‘The excesses of the music business in the 80s? We were too busy making a living’

Horn is famous for his mega-hits, but he also made some of the boldest, weirdest records of his time, including Sex Pistols manager Malcolm McLaren’s influential 1983 hip-hop world music mash-up, Duck Rock. Horn credits his late wife with supporting his more eccentric choices. “She would say, ‘If you do this band, you’ll make a lot of money, if you do Malcolm, you’ll learn a lot. I’d say, ‘Well, I’ll go and learn a lot.’ “

Horn is visibly overcome with emotion when he talks about Sinclair. “Jill was funny, she was a great manager, she had more balls than most people I know. And she was … just … it’s very difficult … still.” He falls silent.

The recording studio remains a haven for him. And while what he refers to as his “imperial age” may be over, he’s still a top producer. “[The studio] is a really nice place to be with other musicians and make music that no one has heard before.”

He tells the story of a recent encounter with a taxi driver. “He said, ‘I remember back in 1983 I said to my friend, ‘Have you heard that band Frankie Goes to Hollywood? They’re great.’ My friend says: “No, they are not. That’s just what Tony Horn f—— about.”” Horn laughs. “That’s what I’m going to call my next album: Tony Horn F—— About.”

“Here’s Grace!” Finally

Trevor Horn on the making of Slave To the Rhythm

I first met Grace Jones in a studio just off the Queensway in London. She was smaller than I expected, but somehow seemed to grow bigger as I got to know her, purely because of her force of personality. She threw herself into the recording with great gusto and marched around the place, but I wasn’t keen on the end result – it sounded a bit like one of those aerobic exercise bands that were popular at the time.

The thing was, I wanted to make a really good record with Grace, not just a one-off song, and that’s what the original Slave to the Rhythm sounded like. In retrospect, I should have finished then and there and saved a lot of time, money and energy. Instead, I decided we would rewrite the song and play it over a go-go beat.

I told my idea to Island Records owner Chris Blackwell, who was footing the bill, and asked him if he could hire me a go-go rhythm section in New York. Somewhat confused, as it was not an obvious direction for the song, he put together a band that we were supposed to meet at Power Station Studios in New York.

My engineer Steve Lipson was with me when I went out to New York, as was the song’s co-writer Bruce Woolley. The first shock we had was when they told us that we could only have the studio from 9:00 a.m. to 18.00 because they had another reservation. I’m not at 9 recording sessions. Yet we were there, and we had the musicians there. But what we didn’t have was Grace.

At 6pm we were kicked out of the studio and when the band headed off to their motel for a night of debauchery, me, Bruce and Lippo headed back to the Parker Meridien hotel with drum machines, guitars, keyboards and speakers.

That night Bruce wrote another version, helped by me and Lippo, and his beautiful chords helped us shape the song in a new way. Over the moon and overexcited, I called Chris Blackwell, who was just around the corner. He came down, I played it for him, and he got the shock of his life: the song had gone from being this big, bombastic thing at 120 bpm to something else, something more funky and sinewy at 90 bpm.

Everything seemed to be going well and we were ready for Grace to sing. I called her to see when she would be arriving, “Grace, we have the tracks down, they are really cool, you should come down.”

She said, “I just set Dolph’s clothes on fire.” This was the Swedish actor Dolph Lundgren, who was her boyfriend at the time. “Well, this will get you out of it. You can come down and sing,” I said. She finally agreed to come on Sunday.

A strange thing happened the night before she arrived. It was the weekend and the studio was now ours for as long as we wanted, so of course we worked crazy hours.

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