Pekka Pohjola is generally considered to be the best bass player in Finland. He has also gained some popularity and recognition in other countries. He has played in various groups, and his solo albums are seen as the work of a highly skilled and assured talent. Pohjola refuses to succumb to the established barriers between musical styles and just goes wherever the music takes him. His compositions reflect the moods of the Finnish woodlands as well as city life.
Pekka Pohjola (b. 13.1.1952) was born into family well-known in Finland for its musical traditions. He is the eldest child of medical doctor Ensti Pohjola and grew up in a highly musical environment. His father played cello, his mother piano, and all of his three sister and two brothers are today musicians. Pekka played piano since his early childhood and at the age of eight started taking violin lessons, playing only classical music. Sometime around 1965 he became a student at the Sibelius Academy where he studied classical violin and piano for seven years. Later on, he studied musical theory at Helsinki University.
Pohjola first encountered pop music when his friend, Matti Kurkinen, bought the Beatles single ‘Twist and Shout’. At first, Pohjola thought it was rubbish, but he noticed that the tune stayed in his mind. Much to his parent’s horror he was now hooked on pop music, particularly the bass playing of Paul McCartney, which he tried to emulate on his violin. When this didn’t work he tuned his father’s cello down to make it sound like a bass guitar and started practising. After a bitter struggle with his parents, which continued for several years, they eventually bought him a bass guitar in 1967, and Pohjola decided to join a rock group. Soon after he became a member of a group called ABC. The drummer of this band was Raikka Rautarinne (ex Roosters), and the guitarist was Nikke Nikamo (also ex Roosters). Nikamo played just one gig with the group, after which he was replaced by Jukka Hauru (ex Harp). ABC performed one more gig and then split up. Subsequently, the vocalist from Harp asked Pohjola and Hauru to join his band. In October 1969, Jussi Raittinen of the Boys hired Pohjola, Hauru and Rautarinne for his band. During Easter 1970 the Boys were playing a gig with Wigwam, who asked Pohjola to join them, as Mats Hulden was about to leave the group. Pohjola stayed with Wigwam until June 1974. During this time he consolidated his position as the best bass player in Finland and one of the country’s most promising composers.
Since he was a young boy Pohjola had dreamt of making a solo album. In July 1972 that dream came true. Shortly before Christmas his first solo LP Pihkasilmä Kaarnakorva was released. The album consists of his own jazz orientated and melodic compositions. All the tracks are instrumentals recorded with the following musicians: Jukka Gustavson (organ, piano), Reino Laine (drums), Pekka Pöyry (soprano saxophone, flute) and Risto Pensola (clarinet). Pohjola plays not only bass but also violin, piano, and organ on the closing track. The LP is amazingly multi-facetted, with skilful solos excellently integrated into the overall material.
Immediately after leaving Wigwam, in June 1974, Pohjola started work on his second solo LP titled Harakka Bialoipokku, which saw release in December 1974. The album was recorded in Stockholm in October 1974, with Måns Groundstroem at the controls. It is a concept LP based on the adventures of a small magpie. The main feel was provided by Pohjola’s piano playing. The backing musicians were saxophonists Eero Koivistoinen and Paroni Paakkunainen, Swedish trumpet player Bertil Löfgren, guitarist Coste Alpetrea (also a Swede) and drummer Tomi Parkkonen. The DJs at Finnish Yleisradio voted the album best pop LP of 1975 on the basis that Pohjola had managed to mix different elements from rock and jazz whilst also incorporating a typical Finnish musical style. Around this time Pohjola’s international career was launched. Virgin Records released the album under the title B the Magpie. It became quite popular as a musician’s choice in England. In the spring of 1975 Pohjola met with Mike Oldfield and they started rehearsing together. They would continue working together later on.
After breaking away from Wigwam, Pohjola also started rehearsing with drummer Vesa Aaltonen (ex Tasavallan Presidentti). They tried for a year to get a group going, but to no avail. Consequently, Pohjola joined Jukka Tolonen’s band during the spring of 1975 and stayed with them for the next six months.
In the summer of that same year Pohjola was contacted by Swedish guitarist George Wadenius, who had been a member of Blood Sweat and Tears for four years and was now looking to form a new band. In August 1975, Wadenius along with Polish keyboardist Wlodek Gulgowski arrived in Helsinki to start rehearsing with Pohjola and Aaltonen. They played one gig together and were subsequently joined by singer Tommy Körberg. After a month of rehearsals (now under the name Made in Sweden) they went out on a six week tour in the autumn of 1975. In December the head of the German label Polydor came to see Made in Sweden play at the Tavastia Club in Helsinki. A record contract was drawn up, and after a month of rehearsing the group cut an album during March and April 1976 at Europa Film Studios in Stockholm. Unfortunately, the LP (Polydor 2480358/in Finland Love Records LRP 207) was rather uninspired and lame. The best track is an instrumental titled ’43 sec. of Arc per Century’, written by Pohjola. The album was released in Finland in June 1976; in the USA and England it was delayed until January 1977.
During September 1976 Pohjola went to England to record with Mike Oldfield at his home studio in Gloucestershire and committed to tape a Pohjola composition titled ‘Matemaatikon Lentonäytös’ (‘Mathematician’s Air Display’). Later on, Oldfield announced that he was to produce Pohjola’s next album. This was recorded at Oldfield’s studio with Oldfield playing guitar, mandolin and whistle, while his sister provided vocals, and Pierre Moerlen from Gong played drums. The resulting LP, Pohjola’s third solo effort, was titled Keesojen Lehto and released in March 1977. It also received UK release via Virgin Records and was given the English title Mathematician’s Air Display.
The most significant difference between this album and its predecessor is the absence of woodwinds and saxophones. This was mainly because Oldfield confessed to hating the sound of the sax. The albums was heavily promoted in Sweden (under the title Skuggornas Tjuvstart), and has by far been Pohjola’s best selling album.
During the winter of 1976-77 Made in Sweden’s line-up changed when Körberg and Aaltonen left the group. The latter was replaced by Peter Sundell, and Wadenius took over singing duties as well as playing guitar. However, despite a promising start the group did not achieve what it had set out to and nothing was heard from it during the summer of 1977. During the following autumn Pohjola joined a Finnish ‘super group’ of musicians, simply called the Group.
In January 1979, Pohjola started recording his fourth solo LP, Visitation. The work procedures were quick, as he had worked out all the arrangements well in advance. It was originally intended to be released through Love Records, but due to financial difficulties (the label went bankrupt soon after) it was decided instead to put it out on the Dig It label, a sub-branch of the Finnlevy corporation. The title was suggested by John Ayton, Mike Oldfield’s financial adviser, and was intended to reflect the album as a representation of Pohjola’s ambitions, both as a composer and musician. The backing was performed by members of the Group augmented by a woodwind section consisting of Eero Koivistoinen, Pekka Pöyry, Juhani Aaltonen, Teemu Salminen, Markku Johansson and Tom Bildo.
Towards the end of January 1979, Pohjola received a telephone call from Mike Oldfield, inviting him to play bass on a substantial European tour which Oldfield was planning to undertake. In late March, after two weeks of rehearsals, the 50-member orchestra launched the tour in Barcelona. It lasted five weeks and consisted of 22 concerts held at major venues. A double live album titled Exposed (Virgin VD 2511) was released from these events.
Also in 1979, Pohjola received a three-year grant from the Finnish Arts Council. For a while he mainly worked as a session player. In 1980 he performed with the Pori Big Band in New York, Washington, and in Nice in France. Early in that same year the Group metamorphosed into the Pekka Pohjola Group. Apart from Pohjola himself the line-up consisted of drummer Vesa Aaltonen, guitarist Seppo Tyni, keyboardist Pekka Tyni and guitarist Juha Björninen. In the early months of the year they toured for three weeks in Scandinavia. Soon after Björninen quit, and during the summer the band disintegrated.
January 1980 saw the launch of a new Pekka Pohjola Group with the Tyni brothers and drummer Ismo Kätkä. After a few gigs in Finland, they left for Germany and Switzerland to tour there. In November the album Kätkävaaran Lohikäärme was released, with all material written by Pohjola. Despite being a significant success, the line-up disbanded during the summer of 1981. In January 1982, yet another version of the Pekka Pohjola Group emerged, this time consisting of Pohjola, Peter Lerche (guitar), T. T. Oksala (guitar synth), Jussi Liski (keyboards) and Leevi Leppänen (drums). In March 1982 they started a European tour in Vienna, and in May they toured Scandinavia. The US label Matrix released two of Pohjola’s albums, Visitation/Kätkävaaran Lohikäärme as a double album that same year. During the autumn Pohjola released a new solo album, titled Urban Tango, on his own label, Pohjola Records. The musicians on this LP are those from the Pekka Pohjola Group, and the album also provided material for Pohjola’s first ever single, ‘Impun Tango’/’Silent Decade’. The A-side was an edited version of the LP track; the B-side was a rarity and a bonus track taken from the cassette version of the album. The entire album’s material was composed by Pohjola, who also produced the record.