Reissue CDs Weekly: Wigwam | reviews, news & interviews
Reissue CDs Weekly: Wigwam
Reissue CDs Weekly: Wigwam
Finland’s progressive rock titans caught in their live splendour
Over 1972 to 1975, Finland staged a small-scale invasion of Britain. A friendly one, it was confined to music. First, the progressive rock band Tasavallan Presidentti came to London in May 1972 and played Ronnie Scott’s. The Sunday Times’ Derek Jewell said they were “frighteningly accomplished” and that readers should “watch them soar”. The next year, they toured and appeared on BBC2’s Old Grey Whistle Test. Their albums Lambertland and Milky Way Moses were issued here.
Richard Branson was hip to the Finnish prog tip, picked up their countrymen Wigwam and issued their fifth album Nuclear Nightclub on Virgin in 1975. This though was not by the Wigwam which had wowed Finland since their formation in 1969, but by a reconfigured line-up which coalesced after the band fragmented in the aftermath of – ironically – their debut British tour in 1974. The final recorded evidence of the phase one Wigwam – albeit with recently on-board guitarist Pekka Rechardt bolstering the original quartet – was the double live album Live Music From the Twilight Zone, released just before Nuclear Nightclub but recorded immediately after their return from the UK.
Wigwam and Tasavallan Presidentti were closely related: each drew members from Blues Section, which had split in 1968. Finland’s first heavy band, they had formed in 1967 and featured ex-pat Englishman Jim Pembroke as their vocalist/pianist. He and their drummer Ronnie Österberg formed Wigwam with vocalist/organist Jukka Gustavson and bassist/multi-instrumentalist Pekka Pohjola. The band had no guitarist until Rechardt joined in 1974.
Of the two bands, Tasavallan Presidentti – who sported another Brit: singer Frank Robson, who had joined Blues Section in 1968 – was slightly edgier, more jazzy and prone to the free-form. Wigwam were Traffic-influenced, the rockier of the two and built songs from riffs – like Traffic – rather than refrains. Both loved setting a jazzy groove and building from it while keeping the rhythm section tight.
The new, vinyl-only reissue of Live Music From the Twilight Zone by Svart Records is valuable as it captures the on-stage Wigwam in more spontaneous form than the studio version. Wherever the song went, they followed. On side one’s 17-minute version of The Band’s “The Moon Struck One”, the familiar aspects of the song open proceedings but are soon used as a springboard to create an entirely new musical entity: subverting the idea of the cover version. Nothing unusual in jazz of course, but in rock and to this degree it’s atypical. When, at the five-minute point, they hit their stride, it’s about groove rather than music as a technical exercise. The return to the actual song at the end is a relative let-down.
While the album’s versions of “Let it be”, “Imagine” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Help me/Checkin' up on my Baby” are straightforward, it’s on the workouts that the band shine. The side long “Grass for Blades” (a Pembroke song he had released on a solo album) is as much a winner as “The Moon Struck One”. The band knew they were to fragment when these tapes were made in June 1974 and, with that in mind, their cohesion is surprising
Live Music From The twilight Zone is hard to find its original form as it was not issued outside Finland – decent-shape first pressings sell for between £40 an £80. Its return is welcome. Especially so as this newly remastered reissue has a wider aural screen that the comparably flat-sounding original. The pressing is clean and punchy too. In its crisp repro of the original gatefold sleeve and with an insert, this is the definitive reissue of a historic album.
Should more Wigwam be needed, their classic 1971 entry point album Fairyport has been given a similarly diligent reissue, as has their ambitious 1974 double studio set Being. And if this is not enough seminal Finnish music, Svart have also released a new edition of Niin Vähän On Aikaa, Pepe & Paradise’s 1972 jazz-inflected masterpiece: a superb, melodic showcase for the gifted vocalist Pepe Willberg. Each is vinyl only too. Seek any of these out. None will disappoint.
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