MELODY MAKER, July 19, 1975
WIGWAM: surprisingly innovative
WIGWAM: surprisingly innovative

Start of the Finnish

From the frozen north, Allan Jones introduces Wigwam,
a Finnish band destined for big things in Britain

IF THE Pink Floyd were setting the controls for the heart 
of Finland here at this Korpirock festival, some two hundred 
kilometres north of Helsinki, instead of reaching out for 
the suburban mysteries of the Knebworth Kosmos there'd be 
no telling what elaborate orbit they'd spin off and into.
   That's if they could sober up the local Finnish population for
long enough to appreciate such a miracle.
   The truth is that the kids assembled here at this Korpirock bash
are quite evidently less concerned with contemplating the vast mystery
of the universe than they are with consuming vast quantities of the
locally-distilled hooch.
   Thus, the deep calm of this idyllic lakeside scene is savagely
destroyed by the stomach-churning of dozens of young casualties.
   Still, it is a rock and roll festival.
   And a pretty ramshackle number it is, too. If the location is idyllic,
it hasn't exactly been enhanced by the barbed wire fences which the
organisers have erected around the perimeter of the site.
   To catch the music, festival-goers have to negotiate a passage
between a dance hall that looks as if it was designed for interning
refugees during the Finnish-Russian hostilities, and a stage which
trembles above the edge of the lake.
   There is another stage, but that's been reserved for the stars
of the show. the Rubettes. But also on the bill are local band Wigwam,
possibly one of the most interesting and inventive bands currently
toting themselves about the planet.
   Some history first. The first edition of Wigwam saw the light of the
Lapland day in 1968. Ronnie Osterberg, Vladimir Nikamo and Mats Huldén
were in at the birth. Osterberg rattled the traps, Nikamo and Huldén
handled guitar and bass respectively.
   By the time the group got around to recording their first album,
the curiously titled "Hard 'N' Horny", they had been joined by vocalist
Jim Pembroke, an expatriate Englishman (who'd played previously with
Osterberg in a band called Blues Section), and Jukka Gustavson, a
phenomenally talented writer, vocalist and keyboard instrumentalist
with a passionate Steve Winwood fixation (he later transferred his
adoration to Stevie Wonder).
   Pembroke, who still leads Wigwam, is a most intriguing character.
He arrived in Finland sometime in 1965, after playing in a few
unsuccessful English "beat groups" (as be describes them).
He's what you might describe as a genuine English eccentric.
   His contribution to that first Wigwam album consisted of a song
sequence (Finland's first rock opera?), given the overall title of
"Henry's ..." which occupied a whole side of the record.
   It establishes him at once as a song writer of bizarre genius,
displaying a talent similar to early Syd Barrett for attractive,
if quirky, melodies laced with off-the-wall lyrics.
   Gustavson's compositions, by comparison, reveal nothing of the
talent which was to emerge on the later "Fairyport" and "Being" albums.
lt's not immediately apparent on Wigwam's second album, "Tombstone
Valentine", either.
   Though there is his tribute to Winwood, "In Gratitude", and
another classic Pembroke looney tune, "Frederick & Bill", decicated
to two English boatboys on the lookout for bovver in Stepney.
   If "Tombstone Valentine" marks a transitional period in Wigwam's
development, their third album, "Fairyport", establishes, beyond
doubt, their estrangement from Anglo-American subjugation, and finds them
spinning off on an altogether stranger, alien voyage.
   Paradoxically, as the group meshed together so forcefully on record,
"Fairyport" precipitated the beginning of an internal conflict which
was to lead, ultimately, to the virtual dissolution of Wigwam.
   Simply, "Fairyport" and its successor, "Being", are, essentially,
vehicles for Gustavson's increasingly complex compositions and fiercely
committed political beliefs.
   "Being", released in 1974, is almost exclusively the product of
Gustavson's expansive vision, and in its final form it became evident
that the record, despite contributions from Pembroke and Pekka
Pohjola (who had replaced Mats Huldén on bass in 1970), represented
Gustavson's ideals rather more than Wigwam's.
   To relieve the tensions, both Pembroke and Pohjola took themselves
off to cut solo albums. So far, they've released two each.
   Pembroke's solo debut was "Wicked Ivory", which was released under
the pseudonym Hot Thumbs O'Riley. The content of the album is as curious
as that name, and he discusses it now with some disparagement.
   One of the best songs",Grass For Blades" - as committed politically
as anything by Gustavson, if without his extreme urgency - is featured
prominently by the current Wigwam line-up.
   There's also a passionate version of his song on "Live Music From
The Twilight Zone", a double live album recorded at the old Wigwam's
penultimate gigs in Helsinki, shortly before the farewell of Gustavson
and Pohjola.
   Pohjola's solo albums, "Pihkasilmä Kaarnakorva" and "Harakka Bialoipokku"
revealed how far beyond the context of Wigwam his particular vision had
   He is, incidentally, about to pack his toothbrush, bass, door-chimes,
Revox, and Over - dubbing - Made - Easy manual to embark on a recording
project with shy, retiring genius Mike Oldfield.
   Pembroke recorded his second album, "Pigworm", while Gustavson
was preparing "Being", a project which took a year to complete.
It was, apart from the aforementioned live album, his final statement
with Wigwam.
   "Jukka felt that he couldn't continue to express himself fully
in Wigwam", observes Pekka Rechardt, the guitarist with the present
Wigwam. He, in fact, had been drafted into the previous formation for
the last six months of its existence, and is featured on the "Twilight
Zone" album. It had been hoped that the inclusion of a guitarist
(the band had continued as a keyboard-dominated instrumental line-up
following the departure of Nikamo in '74), would resolve the internal
dissension and revitalise the collective spirit of the band.
   "It became difficult for Jukka to continue working with the group",
Pekka continues, "his songs and Jim's had become so very different,
and we couldn't really perform his compositions onstage. There was a
situation of crisis...", his voice trails off, indicating the inevitability
of the eventual split.
   Following the departure of Gustavson and Pohjola, Pembroke
concentrated on electrie piano (an instrument he'd previously
employed in a limited capacity) as well as vocals. Ronnie Osterberg
and Pekka Rechardt remained on drums and guitar.
   Mosse Groundstroem, onetime bassist with Tasavallan Presidentti
and, later, Wigwam's producer, strapped on his Rickenbacker to
complete the line-up.
   They retreated, last summer, to Kabbole, where Mosse's parents
have a country house on one of the small islands which form an
archipelago to the south-east of Helsinki, a most beautiful and
remote location.
   It was there that most of Wigwam's sixth album (discounting the
compilation album which was released in 1972), "Nuclear Nightclub"
- named after Pekka's first band - was written and rehearsed.
   Which brings us back, finally, to Tommolansaari and the Korpirock
festival, with only one more point to be clarified about the present
Wigwam line-up: Esa Kotilainen, who provided the extra keyboards
on "Nuclear Nightclub", has been replaced by Hessu Hietanen
on clavinet, ARP and string synthesisers.
   Wigwam are to play in the dance hall.
   Wigwam's performance this evening more than confirms one's tentative
assessment of their talent. One's initial apprehension is immediately
and convincingly dispelled as they launch into their opening number,
"Just My Situation", a cut from Pembroke's "Pigworm" album.
   They are cautious at first, but there's no disguising the obvious
harmony now present in the greup which is evidenced by the complete
empathy which exists between the six musicians. They perform with
great intuition, anticipating any variation from the established
arrangements of Pembroke's and Rechardt's intriguing compositions.
   "What we are trying to achieve", Pekka explains later, "is for
the group to sound like one instrument." There are moments on one
new composition, "Never Turn You In" - a fascinating song about
the relationship between Christ and Judas Iscariot - when that ambition
is almost realised.
   At these moments Wigwam sound like no other band you've heard.
Not in any extreme way, because there's always a direct line
of communication open between them and the audience.
   One of the most surprising features about a band as innovatory
as Wigwam is that they can exist at all. Fortunately, they have,
in Finland, a social and environmental climate which tolerates and
encourages such experiments and allows them the time they need to
perfect their art.
   "Personally", says Pekka finally, "I believe that our distance
from the commercial system in England is very good for us. It makes
it easier for us to concentrate on our music, and to develop."
   "The music scene in England sounds so desperate. It seems tired
of itself. There's a continuous repetition of the same ideas. We have
a freedom here which is very precious to us."
   They'll be confronting some of the pressures they so despise when
they visit England for a series of concerts in September. I hope when
they come, they'll like enough of what they see to stick around for
a little while at least. They could be one of the things we've been
looking for.