“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.
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).
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
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…..