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Paul Haig

That the seminal post-punk outfit JOSEF K had influence over a range of subsequent combos was almost an understatement, that is for fans of the seminal Postcard band to decide. PAUL HAIG is an entirely different kettle of fish. Whether the music of JK’s leader PAUL HAIG falls into the same classic-indie category is questionable, but there’s no doubt of his staying power and dexterity since the aforesaid Scots act went their separate ways in ‘81. According to the Edinburgh man himself (born 1960), he plays down such idolatry, citing their brief one-album period as “hardly of any interest”, save for tracks such as `Sorry For Laughing’.
Singer-songwriter/guitarist HAIG was keen to step outside the confines of what he perceived to be limited commercial success; although his major label ambition and eagerness for airplay seemed to be at odds with his avowed disdain for lengthy promotional tours and publicity in general. After all, as a rule, PH never showed face on his album releases, instead there were individual lipstick-model pics.
RHYTHM OF LIFE (or RoL) was the moniker HAIG first chose to record under after leaving JOSEF K. Set up under the umbrella of Rational Records, run by then manager Allan Campbell, Paul as musician-only took a back seat to the all-too-brief project, which took a collaborative form, with initially ex-METROPAK singer Stephen Harrison on the single, `Soon’ (b/w `Summertime’). The subsequent double-header 45, `Uncle Sam’ and `Portrait Of Heart’, found local poet Sebastian Horsley involved, who, with drummer David Graham, filled the vacant berth of Harrison. Both singles from March ’81 and April ’82 respectively, were swept under the carpet slightly as PAUL HAIG was positioning himself as a solo artist.
Delivered to lucky fans at the man’s earliest gigs, his “Drama” was a home studio effort replete with recited texts by Franz Kafka over electronic beats; JOSEF K’s `Forever Drone’ – chopped, unscrewed and reconstructed – was added for good measure. Fewer than 700 copies of these dubbed-off C-30 tapes were made available, and this low-key input suggested that he’d now traded in his guitar for the mighty synth.
Moving in with the similarly-independent Operation Twilight branch of Belgium’s Les Disques Du Crepuscule imprint (they shared many subsequent HAIG releases), a cover of SLY & THE FAMILY STONE’s `Running Away’ set the ball rolling in May 1982; incidentally, he’d later try his hand at SUICIDE’s `Ghost Rider’ and `Surrender’ on select B-sides.
Working with producer Alex Sadkin, THOMPSON TWINS geezer Tom Bailey and American alumni Bernie Worrell (keyboards) – long-time GEORGE CLINTON sidekick – and former PERE UBU man Anton Fier (percussion), RHYTHM OF LIFE (1983) {*7} was chosen as the title of his solo debut for Island Records. Boasting a string of indie, HEAVEN 17-meets-IGGY POP-type minor-hit 45s from across the Benelux, one couldn’t help think that he’d abandoned his alternative approach for the dancefloor on the likes of `Heaven Sent’, `Never Give Up (Party, Party)’, `Justice’ and `Blue For You’.
THE WARP OF PURE FUN (1985) {*6} saw the man stick to his guns, while backing this time around came from former Postcard Records people James Locke (drums), Malcolm Ross (guitar) and David McClymont (bass), plus ex-ASSOCIATES muso ALAN RANKINE (as producer) and NEW ORDER’s Bernard Sumner (as guest guitarist). Not HAIG’s most revered work, `Heaven Help You Now’, `Big Blue World’, `Love Eternal’ and `The Only Truth’, just didn’t click into gear for many fans that loved his previous releases.
`Torchomatic’ (1988) was a mock soundtrack (as one drew a blank to its corresponding movie/film), but in its five EP tracks HAIG had slowed the pace for cinematic de-construction; the same couldn’t be said for his Allan Campbell re-collaboration on Dub Organiser’s one-off 12”: `I’ve Got A Weapon’. 1989’s comeback set for Circa Records, CHAIN {*5} was in the mould of a NEW ORDER dirge or CABARET VOLTAIRE, and, in many ways, a precursor to post-millennium Scots stirrers, FRANZ FERDINAND. Featuring RANKINE again at the controls and his former ASSOCIATES partner BILLY MACKENZIE as author of `Chained’, the album’s bleeps and mechanical rhythms were somewhat dated among the acid house of the day.
Unsurprisingly, HAIG found his niche in CINEMATIQUE (1991) {*5} – subtitled “Themes To Unknown Films Volume One” – while his delve into disco was never far from his musical manifesto on COINCIDENCE VS FATE (1993) {*5}, although Brits had to be content with imports from Les Disques Du Crepuscule.
Having a faded star affiliation with the aforementioned “lost boy” BILLY MACKENZIE, technoid singer PAUL HAIG combined forces with the gloomy crooner on MEMORY PALACE (1999) {*6}. Recorded between 1993 and 1995, with both in hiatus from showbiz and life’s foibles and follies, the tragic suicide of Billy in January ’97 had given this set a curiosity value plus a haunting and mystical appeal. While Billy was the shining light as singer extraordinaire, HAIG’s momentum seemed rather limited and backseat, although his take of `Listen To Me’ was commendable.
Inspired by a resurgent fanbase and many plaudits from his peers and fresh acts, PAUL HAIG reeled off a couple of filmic sequels, CINEMATIQUE 2 (2001) {*5} and CINEMATIQUE 3 (2003) {*5}; further themes to films yet released, by others who might yet be interested in piloting the pieces. One doubts that very much.
Long since back on his own self-distributed Rhythm Of Life imprint, ELECTRONIK AUDIENCE (2007) {*5}, GO OUT TONIGHT (2008) {*6} and RELIVE (2009) {*6}, were his answer to young beats Alex Turner and Alex Kapranos; respective frontmen of ARCTIC MONKEYS and FRANZ FERDINAND. While there was pop fusion and electro hybrids on show in each conceptual case, HAIG was never going bounce out of the shadows for too long.
Umpteenth set, KUBE (2013) {*7}, was met with a certain degree of anticipation as well as skepticism, but the enigmatic PAUL HAIG was cool enough to ignore any modern-day digs. A multi-dimensional exploration into space-age disco-funk (think HERBIE HANCOCK versus NEW ORDER), even his most ardent of doubters must’ve stepped up to the mindful man’s sonic cruise into musical utopia. From openers `UW2b’ and `Intro K’, to anchor tracks `Pack’ and `Shifter’ (not forgetting `Cool Pig’ and `Daemon’), Paul was slick and assured.
A relatively long time in the making, 2018’s reunification with Les Disques Du Crepuscule Records, concept set THE WOOD {*7} definitely distanced himself from the other trees in the forest – so to speak. It was, as always, meticulously crafted, building a bridge from his mathematical “Kube” or his “Swing in 82” era. The serene `Chasing The Tail’ opened the set, a multi-layered spike that enveloped a gospel singer under the auspices of drum ’n’ beat and a piano, whilst `I Heard Music’ complemented full-blown deep house. The title track reminded one of radio programmes when jazz was king; `Lights’ catered for an enterprising world/electro fusion.
© MC Strong Sep2013/CG/MCS // rev-up Jun2019

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