Waldemar Wallenius, Soundi 11/1975:

Jim's Anniversary:

[Translated by Timo Rauhaniemi & Claes Johansen.]

Jim Pembroke is a nice fellow and a fine singer/pianist/songwriter, isn’t he? And there haven’t been too many articles on him, has there? We haven’t done any during the three years that have now passed since we interviewed him last. So it’s time for another one, isn’t it? In fact, this interview should have been conducted earlier, back in April to be exact, celebrating the ten years that have passed since Jim moved to Finland. We tried to do the interview then, but it went wrong because of what appeared to be Jim’s shyness and some linguistic problems. We set out to speak with him after a Wigwam gig, with the other group members present. But for some reason Jim appeared very shy and kept making silly jokes in the style of ‘I haven’t got the nerve to answer that question when they are all listening’. Moreover, he didn’t like to be interviewed in Finnish, which he doesn’t speak very well – or so he says. But that’s not true: later on, when we interviewed him in English, he kept coming up with all kinds of remarks in fluent Finnish. Anyway, Jim is a multi-facetted and colourful character, as can be seen from this chat we had with him, discussing all kinds of things.

You seem to be in the middle of a very creative period just now.

Yes, at least that’s the idea. We’ve had time to consider and develop ideas, and to write new songs. We haven’t written a lot of new songs, but we’ve written enough, I think. Certainly, as far as the new album is concerned, Rekku and I have written enough material.

So you have the songs ready. Are there any leading thoughts or a concept behind them?

Concept? That magic word ... I don’t know. We have some pretty clear ideas, but we don’t know what it will be like before it’s finished. We often change things at the last minute. I think that it you plan everything before you start there is a danger that the playing will become mechanical and repetitious. We are trying to avoid that as much as we can. We’ve had peace and quiet to work out some new material in time before Christmas (1975) and will be recording it in January (1976).

Have you decided where to record?

There are two possibilities, either Marcus Music Studios, where Nuclear Nightclub was recorded, or, more likely, Manor Studios, which is owned by Virgin. Ronnie wondered whether that studio might be cold in the winter. It’s a big stone building, and furthermore it’s haunted! But it’s a very nice place, really ideal circumstances. Still, the houses in Britain are a bit cold in the winter and Ronnie is worried about that.

So the new album will be recorded before the British tour?

Yes, we have a tour planned there in the spring. I don’t have any more specific details about it. The general feeling in the band and at Virgin Records it that there is no hurry with this tour. Instead of doing a poorly planned tour this autumn, we decided to concentrate on doing a good album.

Are you going to be headlining the tour?

So I’ve heard. Perhaps we will.


What about TV appearances?

Someone said that the Old Grey Whistle Test will broadcast some tape we did for the Finnish TV programme ‘Iltatähti’. But to get on Top Of The Pops you need to have a Top 10 single. We have already released the single ‘Tramdriver’/’Nuclear Nightclub’ in Britain. Initially [for the Finnish version], we intended to include on the B-side a sort of fanfare which I have composed once for a chess competition. But instead I think the plan is that a new song, ‘Wardance’, will be on it instead – or perhaps it will go on the A-side of our next single. In that case, it will be backed by some track from Nuclear Nightclub. That way we will have two singles out in Britain and one in Finland before Christmas.

Might any of these singles reach the Top 10? Are they commercial?

I don’t really know. Perhaps they have some commercial features.

What do you think of ‘Freddie Are You Ready’ as a single?

It was uncommercial in a commercial way because it has that catchy hook.

It is a fine song, but it is sort of two songs in one ... Perhaps too much for a commercial song. Maybe you could learn something from Chinn & Chapman that might help you get into the Top 10.

I don’t think it is important for us to achieve that kind of fame.

Still, this new Wigwam sounds much more pop orientated than when Jukka and Pekka were in the line-up.

That’s true. As I was saying about the ‘Freddie’ single, even though our music is quite straight-forward it isn’t ‘easy’ at all. But it must be easier to listen to [than the old group], I think.

Did you deliberately try to change Wigwam’s style after Jukka and Pekka had left?

Not really. Everything happened in a perfectly normal, relaxed and natural manner. When Måns came along we started by playing some of the old numbers. ‘Just My Situation’ was the first one, because Måns already knew it. Then Rekku and I started writing new songs, so it all happened quite naturally. After that we developed our own kind of sound, I think.


The sound of the new group really is excellent. Before that, it tended to be a little bit messy, with Jukka’s organ overpowering the other instruments – particularly your piano.

Well, my piano playing has never been particularly skilful or powerful. Though the present version of Wigwam sometimes plays quite loud, the old Wigwam played extremely loud and drowned the sound of the piano completely. Still, I was mainly adding a bit of rhythm.

You don’t really see yourself as much of a pianist, do you?

No. The piano has mainly been the instrument that I was lucky to find my songs on. I only play a light rhythm and howl over the top. Earlier on, I wrote all my songs on guitar, but again I just played a bit of rhythm. Then I realised that on a piano you can play the rhythm with your left hand and still have the right hand available to play little melodies, so you could say the piano is a two-in-one instrument, where the guitar just works as a single instrument – unless you are a really great player. I’m a pretty bad player both on the piano and on guitar, but you don’t need the same technique to compose as you need to be a soloist. Still, I’ve been thinking that I might play some solos on an Arp or Moog synth. It might be worth trying that, and then Hessu (Hietanen) will have more room to do his stuff.

You’re playing all the piano featured on your solo albums, aren’t you?


When did you start playing the piano?

I started some five years ago and was really enthusiastic about it. It devoted a lot of time to it, because I really did like it a lot. I wanted desperately to learn to play chords, since it would open some new possibilities for me when I wrote songs. I still compose on the guitar from time to time – recently I wrote a song called ‘International Disaster’ on guitar. It will be on the next LP. I played it for Rekku and ... (laughs) ... he started to play these ‘I’m The Walrus’ kind of runs on his cello, and so we jammed over that for a bit. We really ought to feature Rekku’s cello on our next album.

That would bring some new colour into the general sound, I guess.

I think we could get Rekku to play some cello – or make a whole cello group by using overdubs. That might sound nice. Rekku also has an old acoustic guitar which he puts cellophane paper over the strings (from a packet of Marlboro) and it makes a sort of damped sound – quite exiting. The new Wigwam hasn’t been using acoustic guitar on record yet. There’s no absolute need to feature it, but that dampened sound Rekku gets from his guitar could be used, as well as his cello. Very talented fellow, our Rekku ...


How long have you been writing songs? Did you write any before Blues Section?

Before Blues Section I released a single here in Finland, which contained two of my songs. That was my glorious Pems period. The A-side was called ‘Any Day’, and the B-side was called ‘I Don’t Mind, I Got Mine’. They give an idea of the simplistic view I had of pop music back then – pure rattle and clatter.

But considering that you started from scratch, some of the Blues Section songs were good.

Again, they reflected how I saw pop music at that time. I don’t have any other opinion about them.

Some of those simple things sound good even today, such as ‘Hey, Hey, Hey’.

Yeah, that was the Jimi Hendrix thing. He was a great ‘exploder of minds’ at that time. Jimi made a great impression on me, and so we tried to bring the same kind of atmosphere to our audience. There were many influences back then.

Like who? Can you name some more?

Buddy Holly, Eddie Cochran, Dion de Mucci ... all those American guys from the late fifties, and then the early sixties with Del Shannon, Roy Orbison, even Bobby Vee ... ‘The Night Has A Thousand Eyes’ and ‘Rubber Ball’ ... yeah, Bobby Vee ... and Floyd Cramer with a fine pianist ... ‘On The Rebound’ and ‘Last Date’. Those records have a very strange piano sound, cling-gi-di-clonk. He was Elvis’ pianist in Nashville. But there were many others, too.

What about the later influences in Blues Section? There’s a song on the album called ‘Please Mr. Wilson’, which sound a lot like the Kinks’ ‘Mr. Pleasant’.

Yeah, the Kinks. Ever since I heard ‘You Really Got Me’ I’ve been a Kinks fan, though I’ve never heard this ‘Mr. Pleasant’. But Ray Davies is a genius. He really is the voice of his audience ... a real working-class hero. Particularly his more ironical songs are brilliant.

Back to present time. Are you listening to any other songwriter to be inspired?

I don’t listen to anything just for the inspiration. But I do listen to records like ‘Luminessence’ by Keith Jarrett, just for fun. It’s a perpetual source of inspiration for me.


The music of the new Wigwam is more pleasing and earthy than that of the old group, which was as bit schizophrenic ...

We were a bit too serious, then. I’ve heard it said that Wigwam’s repertoire in those days – particularly the songs by Jukka and Pekka – was too complicated and difficult to play, and it really was ... at least for someone like me, whose formal musical training is non existent. On the other hand, if I were able to play that music, I probably wouldn’t understand why others found it difficult to listen to.

But did you have fun in those days; was it a great time?

Yes, of course. We were learning ... at least I was learning a lot about music and how things could be made to work under various circumstances. We had to ... no, we wanted to work hard to get the material right. And that was good. But it is a fact that everything in life, no matter how great, has to one day come to an end. And now we have this new line-up instead that we have a lot of fun with, too.

So what about the album Being. Do you consider that a good LP?

When Jukka, Pekka and Ronnie worked hard at something, the result was always good, musically. It really worked well! We could have rehearsed more, though, before we started recording. It was all put together over such a ridiculously long period. Even if Being necessarily wasn’t stylistically diverse, it was massively ambitious. In fact, its intentions were monumental, and albums of that kind are always doomed to fail commercially. We would have been willing to put even more work into it, because the basic idea behind the album was very profound, and yet the result became a rather tepid version of this idea. I blame certain circumstances, which harmed us some of the time. With the new line-up, however, these circumstances don’t exist because the new musical ideas we have are easier to work with. We still take things seriously, but it is easier to criticize each other now. Earlier on, the work was too hard and intense ... You know Jukka, he is so critical. Some of the time he was so tense and nervous about things. Still, I must say he’s a brilliant musician.

I’ve heard he was quite critical towards you.

Well, that’s no wonder.

What were your contributions to Being?

I wrote three songs, I think. There was a principle, a basic idea, which was Jukka’s. He told me what was needed, and I made these songs to suit his wishes. I wrote three songs, and that was a lot – I couldn’t have written more. Also, Pekka wrote some great songs. But to be frank, I don’t remember much about that album. When you’re working on an album for such a long time you get bored with it and you certainly don’t want to listen to it afterwards. But Nuclear Nightclub I listen too a lot more enthusiastically than the previous albums – it came about in a more relaxed atmosphere.


Has the music now taken on the direction in which you want it to go?

I hope I don’t sound too precious if I point out that we work with a number of directions, all kinds of dimensions. I have a feeling that I could write all sorts of music, but I also have a certain favourite style. The Pigworm LP was built around one kind of feel, which lasted throughout the album, in contract to Wicked Ivory, which was more varied. The simple reason for this is that on Wicked Ivory there were a lot of characters using different voices. On my next album I will also use a number of different voices. In a way it will be as ‘absurdist’ as Wicked Ivory, but also ‘serious’ and ‘sensible’. Wicked Ivory was based on the idea of wanting to do something that I couldn’t do with Wigwam. So I conjured up as many absurd ideas as I could. Perhaps it was also a reaction against the direction Wigwam was going in. The group was criticized of being too introverted and philosophical. If that were true, perhaps Wicked Ivory could be seen as a reaction against those tendencies. Wigwam is still a serious group today, but you can be serious in many different ways.


After this we talked about many other things. For example, Jim told me he is still good friends with Jukka. They often play football together and Jim visits Jukka, and they listen to records together. Jim is very much a fan of the ballet music Jukka has composed.

Then we discussed how British rock critics have been impressed by Wigwam and how that can still be drawn on, even though maestros Gustavson and Pohjola have left the group.

After that we talked about the old stage favourite ‘Finlandia’ and why it wasn’t included on the double live LP. The reason was quite simply that the band had grown tired of playing it.

Jim also passed us the great news that the old Wigwam line-up might play together again in a year or two, on a pure friendship basis. ‘No one would be against that. On the contrary, it would be fun.’ Yes, it really would be, because the old Wigwam was something special.

I asked Jim if he was interested in performing some of his old masterpieces (like ’Tombstone Valentine’ or the ’Henry’ concept piece). He agreed that they were nice songs, and to finally play them live on stage would be great, but it was much more important to compose new material.

Eight songs are now ready for the next album and the group will be rehearsing them until December. All are written by Rekku and Jim, though Jim said Ronnie is playing guitar occasionally and the others are trying to make him write a song, or perhaps come up with that long-awaited drum solo. Hessu (Hietanen) has also been talking about writing songs. But, as Jim said, there is no shortage of material.

Jim admitted that the group’s success has come as a big surprise. There won’t be any radical changes on the next album, though some UFO-like sound effects might be expected. So a lot of work in the studio now lies ahead. Jim also used the opportunity to praise Paavo Maijanen, who came up with many ideas in the studio [when recording Nuclear Nightclub], for instance the repetition of the word ‘spirit’ in the song ’Kite’.


Wigwam seem to put a huge amount of belief and enthusiasm into their work. So we Wigwam fans have great expectations of the future. Jim has some pretty vivid ideas about the group’s future achievements – both with regard to the amount of output and its quality. I asked him if he would aim to reach big audiences in Britain next year. His reply here says it all ...

'I hope I’m not sounding superficial when I say that I hope we will reach a big audience. I hope the people who like to listen to our music will feel like going to our concerts, too. But we have absolutely no intention of ‘conquering’ Britain – anyway, what does that mean? ‘Conquering’ – that’s the all important thing here in Finland. But, as I said, we’re not planning anything like that at all. All we care about is making the kind of music that we love. We can’t do anything to win over bigger audiences other than keep making music and performing it. We can’t sit back and plan a strategy that foresees what kind of music will sell a lot. After all, this is music, not some athletics world championship contest ...