Trevor Horn and a bunch of his mega celeb pals celebrated the legendary producer and ex-Yes singer’s glittering career at Shepherds Bush Empire last night.
With a backing band that featured not only his old-Buggles colleague and Yes/Asia keyboard player Geoff Downes, but also fellow Producers (and producers) Lol Creme, Steve Lipson and Ash Soan, there was an incredibly laid-back feel to proceedings whilst at the same time, both acknowledging the immense body of work that Horn and his bandmates have been involved with over the past 40 odd years or so (over 200 hit singles and albums and counting), but also inadvertently made a mockery of the machinations of the UK music industry at the same time (more of which later).
l-r Lol Creme, Trevor Horn, Steve Lipson (pic: Will Ireland)
Opening with a pulsating Welcome To The Pleasuredome, the title track of the Frankie Goes To Hollywood album that went a long way to making his name as a producer (and an early subject of Prog’s It’s Prog Jim feature), it was evident that whilst much of the music was from the plastic pop era of the 80s, in the hands of the men who most likely wrote and played on much of this material, it was lent an expansive, less compressed sound enhanced with distinctly progressive flourishes from the main musicians.
Trevor Horn Band in full flight (pic: Will Ireland)
A look around at the sold-out audience was revealing. Most fans of 80s-era pop are now in their 40s, which would account for a gaggle of women shaking their thing to the likes of Grace Jones’ Slave To The Rhythm or swaying along to Annie Lennox’s Why. Yet there was more than a smattering of what looked suspiciously like prog heads and Yes fans more than aware of the musical pedigree of the men on stage. Horn introduced Two Tribes as “something you might have heard as backing music on television. We’re going to play it as an instrumental” and the band delivered a thumpingly heavy piece of music which, devoid of Holly Johnson’s vocals or studio effects, would not sound out of place on many a modern-day prog rock album. Enforcing the point that these guys might have written, played on and produced much of this music, but it is the British music industry’s insistence it be dressed up with plastic front people for the sake of commercial radio and glossy magazines (not to mention an audience of sheep) that makes a mockery of the music in the first place. Still, who has the last laugh? The record labels on their collective knees? Or the multi-millionaires having a ball on stage before us tonight?
Lol Creme and Trevor Horn share a laugh (pic: Will Ireland)
The serious muso fans got their rewards with Buggles Living In The Plastic Age, 10cc’s Rubber Bullets (with a pristine falsetto vocal from Lol Creme) and I’m Not In Love, a surprise Soon and expected Owner Of A Lonely Heart from the Yes repertoire and a delightful Video Killed The Radio Star which (along with Owner…) received the loudest cheer of the night, affording a seated Downes the chance to pomp and parp things up to the max.
Geoff ‘Parpy’ Downes (pic: Will Ireland)
Seal was supposed to have performed the bulk of the material, but a recent bout of flu meant all we got was a moving speech honouring Horn and a heartfelt apology from the big man, stating that even though he’d “taken all sort of drugs, the legal ones!!” he was having to stand down for only the second time in his career. Thus his own Prayer For The Dying was handled by backing singer Jamie Squire, whilst fellow backing singers Kirsten Joy and Kate Westall also helped out (the latter two having sang on the Producers album Made In Basing Street). A real highlight was when Gabrielle Aplin came on to sing a wonderful The Power Of Love (which she memorably covered for the most recent John Lewis Xmas TV ad), followed by an evocative Why.
Seal makes his apologies (pic: Will Ireland)
A couple of eminently forgettable nods to current music in the shape of Mr. Probz with Wave and a shouty Ella Eyre covering DJ Fresh’s Gravity came and went, but the only real quibble of a thoroughly enjoyable evening and lesson in superb musicianship was the lack of anything from that terrific Producers album (although I did notice Downes on Twitter this morning suggesting more Buggles material next time around). That would have been the icing on the cake. But it was a thoroughly enjoyable night nonetheless…
Lol Creme enjoys I’m Not In Love (pic: Will Ireland)