Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Wigwam Bam

In the mid-1970s I was a regular listener to the Alan Freeman Show, often as background music to the assembly of one of a series of Airfix Battle of Britain aircraft, later to be suspended in dogfights from my bedroom ceiling. Sometimes I would tape stuff that listeners had requested, in many cases forgetting to note the name of the song or artist. I have discovered the identity of many of these over the years, usually by accident; even though I haven’t listened to the tapes for 30 years or more they lingered in the memory.
One of these more recent discoveries was Mamie is Blue by Faust, other old favourites were Space Station Number 5 by Montrose and a session version of Still Life by Van der Graaf Generator. There was a song, I think by Blue Oyster Cult, which I have still to track down. I’m sure iTunes makes this sort of detective work really easy nowadays, but I’d rather trust to serendipity – also I don’t want to own loads of BOC songs.
There was one track which has stayed in my mind for years which I didn’t tape - the bassline was memorable and I know that big Al had announced that it was by a Finnish group called Wigwam. I had not heard Wigwam before or since - until this week when thanks to the extraordinary generosity of a friend I have a stack of reissued cds by various foreign prog (‘progressive rock’ as we used to call it) groups that I shall be listening to over the next few weeks.
I thought the elusive song was from their first British release on Virgin Nuclear Nightclub, but I have now found that it was the title track to the follow-up The Lucky Golden Stripes and Starpose (no, me neither). This was released in the spring of 1976 so that is presumably when it was played on the radio – 34 years ago.
It was strange to hear it again after all that time – my memory of the bass line was perfect although the melody had faded over the years. It is definitely the best track on a record that is pretty limp and another reminder why punk was inevitable at this time, with many prog groups attempting to go commercial and ending up with a kind of mid-Atlantic mush imitating all the banal, MOR American bands that made many fans listen to prog and krautrock in the first place.
The first song Sane Again sounds like a Dark Side of the Moon outtake, the remainder apart from the title track drifts by without imposing itself. Maybe there is a theme of mental illness, but I can't be bothered to read all the lyrics. There are some very poor vocal performances throughout, especially on the last track In a Nutshell a truly dire ham-fisted attempt at a piece of Robert Wyatt/Canterbury whimsy, with terrible lyrics:
Life can be really swell,
If you look at it from a shell etc.
I have heard some of the earlier Wigwam, which I like more – by Nuclear Nightclub the keyboard player and singer Jukka Gustavson and bassplayer Pekka Pohjola had departed (the former 'to discover God' apparently, I’m not surprised having read his lyrics) and taken most of the prog ideas with them. Pohjola’s solo effort The Mathematician’s Air Display is a listenable series of instrumentals with Mike Oldfield on guitar and Pierre Moerlen of Gong on drums; there are song titles like ‘The perceived journey-lantern’ and ‘False start of the shadows’ – yeah!
Nuclear Nighclub, reputed to be their best record, made no impression on me at all. I preferred Fairyport a double lp from 1971 which gets through long screeds of lyrics, mostly of a religious nature, but at least some of the music is adventurous and interesting.
Next up will be PFM.

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