Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Just My Situation

The story of Jim Pembroke is a bit of standard tale ("Man falls in love with Finnish girl.") as well as a complicated story of the music scene of the 70s and Finland. You could probably not do the same thing now. From the Wigwam pages:

English expatriate Jim Pembroke’s songwriting was capricious, a pestle that ground quintessential pop and rock (as the Beatles, Traffic and the Band) against mordant, often flippant, lyrical ironies ... Eccentric and absurdist, peripatetic and fatalist, romantic and idealist – Pembroke wore all these suits, and wore them well.

-- Angus McKinnon (1977)


Jim Pembroke had got the bulk of this book done by 2007, and was then helped along by partner Rick Chafen, the biggest Wigwam fan I knew of in North America. Jim spent some 20-30 years in Kansas City, where he died in the fall of 2021. I know they traveled some, as Jim was interested in Native Americans for example. But mostly it was domestic life in a country he was familiar with in song and language. It was never quite clear to me what was the main motivation for the change. He was seeking some change, but the band did well in Finland from 1991-1995.

Rick was to arrange some gigs in Kansas City (Rick was the sort of fan that went past just following the English bands he liked, so he arranged for many a band to make a stop in Kansas City. Van Der Graaf Generator was a favorite). But the US gig for Wigwam never happened. The dates for the earliest Kansas City solo gigs are in 1984 and 1986. Wigwam had gigs in Finland from 1991-1993 and then the huge gap in Wigwam gigs appears. Fans have recordings of Jim and Rekku as an opening act in Chicago and Cleveland in 1992.  There are just a few pages (pp 208-212) in the book to cover 1985-1990, but Jim did in fact make several trips to the US.

In my 1999 interview Jim mentions making a trip to the US where he started off in Florida and met some Finns there. Then he (he does not drive) ends up in Kansas City again!  So we can place Jim in Kansas City from the mid 90s. Most likely from 1995 on.

This time Jim had stayed long enough to meet Cady there. The choice was there, and Jim had to compare what was left for him in Finland and a semi-retirement in the USA. Rick was good at organizing the book and could have added a bit more of the American life but did not. The result is a book, skillfully translated by music journalist Esa Kuloniemi.

Who should read this book? Well, if you did not care for Jim's part in early Wigwam and then past 1975, it's not going to have a big part for you. The song writing of Jukka Gustavson does not come up very much. I personally had seen the band in 1970 and had in fact got the American Tombstone Valentine also in 1970. That gave me background on Blues Section as well. So I have always appreciated the pop side of the band. I do have most of the Pohjola catalog as well (only two on LP) and never neglected the progressive end of the band and members. But on to the book.

I got the book a few days ago in the mail. Thanks Levykauppa X. I also had a lot of the Pembroke and Wigwam CDs on hand, but all are familiar by now. Some of the solo works I had to brush up on.

He talks about his start in the music business sort of by accident. "The script was written for me." Before we go into the book, I have to say that there was not really another singer in Finland to handle English lyrics at that level in 1966. When he gets to write songs and record with Blues Section, with every song he nailed the vocals in the Blues Section era songs. In fact his singing style is pretty much the same throughout the 1970s. Occasionally he would create a comical character with a new voice. 

The Jim that speaks in the book is a bit of a made up Finnish speaker, as I suspect he did not use quite as broad slang as Kuloniemi makes him sound. Material in Finnish slang is matsku,  I can see Jim using that. A tune is a biisi in Finnish, and certainly Jim knew that and spoke Finnish quite well. But not exactly like this. I don't even hear much of an accent, put he did get stuck on some grammar points at times. I interviewed him 1999 in English just because it was easier. Less editing to do.

How does the actual Jim's Finnish sound? Well, we have some samples from YLE.  It is at this link. Scroll down to "Wigwamissa mä opin missä d-molli on." And then right under that Jim Pembroken haastattelu. There is a song at the end, one of his best demos we have, at the end in English.

Then under that, also see the video on Hot Thumbs O'Reilly.

The title comes from a song, which may be one of the few autobiographical ones Jim wrote. He does not say it comes from his life, but the situations and moods are familiar to most of us. Some sort of end, loss.


I read the book rather quickly. My general impressions. I will get to some detail below. I'm trying to avoid spoilers as the book just came out.

Wigwam was a very popular band in Finland from 1970 through the late 1970s where they got to play for the bigger festival audiences. (Jim seems to remember sitting in a tour van a lot). At first it was a more variable Gustavson and Pembroke effort but also with the longer soloing on many numbers. As mentioned his singing style and delivery was developed very quickly. A small label has released the Töölönranta gig from 1975 (samples are on Nuclear Nightclub) and the band and live vocals, at least on this occasion, are perfect. I have all the live recordings from later on, but the Töölönranta concert captures the band at its youthful peak, very much the Nuclear Nightclub band. There was much hope at that point. I myself was in Finland a couple of months that summer, but had to go to festivals and gigs where friends could put me up. It was also the year that Finnish bands singing in Finnish made a big splash. I saw several, Juice Leskinen twice. But in any case I missed this band at its peak. By the time of my next trip in '79 the band was no more. 

The shock in the book comes in the material after 1975. I spoke to Jim about Nuclear Nightclub, and he was quite happy to talk, but when the next album came up, he was less interested. He seemed to not think much of songs such as In A Nutshell and Sane Again, or at least he was totally past them. Tramdriver he still liked in 1999. The Dark Album gets only a few pages in the book. Obviously this phase in the band had a lot more international fame with Nuclear Nightclub and then a quick fall two years later, with the drummer dead (Ronnie died 1980) and no real future for the band by 1980. And even the record deal gone. The band mates are profiled rather poorly (mostly in terms of music), though Jim was more tied up with Rekku the rest of his career than he ever was with Jukka Gustavson or Pekka Pohjola. He liked them, and Pekka gets a good many pages in the book. The Nuclear Nightclub band is a bit in the shadow. As they are in the two boats of the original Vuorimies photo, it is appropriate they appear rather thinly in the book too. The shock to me was that the Wigwam II era was only two years at that point. (It did come back 1990s and 2000s). The original Wigwam and Blues Section plus the covers band he ran under promoter Weneskoski took some seven years.

Getting back to the start. There we are left with quite a lot of pages about Jim in London, then attending maybe a few concerts (Animals, Yardbirds) and first attempts to sing in a cover band. Some of the scenery and characters were later distilled into his songs. In particular "Paint it Michael" that he wrote with Blues Section. The story of the shopkeeper Pete and the prank the newspaper boys played on him is on page 85 of the book. Jim does list some elements of his teen years and the people around that made their way into songs, such as the Teddy Boys of the 50s. He gets into the art school and some of that is told in colorful terms. 

Many of his early songs reflect the mid 60s, as we were moving into a world where we teens were something that the record producers could target. Songs were not serious. Jim would remark on some everyday item that he made note of. From an early song: 

I tried to follow all the trends Imitate all my friends Buy my gear just the same To find that they’ve all changed 

I asked my friend, Bill, what’s the score He said man don’t worry more Just blow bubbles everywhere Then you won’t be square (oh no)

The early records, Blues Section and the first Wigwam single, fall into the Summer of Love and Sgt Pepper era, so there are some songs that reflect the hippie ideas of that time, but in the far away ripples of it in Finland. Jim wrote some lyrics that reflected the carefree ideas that most young people had, and in Finland it was mostly a reluctance to start your work life after school. Musicians tended to dread going into the military for the year it took. Also, by 1968 the Paris student riots reached Finland in the form of Vanhan valtaus as we called it. It was part of the leftist radicalism. In connection with the leftist ideas came in the experimentaion that was seen with Love Records. But first we have to get Jim to Finland. The story below roughly follows what he wrote. 

In London, meeting the Finnish girl, Jim working in a plastic factory for the fare to get to Finland on a Russian freighter. The girl is there, but there is a fantasy scene to color that meeting and Varkaus and then not much. About Jim, family and all that. A baby is mentioned in 1979, and that sums up all of Finnish family life (get the book, photo is proof!).  In fact none of the book is very deep, it is entertaining. If you are reading in Finnish, the point where Pohjola joins the band, about page 110 or past there, the scene is quite comical.

Getting by and understanding Finnish little by little is a challenge, but with music being his field, that did not matter much. Jim was to write the lyrics, and often the whole song. The Blues Section era is covered well. Jim talks about writing lyrics:

He mentions Dylan, Chuck Berry and Lennon. Jim was very much Lennon, not much of a Paul McCartney. Except the song Tombstone Valentine and a couple of others. Lennon appears to have been a model for word play as well as some nonsense lyrics. "In the ideal situation the lyrics sound good but also mean something." He says he had to have the whole Dylan catalog to practice chords and lyrics before he could write a song. But it was a working process by the end of the year he spent in Blues Section.

The early days of Wigwam are rather thoroughly described in the Meriläinen book. Jim (here) does mention working at the Swedish Theater as part of the Hair musical, but there is nothing about the famous car crash they had with a Ford Transit van and a trailer. The roots of Wigwam come from two bands: Blues Section and The Roosters. Nikamo and Gustavson came by way of The Roosters and by July of 1969 Nikamo had talked Gustavson into joining Wigwam. The first gig under the Wigwam name had already been Feb 8th that year, with Jim as singer.  Ronnie knew pretty much everyone in the music business and he and Mats knew each other. (Ronnie had been in the Jussi Raittinen band at one time. It was the Finnish school of rock.) They had even recorded a single, and Jim does go into that, Must Be The Devil. Otto Donner had been supportive but it was up to the band to make a living touring. Much of it was at schools in the Helsinki area.

But unlike many bands, Wigwam was able to write songs. The group seemed to work quite well in the studio and live, but the personalities could not have been any different. Jim jokingly talks about Pohjola helping work out a song or arrangement and basically grasping every musical concept instantly, possibly even before Jim had thought it through. The band at the time were all fans of Procol Harum and The Band. Pekka in particular liked The Moon Struck One.

We had that recording before, but the newly released Fairyport has some live tracks with The Band covers. As the band went on to tour Finland and play festivals, they often ended up tunes like Chest Fever, that allowed the keyboards to stand out. Those songs were not quite as progressive as the band's own songs, but worked well with audiences. Jim talks very little about the role of the singer on stage in the book. But even in the early 70s it was always Jim that spoke Finnish to introduce songs. Mostly he would note when a song was coming up written by Rekku. The normal banter with audiences about Midsummer and so on might be inserted.


On page 112 Wigwam, soon after the Fowley disaster (he came to a gig or two and was very rude and bossy) was a trio.  Two band members left, Nikke left  due to Fowley.

“So you don’t like our center forward, what is your plan?” Jim, Gutsi and Ronnie carried on. It appears to be an actual gig (p.113).

Jim writes about the gig where Wigwam and Jussi and the Boys played:

The shorthanded band did not last long. We regrouped over one night by adding one more virtuoso. Pohjola had played violin on a Wigwam single and was sort of waiting in the wings.

We were on a gig, and Pekka was in the Jussi and The Boys outfit that had played before us. Later in the evening, after the gig, the bands were taking down the equipment to a staging area for the roadies to load the vans. I went to Pekka and asked casually if he wanted to join our outfit: Tuutsä bändiin jäbä? (jäbä is slang for “guy.”). Pekka was the silent type, so in reply he merely moved his bass and amp from the Jussi pile to the Wigwam pile. That is how simple it was. Pekka soon made a perfect match for the band and had qualities that were useful for us. He would learn any piece before we had played through it even the first time. His skills were so unusual that they inspired us to chart our music to further levels.

Wigwam I (before 1975) albums are all covered in the book. Being ends up as just an explanation of the strange song titles Jukka had them use. From the Tombstone Valentine era several songs are described in detail, as well as the crazy American producer Kim Fowley. You can't actually call Fowley a musician in any way. He does have some vocal novelty hits, but they are more spoken through than sung. His role in the Wigwam album was minimal. (But possibly due to Fowley the songs were more standard pop rather than progressive). But he did demand writing credit, somehow, in one song. Jim was left to entertain Fowley when they were not in the studio. 

Jim does not ever mention the lyrics that Jukka came up with, which were a bit more "deep." But Jim was not the one that helped with Jukka's English, it was Mats. Jukka is better profiled than Rekku, however. A man with some lack of confidence and other issues that led Gustavson to leave music for a while.

Captain Supernatural

Captain Supernatural shoved aside his penny goons
And wondered what to do about the changing of his tune
But meanwhile in the jungle things weren't going quite so well
'Cause Maypole had his eyes so round and Cozy would not tell

[Chorus 1]
Miles and miles and miles away, somewhere in the sun
Captain Supernatural's men weren't having so much fun
Bob Hope's tour in '64 is all that they have had
And Bogie films didn't seem to help

[Verse 2]
Meanwhile on the healthy college front
Rodney heard his groovy hair is not what people want
Had to cut it like it was in Paltry Place
'Cause the people want to see his smiling face

[Guitar Solo]

[Chorus 2]
Miles and miles and miles away, somewhere in the sun
Nasty and his desert mice weren't having too much fun
Dion's tour the day before is all that they have had
And Monty films didn't seem to help

Some terms are explained. Rodney is Ryan O'Neal in Peyton Place (Paltry Place), a very popular show in Finland. Even I watched it, though my Finland years end pretty much where Jim's start. I had a chance to see Jussi and The Boys at my school at age 15, the same band Jim saw at the first dance place he went to and soon was singing in Finnish groups. Jim also brings up Jussi in the Pohjola scene (p.113). In verse one, Cozy referred to Kosygin. We would never have figured that one out.

There has not been a lot of analysis of Pembroke lyrics. I would have to pull out Mikko's book to see what is in there. But the website had one example from the early days. Johansen and Chafen analyzed Must Be The Devil (link below). You can at least see that Finland has entered his thinking in the form of winter:

They carried out a similar analysis of Greasy Kids' Stuff. See the main site there and Lyrics and Chords tab.

As mentioned, for 1975-1977 the highlight is just the Nuclear Nightclub album recording. During a short training session at Måsse's cabin the album came together. The four man band worked effortlessly in this task. Jim mentions in particular that here the group worked out very detailed song structures before he put in any lyrics. Kotilainen on keyboard only came in at the studio sessions. The result is a radio-friendly album with melodies you can hum and some nice guitar and synth work. Tempos were rather laid back. Losing Hold sounds rather frantic compared to the new tunes.

The second album is barely discussed, other than the issues the band had with Virgin Records. There are some hints about the content. Mats had been asked to paint the cover for the album and Jim says he was somewhat inspired by the cover when writing the lyrics. Rekku somehow created the phrase Lucky Golden Stripes and Starpose and Jim went with that to create a song. The stripes are apparently not the stripes of the American flag. It was Virgin's idea to use it for the UK cover. 

A couple of pages cover their Dark Album. Jim says he returned the song Cheap Evening Return to the live set in the 2000s. Somewhere in there we have no more Ronnie, but he is briefly listed in the non Wigwam efforts section, working on Flat Broke. But Ronnie died in Dec 1980. The 1991 Light Ages era is briefly summarized. Gigging with Rekku as a duo. The team did some opening act gigs in the USA, thanks to Rick Chafen. And Jim mentions that he quit drinking at this point.

Jim writes about his career writing songs for others in the following chapters. I've covered it in the interview, so here is a link to that:

Scroll to the bottom of that and then on to Part 3 from there. I did not ask anything about Riki Sorsa, but Riki and Kojo were the ones bringing Jim some income with a few hits in the 80s. One tune in particular is pretty standard Pembroke, and I have a decent recording of Jim doing it in a club in the US. But Jim did not put it on any of the 80s albums he recorded. It would have fit fine on a solo album. Here is the Sorsa version. Jim wrote several songs on that album, plus a reworked Autograph.

There was an entire album for Tasavallan Presidentti that Jim wrote lyrics for, as Eero Raittinen was not able to do it. He merely sang Caught From the Air (Originally Lennosta kii):

Get my kicks like an octopus donkey
I'm disturbed sick in my mind
Computers ain't able to gimme the pace
Chip on my shoulder, egg on my face
Wild frustrations gettin' me down
Fry my head in linseed oil
Serve with olives and that ain't all
Slice my tongue, do me good
Fill my nails with bamboo cane
Suck my thumb, sell my brain

Who's got time to gimme an offer?
I need help, any old kind
Computers ain't able to gimme a line
Feel a lot older all the time
Calculations gettin' me down
Try my hand at something new
Maybe buy a stamp or two
Slice my tongue, do me good
Fill my nails with bamboo canе
Suck my thumb, sell my brain

I don't need advice on the wеather
Rain or shine, out of my mind
My TV is broken and radio too
Ain't got no records, lonely and blue
Practise death in the kitchen or loo
Cut down breathing, fake I'm sane
Hold my horses, blow my brain
Slice my tongue, do me good
Watch my stars and P's and Q's
Give up hoping, thinking too

Get some time to walk down the sewer
Then again, I couldn't be sure
My guru, he tells me to stand on my head
Transcend to the truth and live while I'm dead
Wild frustrations getting me down
Fry my head in linseed oil
Serve with olives and that ain't all
Slice my tongue, do me good
Fill my nails with bamboo cane
Suck my thumb, sell my brain

There are a few good lines in it and the album was a moderate success for Tasavallan Presidentti. But Jim probably would never have sung those lyrics himself. Not that they did not fit, the song was largely an instrumental with rather quirky parts for all instruments. A sort of "Bless Your Lucky Stars" for Tasavallan Presidentti. The Finnish lyrics, Lennosta kii, express a desire to leave, for a penniless singer who somehow is frustrated with the here and now. The "airship" will take you away. The sand under your shoes and so on. So equally aimless frustration. A two minute clip of the Finnish song:
Jim's lyrics:
The album was in my mind the lesser of the two Raittinen vocal albums and I played most of the other Pressa albums more. But in hindsight this track is one of the best for the band at the time, and the English lyrics do not make it any less. Any Finn will prefer Lennosta Kii, and there is a good live recording of it. The album had these songs:

In the book there is a lot about Timo Kojo, or Kojo as we called him. Kojo had a distinctive voice and Jim ended up writing a Song of Europe hit, sort of, for Kojo. Nuku pommiin it was called. It bombed. Jim was on stage with Kojo's band. There is a funny video if you want to search for it. Jim is the one banging on the big bass drum.

There is a bit of material to cover the remaining Wigwam albums, and he seems to have enjoyed all the comebacks. The celebration of Wigwam 50 years was a big deal.  And there was one final solo album in Kansas City. The last two albums with Wigwam were a bit more of a standard rock type of albums, critics seemed to dismiss them as "not progressive." What were they waiting for after 25 years? There are several good Pembroke songs on both, so it's a good thing we got them recorded. Compared to Nuclear Nightclub (where some songs really were mostly Rekku) I sense that these were pretty much a 50/50 effort between Pembroke and Rechardt or maybe 60/40 with Rekku helping finish an idea. It is possible they formed from the band rehearsing and playing those few years in the 2000s. On page 221 Jim explains the term Kotilainen threw out, "sointupartio." So came the song Chord Squad, a fine pop song. Those couple of years, with the EMI record deal, are very briefly covered (p.219-224).

Other solo albums are covered as well. Wicked Ivory attempted a bit of comedy in Goon Show fashion. It must have been hard to record that with no comedy partner to bounce those ideas off from. But it came out well enough, in items such as Cosmic Rot. And of course it produced Grass For Blades, a bit more boldly critical of world events than Captain Supernatural.

I noticed there is a video with translations on Youtube, so here is the interview there:

Fan reaction to the book is mainly comments on the superficial coverage of some eras and albums. As were my comments above. The band itself, Wigwam, has a broad following in Finland, and it is not just due to Pembroke. But in at least half the songs he was the key part, the frontman behind his keyboard.

Jim is best remembered as a song writer, which is well documented in the book. I want to leave with a song example, which is an older tune. Jim would approve.


Tiny bit of analysis of Wishful Thinker. "Unpredictable chords." No comments on lyrics.

There is a bit of Jim's story in English at an odd blog. I don't know if there was any interview. Nevertheless there are excerpts of the book in that "interview" but in the original English. Take a look at it and take home what you will, with a grain of salt (or in any case, the text seems to be really Jim, but there was likely no interview):

As far as Jim's lyrics for Hard n' Horny, I had a hard time with the English terms such as "tuppence a ton."  They were in fact printed in the remastered CD booklet. A sample:

For those that have the album but not the lyrics or perhaps Spotify only, the lyrics are also here.


For the Finns: En nyt varmasti tiedä mihin pitäisi Jimin kirja lokeroida. Se nyt ei ole niin tarkka selonteko kuin esimerkiksi Meriläisen Wigwam-kirja. Jimin kerronnalla on paikoittain sama vaikutus kuin Juice Leskisen kirjoissa (Kuka murhasi rock and roll tähden?) tai Juho Juntusen Tuuliajolla-kirjassa. Eli viihteen ja pohdiskelun rajamailla.

Jukan haastattelussa Jim puhuu suomea ennen vuotta 1975 ja suomen kielen taito oli jokseenkin siinä jo tavoitettu. Eli kieliopin virheet jatkuivat häneen puheessa kuten tässä. Usein hän korjaa sanomansa kun tekee virheitä. Jimin mukaan teksti ja biisi kuuluvat yhteen, eli siis niitä ei voi erottaa. Molemmat tykkäävät Procol Harumin Salty Dogista.

Epilogi-osa on kumma. Perikunta ei vissiin vastustanut, ja on siinä parin läheisen viestit. Mutta esim. Jukka Orman kommentit ei kuulu sinne loppuun. Jim on avuton epäkäytännöllinen uneksija Orman sanoissa. No, tee itse sanat sitten, vitun Orma! (Mahdollisesti Orma ei osannut arvata miten hänen sanansa tulkitaan).

Maailmassa tarvitaan muutamia henkilöitä katsomaan asioita vähän etäämmältä tai huumorin näkökulmasta. Oma kokemukseni oli että Jim oli tosiaan riippuvainen monesta, varsinkin musiikin ja viihteen alalla. Ilman Otto Donneria ura ja bändit tuskin olisivat päässeet alkuun. Hän oli itse varsin laskelmoiva siitä mitä muista sanoi. Jos mitä, se osoittaa kovia kokenutta tuumailijaa.


Esa said...

I've turned on the comments to this blog, but you will need to have a google ID (an email) to post comments. Otherwise I will get a ton of spam here very quickly.

mztoinen said...

Thanks Esa. Tämä teksti ja litteroidut haastattelusi antavat hyvän lisän Muistelmiin. Kirja on mainio, mutta selkeästi tynkä. Toivottavasti joitakin Jimin jälkeenjääneitä demoja saadaan vielä kuunneltaviksi. MZ

mztoinen said...

Thanks Esa. Litteroidut haastattelusi antavat hienon lisän Muistelmiin. Kirjahan on mainio, mutta selkeästi tynkä. Toivottavasti saamme kuultavaksemme Jimin jälkeenjääneitä demoja ja lisää livenauhoituksia. MZ