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coverpic flag Finland - Full Moon 244 - 07/20/16

Wigwam
Pop-Liisa 3
Svart Records

Not every day there is a new release by my all-time favourite band from Finland. Well, the contents are not that new. It was recorded in November 1973 and four of the five tracks of the new LP have been available on the Wigwam double CD compilation Garbage - Rarities 1969-1977 released in 2000. The last track "Grass For Blades" can be heard on the excellent fan page Wigwam Nuclear Netclub. But hey, here they are gathered for the first time. It's the first time on vinyl, too, and it seems to me the sound quality has been improved. The line-up is the most stable and the most classic one of the first generation Wigwam that included Jukka Gustavson (vocals and organ), Jim Pembroke (vocals and electric piano), Pekka Pohjola (bass) and Ronnie Österberg (drums). They recorded the three classic albums Tombstone Valentine (1970, produced by rock'n'roll eccentric Kim Fowley), the double album Fairyport (1971) and Being (1974). It seems the Pop-Liisa recordings took place while the recordings of Being had just been finished or was about to be, three moonths prior to its release.

Pop-Liisa 3 is the recording of a live broadcast in front of an audience at the Finnish Broadcasting Company (YLE), a show called Liisankatu Popstudio Radio Show hosted by Erkki Lehtola, a classical educated musician and music journalist, the John Peel of Finland, it seems. He was in charge for two or three years and invited guests from Finland's contemporary pop/rock and jazz scene every second week. It's this source that Svart Records now have started to release as high quality vinyl albums in the Pop-Liisa and Jazz-Liisa series. The recording by Wigwam is only the tip of the iceberg. Wigwam was (and maybe is?) an institution in the history of Finnish popular music. As Finland's president for 26 years (including the entire 1960s and 70s) Urho Kekkonen managed to balance the nation's foreign policy between the east and west, Wigwam, and this line-up in particular, managed to balance between jazzy progressive rock and melodic pop-rock in an impeccable way.

The Pop-Liisa recording starts with a cover version of John Lennon's "Imagine". It was a sort of warm-up for the gig before the broadcasting started. This was only two years after Lennon had launched his song and it wasn't nearly as worn-out as nowadays. Wigwam's organ driven version works fine, quite faithful to the original apart from the organ in front instead of piano. The song was a standard of their live set at the time and is also featured on Wigwam's double live farewell, sort of, album Live Music From The Twilight Zone released in early 1975. I prefer the Pop-Liisaversion with less distorted electric piano and better vocal harmonies. But as mentioned, this is only the warm-up. "Nipisys" follows, a track from Pekka Pohjola's first and highly acclaimed solo album Pihkasilmä Kaarnakorva (phew, a hard one, no idea what that means... from 1972. Anyway, it's a great playful instrumental, also featured on Twilight Zone, dominated by Jukka's organ and Pekka's bass. The last non-Wigwam song here "Grass For Blades" from English expatriate Jim Pembroke's first and somewhat more eccentric solo album Wicked Ivory (also from 1972 and also featured on Twilight Zone in an even longer version) is another inspired offer. This pop song has been given the Wigwam treatment, stretched to nearly 10 minutes and includes instrumental passages dominated by Jukka's organ once again and even a technically brilliant bass solo by Pekka, the only short passage of the album not quite up to par if you ask me. Anyway it's a great song and was a stalwart in the Wigwam live repertoire.

But the greatest gems are yet to come. Unlike Twilight Zone that only included one future Wigwam studio song, while the rest are cover versions and solo offerings, here are two Wigwam originals! The studio version of the title track from Fairyport (by Jukka Gustavson) was augmented with reeds. This much longer, 14 minutes, Liisa version is pure quartet. Österberg's bass drum broke down before it was performed and he threatened to leave the set. The host had to talk feverishly (not included here) as it was being fixed. It certainly can't be noticed during the performance. The song with its playful ups and downs works excellent, much due to Jukka's great organ abilities, but also the occasional vocal harmonies between him and Jim, the neck-breaking jazzy organ-bass interplay towards the end and not least the dynamics of the bass and drums throughout. This leaves us with "Marvelry Skimmer (Friend From The Fields)" from the, at the time, forthcoming Being. It's the shortest and sweetest of the lot here, an exemplary melancholic pop ballad from Pembroke about a scarecrow that works as good as on the album.
Introducing my friend from the fields
You don't have much money, you know how it feels
Down at the heels, chasing the blackbirds away

The Pop-Liisa version misses the by now somewhat outdated rotating synth of the studio version, that only makes the song stronger. Instead we're offered a short and well-fitted organ solo. It's another classic that remained in the Wigwam live-repertoire in the years to come and also as part of Pembroke's later solo shows.

In the information sheet included with the LP Jukka Gustavson declares that 'This is one of our best live performances with this line-up'. Compared with the Twilight Zone album, it's not hard to agree, though when they recorded that album the band had been augmented with guitarist Pekka 'Rekku' Rechardt. The new line-up didn't last for long, though. Jukka decided to leave in the early summer of 1974 and Pekka Pohjola followed is example soon after. Their last gigs were recorded for the Twilight Zone album.

This might have been the end of Wigwam. However, after a few moonths Jim, Ronnie and Rekku recruited bassist Måns "Mosse" Groundstroem who had previously played with Jim and Ronnie in the pre-Wigwam band Blues Section, later with ace guitarist Jukka Tolonen in Tasavallan Presidentti and also an experienced producer, including Being and the first two Pembroke solo albums. This was the beginning of a new and more pop-oriented era of Wigwam, with Jim Pembroke as the main songwriter. Their first studio album Nuclear Nightclub (1975) was an instant hit in Finland, an excellent pop-art album. It was also picked up by Richard Branson's Virgin Records for release in Britain and mainland Europe. The following album Lucky Golden Stripes And Starpose (1976) was gloomier, but even better, if you ask me. The highlight of the second generation Wigwam's output. It seems most others disagree, it wasn't a success and Virgin ditched them when they heard the recordings that ended up as Dark Album (1977), another gem in my opinion. This proved to be the end of Wigwam until Pembroke, Rechardt and Groundstroem revived the band in the 1990s and released three more forgettable studio albums in that and the following decade.

Meanwhile, Jukka and Pekka pursued solo careers. Pekka's second and third solo album were also released by Virgin in the UK and he was part of labelmate Mike Oldfield's live band for a while. Ronnie Österberg continued to play with Jim Pembroke after the demise of Wigwam in 1977/78. Following health problems due to diabetes, he committed suicide on 6 December 1980, two days before John Lennon was shot dead. Pekka Pohjola died due to alcoholism in November 2008. The depressing clichés of the dark side of Finnish minds here, then. Anyway, Pop-Liisa 3 can stand as a firm testament of them and the most challenging and classic of Wigwam line-ups.

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