Paul Haig \ Biography
Together with Orange Juice, Aztec Camera and the Go-Betweens, Josef K were one of the Postcard label's million dollar quartet, recording five cult singles and the album, The Only Fun in Town. Touring the album in July and August 1981, however, the band split after their final Scottish date in Glasgow. The exact reasons behind the split - principally the decision of singer and main songwriter Paul Haig - remain obscure, although seems that a combination of too-great expectations, too-small financial returns, Haig's dislike of touring and unspecified disagreements over future direction were to blame. Fancifully, Postcard boss Alan Horne pointed the finger of blame at the NME. Whatever the cause, one of the Great White Hopes of the new decade had self-destructed after just one album, thus fulfilling their own brash prophecy.
Interviewed by Johnny Waller in Sounds early the following year, Haig confessed: I was pretty depressed for a week because it was the end of an era, but after that I was really happy that we'd split, because I could get on with everything I wanted to do. I don't listen to any of those records now. It's all gone. Nothing from that period interests me, except maybe Sorry for Laughing. We didn't really get on all that well towards the end. We didn't have anything in common, so there were no jokes, no happy feeling. It was just down to doing a job. Josef K weren't that famous anyway. We've split up, so what? Everybody changes.
Tellingly, the singer went on to reveal that: I've lost a lot of the ideals I had in Josef K. About not wanting to be commercially successful, suffering for your art and all that. Not that I wasn't sincere about it at the time... But I got sick of it. I want to be signed to a major and make a great record that will get radio airplay and be a big hit, then make my own money from that. I don't mind being manipulated to a certain extent in order to get what I want, but in time I want to control everything.
It's a high ideal which Haig, perhaps to his detriment, has never strayed. With Postcard disintegrating amidst the JK split, Haig quickly released two interim singles on Edinburgh independent Rational, run by manager Allan Campbell. The first of these, Soon, was a collaboration with fellow Edinburgh musician Steven Harrison (formerly of Metropak), while the second saw Haig guesting on a what was essentially a vanity record by the late Sebastian Horsley, bon viveur and artist. exploring territory first charted by Heaven 17 in their BEF guise, both singles appeared under the generic name Rhythm Of Life Organisation (RoL), an imprimatur Haig has retained ever since for everything from albums, labels and backing bands. Such anonymity also suited his avowed dislike of personal publicity. Indeed Haig has never once released a record with his own - hardly wretched - face on the front cover.
Also via Rational, Haig released a bizarre cassette-only set of home-recorded electronica titled Drama, featuring Kafka texts set to music, as well as an odd deconstruction of Josef K's Forever Drone. With just 700 copies manufactured, collectors will be hard put to track down a copy today, though this minor curiosity is hardly a must-have.
Haig subsequently teamed up with Crépuscule to release future product, and in January 1982 made his solo live debut in Edinburgh and London. At this stage his new material was not so very different from late period Josef K classics such as Heaven Sent, Adoration and Heart of Song, albeit with a greater emphasis on stripped-down funk rhythms. According to NME's Dave Hill, for the latter show at The Venue: Rhythm of Life remained a mystery... Initially they seem like an artful re-arrangement of the Iggy-Oakey ice-box delivery, and the Bogart mail order catalogue, into a perfect cliche of the same. But how straight are their faces? I don't know, but Haig projects with the efficiency of a sly android, blonde, doleful and besuited, spooning each painstaking tune with an immaculate croon. All is calm and self-contained... Since Josef K split Haig has pursued several lines, yet the cool execution of this show is undeniable, elegant and curvaceous.
The following month Rhythm of Life took part in Crepuscule's first trans-European package tour, Dialogue North-South, also featuring Durutti Column, The Names, Marine, Richard Jobson, Antena and Tuxedomoon. Eschewing a live drummer in favour of a rhythm box, RoL gained plaudits for their versatile, snappy brand of funk minimalism, and five excerpts from these shows can be found on Crepuscule's souvenir compilation (TWI 082).
Haig elected to relocate to Brussels in March, and once there embarked on an intensive recording schedule at Little Big One studio. This yielded two self-produced singles, Running Away and Justice, though the latter was destined to be shelved. However, after just four months Haig tired of continental living and returned home to Edinburgh. Running Away, a charming cover of the Sly Stone classic, appeared in May on Crépuscule subsidiary Operation Twilight and topped the independent charts in the UK, its success unhampered by the simultaneous release of another version by The Raincoats.
The excellent follow-up single, Justice, was cancelled after Crépuscule signed a licensing deal with hip major Island. 7" test pressings on Crépuscule (TWI 100) survive, as does a separate 12" release on Crepuscule / Interference featuring two mixes of the song Blue For You, although this was intended as a DJ record rather than a full release. While in Brussels Haig also recorded the infamous Swing in '82 set, partly at the instigation of Crépuscule kingpin Michel Duval. Originally intended for release as a 10" EP, Swing saw Haig tackling six big band numbers Sinatra-style. While Vic Godard fans no doubt found much to admire, others were perplexed. The doubters now includes Haig himself, although back in 1982 he had this to say to Masterbag magazine: After listening to lots of Frank Sinatra records I became aware of these fantastic old songs. I think the music and the lyrics are absolutely incredible - especially the lyrics. You just don't hear lyrics like them nowadays. They're just so emotional. It was a big challenge to try and sing them. The 'swing' side starts with The Song is You, then All of You and Let's Face the Music and Dance. The 'dream' side is Love Me Tender, The Way You Look Tonight and Send in the Clowns. I think the first side is around 1938, with songs by Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, people like that. The second side is slightly more modern.
The basic instrumentation on side one is just drums, double bass and piano, with the addition of string synthesiser on side two. We had to try about three sets of musicians before we found these old session musicians that had been playing jazz all their lives. The plano player must have been 70 years old! The drummer was quite young, in his mid twenties, so it was quite a challenge for him to keep pace with these brilliant jazz musicians, as it was for me too. I'm sure they thought it was a joke. I remember I turned up at the studio the morning they arrived. They said, 'Are you the singer? The producer?' They looked at each other in disbelief.
It could either be slammed or it could be looked upon as something brilliant. I tend to think that in England it's going to be laughed at, but I don't think that's justified because the musicianship is really, really good on it. If anyone slags it off then it must be for some other reason, but they can't fault the playing.
In fact this record too was shelved, and not released by Crépuscule until 1985, with five tracks only, Haig having vetoed Send in the Clowns.
In July, almost a year after Josef K had split, yet with just one proper solo record to his name in Running Away, Haig was labelled 'the face and sound of 1982' by Paul Morley in a lead feature for NME. Accordingly to Morley, Haig was the 'enigmatic fourth man' in a New Pop quartet which also included Billy Mackenzie, Jim Kerr and Martin Fry, all of them potential pop saviours in a parallel universe where Morley deemed Dollar 'the most avant-garde group in the world.' Even by Morley's standards the statement was grandiose, although he would validate it partially two years later by instructing ZTT signing Propaganda to cover Sorry for Laughing on their album A Secret Wish.
The media hype around Haig paved the way for a comprehensive licensing deal with Island, including a substantial injection of cash. The deal saw Haig record his first album in New York at the end of 1982, with the late Alex Sadkin producing. Featuring a host of crack sessioneers (including Bernie Worrell, Anton Fier and Jack Waldman), his new direction - a brand of polished dance/electro - seemed a million miles away from the abrasive edge of Josef K. Indeed Haig was already disowning his past with a vengeance, informing NME that JK was a 'cockroach' he wanted squashed, although two songs - Adoration and Heaven Sent - had begun life with that band. Yet fine though songs such as Justice, Adoration and Stolen Love were, Haig's solo debut played very much as a producer's record, and in surrendering a measure of artistic control Haig lost something of his identity. And it hardly helped that Sadkin was then heavily involved with the insipid Thompson Twins, whose Tom Bailey also guested on the album.
The first Island single, Heaven Sent, was a drastic club refit of the earlier Josef K number. Despite their best marketing efforts, however, it stalled at 74, and failed to provide Haig with the hit many had confidently predicted. The Rhythm Of Life album appeared in October 1983 and was accompanied by a short UK tour comprising seven dates. Haig's touring group included Malcolm Ross on guitar, together with bassist David McClymont (also fresh from Orange Juice), drummer James Locke and former Associate Alan Rankine. While the album sold respectably, however, Haig found himself caught between two commercial stools. Plainly some way ahead of his time, Haig had perhaps moved too far too fast, his polished dance pop alienating many Josef K fans not yet ready to trade their raincoats for a sharp Italian two-piece and a place in line outside Studio 54. Reviewing the album in NME, Chris Bohn lamented the fate of an artist: ...dropped somewhere mid-Atlantic and left to drown in liquid demi-disco. Though four percussionists are credited the record has no forward momentum. It sort of slithers across the dancefloor. Worse, Haig has tailored his songwriting to serve a form he only imagines is there. Cutesy couplets are left in mid air, grappling after non-existent rhythm hooks... More than a name producer and an NY studio he needs sympathetic musicians to bring out the character of his songs.
Simple bad luck seems to have prevented all three singles providing solid hits which might have allowed Haig to cross over to a new, wider audience. Inexplicably Island failed even to release the album - or the singles - in the US, precisely the market for which they were tailored. Although the slick New York Remix mini album was belatedly issued in America in 1984, it provided a textbook example of too little too late. In 1990 Haig would recall of this difficult transitional period: The main thing was that I didn't want to be the centre of it all. The initial idea was just to keep working with different people under the name Rhythm of Life. It was more of a big joke. It all went a bit funny when I signed to Island, but before there were quite a few things in the pipeline. But Island wanted a pop image to sell... and they didn't get one.
True, one music paper awarded Haig the accolade of 'Rock Haircut of the Year', but relations with Island soon became strained. Incoming MD Dave Robinson showed little enthusiasm for Haig's music, while an overly candid Sounds interview and an abortive appearance on a childrens' television show (Hold Tight) to promote Never Give Up soured relations further. When Haig recorded a new single, Big Blue World, in December, Island pulled it just a fortnight before its scheduled release. Fortunately, Crépuscule continued to release Haig product in Europe, so that the delayed record - with a boisterous cover of Suicide's road classic Ghost Rider on the flipside - reached the UK on import.
In 1984 Haig joined forces with several celebrated peers, recording the seminal electro cut The Only Truth with Bernard Sumner and Donald Johnson (of New Order and A Certain Ratio respectively), and The Executioner with Cabaret Voltaire. November saw the completion of a new album, this time recorded in London with Rankine co-producing. Unfortunately the failure of The Only Truth as a single led to Island severing the Crépuscule connection, with the result that Haig's untitled second album was shelved.
Rather than release the cancelled set on Crepuscule, it was decided to combine half the album with new songs recorded throughout 1985. Haig launched his fightback later in the year with a powerful single, Heaven Help You Now, and the excellent album The Warp Of Pure Fun. Produced with Alan Rankine, it was a more involving set than its predecessor, offering warmer songs and arrangements (and live drums) in place of programmed rhythm tracks, though without entirely abandoning club appeal. In the UK Warp appeared on another short-lived Crépuscule offshoot, Operation Afterglow, but while the album fared well as an independent release, Afterglow and indie distributor Pinnacle could not propel it into the national chart. It is interesting to ponder how different things might have been had the album appeared on the Morley-steered ZTT. But then ZTT was owned by Island.
Unhappy with limited sales, Haig left Crépuscule in search of another major deal. After demos recorded for EMI came to nothing, Haig spent most of 1986 writing new material, and embarking on a fruitful partnership with another former Associate: Billy Mackenzie. The result was a brace of low key dates in Glasgow and Edinburgh, which mixed their own greatest hits with covers such as Running Away and Yoko Ono's Walking On Thin Ice. Later the pair united to perform Amazing Grace on a Scots Hogmanay television programme, and each donated a song to the other's forthcoming album. Chained proved a highlight on the next Haig album, although Mackenzie's version of Reach The Top remained unreleased after the Associates' patchy Glamour Chase set was shelved by WEA. Following Mackenzie's untimely death in 1997 an entire album of Haig/Mackenzie material, Memory Palace, appeared on RoL in 1999. Indeed much warm light on the pair's firm friendship is cast by Tom Doyle's admirable biography, Glamour Chase, published by Bloomsbury in 1998.
Haig briefly returned to Crépuscule in September 1987 to record several new tracks, though the only record to emerge was the fine single Torchomatic, complete with spy theme and a home-recorded instrumental cycle on the flipside. The European Sun compilation album followed, including most of the shelved Island album not included on Warp, as well as several rare b-sides and the Cabaret Voltaire collaboration.
Early in 1988 Haig bravely financed the recording of a new album himself, once more produced with Alan Rankine and cut in just 18 days. Virgin offshoot Circa purchased the tapes in August and finally releases the album as Chain in May of the following year. Neither Chain nor its excellent lead single, Something Good, broke commercially, but though Haig still refused to undertake any lengthy tours a showcase at the ICA in London on May 18th saw Haig and his band in fine form.
Following Drama, Swing In '82 and the Mackenzie pairing, 1988's leftfield project came in the form of the Dub Organiser single, a club cut recorded in collaboration with Allan Campbell and released as a one-off on Manchester indie label Play Hard.
Undaunted by Chain's modest commercial showing, Circa financed the recording of a new album, produced in New York by dance gurus Curtis Mantronik and Lil' Louis, as well as The Chimes, whose drummer James Locke had been a periodic Haig collaborator since 1981. The expansive, sensurround album marked a timely return to the dance orientation of Rhythm of Life five years earlier, as suggested by its title, Right on Line. As Haig explained to Melody Maker: This is essentially a dance album, but it has a lot of different elements in there that you don't normally hear on dance albums. There's a lot of hooks and pop influences, but no rock influences - thank God! The whole idea was to work with different producers and let them get on with it, which was a departure since I'd produced myself for so long.
We recorded the stuff with Mantronik at his Sound Factory studio. He works very quickly, rattling stuff off in a couple of hours. He replaced all my beats with a combination of programming and breakbeats, mostly '70s funk stuff. Louis took a completely different approach. He replaced the rhythm tracks on two of the songs and one we left as was He works with much more basic equipment - he's not as computerised as Mantronik. There was absolutely no sampling with Louis, he's much more into the real musician school of thing.
However, after the fine Chimes-produced single I Believe in You failed to build on a measure of club success, and excellent press, Circa delayed releasing the album until a reworked Flight X (featuring rapper The Voice Of Reason) broke. When two versions of this track stalled early in 1991 the album was shelved. Unlike the loss of the weak second Island album this was a genuine disaster, since Right on Line for the most part comprised pin-sharp original material, together with another wayward Suicide cover, this time the lush ballad Surrender.
With the RoL album in limbo, Haig released an instrumental set of imaginary film themes through LTM, who had previously issued the Josef K back catalogue on CD. Cinematique appeared in September 1991 to glowing reviews, and comprised three distinct suites, being City of Fun (accomplished noir jazz), Lagondola (new age, almost) and Flashback (electronica). In 1993 the Right on Line album finally emerged as Coincidence vs Fate on the ever-accommodating Crépuscule label, with two new tracks added. Despite a two year delay its state of the art production style had hardly dated, and in this writer's opinion RoL/Coincidence... might just be the best Paul Haig album to date.
Despite warm reviews, neither Cinematique nor Coincidence vs Fate sold in great numbers, due in part to Haig's ongoing reluctance to submit to shameless self-promotion. By his own admission: I just don't like playing live much. Maybe once every two years. It's a situation I can't handle. Up on stage it's very strange. It just seems an awkward situation to be in. You're on stage and there's all these people looking up at you. I can't help laughing at the thought of it. I just want to do it as little as possible. Other people love it. It only depends on what kind of person you are, if your ego can cope with it. Weird, eh? (Deadbeat, 1984)
With me it's quite simple. I just do my own thing and don't compromise for anybody. If you can do this and still succeed, that's perfect. New Order manage it - perverse and breaking all the rules - they just make records that sell. I hope I can fit in in my own way. There might be a place for people who have some sort of background, who have substance as opposed to being just another manufactured act. But apart from that I don't see where I would fit. I couldn't really define the sound. I don't think it's like anybody else. (Melody Maker, 1989)
It's just music and records. That's the main thing for me. I find the rest of it completely alien and uncomfortable. I'll just have to retire quite soon. Not retire from making music, just from all this promo kind of stuff. I just find it more and more ridiculous. Ideally I'd like to be involved in the background, and still make music but not to have to be seen or anything like that. I guess film music is the obvious area for that kind of thing. Or weird experimental records. (The Scotsman, 1990)
All of which is a great shame, since Paul Haig remains a fine, versatile songwriter. Since 1993 Haig has released two further volumes of Cinematique on his own RoL imprint, as well as several archive releases by the late, and much lamented, Billy Mackenzie. Memory Palace (1999) compiled a number of tracks recorded as joint demos by the pair, as well as the touching tribute Listen to Me, while RoL also released albums by Skyline and Subterraneans. Yet by the end of 2001 pretty much all of Paul Haig's estimable back catalogue was in deletion limbo - with the exception of his work with the epochal Josef K, which since 1990 has remained permanently in print.
Thankfully in 2003 this state of affairs was corrected by enhanced CD reissues of his best solo albums, The Warp of Pure Fun and Coincidence Vs Fate, and a career-spanning Best Of on Crepuscule. His songs might never have conquered the charts, but by any measure Paul Haig was a serious contender, and should at least have equalled the success of peers such as Matt Johnson. His avowed desire for complete control in the hard-knock world of major labels and name producers may have been an impossible dream, but his cult status as an outsider pop genius is surely now assured.
Official Paul Haig website www.paulhaig.com.