Wigwam is perhaps the most significant Finnish rock group ever, though their true qualities were never fully realised by their own countrymen. They were one of the few bands who kept developing throughout their career, without becoming overtly intellectual. Wigwam was also the one Finnish group that has come closest to major international success. Their problem was that they were too ahead of their time, musically and otherwise. Hence ‘undervalued’ is a word that very much describes the band. They remained a cult group, whose records were well-regarded outside of Finland, and though they never broke through to a larger audience they retained a small, enthusiastic fan base.
The beginnings of Wigwam go back to late 1968 when Finnish pop singer Kristian asked Ronnie Österberg to become part of his backing band. Added was guitarist Vladimir ‘Nikke’ Nikamo (ex Mosaic, Roosters, Sperm) and bass player Mats Huldén (ex Frankies, System, the First). Initially, the line-up also included sax player Pekka Untovuori [sic!], but he was sack after their first gig. Soon after, the backing band decided to break away from Kristian, and in early 1969 Jim Pembroke (ex Pems, Blues Section) was asked to join instead.
The spring of 1969 saw the release of Wigwam’s first single, titled ‘Must Be The Devil’/’Greasy Kid’s Stuff’. Both songs were written by Pembroke. In June, keyboardist Jukka Gustavson (ex Hollymakers, TOJ Limited, Roosters) joined. Wigwam had heard him play with the Roosters during a tour of Northern Finland in the spring. There were now two remarkable singers and songwriters in the group. During the summer they went away to rehearse in peaceful surroundings in the Finnish countryside. Soon after they started recording their first LP.
In November work was finished on what would become, with time, a classic album of Finnish rock. The LP, titled Hard ‘n’ Horny, is split into two sections, with Side 1 written by Gustavson, and Side 2 consisting of Pembroke’s conceptual song cycle ‘Henry’s’. The uniqueness and freshness of the album still makes it an excellent listen. Gustavson’s songs express man’s emotional difficulties and moral struggle in a cold and unsympathetic world. Pembroke’s concept idea is built over different aspects of a fictional character called Henry and the world around him.
Additional participants on the album are Fritz H. Jenkins (a US double bass player), Otto Donner, DDT Jazzband, and Jukka’s sister Marjo-Riitta Gustavson (later married to Mats Huldén), who did some reciting.
The album artwork was a strange affair: two pieces of cardboard stapled together on which the group made drawings and writings (there were several talented artists in Wigwam; Gustavson, Huldén and Pembroke have all later designed numerous album covers). In total, 400 of these individually unique sleeves were made and included an 8 page illustrated booklet with lyrics. Subsequently, Love Records printed ‘real covers’ for the LP, without the booklet.
In parallel to their own gigging schedule, Wigwam also performed backing for the local performance of Hair at the Swedish Theatre in Helsinki during the autumn of 1969. In December Wigwam’s second single was released, titled ‘Luulosairas’/’Henry’s Highway Code’. It enjoyed some commercial success. ‘Luulosairas’ was written by Gustavson, who had performed the song previously in Roosters.
On 23 January 1970 the film Kesäkapina (‘Summer Revolt’) was premiered in Helsinki with music by Jim Pembroke. He also wrote the score for a Swedish TV drama called Gråttan, with Ronnie Österberg playing the leading role.
In early 1970 Wigwam released their third single, ‘Pedagogi’/’Häätö’, which was a commercial flop. The A-side was by Gustavson; Huldén wrote the flip-side. ‘Häätö’ is a peculiar composition, featuring Pembroke and Gustavson on joint lead vocals. The fiddle was played by Pekka Pohjola, who would later join Wigwam permanently in April 1970 following Huldén’s departure. Huldén left the band to concentrate on university, where he studied Aesthetics and Arabian languages. Pohjola had previously been in a group called the Boys, who had at some point shared the poster with Wigwam at as gig at the Youth Centre in Aura. There were a few performances with both Huldén and Pohjola, but the former was soon to retire from the band completely.
Shortly after, the new Wigwam line-up started work on their second album, Tombstone Valentine. During the recordings, Nikamo too left the group because of disagreements with producer Kim Fowley, who had become interested in Wigwam after reading reviewer Lester Bang’s appraisal of Hard ‘n’ Horny in Rolling Stone Magazine in January 1970 [sic!]. Bang’s had concluded that Wigwam was keeping up the spirit of the Who’s rock opera Tommy and the Beatles’ album Abbey Road. Fowley’s ambition was to shape Wigwam into ‘the New Beatles’. He invited guitarists Heikki Laurila and Jukka Tolonen to play on the album. Tolonen was already jamming with the group occasionally and was rumoured to be set to join them permanently, but this was not to happen.
Tombstone Valentine displays vividly the different musical inspirations within the group, such as the Band, the Beatles, Procol Harum and Traffic, whose songs Wigwam would play at gigs. The LP is dominated by Tolonen’s guitar, leaving the otherwise organ-based sound of the group somewhat in the background.
Though the album is quite scattered between styles and fails to give a genuine impression of the group, it is by no means a bad effort. Is it interesting to hear Pohjola’s earliest contributions to the repertoire, two fine songs. The first, titled ‘Frederick And Bill’, features some wild riffing performed by Pohjola on fiddle and Tolonen on guitar while the second, ‘1935 Lost In The Snow’, is a straight-forward, beautiful instrumental. Another pearl on the album is Pembroke’s ‘Wishful Thinker’, inspired by the Band. On the title track, likewise penned by Pembroke, additional instrumentation is performed by Heikki Laurila (banjo) and Kalevi Nyqvist (accordion). Fowley ensured that Tombstone Valentine was released on the US, albeit as a double album with the second LP containing three songs from the group’s first LP and nine tracks by Blues Section, plus one song in Finnish performed by the popular singer Kirka!
It took more than a year before the next Wigwam album saw the light of day. A double LP it was titled Fairyport and released in December 1971. Due to the group having three songwriters the content varied a lot, and again it is a stylistically scattered album. During the summer of 1971 they had been recorded doing a live jam session at the Hämis Club in Helsinki. Titled ‘Rave-up For The Roadies’ this jam, featuring some fine guitar playing by Jukka Tolonen, fills Side 4 of the release but is completely let down by poor sound quality. Brilliant songs written by Pembroke are sprinkled there and there over the album and thus merely appear as irrelevant diversions from the overall theme. The opener, ‘Losing Hold’, is co-written by Gustavson and Pohjola with lyrics by Pembroke and remains the pinnacle of the album. However, the most substantial composition is a four-part conceptual piece by Gustavson, featuring some profound and strongly-held philosophical views. Here, music and words form a highly intellectual entity displaying the composer’s bleak world view, elevating him to a unique level in the Finnish rock scene.
A vast number of additional musicians appear on Fairyport: Pekka Pöyry and Eero Koivistoinen (soprano saxophones), Risto Pensola and Hannu Saxelin (clarinets), Unto Haapa-aho (bass clarinet), Ilmari Varila (oboe) and Tapio Louhensalo (basoon).
The exceptionally fine sleeve design was directed by Gustavson and carried out by Jorma Auervaara.
After Fairyport two years would pass before the next new Wigwam album. In the meantime, during the autumn of 1972, Love Records released a compilation LP simply called Wigwam (it was part of the label’s ‘Nice Price’ series, which can be detected from the inclusion of an ‘X’ in the catalogue no.). In 1972, both Pembroke and Pohjola released their first solo albums, and in 1973 Wigwam started work on a new album, a task would take a full year to complete.
In the spring of 1973, Jim Pembroke went back to England to visit his parents, and during his absence from the group guitarist Pekka ‘Rekku’ Rechardt was invited to replace him a three gigs. This encouraged a rumour that Wigwam might soon include a full-time guitarist. Another player, Janne Ödner, was rehearsed but the chemistry wasn’t right, and the group decided to continue without guitar player.
However, in December 1973, a month after the new LP was finally finished, Rechardt was invited to join the group, partly in the hope that by adding a new member the band could sort out some internal disagreements which had arisen during the recording process.
The new album, Being, was released in February 1974. Both the basic idea behind it and the majority of the compositions were the works of Gustavson. Being represents an exceptional achievement in the history of Finnish rock, and is in many ways a pioneering work. The lyrics are perhaps Gustavson at his most profound, but also quite difficult to perceive rightly.
Being is a kind of satire over the class society. The hypocrisy of mankind is turned inside out in all its absurdity, particularly the exploitation of others under the cover of various ideologies. The hidden purpose of these ideologies is to profit a small group of people by the exploitation of a majority, who are blind to these facts. Both the political Left as well as the Right are criticised. The moral is that the most important thing in life is not ideology, but humanity itself, symbolised in the title Being.
Musically, the LP is an unsurpassed work, whose originality and uniqueness is beyond compare. For the first time on record Gustavson plays a Mini Moog synthesizer, which he performs understatedly and in good taste.
The vast group of assisting musicians consists of: Pekka Pöyry (soprano sax, flute), Pentti Lasanen (clarinet, flute), Paavo Honkanen (clarinet), Juhani Aaltonen, Paroni Paakkunainen, Erik Dannholm, Pentti Lahti and Kari Veisterä (flutes), Ilmari Varila and Aale Lindgren (oboe), Juha Tapaninen (basoon), Unto Haapa-aho (bass clarinet) and Taisto Wesslin (acoustic guitar). Gustavson’s original Finnish lyric’s are translated into English by Mats Huldén, who had done the same with the lyrics on Fairyport.
Being soon became a cult album. It was almost unanimously a success with the critics, its most important feat being that it won over progressive rock critic (and assistant editor-in-chief at New Musical Express) Ian McDonald, as presented in his appraisal of the album in a review published on 10 August 1974. He’s verdict was clear: ‘Wigwam is the best rock group outside Great Britain and the States.’ Being still, to this day, has many devoted admirers, but commercially it wasn’t a major success.
The internal conflicts within Wigwam were sharpened during the work on Being. Rechardt’s joining the group didn’t mend this. Wigwam was heading for a deadlock situation, and shortly before their 1974 UK tour (with Tasavallan Presidentti) both Gustavson and Pohjola announced that they would quit the band in June. After this had become a fact, the group decided to record the final three gigs with the current line-up for a live album and so, in the spring of 1975, the double live LP Live Music From The Twilight Zone was released. It presented Wigwam in the fine shape audiences had grown used to over the years. There was always a lot of enthusiasm on display at the group’s concerts. It was in front of an audience that the group would really shine. Gustavson’s keyboard playing was strong and sturdy, but also featured a lot of ‘swing’; Pekka Pohjola relentlessly confirmed his reputation as the best bass player in Finland, while Österberg added energy and direction. Rechardt’s guitar style gave the music more edge. Pembroke tended to be less prominent on stage, but his electric piano was nevertheless a fine ingredient, too.
Wigwam’s live repertoire consisted mainly of cover material. On this LP there are three such tracks: ‘The Moon Struck one’ by the Band, ‘Let It Be’ by the Beatles, and John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’, which is performed as a duet between Gustavson and Pembroke. However, an old stage favourite, the group’s version of Jean Sibelius’ Finlandia, was not on the album. Instead, Wigwam reach their pinnacle here with a fifteen minute version of a song from Pembroke’s first solo LP, ‘Grass For Blades’. The sound quality is quite good. The record was produced by Tommi Liuhala and the group.
After having left the group in the summer of 1974, Gustavson and Pohjola started concentrating on solo works. Meanwhile, Pembroke and Österberg invited Rechardt and bass player Måns Groundstroem (ex Roosters, Blues Section, Tasavallan Presidentti) to join a new Wigwam line-up. The summer of 1974 was spent rehearsing determinedly. It was considered to change the name of the group, and ‘Wigloo’ was suggested. However, the original name had gained a fine reputation so it was decided to keep it. Tapio Korjus was asked to manage.
In August the new line-up played their first gig at Helsinki Juhlaviikot Festival Club. There were many fellow musicians in the audience, along with critics, representatives from record companies and others. Musically, the new Wigwam had a clearer direction than the old, married with a more relaxed approach. For a while the group performed as a quartet with Pembroke on electric piano, but it had been the intention from the start to include as second keyboard player. However, finding a suitable player proved difficult. Eventually, Esa Kotilainen joined as a guest musician, and thus augmented the line-up went into Marcus Music Studios in Stockholm during January 1975. Paavo Maijanen was chosen to produce the new LP, which had been carefully planned in advance; for instance, some demos tapes had been made at Microvox Studios in Lahti, Finland.
In the spring a single from the forthcoming album was put out, titled ‘Freddie Are You Ready’/’Kite’, and during the following summer the long-awaited LP Nuclear Nightclub was released. Rechardt was the musical focal point on the album, as he had composed several of the songs and his guitar was the most strongly featured instrument. Furthermore, Pembroke’s position as both vocalist and composer came much more to the fore than earlier. Nuclear Nightclub became Wigwam’s best selling album, and in 1976 they received a gold disc for it.
During the spring of 1975 keyboardist Heikki ‘Pedro’/’Hessu’ Hietanen joined Wigwam. He had formerly been with the group Pepe & Paradise. Also during the spring of that year, manager Tapio Korjus and Love Records boss Atte Blom went to London to approach Virgin Records. They brought back a five-year contract for Wigwam. To support sales of Nuclear Nightclub Virgin launched their biggest advertising campaign up until then. A special ‘Wigwam Evening’ was held had the Marquee Club where all kinds of Wigwam promotional material were handed out, including stickers, posters and badges. There was also a Disc Jockey who played Side 1 of the Nuclear Nightclub LP all night long. Generally, the album was well advertised all over London, with posters in all record shops and the album displayed among the bestselling LPs of the day.
After a successful tour of Scandinavia, Wigwam played to a British audience for the first time in Hyde Park in August 1975. The following day they recorded the A-side for their forthcoming single ‘Tramdriver’ at Virgin’s Manor Mobile Studio. ‘Tramdriver’/’Wardance’ (in the UK the B-side was ‘Nuclear Nightclub’) was released towards the end of the year. Also in December, Wigwam received a grant from the Georg Malmsten Foundation (for composing their own material).
In January 1976 Wigwam recorded their next album, titled Lucky Golden Stripes And Starpose. The recording took four weeks and took place in a studio in the English countryside. The produced was former Stone The Crows member Ronnie Leahy, who had previously been a candidate for Wigwam’s second keyboardist. The album came out in the spring of 1976, featuring and excellent cover by Mats Huldén. He had also made the sleeve for Nuclear Nightclub. However, in Britain the new LP was given a completely different cover.
Lucky Golden Stripes ... was quite a good follow-up to Nuclear Nightclub. Stylistically it was even more assured, but unlike its predecessor it didn’t have any outstanding single tracks.
At the time when the album was released, Wigwam was touring Britain with Gong. They subsequently played a few gigs in Sweden and Denmark. During the summer they played in Stockholm, Hamburg and Amsterdam. These concerts were the result of trips that Pembroke and Korjus had made through Europe, during which Pembroke gave radio and TV interviews.
Also during the summer Wigwam was the first Finnish group to perform at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. Among other featured artists were Magma, Alan Stivell, Jesse Winchester, and Weather Report.
Lucky Golden Stripes ... turned out a commercially unsuccessful album, which led to difficulties for the band. For a while they weren’t playing at all. The winter of 1976/77 was financially very hard, as practically no money was coming in, and during the spring of 1977 there was talk of disbanding for good. Still, recordings for a new album had started in February at the new Finnlevy Studios in Helsinki, with Wigwam as the studios’ first ever customers.
When the album was finished, Virgin Records announced that they didn’t intend to release it in its current form, as they found it too ‘low key’. Consequently, the group scrapped two of the tracks, a new nine minute long studio re-recording of ‘Grass For Blades’ and a new Pembroke waltz-ballad called ‘Turn Stone To Bread’. Instead they recorded three new tracks; but still Virgin showed no interest, and finally the group was dropped from the label.
In August 1977, Wigwam was the most exciting group performing at the Ruisrock festival in Turku, Finland. The gig was billed as their last ever; however, the group decided continue on a part-time basis. Meanwhile, Rechardt joined be backing band behind Finnish pop singer Freeman, and Österberg joined the group Madame George. Pembroke tried to initiate a partnership with Royals (Paavo Maijanen’s group), and Groundstroem went back to producing and doing other jobs for Love Records.
Bit by bit, Wigwam was grinding to a halt. They still played occasional gigs during the autumn of 1977 with various additional members and a less-than-uplifting repertoire including, for instance, a watered-down version of Clapton’s ‘Crossroads’. By the end of the year, following a discouraging Scandinavian tour, all hopes for a come-back had evaporated.
Finally, just before Christmas, Dark Album was released. (Back in the spring Love Records had already been advertising it as Daemon Duncetan’s Request.)
By then, Hietanen had left the group and instead joined the Finnish underground artist M.A. Numminen. Musically, Dark Album featured a much more relaxed atmosphere than its predecessors. The spirit is occasionally quite light, with the vocals given more prominence than before. Jukka Gustavson plays keyboards on a couple of tracks. Additional backing vocalists are Paavo Maijanen and Timo Kojo.
Wigwam still played the occasional gig in 1978. The appeared at the Punkarock Festival in Punkaharju in June (their 10th Anniversary Concert), which unfortunately turned out to be a rather lame and sloppy affair.
In July 1979, Virgin Records released in the UK a double (compilation) LP titled Rumours On The Rebound, which was highly praised by the British music press. The NME wrote: ‘... fans will probably remember them most fondly as one of the brave few rock outfits to fill the fallow, shallow pre-1976 years with something more than cultural water treading.’ Melody Maker concluded that Wigwam was one of the most unique and fascinating bands to come out of the seventies, with breathtakingly beautiful melodies and a lyrical kaleidoscope that had moved many a listener. The music paper also described the group’s songs as everlasting pop classics.
Rumours On The Rebound consists of songs from the two Wigwam albums Virgin had already released, as well as tracks from two other albums that were never released in the UK, namely Dark Album and Pembroke’s third solo LP Corporal Cauliflowers Mental Function. Furthermore ‘Turn Stone To Bread’, one of the songs dropped from Dark Album, is featured under the new title of ‘Daemon Duncetan’s Request’.