Born in London (27.01.1947), James Francis Pembroke started his musical career in a group called the Taverner's Guild at a time when Beatlemania was sweeping across the world. Later on, he was in a group called the Runaways. In April 1965 he came to Finland where his girlfriend was living. He met a couple of local musicians who told him that the popular Finnish group the Boys were playing at a place near Varkaus. Arriving there, Pembroke was invited by the Boys to join them on stage for a few songs. Subsequently, Pembroke met the legendary Jorma Weneskoski, whose company Weneskoski Productions organised some gigs with Jim backed by the group the Beatmakers. Pembroke toured with this group in August 1965, singing a few songs every evening – the Beatmakers’ main vocalist being Raul Wikström.
It was Weneskoski Productions who arranged for Pembroke to make his first record. The Boys provided the backing on ‘If you need me’ by Pickett & Bateman, and ‘Yeah Yeah’ by Wayne Handy. Soon after, a group called the Pems were formed around Pembroke. The first line-up included guitarist Hasse Walli and drummer Ronnie Österberg, but they had already left the band when Pembroke cut his next single ‘I don’t Mind I got Mine’/’Anyday’ in the spring of 1966. Both songs were written by himself. The Pems broke up in the autumn of 1966. Dissatisfied with the group Jim Pembroke returned to England.
During the spring of 1967, however, he went back the Finland and joined the formation of Blues Section. Bored with this group, too, he left them in the spring of 1968. For a short while he worked at Love Records’ offices until early 1969 when he was asked to join Wigwam.
In the autumn of 1969 Wigwam was providing the music for a local version of the musical Hair at the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki. Pembroke also had a minor role in the play. He wrote the score for a movie by Jaakko Pakkasvirta called Kesäkapina (‘Summer Revolt’), which was premiered on 23 January 1970.
During the Wigwam era Pembroke recorded three solo albums, the first of which was released in the summer of 1972 under the pseudonym of Hot Thumbs O’Riley and titled Wicked Ivory. The members of Wigwam provided backing, while Pembroke sang, played piano, guitar and harmonica. He also made the sleeve for the album. The LP was constructed around a mock-up radio broadcast from a nightclub, with various dramatic incidents thrown in. Between the songs Pembroke makes absurd announcements in a rough voice. The album’s best known track is ‘Grass for Blades’, which later became a stage favourite for Wigwam. All in all, there is no denying that Wicked Ivory is an excellent album. The British record company Charisma bought the rights for its release outside the Nordic countries. The Charisma connection came via Swedish Wigwam fan Roger Wallis.
In the spring of 1974, Pembroke’s second album, titled Pigworm, was released. It was produced by Ronnie Österberg and Måns Groundstroem. It was recorded during March and April 1974 at Finnvox Studios in Helsinki with the backing once again provided by Wigwam members. Furthermore, a number of guest musicians appeared on this LP: Juhani Altonen (tenor saxophone), Jörgen Petersen (trumpet), Pentti Lasanen (clarinet), and Jussi Aalto and Mircea Stan (trombones). The excellent woodwind arrangements provide a rich and mellow sound, though it has to be said that Pigworm didn’t quite reach the heights of its predecessor.
The spring of 1977 saw the release of Pembroke’s third solo album, Corporal Cauliflower’s Mental Function. Once again, Österberg and Groundstroem produced. Backing was provided by Österberg and Pekka Rechardt (guitar), with Heikki Hietanen playing accordion on one track. Paavo Maijanen played bass and sang backing vocals, while Sweden’s Coste Apetrea played guitar. Eero Koivistoinen played saxophone and wrote the woodwind arrangements. Corporal Cauliflower ... is an excellent, multi-facetted and artistically expressive album.
On his solo albums Pembroke saw his chance to realise ideas what weren’t suitable for Wigwam. His solo work is much more humorous and laidback than the Wigwam releases.
During the summer of 1977, while Wigwam was slowly burning out, Pembroke started work with the Royals, a combination which didn’t really work. In 1978 he was asked to write lyrics for a Finnish group called the Hurriganes. Soon after, he found himself playing piano for them, but this turned out to be another short-lived affair. In the autumn of 1978, Pembroke cut a single, ‘Street Café’/’Jordanian Holiday’, with Mike Westhues under the name Jim & Mike. Both songs were co-written by the pair. The single was almost entirely ignored by the Finnish public. A much better reception was given to Pembroke’s work with the singer Timo Kojo on his album So Mean in 1979. For Kojo’s second album, Lucky Street, Pembroke wrote all the music and lyrics.
Pembroke has been a prolific songwriter, whose compositions and lyrics have been recorded by many Finnish artists and groups such as Madame George, Anki, Maarit, Vanha, Isäntä, Vesa-Matti Loiri, Tasavallan Presidentti, Hector, Pepe Willberg, Mayflower, Riki Sorsa and Kojo.
In June 1979 an art exhibition was held at the Helsinki Arts House, which included works by Jim Pembroke. In the summer of 1979 he was planning to cut his fourth solo album and gathered a group of musicians around him to rehearse new material. These were Ronnie Österberg, Hasse Walli (guitar) and Make Lievonen (bass). However, as they were all heavily involved with other project the line-up only performed three gigs during that summer. Towards the end of the year the single ‘Hardtop Lincoln’/’Golden Days’ was released. During the spring of 1980 a live recording of the Rush/Dixon blues song ‘All Your Love’ was included on a triple LP compilation called Metropolis. In the autumn of 1980 a song called ‘Money that I Love’ appeared on the double live compilation Provinssirock ’80 Live, recorded at the Provinssirock Festival in June 1980.
‘Hard Top Lincoln’ aroused some interest at United Artists, who asked to hear some more material from Pembroke’s hand. As a result he got the group back together to make an album. This time the line-up comprised of Österberg, Mats Hulden (bass), Olli Haavisto and Timo Vakkilainen and Petteri Salminen (guitars). The band rehearsed from the autumn of 1979 into March 1980, when they recorded an album at Decibel Studios in Stockholm. Flat Broke was produced by Otto Donner and saw release in May 1980. The original intention was to call the group the Jim Pembroke Layabouts, and from time to time it was also considered to revive the Wigwam name. Eventually, the Jim Pembroke Band was decided upon. The Finnish music critic Markku Tuuli wrote about the album: ‘It reminds me of Pembroke’s solo LPs. The songs are short and extroverted and marked by humour and a joyful openness. On the whole one detects an inspiration from J.J. Cale’s relaxed style and attitude.’
Besides normal guitar, Olli Haavisto plays steel and slide guitar on the album. Timo Vakkilainen plays mandolin. The only song not written by Pembroke, ‘Money is King’ (composed by The Tiger), became a minor radio hit in Finland. It is a fine song which Mats Hulden had found on a calypso record. Jim Pembroke Band did a tour of Finland and Sweden in the summer of 1980, but due to lack of commercial success they subsequently folded.
In early 1981 Pembroke formed a new group called Jimbo’s Rhythm Band, which was shortened to Jimbo. The line-up was Pembroke, Hulden (bass) and Jukka Orma (guitar). Affe Forsman played drums, since Österberg had died in December 1980.
The group featured in a movie by Jouko Lehmuskallio called Rokki Diggari. They performed a song by the same title on the soundtrack for the movie, which was premiered on 25 December 1981.
Pembroke’s fourth solo album, Party Upstairs, was released in the summer of 1981. The band Jimbo plays on two tracks, while on most other tracks only Pembroke and Orma are performing. Heikki Hietanen plays the accordion on five songs. The album was produced by Otto Donner. It included a new version of the 1971 Wigwam song ‘Lost Without A Trace’, and a beautiful tune called ‘Emma’s Song’, dedicated to Pembroke’s daughter. The title track is dedicated to deceased rock’n’roll heroes, while the song ‘Minstrelmental’ was inspired by the shock Pembroke experienced with the death of Österberg and the murder of John Lennon.
In 1981 Pembroke gained some celebrity by winning the Finnish final for the Eurovision Song Contest with an old song called ‘Reggae OK’, performed by Riki Sorsa. The following year Pembroke won again, this time with ‘Nuku Pommiin’ (‘Bomb Out’), performed by Timo Kojo. Neither song was successful at the main event and must be seen as Pembroke at his weakest.
1981 only saw the release of one Jimbo single, ‘4 Million Telephones’/’Midnight at Noon’, after which the group split up. Since Wigwam folded, Pembroke has had difficulties keeping his bands together, but he has been working continuously as a song writer, providing material for the group Pedro’s Heavy Gentlemen. Though many have praised Pembroke for his generous contributions to Finnish rock, the artistic input he has provided the country with has not been appropriately recognised.