Jim Pembroke: London to Helsinki to Kansas City

Pictures and text © Esa Järvi 2000 (except for the lyric excerpts)
Musician and songwriter Jim Pembroke went to Finland just to visit, and stayed some 30 years. Now he lives in Kansas City. His career includes the years in Wigwam, but also gives a good picture of the way rock music in Finland developed.
Part 1: Jim Arrives in Finland - Blues Section - Living in Finland
Part 3: Work with Remu - Kansas City

Part 2

Wigwam Lineups 1 and 2

EJ: I only saw you play as a four-member group, you played songs by The Band.
JP: You are talking about the Wigwam with Gustavson and Pohjola. You see Pohjola, who was 15, he was the only guy standing.
EJ: We'll call that Wigwam version 2.
JP: With Rekku, that was version three.
EJ: How was that for a live act? I never saw that Wigwam. Was Rekku more to the liking of the critics? [and to Virgin].
JP: Rekku stands and plays guitar, he hasn't got time to jump around. Wigwam was more into the music than the show.
EJ: Jukka was quite an anti-drugs and anti-alcohol type of person.
JP: Gustavson, yeah. Well, he just didn't drink and he didn't smoke, cigarettes or anything else.
EJ: Jukka is now playing live again.
JP: Yeah, I only know what I read on the Internet. [Wigwam site]. So good Jukka is playing.
EJ: How was that when Jukka came in the band, with Mats and…
JP: The first Wigwam (version 1) was Nikke Nikamo, Ronnie Österberg, Mats and me.
EJ: And when did Jukka come in?
EJ: We were playing a gig in Oulunjärvi or somewhere. And there was this other band and they had this young kid playing organ like you never heard before. So it must have been after, maybe a a year after we'd formed Wigwam asked him "come and join us jäbä", so he did. And not very long after, Mats had to continue his studies. At that time it was the Finnish army or college, you know. Broke a lot of bands up. So by that time Pekka had come on the scene, Pohjola. ("Tuutsa bändiin jäbä?") So this is around Tombstone Valentine [second album, early 70's].
EJ: And Jukka came right away with original songs or was he doing covers?
JP: We were right from the start…we were into original material. Jukka had stuff straight away, yeah. So did Pekka, which is good because we wanted to get together creative song writers, with an idea of working together. Which we did at times, like doing "kokonaisuuksia", like Being and Fairyport.
EJ: How did those work out, in your mind? Jukka's and your songs seem to be very different.
JP: Different music, different personalities. We were just throwing (musical ideas) into the same pot, you know.
EJ: When you wrote songs with Rekku it seemed to me there was a division of labor, lyrics and music. With Jukka it wasn't that way.
JP: Jukka wrote his own lyrics. I didn't need to…I had enough to get on with myself. He wrote his own lyrics, Rekku didn't write lyrics. But with Rekku we did work more together as a team. We'd stay in the same hotel, same room we'd always have with Rekku. So, just for the sake of making time pass we'd play a lot. And Rekku's lines and melodies…I'd be able to get hold of an idea for lyrics without a lot of difficulty. With Gustavson and Pohjola we never really sat down and worked together.
EJ: Except for Frederick and Bill. I have a 1974 Musa interview where Pohjola complains about his songs and that they needed no lyrics.
JP: Basically Pekka wrote instrumentals, but we didn't want instrumentals in Wigwam. We needed to have vocals. I rarely write instrumental songs myself. I have done some, mostly in movie kind of…or TV mood music. Then I can write music for that. But in writing music for an album or band, I can't imagine anything without vocals. For Pedro I've done one or two instrumentals. But for Wigwam or solo work, I just hear it with vocals. There has to be a vocal in there. So Frederick and Bill could have been an instrumental, I guess, but at that time it was called for that there needed to be a vocal. I think Pekka had one or two instrumentals, like 1936 Lost in the Snow. He didn't have any names for his songs, either, just music. Rekku didn't think vocal-wise and neither did Pekka. Me, if I'm mixed up in it, I immediately start thinking, have to get a vocal in it.
EJ: Is this why Pohjola kind of wandered out of the band, since he could produce entire albums as solo works?
JP: Well, I think Pekka felt maybe restricted in Wigwam. My songs seemed to work the easiest. They were a lot less complicated than Pekka's and Jukka's. They were master players, you know. When they came into the band, I wasn't playing. I started playing piano after Gutsi came in. I was the number one Gutsi fan, Gustavson. I would say, man you know, you play so great. I was a Gutsi fan. Gutsi was always [mumbling, in a whiny voice] "I can't play…". I'd say "man, you are brilliant". In the end, I guess I picked up something about learning by looking at Gutsi. I never meant to learn how to play piano, but having started to make songs, I thought, well, to learn a few chords on the piano would maybe be good for [working on] of the songs. I found out that on piano you make different kinds of songs than you do on guitar.
EJ: Pekka says he was not as much at home on piano as on bass.
JP: Pekka's family is a very musical kind of family. All played cello and piano. I used to spend, in the early times, when Pekka joined, him and me were like, good friends. I'd spend many afternoons at his house and we played quite a lot together. But sometimes we played ping pong more than music.
EJ: Pekka was Finnish. You had some Swedish speakers earlier. In the band, what languages did you use?
JP: When the band was Mats, Nikke…it was Swedish.
EJ: Did you pick up any Swedish?
JP: Not much, I had enough trouble with Finnish. In school, in England, we had Latin, German and French and I was useless at them all due to lack of interest. So I just decided foreign languages are not going to be part of my life. What happens? I find myself picking up Finnish, one of the more tongue-twisting languages. Aargh, [laughs] "perkele".
EJ: But the slang is easy. You just talk like Remu [Aaltonen], in a few months.
JP: No!

The discussion turned to early Wigwam.

JP: The army nearly came close to breaking Wigwam up, because of Pekka and Jukka. But they got papers saying they wouldn't be any use to the army. So Wigwam survived.
EJ: How did you feel about Tolonen on Tombstone Valentine? It worked out OK?
JP: Yeah, what else can I say?
EJ: You worked on some lyrics with Tolonen later on.
JP: Tasavallan Presidentti, they didn't have a lyric writer. I wrote one or two albums. Milky Way Moses. I think Mats wrote some too. Then with Jukka, one or two solo albums, I did some lyrics. I knew him from way back when he was like 14 or 15. Suddenly emerged in Natsa, N-klubi. He was like a ghost member of Wigwam but we played some gigs with him. Wigwam didn't have a guitar player after Nikke. We were all keyboards, especially since I started playing piano, until Rekku came along. We invited Rekku to join.

Wigwam Version 3

The Wigwam that produced Nuclear Nightclub had the biggest international exposure. The record company [Virgin] was not always consistent in their support. There is some indication they wanted a more exciting stage show, with theatrics.

JP: We had a stage show, we had a good light show. But the thing with Wigwam music is that it was so complicated, you haven't got time to jump around and dance. You are playing the music and if you take your hands away from the keyboard, there's no sound anymore. And everyone had very exact things to play. It may have sounded like long jams, but a lot of it was complicated, arranged stuff, that took many many hundreds and thousands of hours of rehearsal and I'm afraid we didn't have time for stage shows. We had to set the instruments and play. If you didn't play like you were supposed to play, it didn't sound right. So me, I was always the front man, from Blues Section and the beginning of Wigwam, I was the stand up guy holding the mike, which is fine. But then I started playing piano and you either have to sit down and play the piano or then not sit down and play the piano. I played pretty exact stuff and you can't jump around, at least I didn't have time to jump around…or think of anything else except the music , so I had to be pretty much in tunnel vision when we played.
EJ: You did try to tour, I guess, with the Virgin releases?
JP: Yeah, oh yeah, we played in England.
EJ: How was that?
JP: We had a great reception, every place we played.
EJ: College towns?
JP: Yeah, college and town halls, "kaupungintalot", and Hammersmith-Odeon was the best gig. We had a great reception there.
EJ: You were touring with some other band?
JP: With Gong.
EJ: They were the headliner?
JP: Yeah, yeah.
JP: We were supposed to tour with Queen. They were just coming out at the time. But they wanted something like 5000 pounds, which was a lot of money in those days, for us to be on this tour. And then we could have, like half of their lights and have their guy mixing. You know. We said, shit, no thanks.
EJ: How about Gong, how did that work out?
JP: Oh, we had our own guy (mixing).
EJ: Did you have any interaction with the band?
JP: Oh, we'd see them back stage and in the hotel and they were OK. The violin player was the nicest guy there. He'd hang around with us.
EJ: They were on Virgin as well?
JP: They were on Virgin and they were French. We were getting a good reception in every place. There can be like jealousy and envy a lot, if the band that's supporting you is getting too good a reception, you know. But we only did that one tour. Virgin wanted Wigwam to move to London. Rent a house, a big house, and stay there for a year and play all the clubs, like we did in Finland and around Scandinavia. Rekku and I were like for it. In Wigwam we always had a vote on everything, and there were five in Wigwam. The other three didn't want to leave Finland. So, just one little regret that we didn't do. We did a lot of things with Wigwam, but we didn't do what we should have done, which was to go and do the London and the whole of England club scene and make the band break through in London.
[Jim and Rekku are listed as supporting Gong on a club date in San Francisco later].


From Party Upstairs:
Had to say it again
Oh I haven't found what's good about it…
Had to say it to John (Lennon)
Had to say it to Brian and Ronnie
Say so long
What's good about goodbye?
Ooh there's a party upstairs
There's a great big party upstairs…
EJ: How do you see Ronnie's role in all the Wigwam line-ups? Where did Ronnie get to stand out as a musician?
JP: Oh Ronnie was a great arranger, he knew how a song should feel and sound. We'd rehearse many different versions of a song till we found the right one and Ronnie was… a band is only as good as its drummer and it's very true. If you don't have a good drummer, you don't have a good band, no matter how good the rest of the guys are. Wig was a great team and Ronnie a great drummer. I didn't realize at the time how great Ronnie was. He was one of the first guys I ran into in Helsinki. Young guy, you know, played in pop bands. He was about one of my first buddies in Helsinki.

JP: The truth is, Ronnie didn't feel so comfortable with Pekka's music or Jukka's music. And it wasn't that he didn't like the guys. Musically he didn't feel …he didn't want to have any jazzy kind of feel in the music and I wasn't into (playing) jazz. I like jazz, a lot of good jazz musicians around the city. I was more pop, too... So Ronnie related to my songs, er, easier than to Pekka's or Jukka's. I saw my songs as just simple pop songs, you know. And Jukka's and Pekka's stuff was a lot more complicated. They went to classical, jazzy stuff. The truth is, Ronnie didn't have the enthusiasm to go in that direction so much. Wigwam did not become a jazz band, thanks to Ronnie, I guess.
EJ: I don't know anything about recording techniques, but it seems that Ronnie's drumming came out better in Wigwam 3, in the songs that you and Rekku wrote.
JP: Well we spent a lot of time trying to find sounds but in the 60's the recording studios, they weren't the same level as in the 70's. We went to Stockholm to record Nuclear Nightclub, because of the sound in the studio that we liked.
EJ: Produced by…
JP: Pave Maijanen.
EJ: Have you worked with Pave since then?
JP: There was a point where we saw quite a lot of Pave, in the early 80's, I think.

Songwriting and the Light Ages Wigwam

EJ: I don't think many of your lyrics tend to be autobiographical, more fantasy.
JP: Umm. The first Wigwam album we did, that would be pretty much in the fantasy world. I don't know, eternal optimist, idealist. Maybe some of them are autobiographical. But I don't know, I haven't thought about it. When I write lyrics, they are usually for a specific piece of music. It's a subconscious thing, I guess. I can have a piece of music lying around for years. Then by accident I may hear it on a tape, and …"oh that." There may be no lyrics to that, no vocal, and I can make a vocal up. Sometimes just like that and other times it takes time. I don't push it and I don't pull it. And if they are autobiographical, then they are not intentionally. But I don't usually write about things that I don't know about, let's say that.
EJ: Was it fun playing the '93 dates you played as Wigwam?
JP: Yes…
EJ: With Rekku?
JP: Rekku was on all of them ('93 gigs).
EJ: How is Rekku these days?
JP: He's doing pretty good, I think. He's been with Lapinlahden Linnut for some years now. They always have a good band, and they are very popular with the crowd. I think Rekku was in his element playing with Wigwam, but Wigwam hasn't been active now…it got reformed because we played Provinssirock in '91 or '92 I think. And it was just supposed to be the one-off gig. All through the 80's many times we've been asked to reform, just for one gig to do Ruisrock or something. We thought, at least I thought, that there couldn't be a Wigwam without Ronnie anymore, but we did Provinssirock anyway. It was such as good reception that the agents there in Helsinki said "oh, we can fix a syys-rundi", you know [a fall tour]. So we did. Then we made another CD, "Light Ages".

Asked about the song Talking Brought Me Here, Jim mentioned Mats Huldén bringing this story to his attention. Mats is given part credit on the record label.

[Lapinlahden Linnut, above, is a group that sings in Finnish, somewhat humorous. The songs are not standard rock songs.]

Part 1: Jim Arrives in Finland - Blues Section - Living in Finland
Part 3: Work with Remu - Kansas City