Gig review by Zyllah Moranne-Brown with photography by Ken Harrison

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Tonight this little Gig Junkies team are on tour, as we travel to London to see a master svengali of pop and prog rock and a bunch of megastar pals take to the stage to celebrate a glittering career adored with hit after hit after hit. And on top that we are promises special guests including Seal and many more. Welcome! To the world of The Trevor Horn Band.

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So we have huge expectation as we enter the theatre at Shepherd’s Bush – the crowd a mixed bunch of ages – young through to those celebrating the 80s, through to those of prog-rock leaning, a wide age range, given the main protagonists of tonight’s gig are now well into their sixties. And we lucky people at Gig Junkies gained a sneak access to rehearsals the day before…

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And with the Trevor Horn Band tonight we have his ‘Producers’ and old Buggles colleague and Yes / Asia keyboardist Geoff Downes, Lol Creme (of 10cc and Godley and Creme fame), Steve Lipson and Ash Soan. Between the lot of them they’ve had over 200 hits – some, without understatement, were massive.

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First up and as support we have local lad Will Heard – singer-songwriter with electric guitar. A difficult set, the crowd be talking and chatting, but he gives us his best.

Then to a half hour wait as the venue fills. In the tiny pit in front of the stage, it’s getting cosy as more than seven photographers gather (along with Gig Junkie photographer), and a couple of lads who roam the venue with large video camera. The venue is comfortably full, the bars are easily accessible, and for once, you can move, breathe and get your beverage of choice.

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And at 8.45 the band take to the stage – it’s split, divided by screens, inspired by a studio booth type set up – and it’s cosy on stage too, there’s at least 12 people as part of Trevor Horn’s band tonight.

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From the speakers come jungle bird song, chirping and cheeping, before a bass beat rhythm starts up – ‘Welcome [indeed] to the Pleasuredome’ – title track of the huge Frankie Goes to Hollywood album from ’84. This album was huge, hyped up by single ‘Relax’ it smashed into the #1 chart spot with an advance order of over 1 million sales. Controversial too at the time, for how much of the album was produced by Horn and how much input from the band. Tonight’s live version has limited vocals, we’re bopping and singing karaoke-style, there’s no Holly Johnson tonight.

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Next up the Buggles make an appearance – Horn taking vocal duties with ‘Living in the Plastic Age.’ This band is like a rock pop symphony orchestra on stage. And then to a huge cheer, Seal takes to the stage. Our anticipation rises but we are left saddened as the speculation we heard at the rehearsal is confirmed; Seal has had flu for the past couple of weeks, and try as he will taking every (legal) drug possible, while he’s recovered it’s left him voiceless and he won’t be performing tonight. But he wanted to be here to celebrate his great friend and mentor Trevor Horn, and he’s hugely apologetic; it’s only the second time in 26 years he’s been unable to perform. But he personally wanted to come here tonight to apologise and to a hugely respectful cheer, the crowd acknowledge him. Fair play.

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Next up ‘Slave to the Rhythm’ – a track originally written for Frankie, ended up with the legendary Grace Jones. She too is not here tonight, but is once again a reminder of the svengali’s talent.

The setlist has changed many, many times for tonight’s gig, Horn tells us (clearly in part through Seal’s inability to sing) so this is a surprising “special one”; ‘ All The Things She Said’ co-written by Horn, and recorded by Russian female duo Tatu. This song again was #1 in uk and allowed the duo to become the first Russian group to make the Billboard Top 100. Backing singers Kristen Joy and Kate Westall give a cracking rendition (No lesbian snogs feature).

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And now for a smattering of 10cc as we turn back time to ’73, as Lol Creme takes on vocal duties for ‘Rubber Bullets’ before the first of a series of guests as Gabrielle Aplin gives us her haunting and mesmerising version of Frankie’s ‘Power of Love’ – noticeable for being used on the John Lewis Christmas advert. Aplin tells us she’s honoured to be here and honoured to be singing the next track; Annie Lennox’s ‘Why?’, a #5 hit produced for Lennox by Stephen Lipson. There’s a palpable gasp from the audience at Aplin’s bravery but she delivers the haunting track in her own unique style.

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And back to Frankie and the track thumps up to a crescendo – it’s an instrumental version of ‘Two Tribes.’ We be singing and bopping, as we have done all night, but Holly’s vocals, that snarl and jeer and rising Liverpudlian tone, are sorely missed. Prog rock here we go as we’re into Yes – ala- Horn time – with the prog rock’s band’s biggest hit ‘Owner of a Lonely Heart’. For Yes this was their biggest hit; their first and only one to reach #1 in the Billboard Top 100 in ’83. Let’s go leftfield, as a another guest takes to the stage, Dutchman Mr Probz as he and the Trevor Horn band deliver us “his really cool song” ‘Waves.’ The guests keep coming – next up Ella Eyre with her take on DJ Fresh’s ‘Gravity.’ She bounces around the stage singing her little heart out.

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Timewarp time once again and we scoot back to the 70’s with 10cc with their huge hit ‘I’m Not In Love.’ “Big boys don’t cry” the girls surreptitiously sing, the main vocal duties being taken on by backing singer Jamie Squire – to much pleasure and chanting from friends in part of the crowd. Horn acknowledges they can’t play loads of Seal songs now but they’re gonna give it a stab – with Squire taking on vocal duties for ‘Prayer for the Dying.’

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And now to the first ever track to be aired on MTV – as we go back to the Buggles and ‘Video Killed the Radio Star’ Horn on vocal duties and we’re back in time. How time has moved on – video is long gone, and didn’t kill the radio star and digital downloads and streaming have overtaken the visual image of film once again. And now to completion of the set – the deep bass beat sounds up – stomping, stomping, stomping, Frankie once more, with Squire on vocal duties, the huge hit that is ‘Relax’.

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As the band clear the stage, Horn re-appears to say they’ll be one more song – he’s gonna discuss with the rest of the band and he totters off stage to find them. Returned and with Squire on vocals once again it’s ‘Leave Right Now.’

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Tonight’s gig was an odd one in lots of ways. On stage the ‘Producers’; these massive pop svengali’s who produced, written, performed on, sang on some of the BIGGEST hots of the past forty years. And the tunes and rhythms of the songs are a huge testament to their talents. But a great song is a sum of their parts; the musical tinkering may well have been done by Horn but that sparkle on these songs were the vocals of Grace Jones, Jon Anderson, Annie Lennox, Holly Johnson, Seal and a long list of others –  and it is these frontspeople that made the hits what they are. Indeed Seal’s unfortunate loss of voice tonight left a huge gap in the set. And recently we’ve reviewed the resurgent and truly on-form Holly Johnson giving us Frankie’s best and over the past couple of weeks Graham Gouldman’s 10cc at the acoustically delectable Symphony Hall in Birmingham.  So as a gig, because we have this recent comparison, in some ways it was lacking. But let’s take the view of what tonight was about – tonight was a celebration of the producer, the men behind the scenes, that gave the songs the ‘vision’ to be huge. And their success is shown by those huge stars they’ve worked with and the immense success they’ve achieved. Without these ‘Producers’ the music world would indeed be a different place.

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Setlist:

Welcome to the Pleasuredome (Frankie Goes to Hollywood)
Living in the Plastic Age (Buggles)
Slave to the Rhythm (Grace Jones)
All The Things She Said (Tatu)
Rubber Bullets (10cc)
Power of Love (Frankie Goes to Hollywood)
Why? (Annie Lennox)
Two Tribes  (Frankie Goes to Hollywood)
Owner of a Lonely Heart (yes)
Waves (Mr Probz)
Gravity (DJ Fresh)
I’m Not In Love (10cc)
Prayer for the Dying (Seal)
Video Killed the Radio Star (Buggles)
Relax (Frankie Goes to Hollywood)

Encore
Leave Right Now (Will Young)

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See the complete photoset (68 glorious shots) here on our Flickr page.

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