London back in 2017. After the show I asked him “how were they” and he said to me “they were great, Jason has really got it down now and it really did make a difference”.

Jason plays with Glenn Hughes in California Breed and Black Country Communion.

Yes he does, but I also have to say that Ringo Starr’s son Zac is a terrific drummer too.

Yes he is but he just looks strange now that he has dyed his hair blonde (laughter).

(Laughter) I first saw him drumming with The Who a few years ago now.

Well the two gigs where you would always see Zac drumming would have been with The Who and also Oasis when they were still together.

Oh really. Well I remember watching The Who and thinking ‘my god who is that drummer, he’s good’.

Right we have come to that part of the interview so here goes. What was the last song or piece of music that made you cry (laughter).

I have to be honest with you and say that there are a couple of Seal tracks that I have to be careful with whenever I am listening to them. They remind me of past times so I really do have to be careful. I saw Seal a few days ago and what you have to remember is that I made six albums with him. He was so funny, he has such a great sense of humour, he and I like The Goon Show, together with all of the old 1950s radio shows and stuff like that. What you most probably do not know about Seal is that he really is a great impersonator. He is a great guy and we have done some really good stuff together.

One last question then I will let you go; just what is next for Trevor Horn?

Well I have got an album that should be coming out towards the end of this year, which hopefully will be called The Eighties Reimagined. It is a covers album of eighties songs using different people in different ways. That should be fun for me to do.

On that note Trevor let me once again thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. It’s been an absolute pleasure. You take care and have a great time tonight with Steve and the boys.

Thanks Kevin, it’s been really lovely talking to you. I hope to see you soon. Bye for now.