TREVOR Horn lives in a house (a very big house) in north London. There are floral paintings in the hall, family photos on the furniture, a double bass in the front room and a recording studio in the basement. The personal and the professional snuggled up alongside each other. It’s been a way of life for Horn for decades now.

It still is. Later this morning, he will go downstairs to the studio to oversee a recording session. As we sit talking, the distant punch of drums punctuates the conversation. Horn, now 70, has spent the last four decades in recording studios. These days that means not having to leave the house.

But he does. Only the other day Horn tells me, he was on his boat up on Loch Fyne. Later this month he will be back in Scotland in a professional capacity to play the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall, one of a number of dates he's playing with a 20-strong band, including eight string players, 10cc's Lol Creme, Steve Ferrone on drums ("the best rock drummer in the world," Horn says), former Dire Straits member Alan Clark on Hammond organ and second keyboard and Phil Palmer, "one of the best guitar players ever". Plus, the odd special guest. All playing live.

“One of my pet peeves is that whenever pop music is presented to people these days, half of it’s coming off a hard drive,” Horn says. That will not be the case here.

And, of course, Horn himself will be playing, too. It's how he started after all. He was a bass player, first and foremost. He’s been reminding himself of that of late.

"I've been in the studio for 40 years now. You just get to the point where you have to go out and play and remind yourself of the real world."

In the end, perhaps, time is a circle. Go back far enough, back before he worked with Robbie Williams, Rod Stewart, Seal or Pet Shop Boys, back before he set up his own label ZTT and gave the world The Art of Noise and, of course, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, back before he produced ABC's Lexicon of Love and those Dollar singles, back even before Video Killed the Radio Star, and Trevor Horn, the man who "invented the eighties," was a jobbing musician.

This was in the 1970s. Another world, a world where Horn performed around the country in Mecca and Top Rank ballrooms. "In fact,” he recalls, “I worked with a few Scots band leaders. Ray McVay and his band of the day."

In between then and now Trevor Horn reinvented pop, met Jill Sinclair (in a recording studio, naturally), got married to her, had a family, and then lost her in a tragic accident. His is a pop life in all its joys and agonies.

Horn is looking good on his 70 years. A few lines, hair receding a little. The shiny suit and bug-eyed glasses he sported when he introduced himself to the world with The Buggles is long gone. But his soft north-eastern accent is still intact, even though he left County Durham the best part of half a century ago.

"It does feel a long time ago, yeah," he says when I bring it up. "You're bound to feel differently about things when you're 70. I suppose I was always ambitious. I'd come from Durham and Geordies are notorious for once they get moving, they loved to keep moving. Look at old Sting. I mean, Bryan Ferry comes from Washington, County Durham. Extraordinary that Washington would give Bryan Ferry to the world, you know. I'm not being rude. I'm a big Bryan Ferry fan."

Horn had a big part to play in the records of my own youth; Lexicon of Love, those Frankie singles. The question is, how did he do it? How did he go from working with Ray McVay to becoming the record producer of choice less than 10 years later?

"I fell into record production naturally,” he suggests. “When we did sessions for the BBC with Ray McVay, or when we did a party album, I would always go into the control room and listen to the playback because I loved the control room. I thought it was the most brilliant place.”

It took him a while to get there himself. "When I was about 25 I was Tina Charles's MD and a lot of my friends were songwriters and they really liked the band. It was a really good band, so they started to use me to do their tracks and that's how I fell into record production."

Ah, Tina Charles. I Love to Love (But my Baby Loves to Dance). No one asks you about Tina enough, Trevor. What are your memories of being her musical director? "It was probably an easier life than being her boyfriend," he laughs. And yes, he is speaking from experience.

By the mid-seventies Horn was trying to have his own hits. He was pushing 30 (and under pressure from his parents to get a real job), when Video Killed the Radio Star, written with Bruce Woolley and his fellow Buggle, Geoff Downes, was released. The single changed his life.

"By the time I got to 29 everyone was saying: 'What are you doing? You're driving around in an old banger. You're living from one week to the next.’

"It took me nearly five years to get a hit. But I was lucky when we got the hit it was massive."

Well, yes. A number one in 16 countries. The first song played on MTV when the video channel was launched.

Video … was also a taster of what pop would sound like in the decade to follow. "All my stuff started to sound weird in the late seventies,” Horn admits. “I was looking for something. All the big stars were so good at making records; Elton John records, from the point of view of arrangements and hi-fi, the Queen records. They were daunting. Let's face it, Queen wrote the book when it came to rock record production. Killer Queen has got every production gag on it that anybody has ever used."

Horn tried to make records sound like that, but they never did. "And gradually over a period of five years I evolved a kind of style."

To do so, he started exploring new technical possibilities. In the early 1980s, he even spent £18,000 on buying a Fairlight synth. A fortune at the time. "You could buy a house," Horn agrees. His wife Jill was also his business manager by this time. How did she feel about that purchase?

"My wife wasn't very pleased. But don't forget, I sold a hell of a lot of copies of Video Killed the Radio Star. Also, I was pretty committed to record production and I saw straight away that the Fairlight had incredible potential."

He handed the Fairlight over to his colleague JJ Jeczalik, who would go on to be a co-founder of Art of Noise, to work out how to use it. They then sampled Thereza Bazar singing "la la la" into the Fairlight, tracked it up 16 times (a process that took Jeczalik two weeks), "and then we could play it off the keyboard."

Suddenly, the future was revealed to Horn. And everyone else who was listening. Soon, the likes of Martin Fry were knocking on his door. Punk had given way to post-punk and new pop was waiting in the wings. Horn would be one of its midwives.

"I was a musician, so punk wasn't really an option for me, you know? ABC were an alternative synth band called something completely different."

Vice Versa. "Vice Versa, that's it. They carried their stuff in carrier bags. And then, I think, like a lot of people, they suddenly fancied being successful and writing proper songs.

"It was interesting connecting with that because you've got to realise, I was 31, 32. All my friends when they heard what I played them of ABC were ..." He blows his lips dismissively. "...'That's disco music.' And I said: 'Yes it is, but the lyrics are more what you'd expect from Bob Dylan or Neil Young really, the quality of them."

Read More: Martin Fry on Lexicon of Love

Read More: Holly Johnson on life in and out of Frankie Goes to Hollywood

ABC's reinvention of themselves as purveyors of glossy, ambitious new pop also retooled Horn's reputation. Before long, everyone from Malcolm McLaren to Grace Jones were getting in touch to work with him.

Horn speaks hugely fondly of McLaren. Mostly. "The problem with Malcolm was he couldn't sing. And he had no sense of rhythm. Famously when he was rapping Buffalo Gals I had to punch him on the chest. I told him 'you have to try to make the words go with my fist,' just to keep him in time. By the time we got the vocal I was exhausted.

"But that was the only downside. We went to South Africa. Apartheid was still going on and we were in the only multiracial hotel and Malcolm had about eight people staying with him in his room and they were always ordering drinks because we were working through the night.

"I'm surprised they didn't kick him out because Malcolm had all these women with him, Zulu ladies or whatever. They'd order drinks, the waiters would show up with the drinks and they'd be family members. So, it was like a never-ending party."

And then in 1983, Horn set up the ZTT label with his wife and the music journalist Paul Morley. "I wanted to own the records that I made. But that comes with a price."

Which is? "Well, if you're working with someone as a producer you can walk away. But if you've signed someone to your record label you can't. So, that's a real pressure sometimes. Which is why I made Relax four times to try to get it right because it was my record label.

"It's like gambling. I'm out this much money on the table, I haven't won yet, but I'll double it."

In this case, though, you were gambling with your own money? "Yeah. That makes it a little more tense."

Famously, of course, the members of Frankie don't play on Relax. "They didn't play much at the start because – to put it into context – the Frankies when I met them, as far as I was aware, had only played five gigs. And, also, they didn't have the guitarist who was on the demos. They never told us that until after we signed the contract. And the guitar player who came in was a lovely guy, but he had only been playing the guitar for a couple of months. Now, I mean, what do you do?

"They weren't on Relax. But it was their ideas and they sang it.

"As we went on, they contributed more and more, so by the end they were really good. But then they fell out with each other."

Before that they were everywhere. The year 1984 was the year of Frankie. But it wasn’t inevitable. For a while there Relax was languishing in the charts. Critics were sniffy, old-style engineers hated how it sounded "because it was mostly samples," Horn points out.

But then the band snagged an appearance on Top of the Pops and the next morning Horn got a call saying they had just shifted 55,000 units. Suddenly Frankie were huge.

"It did put a hell of a lot of pressure on the follow-up," Horn notes.

Indeed, he spent ages recording Two Tribes. He spent weeks on the bass line alone. "I remember bumping into a fellow producer in a restaurant and I said: 'How's it going?' And he said: 'Oh, we've just finished the album. It's great. We did it in three weeks. How are you doing?' I said: 'Oh God, struggling with this bass.'

"And the album he did in three weeks was the end of that artist's career, whereas our track came out really well."

Frankie were a supernova. But they burnt out quickly. Holly Johnson's 1994 memoir A Bone in My Flute, is a raw, angry book which has little good to say about Horn or Sinclair (or the rest of the band for that matter). When I bring it up Horn gets a little snippy for the only time in our hour together. "I only got so far into Holly's book. I can see how if you are perceived as the brains behind the band how irritating it must be to have someone like me there. I lost interest in his book when he said: 'I woke up and I was being f***** by an Elvis impersonator.' I threw it away after that.

"I think a lot of the time he didn't really know what was going on. But he always had a very iconic voice, I thought. But, really, we did a lot of work organising what he did."

At this point he launches into a rather good impersonation of Holly's trademark Frankie "Yeah-eh".

"We had that on synclavier on a key. We could put it anywhere we wanted. Holly was relatively inexperienced and we organised a lot of that. People always resent you for that."

In between all the hours spent in a studio, Horn and Sinclair also started a family. They had four kids together. Which suffered more, family life or work life, Trevor?

"Family life always suffers when you're a workaholic, crazy, ambitious idiot. My late wife knew what I did and she was also my manager. She kept all of the bad people away. No one ever got near me."

At this point Horn’s mobile rings. It's his daughter and he speaks to her for a bit before turning back to me. Family comes first now, I say, smiling.

"Well, I am a single parent."

In June 2006, Jill Sinclair was accidentally shot by her son Aaron who was target-shooting with his air pistol. The air pellet hit her in the neck, severing an artery and causing extensive brain damage. She spent more than three years in a coma and, when she came out of it, she couldn't move or speak. She passed away in 2014.

Horn suddenly had to be the head of the family, looking after Jill, helping his daughter Rebecca transition to become Will, being there to support his children when their mother died.

"Being a single parent is a lot more difficult than anything I ever tackled before,” he admits. “When that happens to you, you find yourself in a pretty strange world."

What did he learn about himself from the experience, I wonder? "That I'm not all I'm cracked up to be, probably ... I don't know. To try and appreciate things more. To be with someone for 26 years and then suddenly they're gone, and they never come back. It's a pretty big thing to deal with, because your whole world changes completely.

"And I was married for life as far as I was concerned."

Jill's death was one of the reasons, Horn says, he started playing live again. "When I look back on it, I realise it was therapy. Five of us formed a band called The Producers and we started to do some shows."

As we all get older, life becomes a catalogue of losses. In 2017, Horn's LA home and studio burned to the ground in a fire.

"We had the house for so long, since 1991, and made so many records in it. But whenever it was summer and it got hot, you could see vapour coming up off the vegetation. So, you know if anything catches fire, it's not like a fire here.

"We were unlucky. Some homeless people who were under the 405 Freeway lit an illegal fire to cook some food or stay warm and it got out of control. It came charging down the canyon and then just at the last minute the wind direction changed, and it blew it straight into four houses. Mine was one of them.

"To have a two-storey house with three cars and a recording studio and a grand piano reduced to six inches of ash ...I'll never forget the smell of it.”

The thing is, though, he says, he got off lightly. "The three neighbours who got burnt out, it was their primary residence. They all got burnt out and it was heart-breaking. My immediate neighbour, an old Japanese lady whose husband had been the head of computers for UCLA and basically developed virtual reality, she was taken from her house at five in the morning. They put her in a motel nearby. She literally died two days after the fire. She was broken-hearted. She didn't have insurance.

"So, to compare my misfortune to hers ... All of my family were really sad about the house going because it was the last house that we had when their mother was alive, and we'd all spent so much time there. But at least nobody was injured. You can always replace stuff, but you can't replace people."

Downstairs the drums begin. Life ends. The music plays forever.

Trevor Horn is live in concert at the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall next Saturday.


Horn fell in love with Scotland back in the 1980s when he was working with Simple Minds:

“I loved the landscape. I loved the people, too, even they're not always pro-English. I remember being in a car with Jim Kerr's brother and he was being very rude about English people. And I said: 'Hang on, don't we support you?' And that made him really angry. And he wound down the window – we were in a traffic jam – and he shouted to the guy in a lorry: 'Eh, what do you think of the English?' And the guy said: 'Bastards!'


Video Killed the Radio Star, The Buggles (1979)

The song that turned Horn from a jobbing musician into a pop star. More importantly, it suggested a sound for the coming decade that Horn would spend the eighties pursuing. "When Video Killed the Radio Star was a hit everybody ignored us apart from Bryan Ferry. Bryan Ferry came over introduce himself, shook my hand and told me how much he liked the record. Lovely man. Other people told me I was an idiot. Bob Geldof said he preferred Bruce Woolley's version."

Give Me Back My Heart, Dollar, 1982

An aural bath swimming in Thereza Bazaar's multi-tracked celestial vocals. Martin Fry heard something in the singles Horn produced for Dollar that convinced him the producer was the man for Lexicon of Love.

Poison Arrow, ABC, 1982

Sly, knowing, sumptuous. The moment after the middle eight when the drums sound as if they are falling off a cliff is as thrilling as pop music gets.

Buffalo Gals, Malcolm McLaren, 1982.

1982 belonged to Horn. As well as Lexicon of Love, he also produced McLaren's Buffalo Gals, which helped introduce scratching to the UK. The subsequent album was a smorgasbord of world music and electronic sounds, which was a perfect example of McLaren's magpie eye for the new thing and the main chance."

“There was a great moment,” Horn says, “when he first sang where I said: 'Malcolm, you didn't sing the right tune or the right lyrics and you sang them in the wrong place.' I said, 'It needs to go like this.' And I remember he said to me, 'So, you think I should do it like you just did it? Because I can't. I can't do it in time and in tune. No, I'm a character. I just have to be a character."

Relax, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, 1983

An outrageous mess of sex and synths. Predictably, it caused controversy. Predictably the controversy ensured that it was huge.

Art of Noise, Close to the Edit, 1984

Horn, here working as performer and writer as well as producer, was at the cutting edge of eighties sounds.

Slave to the Rhythm, Grace Jones, 1985

In which Horn creates a sonic backdrop track immense enough to contain all of Grace Jones's personality.

Left to My Own Devices, Pet Shop Boys, 1988

Perhaps the last glorious hurrah of Horn's own imperial phase, a clattering dance track that lives up to the promise of Neil Tennant's cheeky lyric: "Che Guevara and Debussy to a disco beat."

All The Things She Said, t.A.T.u. 2002

Horn's take on the Russian original didn't really veer far from the Russian original, but it was a reminder of his ear for what made a memorable pop song, in this case an electronic take on the loud-quiet-loud dynamic of so much of American rock of the previous decade. The lesbian angle of the lyrics recalled the controversy that surrounded Relax.

I'm a Cuckoo, Belle and Sebastian, 2003

A glimpse of an alternative career in which Horn worked with indie bands instead of pop stars. Perfectly fine, if you like that sort of thing.