Saw Paul Haig live on Sunday.
Saying it like that makes it sound like an everyday occurrence; on the contrary, it was his first full gig in nineteen years. Given his new-found status as a name to drop, I half-expected a room full of nubile Franz Ferdinand aficionados; disappointingly, the room was full of thirty- and forty-somethings with thinning hair (your correspondent included). Haig himself, however, looked terrific; while most post-punk heroes making a return to the live scene are barely recognisable husks of their former selves, one suspects that Haig, like Richard Jobson, Gonnie Rietveld and a few others, has a portrait in the attic that is slowly aging while he gets younger. Okay, I'm exaggerating slightly, but they're all remarkably well-preserved.
You'd have forgiven the man for having a few first-night nerves. Not a bit of it; he seemed ebullient. The set was an extremely short and sweet eleven songs, with no encore, performed by a tight backing band (actually Haig's side project The Cathode Ray), and included two Josef K songs (It's Kinda Funny and Sorry For Laughing, natch), as well as recent single Reason, Justice, and Something Good. No Big Blue World or Heaven Sent, sadly, but after nineteen years away, the audience knows better than to push its luck.
What I hadn't expected was how funny he was. I always thought of him and his former group as intensely serious- in fact, I'd read that Josef K never talked to the audience, and I didn't get the impression that his solo gigs were laugh-a-minute gag riots either. I actually wondered why the prankish and terminally unserious Billy Mackenzie considered him a suitable musical accomplice for much of his final years. Well, now I can see. It wasn't exactly amiable banter with the audience; it was more like a Goons monologue or a Reeves and Mortimer sketch as Haig essayed various voices, impressions and gnomic utterances (actually, now I come to think of it, I had also read that Malcolm Ross and Haig traded Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin routines on stage...). Example: after the first song, and possibly apropos of the palatial splendour of the venue, he channelled the late Frank Butcher and blurted "Point o' lager and a whoite woine for the lie-dee" in a very passable cockney accent. Later in the gig he mused to no one in particular "Do you prefer a bourbon or a garibaldi?" (this time as Miss Jean Brodie). Later still: "Dirty boy! Go to bed!" (a west Scotland accent)- whatever was he talking about here? Can anybody enlighten me? Suffice it to say he had me laughing.
He plays Nottingham and London later this week, with sojourns to Glasgow and Dunfermline also pencilled in for May, so for a top post-punk comedy turn, don't be vague- ask for Haig.
Download Paul Haig Nitemute (mp3) from Cinematique 3 (deleted Aug 2009)