Sunday, January 18, 2009

No Higher Resolution Available

You may or may not live in a world where the phrase "rare Finnish prog folk" causes an immediate Pavlovian click on the "download" link, but if you do, you may already know about Scapa Flow's sole release Uuteen Aikaan. Its 1980 date is only one of the factors destining the group to obscurity, progressive rock having largely given way to new wave rock by then, and Googling subsequent activity by the group members (keyboardist Eero-Pekka Kolehmainen seems to have been busiest) is confounded by the relatively small inventory from which Finnish names are drawn.

In any event, I could certainly have stood on the bus next to any of them in my 1978 half-year in Helsinki. Singer Pia-Maria Noponen had some subsequent association with a band called Threshold, who also boast a connection with the somewhat more famous (as Finnish synthesizer players go) Esa Kotilainen. He emerged from the actually quite significant groups Tasavallen Presidentti and Wigwam (as we approach consensual reality, my copy of the U.S. release of the latter's Tombstone Valentine has a big blurb of praise from Lester Bangs on the cover), and launched a series of occasional solo records (that continues to this day) with 1977's Ajatuslapsi. I purchased that within a few months of its release in a quite serviceable record store located among a set of underground shops in Helsinki's central train station (Eliel Saarinen's apotheosis of 1919 modernist architecture), which in turn reminds me of the exemplary Latin record shop that once stood in New York’s Times Square Station (its replacement has lost a lot of the sabor of the original).

Not to let free association take us away from Scapa Flow altogether, though you should also take a moment to read about the geographical feature from which the group name is taken. The record is a fine mix of flute, keyboards, guitar, male and female vocals, plus rhythm section, quite polished in the manner of Mellow Candle (though they are a bit too revered in the 70s progressive-folk canon to admit too close a comparison) - without raising expectations too high, it is worth a few listens, though not transcending a genre that history has firmly consigned to its margins.

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