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Finlandia Hall 1980

an interview with
Finland's Great Jazz-Rock Music Maestro

PEKKA POHJOLA


 

 

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FINLANDIA HALL 1980

an interview with Finlands great jazz-rock music maestro
PEKKA POHJOLA


interview written by Robert Silverstein

An instrumental rock legend who brought so much joy to the hearts and minds of music lovers worldwide, Pekka Pohjola sadly passed away on November 27, 2008. Though not without precedent, Pekka’s passing away at the close to young age of 56 leaves a gaping hole in the symphonic rock world. We will not soon see a pioneering musical genius the likes of him again and he’s already sorely missed. The following interview with Pekka Pohjola was the first interview I ever wrote and conducted and had published. It first appeared in an early 1981 issue of Eurock magazine. The article was titled “A Visitation With Pekka Pohjola.” I almost remember typing it all out on my high tech typewriter! What a thrill it was for me, then 26 years old back in the Summer of 1980 to travel to Finland and meet, speak with and interview Pekka. Here is that verbatim transcript of my one on one interview with Pekka Pohjola from that fabled Summer of 1980.

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A VISITATION WITH PEKKA POHJOLA

Finlandia Hall 1980


by Robert Silverstein

Last summer I had the unique opportunity to interview one of the finest musician-composers alive today. I found Pekka Pohjola to be in good spirits, rehearsing at Finlandia Hall with a jazz orchestra for the 1980 Nordring Festival, presenting a fascinating show bringing the history and music of Finland up to date from about the turn of the century. Although he wasn’t playing his music, and was just doing session work, Pekka, playing his Fender jazz bass was flanked by Finnish jazz luminaries such as Olli Ahvenlahti, Juhani Aaltonen, Eero Koivistoinen, and for a special segment dealing with traveling to exotic places, guitar great Jukka Tolonen was called in to deliver a sterling performance of his tune from a few years back, “A Passenger To Paramaribo” - strings and all. It was after one of the many rehearsals of this engaging musical display that I had the pleasure to interview Pekka Pohjola.


Time: August 1980
Place: Finlandia Hall, Helsinki Finland
Subject: an interview with Pekka Pohjola

ROBERT SILVERSTEIN: Can you remember the first composer that interested you?

PEKKA POHJOLA: Well, that’s a hard question because I used to listen to a lot of classical music when I was young and had gotten into music already, then. So, it must have been any of the great names—Beethoven, Mozart, Sibelius... Afterwards I became interested in rock and roll music by The Beatles. Before that I used to think that rock and roll was shit.

RS: What was your first musical instrument?

PEKKA: The first instrument I played was the piano, without a teacher. Only after I started the violin did I have a teacher at age eight.

RS: Are there any other musicians in your family?

PEKKA: Yeah, everybody. It’s kind of a musical family. My father, his two brothers and one sister are quite famous here. My father is a choir conductor and cellist as well. My uncle is a famous music teacher and has a children’s choir and orchestra. They have won competitions abroad.

RS: What was your first band like?

PEKKA: Well, my first band...it was not really a band. I used to play with a good friend of mine, a guitar player called Matti Kurkinen. He later played in a group called Kalevala, now he’s dead. He died in a car accident. We did all these Beatles tunes as well as our own tunes. I might have some tapes of it but I don’t know where they are. Let’s say we were 14 or 15 at the time.

RS: What makes Scandinavia such an inspirational place for music?

PEKKA: Well, I might ask the same thing from you. Why is the States such an inspirational place for music? Well, I guess every place has it’s own identity. And if it’s brought out in an interesting way then it maybe seems, what’s the word... exotic to the other nations. If its made well it should sound strange.

RS: What was it like here in Finland in the mid 1960’s?

PEKKA: Well, The Beatles came and everybody had long hair. New guitar bands started out, things like that. Then it went a bit on and became better, because it was a very English rock type influence for a long time and then all this American jazz, soul and funk music came.

RS: Who were you listening to then?

PEKKA: Only The Beatles, nothing else. I knew some tunes from the radio but I only listened to The Beatles.

RS: How did you come to join Wigwam?

PEKKA: Well, actually I wasn’t very familiar with them. When I was 17 I used to play in a band called Jussi And The Boys for half a year and then...they asked me to join the band, Wigwam. Because the original bass player, Mats Huldén started to study and he couldn’t make all the gigs. So they thought they’d hire two bass players and I would play the violin as well, but I didn’t.

RS: “1936 Lost In The Snow” was your first composition in Wigwam. How did that strange title come about?

PEKKA: Actually, I haven’t made any titles yet. All the titles of my tunes are made by someone else. It’s very hard for me to get the atmosphere. I think it was Kim Fowley who came up with the title for “1936.” Different people come up with names.

RS: In Wigwam, who’s music was featured live the most?

PEKKA: It was Procol Harum and The Band, with very few of our own tunes. It was strange... In Wigwam’s music, we’d record our own tunes, but never played them live. Just a few tunes of our own were played live.

RS: At what point do you feel Wigwam was most together?

PEKKA: In the middle of it, after two years. I’d played in Wigwam for four years. After two years the feelings went down. This was after Fairyport.

RS: Was there any outside political influences in Wigwam, especially behind the band’s album Being...?

PEKKA: There was no politics. There was very much idealism. Nobody was a communist, left or right wing. I think Jukka (Gustavson) was putting down politics.

RS: Who had the most influence on Wigwam’s recorded works?

PEKKA: Well, I think it was separate. Jim (Pembroke) had his own tunes, and Jukka was very strong on his side, and I was somewhere in the middle. I never really got into planning the records. If there were two tunes missing I would write them. It was always Jukka planning “all things.” His lyrics were translated to English by Mats Huldén and of course Jim had his English lyrics too. It was very strange Finnish so it must be strange English. (laughter)

RS: When did you realize that your music was not direction of the group’s?

PEKKA: Well... we did one tune called “Nipystys” with Wigwam and that showed me it wasn’t the right group for that kind of music. I mean...it still hasn’t been played right. It’s being played by our new group and it sounds better.

RS: What do you think of Jim Pembroke’s music?

PEKKA: I think it’s great, he has some really good tunes. It was the influence from Gary Brooker and the Band’s music which gave him the orchestral feelings at first. Of course his music has an amazing sense of his unique identity.

RS: Your first 1972 solo album Pihkasilmä Kaarnakorva seemed to be overflowing with musical themes. How did that fit with what Wigwam was doing then?

PEKKA: No way, it was just completely something else. I wanted to do something on my own. I used only Jukka from Wigwam. I wasn’t doing any solo concerts yet at the time, just composing at home. I didn’t dare to bring out the tunes. It’s very hard in the beginning...like when your first song is being played you say, ‘is this my tune?’ (laughter)

RS: Your second album, B The Magpie was released by Virgin Records in England around the same time as Wigwam’s Nuclear Niteclub. Was there some joint effort by Love and Virgin Records to give you and Wigwam some sort of international exposure.

PEKKA: Yeah, I guess that’s the way it was. I think they met at some festival, the Virgin people and the Love people, and they exchanged records, the way record company people do and they liked Wigwam and my music.

RS: Have you done any solo gigs with anyone in England?

PEKKA: No.

RS: In that it was a concept album, was B The Magpie played live in its entirety?

PEKKA: No, it was played in bits. And it was a very short time to record it. We had only four days in the studio.

RS: How did you and Mike Oldfield come to collaborate together on your third solo album from 1977, Mathematician’s Air Display...?

PEKKA: At the time, Virgin Records had B The Magpie. Also, Mike had a copy of it and thought it was kind of his music, same kind of music. At the same time he was a bit depressed because the second album he made, Hergest Ridge was not accepted by the press... And he was just alone in his big country house. So, the Virgin people tried to find people to play with him, and he liked my album. So, they flew me over, also Pierre Moerlin. First we did our own tapes, nothing for the record. The second time I flew over we started to make tunes, and one of them “Mathematician’s Air Display” we felt was so good it could it could be released on a record. At the same time I was doing my own solo album in Sweden with the group Made In Sweden backing me. So I took the background tapes to Mike’s studio at Gloucestershire and we put the music together. That’s the way.

RS: I heard that album won some kind of award in Finland.

PEKKA: Yeah, the radio people here chose it as the record of the year on the rock side. It won a jazz award, also classical. A series of awards.

RS: Could you tell me a little about the group Made In Sweden?

PEKKA: Well, it was George Wadenius and Wlodek Gulgowski. They were a bit tired of what they were doing in New York and George was missing his homeland, Sweden. They thought that they could come here and build a band. And they tried to find the right musicians. They went around, met Vesa Aaltonen and me and they liked it enough so we joined the group. In the beginning it was very nice. But also after, the singer Tommy Körberg left it started to go really down because we didn’t know what we should do next. The record company wanted us to find a new singer but it was nearly impossible to find one as good as Tommy. And it was impossible. So we went on as an instrumental group, but that didn’t satisfy the record company. It went down after two years.

RS: Did you compose for the group or play live with them?

PEKKA: Some, yes. We did the composing together. We did many gigs but only one album together called Where Do We Begin?

RS: How soon after your third solo record did you form The Group?

PEKKA: Let’s see... Before Made In Sweden I played half a year in Jukka Tolonen’s Band. And a half a year after Made In Sweden we formed The Group.

RS: Was The Group basically your musical sound that later emerged more realized on your 1979 Visitation Lp release?

PEKKA: The Group’s music wasn’t really my music. I did many of the themes but the construction of the music was put together with Olli Ahvenlahti and the rest of the band. I don’t really like to call it my music. It’s like a mixture of the whole thing. It was very simple...some tunes were very simple. And some hit tunes, or we thought of it like that.

RS: Visitation is a perfectly balanced album of jazz-rock and classical music. Are you still happy with it?

PEKKA: Well, in a way I am. Always, you want to do everything better. But it’s played well, the sound is quite good. Yeah, I think I’m happy, as happy as you can be after making an album. You always want to do something better, afterwards.

RS: Do any particular tracks really stand out on stage?

PEKKA: From Visitation? We just play “Vapour Trails” and “Dancing In The Dark.” Some tunes, the ones with orchestration like “Image Of A Passing Smile” are very hard to play with two guitars and keyboard.

RS: Of the musicians on that album, who’s still in your new band, the Pekka Pohjola Group?

PEKKA: Just Seppo Tyni. On keyboards is Seppo’s brother Pekka. The drummer is new too. His name is Ismo Kätkä. Our new album is called Kätkävaaran Lohikäärme. It means the dragon of Lohikaarme.

RS: Could you tell us what it sounds like?

PEKKA: I’m not going to tell you! (laughter) Wait and see.

Special thanks to Pekka Pohjola @ www.Rockadillo.fi/PekkaPohjola for his friendship during my visits to Finland in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Also many thanks to Emu Lehtinen for his hospitality. Emu’s famous jazz / rock Lp / CD store Digelius Music remains a shrine to the brilliant musical heritage of the Finnish people. This article / interview is dedicated to the memory of two great men - Pekka Pohjola and my father Arnold Silverstein.










 
 
 
 
 

 

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