When Paul Haig, Malcolm Ross and co called time on Edinburgh's jangular art-rock funkateers Josef K following the release of both theirs and Alan Horne's Postcard label's sole album release, 'The Only Fun In Town', in 1981, Haig styled himself as the original European son, all electronic beats and artfully moody sidelong glances. In the NME, Paul Morley even went so far as to somewhat fancifully declare Haig as 'the face and sound of 1982' and the 'enigmatic fourth man' in a parallel universe imaginary New Pop quartet which also included Billy Mackenzie of The Associates, Simple Minds singer Jim Kerr and ABC front-man Martin Fry, and look how that worked out.
As this two CD compendium of some thirty tracks recorded during a peripatetic tenure between 1982 and 1991at Michel Duval's chic post-modern Belgian label and some-time Factory Records affiliates, Les Disques du Crepescule, testifies to, Haig was more slippery than all of his then contemporaries. It may come gift-wrapped in all too appropriate monochrome package, but there's nothing black and white in this selection of singles, B sides, album tracks and a previously unreleased 1984 album heard here in its entirety.
The opening cover of Sly Stone's 'Running Away' was a statement of intent, with French-Belgian female trio Antena's backing vocals over synthesised horns giving its jaunty funk guitar and Haig's lead vocal a lip-gloss smooth sheen that suggested crossover was imminent. As indeed it did for The Raincoats, who released their own version at much the same time.
What follows is an ongoing exploration of marrying classic song-writing to technology that moves from an early version of future major label single, 'Justice' to adventures in New York via Grace Jones, Thompson Twins and Duran Duran producer Alex Sadkin's fleshed-out work on twinkly solo takes of Josef K sired songs, 'Adoration' and 'Heaven Sent'. There are experiments in sampling with electro-pioneers Cabaret Voltaire, themselves in the midst of a sound-changing trip onto the dance-floor; and, in three different versions, 'The Only Truth', a euphoric indie-dance 12” produced in alliance with Be Music and DoJo, aka New Order's Bernard Sumner and A Certain Ratio's Donald Johnson respectively.
If such chameleon-like collaborations suggested Haig was finding his electronic if not actual voice, the latter remaining gloriously doleful throughout his 1983 'Rhythm of Life' album and 1985 follow-up, 'The Warp of Pure Fun', right through to the voguishly sleek material recorded in 1990 with the likes of Mantronik, Lil Louis and long-term Edinburgh collaborators James Locke and Mike Peden for the 1993 'Coincidence Vs Fate album', the almost missing links count just as much.
In this respect, Haig sounds most comfortably confident on Alan Rankine co-productions, 'Heaven Help You Now' and 'Love Eternal', one imagines it was only spite that caused Island Records to pull the plug on the lost second album's eight Haig/Rankine meisterworks that open CD2, with 'The Only Truth' sandwiched between. By turns heroic and awash with some of the maverick zeal that pulsed The Associates, 'Shining Hour', 'Big Blue World', 'Fear and Dancing', 'Love and War', 'All Our Love' and other life-and-death affirmations are as wide-screen as Haig gets, deathly serious in intent as he squints into an aspirational chrome-reflected 1980s sunset.
It's a shame for completists that there's nothing here from the Crepescule-released 'Swing '82' mini album, on which Haig took his Frank Sinatra/Cole Porter Sunday afternoon matinee idol obsessions to the limit. This was done via covers of 'The Song Is You', 'All Of You', 'Let's Face The Music And Dance', 'Love Me Tender' and 'The Way You Look Tonight', all recorded with an old-time Brussels jazz trio (a version of 'Send In The Clowns' was eventually vetoed prior to its eventual release three years later).
As recompense, we can make do with a twangingly raw cover of Suicide's 'Ghost Rider' and aborted but magnificent Haig/Cabaret Voltaire mash-up, 'The Executioner'. Like previously unreleased dance track, 'Change of Heart', this resembles several cuts on Haig's 2013 album, 'Kube'. A final US remix of 'The Only Truth' by Man Parrish completes a collection that may be of its time, but also suggests that Haig found the future earlier than most.
The List, March 2014