AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #276 : PAUL HAIG

“The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that Paul Haig is just about the most important Scottish musician of my generation. He’s really proved to be our equivalent of Bowie, with his constant shifting of musical genres over a career that stretches back more than 40 years, albeit with a very small minuscule of commercial success in comparison

“I really must get round to finishing that long-delayed Paul Haig ICA.”

Those were my opening and closing paras last November when I featured him in the long-running Saturday Songs series. The reason it has been so long-delated is the amount of choice.  I’m not including any of the Josef K material, nor anything that he released alongside the late and great Billy Mackenzie, but I was still looking at a long list of more than 40 potential songs for inclusion.

It’s been a labour of love.  Again, I’m not going to argue these are the ten ‘best’ Paul Haig songs, but I do feel they hang together as a fine compilation album.

SIDE ONE

1) Heaven Sent (single, and opening track on Rhythm of Life, 1983)

A song dating from the Josef K days, and one which the band had performed in their trademark way, complete with angular, jarring guitars that meant a raincoat was essential if you really wanted to get on the floor and give it a dance.  This radical transformation, with production duties handled by Alex Sadkin, (a person mentioned in the Chris Frantz book I reviewed last week) who was probably best known for his work with Grace Jones, showed how much and how quickly Paul wanted to move on and do something totally different.  All of his early solo work formed part of the soundtrack to my student days, and I make no apologies that a few songs from that era will feature in this ICA.

2) I Believe In You (single, and opening track on Coincidence vs, Fate, 1993)

No matter how hard Paul Haig tried, he just couldn’t ever get that elusive hit single.  I Believe In You was his 14th go at things, and this marvellous, radio-friendly pop/dance effort, with more than a hint of house high up in the mix, was another instance when justice wasn’t done,  Talking of which….

3) Justice (single and track 8 on Rhythm of Life, 1983)

A version of Justice had been recorded in 1982, with the aim of having it issued as a single via Belgian label Les Disques du Crépuscule.   The big contract with Island Records put a spoke in that wheel, meaning that a track which sounded in many ways like the New Life/See You era of Depeche Mode, was given the Sadkin treatment, and became, arguably, the most instant and accessible of all the tracks on the debut album.  The label likely had high hopes for this to be a big single, ideally coming on the back of a previous hit, but given that the radio stations and the record-buying public were proving to be disinterested, it was given just a low-key release.  Another that should’ve been much better known…

4) Over Over (track 3 on Cinematique 3, 2003)

Cinematique 3 was the final in a series of three instrumental albums subtitled “Themes to Unknown Films”. The previous two volumes had been released in 1991 and 2001, the first on Les Disques du Crépuscule, but the final two volumes came out on Paul’s own label, Rhythm Of Life (which was, of course, the title of the debut album on Island Records back in 1983). RoL had actually been the name under which Paul had issued a number of side projects immediately after the break-up of Josef K, and such was his love of the name that he resurrected it at the tail end of the 20th Century and has used it for all his releases ever since.

5) Something Good (10″ version, 1989)

Lifted from a previous blog post:-

In 1988, Paul Haig took a very bold and brave step by fully financing the recording of his next album himself without the safety net of a guaranteed release. He again worked with Alan Rankine and thankfully for all concerned, it was picked up by Circa Records, an offshoot of Virgin. Hopes were high, particularly for the release of an outstanding and poptastic leadoff single, Something Good, which was released in 7″, 12″ and 12″ remix form and tailor-made for radio play and an appearance on Top of The Pops. But….once again, Paul was denied by the pop gods with him again being in the wrong place at the wrong time with Madchester all the rage and synth-pop well out of fashion. And yet, when you listen to Something Good, and indeed some of other tracks on parent album Chain, it’s not a million miles away from some of the less clubby tracks on Technique by New Order (e.g. Run).

SIDE TWO

1) Round and Round (track 6 on Relive, 2009)

Come the early years of the 21st Century, a few members of the emerging bands were making noises that Paul Haig had been something of an influence in their formative years.  This led to a bit more interest in the great man and he released two albums in quick succession – Go Out Tonight (2008) and Relive (2009) with the guitars more to the fore than recent years, albeit there remained a very healthy dose of keyboards/electronica.  He was also more than happy to go back to old material and give it a fresh update, such as this one, co-written with Malcolm Ross, his mate from the Josef K days, which had already seen light of day on one of Ross’s solo albums as far back as 1995.

2) Big Blue World (12″ single, 1984)

3) The Only Truth (single, 1984)

The cut-throat nature of the record industry meant that Island Records weren’t the slightest bit interested in Paul Haig after the debut album had stiffed.  Even when he came up with the very radio-friendly Big Blue World, on which he worked very closely with Alan Rankine not long after he had taken his leave of Associates, they turned it down which meant he was free to issue it as a 45 on Operation Afterglow, an offshoot of Les Disques du Crépuscule, but inevitably things were done on a shoestring budget and nobody got to hear it.  Mind you, the fact it came out on such small label did make it eligible for the indie charts and it managed to reach #19.

Work on the follow-up, The Only Truth, saw Bernard Sumner (New Order) and Donald Johnson (A Certain Ratio) take on joint production duties.  Sniffing a commercial opportunity, Island Records decided this one should go out on license, thus it was given an Island catalogue number, but the label in the middle of the record indicated it was another Les Disques du Crépuscule, albeit it was very much bankrolled by the major.  After it flopped, Island decided to drop Paul Haig and shelved the plans for a second album, much of which had already been recorded.

4) Chained (track 10 on Chain, 1989)

The first hook up with Billy Mackenzie came in the mid-80s, and was the kindling of a close friendship over many years until Billy’s sad demise.  They decided that each would write a song for the other’s next LP, and the quite majestuic Chained subsequently was included on Chain in 1989 – an album that just happened to be produced jointly by Paul Haig and Alan Rankine.

NB: Paul’s song for Billy was Reach The Top, which was recorded for the Associates album The Glamour Chase, due also for release in 1989 but shelved by the record label, and only given a posthumous release in 2003.

5) Chasing The Tail (opening track on The Wood, 2018)

This ICA closes off with some music from the most recent album.  His ability to still astound, astonish and delight can be evidenced by this review from Louder Than War:-

It’s a long time since Paul Haig split from Josef K. In the fact he’s been producing solo records since 1982, so perhaps it’s high time to put the post-punk spectre to one side and look at what is happening in the here and now because Paul’s new record shares next to nothing with that band. Maybe a similar spirit of adventure, but sonically a world away. The Wood finds Haig exploring samples, beats, electronics and ‘found sound’ to sculpt something that’s split into eight parts, but very much fit together as a whole. A soundscape of the strange and strangely danceable among the tranquillity in the forest, or of the mixed-up feelings of the soul, or both, well that’s what I think may be intended anyway.”

Whether that truly comes over is down to each individual listener to judge, but for me Haig has put together a work that’s in turns provocative, danceable, obscure, immediate and beguilingly rum, so I’m not sure it really matters. What The Wood actually consists of is eight pieces that mostly are dance/trance-orientated with repeated vocal motifs. The concept gives it an added edge and with a little imagination you can feel the eerie peace of the Forest and the skips and dips of the mind. Aside from the concept there is plenty to get one to, cough, ‘cut a rug’. But everything here fits and you have to admire Haig’s craftsmanship in the way it has been put together – producing a musical storybook without words in effect. Forty years into his recording career he’s still breaking new ground. Long may he strive for the outer reaches, because those who want to be challenged a little in their listening will lap this up.

BONUS 7″ SINGLE: THE COVERS

a) Ghost Rider

b) Atmosphere

The former was the b-side to Big Blue World back in 1985.  It’s a hugely enjoyable trashy, electro-rockabilly take on the Suicide song from 1977 (and which last featured on this blog as the b-side to Orange Crush by R.E.M.)

The latter is, indeed, the Joy Division song. It was recorded more than a decade ago by Outernationale, which is the name used by Scots-born Derek Miller, with Paul Haig adding his distinctive vocal. The track would later be given a release on Hacienda Records, the short-lived digital label run by Peter Hook.  It’s brilliantly different…..

JC

8 thoughts on “AN IMAGINARY COMPILATION ALBUM : #276 : PAUL HAIG

  1. JUST FANTASTIC! Kudos for your ICA programming JC. Bold choosing Round And Round to open side two instead of The Only Truth. So glad to see Chained included. It is a really special song in my opinion. If any Paul Haig track should have been a successful single it’s Chained. Can’t fault your choices in Over Over and Chasing The Tail. I think my choice of Cinematique, and there would need to be one, I agree, would be City Of Fun. It’s all Colin McInnis City Of Spades/Absolute Beginners. From The Wood, which is a triumph of an album, my choice would likely have been the album closer The Walk, with its mixture of “organic” sounds and beats. In fact the whole album is many times more challenging than anything his friends in New Order have released in this millennium.
    Only track I would have to include, that’s missing, is possibly something a bit rare, Blue For You “Interference” remix. It’s a very Fractured Funk remix of Haig’s second single. It is just a bit different from Blue For You (Version), but could be just a slightly different edit of the same remix.
    I sometimes feel like a fan club of one here in The States, but would be happy to know that there are other Paul Haig fans on this side of the Atlantic.
    Paul Haig is a treasure.

  2. Just what the doctor ordered for a world weary Thursday. Thanks, JC! I’ve made no secret of the fact that, bar Memory Palace with Billy Mackenzie & Josef K, I pretty much owe my entire education in Paul Haig’s musical history to this blog. As Echrorich says, fantastic sequencing for this ICA and surprisingly, all but 3 are songs or versions that I haven’t already got. Big Blue World unfortunately skips a few times – I’m guessing it might be the well-loved vinyl rather than the download – but this is a pleasure from start to finish. About to give it a second listen, with more to follow through the day. Fabulous.

  3. Thanks K

    I’ve now replaced Big Blue World with a fresh version, straight from the vinyl this morning. I can guarantee it has no skips!!!

  4. It’s odd to think that Paul Haig is largely unknown outside knowing music circles. It’s odd because his music is very accessible. I do enjoy what I own but never really felt the need to keep up with his ongoing output. It’s been an age since I’ve heard Ghost Rider and it’s every bit as magnificent as I remember. Stunning. I hadn’t heard Atmosphere previoulsy and it’s … well, it’s a thing of absolute beauty. It’s a brave song for anyone to attempt to cover but this version, it’s, it’s … I’m speechless.

    Thanks for this ICA. It’s re-opened my eyes to songs I had long loved but failed to give due attention to and offered a world of new songs that are wholly affecting.

  5. I listen to ‘Chained’ and think, “Oh, so that’s where Franz Ferdinand got their sound.”

  6. Thanks, JC, you are a true gent. I’ve listened to this ICA about 5 times during my working day and I have to say, it’s just got better and better. Couldn’t agree more with FFF. Looking objectively, Paul Haig was making music that absolutely would have appealed to me during my teens and beyond and yet always seemed to be on the edges of my radar until I started following TVV. Echorich is spot on: I’m more excited by Paul Haig’s 21st century output than New Order’s and will be going more deeply into The Woods. A highlight in an already great week of posts and music.

  7. Well, I have bought every Paul Haig record I’ve ever come across… which means that I have three 12″ singles and an EP to show for 35 years of interest. And both CD copies of “Haig/MacKenzie”CD, of course. The 12” singles were all bought in the ’85-’86 window. The US Island EP, which was my next Haig record, finally entered the Record Cell after 30 year span of no Haig solo materia! Echorich, there’s a reason why he’s not feted in America… the records were damned hard to find outside of the cosmopolitan bubble you grew up in!

  8. Hard to believe this is the first ICA with Paul Haig – but a very well done one! Great job JC!
    I discovered Paul with the Blue For You remix on Interference Records bought from an import store. I have the early albums and quite a few of his 12″ up to and including the Flight X-era singles, but then I lost touch a bit so some of the more recent tracks here were new to me.
    Regarding Chained and Reach The Top I read in an interview with Billy that it was their way of supporting each other financially – crediting the other on one of the album tracks. From what Billy said there he didn’t write Chained, and Paul didn’t write Reach The Top – they gave the credits to one another to create cash inflow. Whether this was true or another of his made up stories I can’t tell, but it wouldn’t surprise me either.

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