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written by: Nigel Camilleri
update: 11 July 2001
A Brief History
Without a shadow of doubt, the most popular band in the progressive rock scene to emerge from Finland in the seventies, was the group Wigwam. One of the most important features of this band was their ability to condense music of high progressive quality coupled with pop hooks into "short" tracks, a feat that the majority of bands from that time and of the same genre, were unable to do. Unfortunately, as happens to many bands that do not hail from either the U.K. or the U.S.A., they were always on the brink of breaking through internationally, but for some reason or another they never quite cut it. The history of Wigwam can be subdivided into two separate eras: 1969 - 1974 and 1974 - 1977. The nineties, however, has seen Wigwam with a new lineup playing and recording under the same moniker.
The band has its origins in another group, namely Blues Section, a group that has its place within Finnish rock history as being one of the pioneering jazz-rock bands. Inspired by John Mayall's Bluesbreakers this band had only lasted a year and a half, but in that period released a number of recordings, as well as made a name for itself on the local circuit. The split up of Blues Section led to the formation of Wigwam.
Thus the first Wigwam line-up was formed in 1968 and consisted of former Blues Section drummer Ronnie Österberg, bassist Mats Hulden, guitarist Nikke (Vladimir) Nikamo and English expatriate singer Jim Pembroke who had also had a stint as a vocalist with Blues Section. The Blues Section influence was still tangible when the band recorded their first single in 1969 on Love Records (the same company who had released the Blues Section material), which was Must Be The Devil / Greasy Kids' Stuff (Love Records LRS 1021).
The band's creativity would be further augmented by the arrival of Jukka Gustavson, a seventeen year old classically trained pianist and composer. Thus the band had the luxury of having amongst its ranks two distinctively different composers and organists, a factor that would characterise the sound of the band (at least initially). 1969 also saw the band release two further singles, one of which is an obscure release and a valuable collector's item. In December 1969, Luulosairas / Highway Code (Love Records, LRS 1028) was released and reached number 14 in the Finnish charts while a single was also released in America on the Imperial label as True Confession / Helsinki (Imperial 66400). What makes this single peculiar is the fact that the tracks laid down were Blues Section tracks, that were originally titled End Of The Poem and East Is Red. Strangely enough, Luulosairas was the single released to promote the band's first album, yet while had garnered a certain amount of success in Finland, it was left off the album. It seems that the Procol Harum virus also affected Wigwam!
The band released their first album Hard And Horny (Love Records LRLP 9) and the schizophrenic compositional material there was within the band, was immediately apparent. The first side was entirely devoted to compositions by Jukka Gustavson, who sung in both Finnish and English, featuring a progressive blues style. The second side was a concept devised by Pembroke, which dealt with the life of a certain Henry. One of the problems that the band faced when recording the album, was the fact that they had overrun the budget allocated to them by Love Records and had no money left for the cover. So the first pressing of the album involved hand painted covers by the members of the band themselves! Needless to say they are now valuable items for collectors.
Few people heard the debut album outside of Finland, but the band were making a name for themselves on the live circuit, as their concerts consisted of one long jam session that incorporated material from groups as The Band and The Beatles, together with their original stuff. The band caught the attention of veteran producer Kim Fowley, who also agreed to produce the band's second album, Tombstone Valentine. Fowley was convinced that the band's ability to condense so many musical ideas into a short time span, as well as clever hooks would make them the next Beatles. When he approached the band, they were working out with the production of the musical Hair to make ends meet, and his association with the band also brought about the first casualty. Guitarist Nikamo fell out with Fowley, resulting in Nikamo's departure from the fold. Furthermore, bassist Mats Huldén also left the band (to further pursue his studies) and his place was taken by another brilliant composer and bassist, Pekka Pohjola.
Tombstone Valentine (Love Records,LRLP) was released in 1970 and has the distinction as being the first ever Finnish rock record to be released in the USA (Verve Forecast FTS 3089). In the USA, it was released as a double album in 1971 with added tracks taken from the band's first album plus some Blues Section songs and material from other Love Records artists. One of the important factors to appear on the album was Pohjola's contribution, showing that he was equally adept at coming up with a jazz-flavoured track (1936 Lost In the Snow) as well as a more pop-orientated piece (Frederick & Bill). With the loss of Nikamo during the recording of the album, the band resorted to Jukka Tolonen, guitarist with fellow Finn prog-rockers Tasavallan Presidentti to help out on the album. Further to the release of the album, a promotional single was also released in the USA called Wishful Thinker / Call Me On Your Telephone (Verve Forecast KF5114).
Back home, the band were a household name, helped nonetheless by the fact that their second album was being released in the States. However, when one would analyse the material the band was playing, one could sense that the three composers within Wigwam were all pulling in three different directions. This became even more apparent when they came to record their third album, Fairyport (Love Records, LRLP 44/45). Fairyport nowadays is considered a classic within progressive rock circles and it has a number of features that make it stand out as one of the great progressive albums of the seventies. Opener Losing Hold is the only track that features a collaboration from all three of the band songwriters (Pohjola, Pembroke and Gustavson), while the rest of the album is divided into Pembroke's shorter "pop" tunes, Gustavson's complex brass-laden tracks and Pohjola's avant-garde, Zappa-esque tunes. Gustavson was not only maturing as a songwriter, but also as a lyricist with various references on his part to his Joined To Conscience theme which was featured in no less than four of the album tracks. When the band came to record the album they realised that they only had material that could occupy one and a half records, so the last side of the second vinyl disc is taken up by a live jam session (very typical of Wigwam concerts) with the help of Jukka Tolonen once again. Tolonen would join the group unofficially for many concerts and recording sessions.
However, there friction was brewing within the ranks of the band. It was obvious that the creative nature of the band needed to be released elsewhere. And so Pohjola and Pembroke set about recording solo albums. Furthermore, the band were having difficulty in playing much of their material live as it was too complex, especially the Gustavson penned tracks. This surely must have irked Gustavson, making his days in the band numbered. However, he would not leave without leaving his masterpiece as a legacy.
Pohjola released an all instrumental album, Pihkasilmä Kaarnakorva (Love Records LRLP 71), which immediately showed Wigwam fans that this musician was being somewhat stifled within the constraints of the band and that his best material would be reserved for his solo outings.
On the other hand, Pembroke's solo outing was a very different kettle of fish to what he was known for composing with Wigwam. The album was released under the pseudonym of Hot Thumb's O'Reilly and titled Wicked Ivory (Love Records LRLP 52), with the other members of Wigwam acting as backing band. The album saw complex arrangements and obscurity being the order of the day, very different to the commercial material he would produce with Wigwam. The aim of the album was to mimic a Battle Of The Bands recorded live in a pub, and so fake crowd noises were used together with various fragments of tunes. One important composition to find its way on the album would be Grass For Blades, a track that would become a live favourite with Wigwam and which was recorded one verse short on the album, because the engineer ran out of tape during the recording of the track! Of interest is the fact that this album was also released in England on the Charisma label (Charisma CAS 1071) in 1973. However, the history of Jim Pembroke's solo output is a Forgotten Sons tale in itself and will be dealt with as such!
While Pohjola and Pembroke were busy recording their solo albums, Gustavson was set at working on the new Wigwam album, a feat which took him two years. Today, this is considered as being the Wigwam masterpiece. Though the album does have small contributions from Pohjola and Pembroke, one can sense that the brunt of the material can be attributed to Gustavson. The album Being was released in 1974 (Love Records LRLP 92) and immediately began to receive rave reviews, not just in Finland but also overseas. Ian MacDonald of the NME wrote "...Gustavson's compositions happen to be the most technically elliptical outside those of Henry Cow [with] bizarre 'free-verse' lyrics... giving way to outrageous electric piano/VCS 3 solos, delightful in their sheer fluency alone". The buzz brewing about the band also brought the attention of Virgin Records who brokered a licensing deal with Love Records and planned a tour of the UK for Wigwam and Tasavallan Presidentti, whose last album Milky Way Moses was co-written with the help of Pembroke. The future for the band was looking bright and they enlisted multi-instrumentalist Pekka Rechardt on guitar and cello for the tour.
Furthermore, Pembroke released his second solo album, Pigworm (Love Records LRLP 103) in Spring of 1974, once again with the help of his Wigwam band mates (except for Gustavson!). The album featured My Situation, a song which would become a live favourite for the band in years to come. However, for some time it seemed that the end of Wigwam had come, as Gustavson and Pohjola gave in their notice a few months after the release of Being.
With the band on a high, Love Records decided to record the last gigs of the band and release them as a double live album, Live Music From The Twilight Zone (Love Records LXlP 517/518). Once again, the whole track listing is evidence of the band's reluctance to play any Gustavson material due to his critical nature, and the album consists of cover versions, new material from Rechardt, and one song each from Pohjola's and Pembroke's solo albums.
Pohjola would go onto record one more album for Love Records, B The Magpie, which was also licensed to Virgin and released in the UK. Following the release of his album, he would team up with the first touring band of Mike Oldfield and also appear on the live album Exposed.
Less than a year after Wigwam had been officially disbanded, Jim Pembroke and Ronnie decided to get the band back together again. They re-enlisted Rekku Rechardt on guitar and cello together with bassist Måns "Mosse" Groundstroem. Groundstroem knew Wigwam, having played in Blues Section, Tasvallan Presidentti as well as having been the producer for Pembroke's solo albums and Wigwam's Being.
In 1975, the "new" Wigwam released Nuclear Nightclub (Love Records, LRLP 129). For the recordings of the album, the band brought in Esa Kotilainen on keyboards and electronics, but since he was already a member of Jukka Tolonen's latest band, he could not join the band. Heikki "Pedro" Hietanen was brought on instead. The album was released to rave reviews and became the band's biggest commercial success, receiving accolades not just from the Finnish music press. The release of the album in the UK (under license to Virgin) was promoted by a free concert in Hyde Park as well as the release of a single from the album Freddie Are You Ready / Kite (LRS 2028). Whilst in England, the band also recorded a new single, Tramdriver / Wardance (LRS 2100). However, the record label wanted a different B-side and so the English single was changed to Tramdriver / Nuclear Nightclub (Virgin VS 128).
The follow-up to Nuclear Nightclub was eagerly anticipated and the band relocated to England to record the album at Manor Studios. However, as often happens when pressure is placed on a band expected to deliver, the result is somewhat disappointing. Unlike Nuclear Nightclub, Lucky Golden Stripes And Starpose (Love Records, LRLP 166) did not have the necessary number of tracks to make the album memorable and, more importantly, commercially successful. On the other hand, the group made up for their deficiencies in the studio when they went out on tour. The early months of 1976 saw the band touring with their label mates Gong throughout the UK, as well as performing in Scandinavia and other European countries. Their live shows kept getting better and better as time went by and they soon began to make a name for themselves oversea as an excellent live band.
In the Autumn of 1976, Jim Pembroke released his third solo album Corporal Cauliflower's Mental Function (Love Records LRLP 214), once again with the help of his Wigwam buddies. However, trouble was on the horizon and the band realised that the musical world was being taken over by corporations. Punk was in and any band not commercially successful, especially progressive rock bands, was going to have a hard time to release any material. Virgin refused to release Pembroke's solo album in the UK until Wigwam had finished their new album. The demo versions of the album, to be titled Daemon Duncetan's Request, were ready. However, when Virgin heard the album they immediately dissolved the contract they had with the band saying that the album was "too low key and non-commercial". The fact that the British Press had for some time been promoting the imminent release of the new Wigwam single, Wardance, did not have any affect on the record company. Love Records, on their part, postponed the release of the album and sent the band back into the studio to re-record the album.
When the now titled Dark Album (Love Records LRLP 227) was released in late 1977, Wigwam had ceased to exist. This was a pity, as the album in itself was a great improvement from Lucky Golden Stripes And Starpose and, more important to the fans, featured Jukka Gustavson as a guest musician. Unfortunately, Love Records were facing bankruptcy by 1978, and had no means of supporting Wigwam, which also meant that the band dissolved. An (un)official Wigwam Farewell Show took place at Punkarock festival in the summer of 1978.
The ironic part about all of this was that Wardance, the proposed single off the album, was a funky
number that would have surely been a hit and made stars out of this band. To rub salt into the wound, Virgin
Records released a double album of Wigwam material called Rumours On The Rebound (VGD 3503) that featured a whole
album's worth of material from the Dark Album which the label had previously rejected.
Following the disband of Wigwam, Pembroke kept on recording as a solo artist and eventually moved to Kansas, USA.
Unfortunately, founder member and drummer Ronnie Osterberg died suddenly in 1981 putting an end to any notion that the original lineup could ever reform.
Nikke Nikamo has been collaborating with Senegalese musicians, while Mats Huldén, Rekku Rechardt and Mosse
Groundstroem have been involved in several bands and special individual projects. Jukka Gustavson has recorded a
number of solo albums since his departure from Wigwam, something he does till this day.
In 1991, reformation was on the cards with a one-off gig at the Provinssirock festival. The reception was thunderous and resulted in a number of mini-tours. In 1993, the band released Light Ages on the small Polarvox label together with a single, Borders To Be Crossed / Planetstar (Polarvox HOPE-71). The line-up for this album included Pembroke, Rechardt, Groundstroem and new boy, keyboardist Mikko Rintanen. Reviews of the album were good as the band seemed to pick up and play the style with which they had left off in 1978.
The last few years have been relatively quiet on the Wigwam front, but there are strong rumours that they will be releasing a new album in early 2002, while EMI's Harvest label has released a double live album entitled Wigwam Plays Wigwam Live. Somehow it seems that the Wigwam story is still not yet over, and thank God for that!
written by: Nigel Camilleri