June 1998


Put the blame on Slade

By Pirkko Hautamäki

Picture this: it's the early 1960s in a quiet little town in Finland (yes, the very same Finland-Swedish town that featured in the April edition of this Newsletter). And it was a quiet town, even if we read in the school books that it was the most industrialised town in the whole of Finland. So much for the accuracy and reliability of statistics and league tables, then. But I digress.

I was growing up on a diet of boiled potatoes, fried potatoes and mashed potatoes (good old Finland!) – and a mix of popular music. By the time I went to school I was enjoying the Finnish iskelmä like anything. Not to mention enjoying the sensation of bending my hapless parents' old 78 rpm records to breaking point, the delightful child that I was.

The point is, though, that the pieces by Matti Jurva, Olavi Virta, Tapio Rautavaara and Laila Kinnunen were quickly becoming as familiar as children's songs and folk songs. My dad obviously had a lot to do with this, as he would be belting out iskelmä music almost every night to his heart's content. Poor man, he was actually banished to the basement of the house with his accordion, where he would spend a couple of hours immersed in the dramatic and sorrowful minor key of his favourite music.

And then there was Paul Anka, whose single Destiny and Crazy Love were the first-ever songs I remember hearing in English. It didn't matter one bit that I couldn't understand a word the man was singing. I learnt the lyrics after playing the songs, like, 57 times in a row, and could still sing them, if anybody wanted me to. Well, they don't, worse luck.

Anyway, it didn't take too much after this for me to want to get records of my own. Some of my older friends – nine-year-olds – were Beatles fans at the time, and so I bought my first ever record at the age of seven years. Who cares that it was an old Beatles piece from a few years back ( And I Love Her and I Should Have Known Better)? The Parlophone red label record was all mine.

I went on to graduate from the Beatles in the late 60s to Donny Osmond of the early 70s. Yep, downhill all the way…

But seriously, the best was yet to come, something that would set me on a track to where I am today. The band that broke the bank were those ultimate purveyors of cool, the Slade. And if I felt their noise, so did my family and neighbours. (Perhaps I should remember this the next time my present neighbour starts banging on with her drum 'n' bass at midnight.)

What I'm trying to say is that this Wolverhampton band started a chain reaction in my life. At twelve, I started to learn English with a self-study course on the radio, a year before starting English at school. For the first time I was also consciously wanting to know more and more about a culture not my own. By the time I was eighteen in that quiet little town, there was a piece of foreign land in my Finland.

And, to cut a long story short, I ended up here, working in London today. It started with iskelmä and took me through glam rock and punk rock and the Finnish new wave, and the musical wasteland that was much of the 1980s. (OK, granted, the Housemartins and Jungle Brothers weren't all that bad.) No wonder they say music is a dangerous influence in young people's lives.

Just kidding.

See also:

Iskelmä wins every time (June 1998)

Index of back issues

The Finnish Institutein London