Me And My Partner: Trevor Horn and Jill Sinclair

Trevor Horn was playing bass when he met Jill Sinclair in 1977. She failed to sign up his record, but three years later they married and have built up the record company ZTT. Horn, 50, has written the "River of Fire" music for London's Millennium show at midnight 31 December

Rachelle Thackray
Wednesday 22 December 1999 01:02

TREVOR HORN: I first saw Jill from a distance when I was doing a session with some buddies. I remember saying to the engineer: "Who's that girl?" She was fairly striking. That was a pretty good couple of days: the studio had a fridge full of food and a microwave, so at the end of the session you could have a meat pie.

My father was a bass player and when he couldn't do a gig I would go and play the first set. I used to do this thumb- slapping thing, and another bass player used to say: "I really want you to show me that." Then he said: "I'm having a party" and, since I had nothing better to do, I went. The first person I bumped into was Jill. I remembered her and we got talking. She was hustling and, because I'd got a gig to produce a couple of tracks, she talked me into mixing them at her studio.

Jill was good company, but I didn't think I was necessarily her type. I had a demo of "Video Killed The Radio Star" and I didn't quite know what to do with it. Then Jill invited me down to Sarm for a video. I think she was surprised when I showed up. We talked a bit and I said I had something to play her, could I bring it in? I could tell she was really impressed because she spent the next three months trying to get me to sign up. That was the catalyst, because I don't suppose we would have spent that much time together otherwise.

Jill had no idea I was broke. Even though Jill and I had lots of meetings, at the last minute Island came in and offered me a lot of money, something like pounds 12,000 a year. It meant I could stop having to play bass every night. When I decided to sign to Island, Jill was upset but she said: "Come in and use the studio. If we're not doing any business, what are you doing on Saturday?"

We got married but didn't go into business together for a year or two. When my partner left me on my own, I said to Jill: "The good thing is that you can manage me now." Fifteen seconds after I appointed her, she told me I would have to give up trying to be an artist and concentrate on being a producer. She thought I could be the best producer in the world.

Jill and I are very different. She drives fast and takes lots of chances. I tend to be much more careful and leave a distance. Jill's a much better driver than me but when we're in the car together I have to drive because, if Jill drives, I emit animal-like noises of pain or suck in air. In the studio, Jill comes in to listen to something, then she goes. I keep going with musicians until everybody is knackered, sick to death and can't bear to listen to the track again, then I will say: "Let's start again. I think I know how it should be." I've got a lot of stamina.

One reason Jill and I work well together is that we leave each other alone; Jill runs the business and I make records, though we are always discussing. One of her best qualities is that she's never afraid to say what she thinks. Over the years she's learnt to sugar-coat the pill every now and again. But it's an amazing quality because so many of us are swayed by the moment. I've seen people move from having nothing to having a lot, and I've been through that too, being the biggest record producer in the world. It hasn't really affected me; it just meant I got hassled a lot. For a while I had to be careful to keep a low profile because as a producer you're making a reality out of someone else's ideas.

Jill has always been full of life. The time to watch out is when she's quiet. I've been with Jill 20 years now and being with her is almost like being on my own. The good thing about working together is that it gives us a lot to talk about.

JILL SINCLAIR: I left teaching on 21 July 1977 and went to work at my brother's studio in the East End. On that day Trevor was there doing a session, playing bass. Two weeks later, I went to a barbecue; as I was leaving, Trevor was arriving and said: "I was in your studio." I immediately gave him the spiel about how wonderful we were. I kept bumping into him, once at the launch of a record company. I said: "We're doing a video tomorrow, do you want to come?" After that, he said "Can I play you a song?" It was "Video Killed The Radio Star" and that's when I started to chase him to make the record.

I hadn't noticed much about him until we started to negotiate. I found this tremendous calmness about him, yet an intensity and a phenomenal sense of humour. He's the only man who, when I get at my most grumpy, can make me laugh. I think he thought I was attractive. At the time, I was having a relationship with someone else. Trevor was not my typical kind of person, but I enjoyed being with him, apart from any emotional attachment. That's why the partnership has lasted. We went out together, and got married exactly a year later.

When our eldest daughter, who's now 17, was six months old, we were in Malibu; we were both swimming and got out of our depth. Suddenly, this enormous wave rose and bashed us over. We looked around and its big uncle was coming. We got thrown around again and yet somehow managed to help each other out of the sea. Since then, I've always had that picture: he's quietly supportive, and I don't know anyone more tenacious.

I maximised my assets, and Trevor was the biggest. With "Video Killed The Radio Star", Trevor had already signed my contract, but his partner hadn't. Then Chris Blackwell at Island heard it and said: "We've got to sign it", so I lost the deal. He also offered us a record label because he wanted Trevor. Trevor has always been much more involved in the studios, not in other ventures; he's a record-maker. He's one of the best in the world and to make recordings of that quality takes a tremendous focus. I've tried to facilitate that.

I've always taken care of business and he's made great records. It's not very complex. I've done things he didn't even know about. I bought serviced offices, which I had up and running before he'd even been in, and a post-production facility in Golden Square which I don't think he's been in. I'm a bit of a donkey. I just work and I'm a great believer in grasping the opportunities that come your way.

We left Island, but Trevor thought we should hook up with a larger record company, because if you keep having big hits it's like a school playground; if you're in a gang, nobody picks on you. We did a deal with Warner eight or nine years ago, but we realised that majors have an agenda too. They want to absorb you. We extricated ourselves, triggered by a meeting with the chairman, who said we should scale everything down to just Trevor and I. It wasn't quite how we saw it. The record business is a very important part of our group, but we needed a spread so that it wasn't such feast or famine. Leaving Warner was difficult, harder because the chairman took it personally. I viewed him as a friend. My father said: "Look, if you're playing poker with your best friend, you don't show him your hand."

I'm a driven person, although I don't know what I'm trying to prove. I would like to get the record label to a real state of independence. We've always had such a diverse roster, but I don't know if we could be a role model: we're such an odd combination. I never had any doubts that Trevor would be an enormous success, but it was only when I was named Businesswoman of the Year that I thought about my own career at all. I had just worked and never had a plot. When I did some training recently, the guy said: "What do you want to achieve?" That stumped me. World peace? I've no pretensions to be able to write or sing. I sing all the time, but heaven help us if my career depended on it.

I've learnt from Trevor. He's not one for confrontation; he's a dreamer. I'm more pragmatic, I've never been much of a one for subtlety, but these days I'm much more patient and able to see things from the other point of view. I think the strength of the partnership is that we both do such different jobs. We get things wrong but we both know that we are doing our utmost. We're both forgiving. And there isn't anyone I'd rather be with.

Interviews by Rachelle Thackray

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