tenor gets tampered

Hanne Nykänen

Jimi the space monster priest playing his "poor man's theremin" at Yo-Talo

As far as pop music goes, probably the most awaited guest in Tampere this spring was Jimi Tenor, who played there so far his only Finnish gig this year. This coincidenced with the Tampere International Short Film Festival and the Muuvi video awards competition, where Jimi participated with his Year of the Apocalypse video. Jimi has visited Finland very scarcely, playing there only once in year, lately in Turku, Helsinki and his original hometown Lahti, so now it seemed to be Tampere's turn. Consequently, as one would expect, Jimi Tenor's gig on Friday 12 March, 1999, at Tampere's Yo-Talo (Student Union Club) was sold out.

The crowd packed restlessly in front of stage, waiting, and Maurice Fulton did his best to keep the impatient festive populace entertained. Fulton warmed up the gig with his DJ set, consisting mostly of smooth house and garage, even some drum & bass. He seemed to be a very nice guy, not a little bit of diva as a DJ of this scale could be (Maurice Fulton is a bit of legend in New York house circles). Jimi and co. supposedly were having a dinner at Tampere's Näsinneula Observation Tower. Ilkka Mattila, the band's guitarist, who appeared to be organising things, kept on talking to his mobile phone, honing the final details. Mattila was very friendly and business-like, taking meticulously care that everyone and everything was OK all evening. Finally, at 12.30 am, something started to happen.

Jimi appeared on stage wearing a strange red headgear, looking like a space monster Egyptian priest, reminding of George Clinton's or Sun Ra's most peculiar paraphernalia; also black Tenorwear pants with zippers on side, a white Take Me Baby T-shirt and naturally, his trademark Joe 90 glasses, which had been tinted dark.

The gig was kicked out with Jimi's latest single, Year of the Apocalypse; the rest of the material appeared to be mostly out of Organism album.

The members of Jimi's band were Ilkka Mattila on guitar - who had already been in Jimi Tenor and His Shamans in the 80's - playing tasty funk riffs; an Englishman called Terry Edwards playing saxophone and trumpet, and Maurice Fulton providing scratches, effects and background beats from his pair of Technics. Jimi's live gig arsenal consisted of a cheap Yamaha organ, Akai sampler and drum machine and Yamaha CS-05 synth; the kind of stuff which looked like it had been picked up from junkyard sales (which it in fact was). On Jimi's keyboard stood an apparatus looking like a table-model fan, which purpose was revealed only later on.

Alongside keyboards Jimi played saxophone every once in a while. The band was gathered together exclusively for this Tampere gig, and had practiced only once, but it was a matter of personal taste if this was a burden for them or not. In any case the sounds were rougher and more lo-fi than those heard on Jimi's records, venturing occasionally into total jazz freak-out psychedelia mayhem. The strong odour of sweat was felt in the air like it was the most intensive rock festival.

Say cheese! From Sähkömies LP Jimi's sure-fire hit Take Me Baby was heard and the crowd consequently went nuts. Occasionally the band would stop playing to take snap shots of each other with cheap pocket cameras. At one point Jimi threatened to stop playing for four minutes and thirty seconds to protest the fact Year of the Apocalypse didn't win the video awards competition and the crowd couldn't agree more - gladly for everyone, this threat was quickly forgotten though.

From Intervision the band performed Outta Space and as an encore, Sugar Daddy, during which a scary bald-headed man in dark glasses and suit joined in, who looked liked he was ready to smash the kneecaps of everyone in audience at any given moment. He fiddled around with a sound generator thing that was built out of an ordinary table-model fan, having instead of blades a thing looking like a large round fly-swat, which the bald man played with a pen-sized microphone, turning out theremin-like squeaking noises. After the gig it was found out that the gangster was Enver Mäkelä of Jimi Tenor and His Shamans fame, and he turned out to be a very nice fella. During the song the nutter Jimi got so excited that his other synth arsenal crashed down on stage, making the people partying in the first row to back off instinctively. It's rarely that you can enjoy on any gigs this kind of genuine sense of danger.

After the gig was over, Maurice Fulton kept playing records till the closing time, so you've got to give the man full props for working hard to keep the audience entertained all night. Meanwhile, at the backstage we met Jusu Lounela, reminiscing Mixmaster Morris in his hippie gear and bald head, who with Jimi directed their infamous short films, and the yesteryear pop star Markku Arokanto, who once was Jimi's landlord. They were all part of Jimi's court, which consisted of assorted freaks and a motley crew of people hanging around. Heta Hyttinen of Finnish TV2 brought Jimi some champagne, people enjoyed different sorts of refreshments and a good time was had by all.

Jimi was relaxed and friendly, and compared to his freak reputation obviously more feet on the ground and conscious of what was going on around him, though a casual observer must have imagined otherwise. Even though Jimi plays around so effortlessly with the mannerisms of easy listening and lounge music, funk and soul, it's hard to say if it's all some kind of elaborate parodic joke, or if Jimi is totally serious there. Maybe it's this uncertainty which will create the excitement here.

(photography: Hanne Nykänen (stage) / Mikko Niemelä (backstage) - used with permission)

Photo: Mikko Niemelä

If you could see with my eyes:
Jimi Tenor at backstage with your humble narrator