Looking Like A Hobo: Trevor Horn talks Buffalo Gals at the Red Bull Music Academy
Trevor Horn found massive success with The Buggles’ Video Killed the Radio Star, but, as an early champion of then-new electronic technology, he was also the producer behind some of the biggest hits of the 1980s, including landmark records with ABC, Frankie Goes To Hollywood and Pet Shop Boys.
When the 14th annual Red Bull Music Academy rolled into Matadero Madrid in October and November 2011, Horn gave a fascinating lecture that traced his musical journey to the brink of superstardom with ZZT Records alongside tips, tricks, and philosophies of sound and how to make a perfect song.
Amazingly, only this month have the RBMA finally got round to posting the complete footage for the first time (shock sample: “Bryan Ferry, god bless him, he sings out of tune.”) but of particular interest are his entertaining and illuminating insights into the often agonising conception and recording of Malcolm McLaren’s Buffalo Gals.
In the early Eighties Trevor Horn was one of the most in-demand producers in the UK. He could basically work on any record he wanted to. But rather than go after an obvious hit he chose to produce the solo record of the ex-Sex Pistols manager. The album took them to Johannesburg and Tennessee – and the end result was one of the most fascinating records of the decade.
As I posted an appreciation of the track that introduced scratching to Britain last November I thought it would be worthwhile post-scripting with Horn’s own commentary and how Buffalo Gals came to be. Take it away Trevor…
It was 1982 and I’d just done ABC’s Lexicon of Love, and everyone wanted me to do another record like that. Malcolm McLaren wanted to do his solo album. My wife, who was my manager at the time, said: “You can do Spandau Ballet and you know it’ll be very successful; they’re a very good band. If you do the Malcolm McLaren thing, God knows what’s going to happen ’cause he’s a weird guy.”
Malcolm had been the Sex Pistols’ manager. He was the guy who got them to swear on TV and designed all their clothes. He was an amazing guy to be with. He was so mad in a way, but funny, with great ideas. I had him over. My wife Jill had been a maths teacher and wanted to tell him off for punk rock, basically. To have a go at him. But when we met him we were so taken with him because he had one of those buffalo gals hats, and he had a pair of trousers that hung down at the back that looked as though he’d pooed in them. He looked very strange, but he was so funny and he played me some music that I’d never heard before at the time.
He also told me some stuff that took my breath away. He said all the black kids in New York were listening to Depeche Mode. I was like: “What?” “And they do this thing with records, they scratch records.” And he played me the start of the tape from The World’s Famous Supreme Team, who were two New York guys who basically worked a con on Broadway. They used to do the eggcups with the coin underneath it. The money they got from that they used to spend doing this radio show at 3 AM, which was all designed to get girls. I’d never heard anything like it. Just the idea that people from New York were into Depeche Mode was mind-blowing to me at the time anyway.
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