Monday 21 September 2015

Das Freizeit-Magazin, 1976: Anni-Frid: "Benny is my life"

ABBA, that's the magic word for superhits, gold records and millions. For glitter and glamour in show business. But how have the four from Sweden coped with this extraordinary career? The 'Magazin' took a look behind the scenes. And got to know the people behind the superstars. This is the place where you can read all about the most succesful pop group in the world today.

In the middle of the press conference at the Warsaw socialites hotel 'Novotel', a Polish reporter asked the naive but justified question: "What are you actually doing when you are not on the road, not composing or working in the studio?"
The 300 reporters pricked up their ears. Because here was a question about the private life of the pop group ABBA - a question that the four musicians gladly avoid to answer. After a short pause, the 31-year-old Björn saved the situation: "We are counting our money..."

It's been quite some time since Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid were able to count their millions. But the amounts on their bank accounts that their manager Stig (Stikkan) Anderson transmits (when he is in a good mood), are very reassuring for four young people, who performed for chicken feed only a couple of years ago.
Ever since their victory in the European masters league of pop musicians, that they achieved in 1974 at the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton (England) with the hit record 'Waterloo', ABBA has sold around 26 million records all over the world, 26 million records, most of them LP's, in only two years time. That's the kind of success that reminds one of the standards set by the Beatles over ten years ago.
But one also remembers: the bigger the success of the Beatles became, the more fragile the cohesion within the group became. With the millions that gave its members the means to go their separate - private and professional - ways, the disunion found its way in as well. A break-up was the result. Is ABBA heading in the same direction?
No one is able to answer that question completely. As long as ABBA is performing as a group, they reply with rehearsed answers, like "We get along great" or "A crisis? Every such story is a lie or made up.".
Equally reserved, they respond to questions about their private life. At the press conference in Warsaw, ready-tongued Björn replied to the question what held the group together with an ironic nod to the title of their latest hit record: 'Money, Money, Money'. And money, money is the main thing that's occupying the minds of the four young musicians and their manager.
But now there are clear signs already that a crack in the ABBA framework is making it difficult to keep working together. Graphically it is underlined on the cover of their latest album 'Arrival' as well as on the prints on T-shirts that are bought by fans for high prices: in the name ABBA - made up of the initials of the two singing couples Agnetha and Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid - both B's are positioned against each other. And whoever believes that it's the two B's that have turned on one another, is clearly off the track.
Both of the A's - Agnetha and Anni-Frid (also called Frida) - have been the reason for disunion in the group.
Both of the girls, who seem to get along so well on stage, have nothing to say to each other privately anymore. And their professional contacts in the joint company Polar Music AB are limited to courtesies, often mixed with double meanings.
This irreconcilability came across one year ago when Anni-Frid/Frida released her own LP with the significant title 'Frida Ensam' (Frida Alone). Although the album became a huge success in Sweden, Frida was not allowed to promote it on Swedish television. That was decided by the other group members.
Especially manager Anderson had the opinion that ABBA's group image should not be distorted by solo performances. Frida obeyed under protest, and her boyfriend and partner Benny didn't speak up either. But Frida had her revenge later on, when she was the first group member that broke the unwritten rule: she revealed all.

Frida - born Anni-Frid Lyngstad - agreed to a separate interview with our reporter.
"I'm the only one from the group that wasn't born in Sweden. I was born in Narvik, on 15 November 1945. My father was an officer in the German occupying army. After the war he left Norway. I never got to know him."
That's how the story of a modern day Cinderella begins, someone who made it in her short life from a war child to a world famous star in the pop world.
After the birth of her baby, Frida's mother was awaiting the return of the father Alfred Haase. He had promised he would marry her as soon as the situation had calmed down. But he never returned. There was a big hatred towards the Germans in Norway at the time. When Frida was one year old, her grandmother took her to Sweden. A nomadic life started. The grandmother earned a living for herself and her granddaughter as a seamstress. "She was always like a mother to me," says Frida. It took years before they found a steady home: in Torshälla, a small town in the middle of Sweden.
When she was thirteen years old, Frida started performing publicly as a singer. "Even though I was still two years too young at the time to perform in the folk parks, we always found a way to make it happen."
50 kroner - about 40 German Mark - is what the half-orphan made at these weekend gigs. "To me that was a lot of money," Frida remembers. "I learned to make do with the money that I made. And to be honest, I'm still the same tight-fisted Frida, although today I would be able to throw money around if I wanted to.".

When she was a teenager she started her own orchestra: Anni-Frid Four. It took her eight years to build a career as a solo singer. When she was eighteen, she married a musician, Ragnar Fredriksson. From this marriage she has two children, a son Hans (13) and a daughter Lise-Lotte (9). Maybe Frida still would have become a fulltime wife and mother, when Sweden wouldn't have switched from left to right driving nine years ago.
To bring the new traffic rules to attention, the traffic planners used all available mass media. And when the day of the big switch dawned on 3 September 1967, the Swedish people witnessed the birth of a new pop star on the gala programme that evening: Frida. She sang all her colleagues into the ground. The long-awaited breakthrough finally happened. Record companies and folk park managers outbid each other with their offers.
But Frida couldn't cope with this sudden success. On the inside things weren't as bright. Her marriage broke down, friendships waned when she moved from the countryside to the capital Stockholm.
"Those first months in Stockholm were terrible," she remembers. "I was craving for my children, who had stayed behind with my husband. I was pondering all the time and started to regret my decision. I hated my career, that had started to grow too big for me. I simply wasn't ready for it yet."
A couple of brief sex flings didn't manage to fill the void in Frida's life either. But everything changed when she met Benny.
"He was the turning point in my life," she says. "I surely didn't make things easy for him in the beginning. Time and time again I went back into my depression. I'm extremely vulnerable. Sometimes I can't even stand myself..."
It's astonishing how different Frida comes across when she has agreed to a personal conversation. She, who often comes across as self-assured, distant and unapproachable on stage or at official engagements, suddenly seems like a little, insecure girl. "I'm definitely carrying a lot of problems from my younger years with me. I believed everything would become easier to take with the passing of time. But in reality it's the contrary. I don't know what would have become of me, if I didn't have Benny in my life."
Frida even admits that working with the group is helpful. "You have to force yourself to have consideration for the others." The fact that she doesn't always do that has caused resentment in the ABBA group at times. Because Frida - just like Benny - is a night person. She is often late for morning meetings. You can often spot the couple at the cosy restaurants of Stockholm's old town, in 'Gyllene Freden', 'Diana-Källaren' or 'Fem Smä Hus'. They live not far from there. But in the near future they will be moving to a big mansion on the island Lidingö. "Then the children will be able to spend more time with us as well," Frida says. Benny has two children as well. His and Frida's son will both get a big room in the Lidingö mansion.
How has Frida coped with the wealth that has come her way with the ABBA success?
"It's clear that money means freedom in a sense, especially when one still wants to develop."
At 32 years old, the successful pop star Frida is still rooted in the problems of her past. Neither money nor the soloistic attempt to break away from the group have made the girl from Narvik independent. "My only security is Benny," she says. "I depend on him totally."
But that's only half of the truth. Because there is another man whose influence Frida can't escape - and the same goes for the other group members.
This man is called Stig 'Stikkan' Anderson, he is 45 years old and he has lived an eventful life. Without him, the pop group ABBA wouldn't have existed. And that's why you can't write anything about ABBA, without investigating Stikkan's history. Because their sensational career is his doing.

Sunday 1 February 2015

Hitkrant, 1977: Björn: from bon vivant to businessman

Björn Ulvaeus used to be a bon vivant, who only thought about having fun, someone who could hardly keep himself on the right track. Anyone who talks to him now will see a whole new Björn.

ABBA manager Stig Anderson and Björn have known each other since 1963. At that time Björn made his first succesful steps in pop music with the Hootenanny Singers.

Stig: "He may have been the musical motor of that group, but in fact the other boys always functioned as the spokesperson. Björn was a bon vivant who only thought about having fun and partying. He hated official engagements. At the time he regularly partied until the small hours."

The past few years there have been some changes in that respect. Björn has become more and more interested in the organizational side of show business and rather suddenly he lost his wild oats. Now he knows exactly how record companies work and he works closely together with Stig on choosing agents, publishers, promoters and record producers.
Björn mostly functions as the group's spokesperson and the organization of ABBA is his responsibility. Thanks to an outstanding judgement of human nature he is able to keep the group on the right track. It's understandable that a group like ABBA is exposed to all kinds of tensions: Björn is always the one who talks the problems away.

Apart from that he is very cautious about spending money, he has a flair for languages and he's very intelligent.
The success hasn't gone to his head. He's very reserved about it all and talks in a modest and honest way about the popularity he has achieved. Due to this reservedness you don't get the impression that you are dealing with a world famous pop artist.

Björn: "Oh well, all four of us have been in this business for such a long time and that has enabled us to slowly get accustomed to our success. In my optimistic moods I think that we can go on like this just as long. But when we stop enjoying ourselves, we will definitely quit."

Saturday 31 January 2015

1977: Finally the ABBA-baby has arrived! Congratulations!

Sweden's supergroup has had an addition to the family. In a Stockholm hospital blonde Agnetha gave birth to a healthy baby after a ten month pregnancy. Here are the first pictures of the happy parents with their baby.

ABBA's latest hit weighs exactly grams and measures already a proud 54 centimeters. After a ten month pregnancy blonde Agnetha finally gave birth to her baby at the Danderyd hospital in Stockholm.
"Actually the birth was pre-estimated to take place at the beginning of November," the ABBA girl says, "but when it turned out that the baby allowed itself plenty of time I was getting very anxious."
Her doctor in charge: "A rare occurence." But the baby is as fresh as a daisy, healthy and cheerful.
"A strong little boy," beams husband Björn who didn't leave his wife's side during the delivery.
"I was very happy that Björn was there because the delivery took about eighteen hours and was very, very difficult," Agnetha reveals and Björn adds: "It was more difficult than ten concerts - for me too -, but a thousand times better. Now we are just very happy that everything went well."

In the meantime, Agnetha and her son have returned to the beautiful mansion on the outskirts of Stockholm. Anxiously awaited by their little daughter Linda to whom the little ABBA brother seemed like a personified Baby Jesus.
"The next few months I will be staying at home, to take care of myself," Agnetha fends off all hopes of a speedy performance of the Swedish supergroup in Germany. "My health and my family are more important to me than my career. I hope everyone will understand that."

Sunday 17 August 2014

Muziek Parade, 1978: The ABBA Story, part 10

Last month, Muziek Parade has made a little sidestep by making Stikkan Anderson as the 'fifth' ABBA the centre of attention. MP gave you an impression of 'a day in the life of Stig'.
A month before that, the story closed with the ongoing, partly unfair, criticism on the successful group from Stockholm. And that negative assault still continues today. For instance, the ABBA movie was critically reviewed in Sweden. The reporters were very inventive in pointing out the film's shortcomings.
Needless to say that everyone working at Polar Film were sour. Thankfully, the good press came from outside Sweden. Especially in Holland and Belgium the film was received with enthusiasm and it gave many ABBA fans the afternoon or evening of their lives.
Although it has become increasingly difficult for ABBA to acquire the number one position in the Netherlands, from a musical point of view friend and especially foe are in agreement that ABBA is getting better and better. And perhaps getting better is at the expense of a quick number one position.
For instance, an avid Queen fan entered the MP offices. Naturally, a discussion started about ABBA and Queen and this fan had to admit: "I've bought the last ABBA album. I think they are excellent now." Perhaps ABBA's music is getting more complex, but one thing is certain: ABBA is still growing musically and it isn't surprising that ABBA is now being compared to the Beatles more than ever. Björn and Benny are the McCartney/Lennon of the seventies. Even though ABBA's records are getting less accesible, take the time to listen to the records carefully. Pay attention to the arrangements, to the beautiful vocal harmonies and you will say: "Yes, that's exquisite." Now back to the story, part 10 already and... there are still at least five to come. Never before has a music magazine in Europe published such an extensive story about an artist or a group. Muziek Parade is proud of that. Thanks to the cooperation of ABBA themselves, of top photographers Barry Levine and Wolfgang Heilemann and not to forget Stockcolor International from charming Monaco, a top achievement like this has been possible. Thank you all. From the piles of mail that we received, MP has concluded that we've done something right.

The 'Arrival' album caused a sensation in the Swedish press. It was rumoured that Polar had decided that only orders exceeding 250 copies would be delivered to record stores. It was all nonsense of course but the damage had been done in the media. Stig Anderson: "Another joke, too ridiculous to even talk about. ABBA doesn't need to force their albums into record stores. Those records will sell like hotcakes anyway."
Things were especially difficult for ABBA in Sweden because they made so much money. A decidedly angry Agnetha says: "I really don't get why people have to moan about this. Everyone is doing well in Sweden and we are doing a little better, but we've worked very, very hard for it. People tend to forget that. And if we had to stop singing tomorrow, there won't be anybody writing: "Can we help ABBA in any way?". Indeed, ABBA's success didn't come easy. As Anni-Frid puts it: "I sometimes get the impression that people seem to think that we got our success on a silver platter." Nothing is further from the truth! A critic went even further by saying: "Shouldn't we warn people for ABBA and their success? The youngster adore ABBA, but the ABBA world is only glitter and plastic, that world doesn't exist." Stikkan is cool about this: "Every sensible human being knows that show business is a world of illusion. The word 'show' says it all. Everyone is able to see through that. If someone is dumb enough to not see through it, there are always magazines to point it out. Show business is a world of pretence. But it's a good thing that such a world of illusion still exists in these hard times. When you watch TV, you get mad of all the trouble. Isn't it wonderful to drift away every now and then with some good music. Because that's what ABBA makes: good music."
Björn concludes by saying: "We are making records for an audience as huge as possible. And not for a couple of critics who slate our records in the paper and then secretly take one of our albums home with them. But critics like this keep bothering us." Why doesn't ABBA leave Sweden and come live in Holland? Benny: "That would be a cowardly act. It would say: critics, we are running away from you. We would never do that. We will stay here and keep resisting unfair criticism."
How does the group feel about politics and taxes in Sweden? Aren't the taxes very high? Benny: "In Sweden, there is a general feeling that songs have to be socially engaged. Sweden is a free country, it's full of American conscientious objectors. That's fine, that we are ahead of everyone. But ABBA has a different opinion about music. We want to make people feel good. That's it. And that's hard enough already. Just let your Cornelis Vreeswijk walk the lead in demonstrations. We will not join in, at least not where our music is concerned. We keep our personal opinion to ourselves. When it comes to taxes: of course, they are very high in Sweden. Sweden has the highest tax rates, together with Holland. I obviously don't think that's very nice but it isn't really annoying either. There's still enough money left to lead a good life. I'm all for it that people like us - who make a lot of money - have to pay a lot of taxes. That's our duty and you could say that's our contribution to being socially engaged. None of us is even considering to leave Sweden because of the money. We don't want to be like Tom Jones, Engelbert Humperdinck, Mick Jagger and Rod Stewart. These money-grubbers have moved safely to America, while the economy in England is shaky. It's exactly people like this that could make a positive contribution to their country."
No, money isn't the driving force with ABBA. Of every penny they earn, ABBA has to hand over 85 percent to the Swedish tax collector. ABBA's most important driving force is and remains: composing good music, recording these ideas in the right way and... making a huge audience happy with their music.

Agnetha has been the object of Swedish criticism as well. In 1975 she released a solo album called 'Eleven Women In A House'. On that album there were some lyrics about feminism. In her way she is fighting for a better place for all females in today's society. That record - her latest solo single - was panned because people were doubting Agnetha's sincerity.
Agnetha wasn't spared in any way. They wrote: "In the old days, Agnetha had a gap between her teeth that made her lisp a little bit. That gap has now disappeared, apparently she had it fixed. She can now laugh abundantly and she thinks she's prettier now." An outraged Agnetha: "Why do people have to write such things? Since I was eleven, I haven't had anything done to my teeth."

Here's another thing! In 1975 the Eurovision Song Contest was held in Stockholm because ABBA had triumphed the year before. Stikkan asked for a couple of extra tickets for the group but Swedish television replied: "There are no Polar artists in the show, that's why we can't supply extra tickets." Likewise, when foreign television broadcasters ask for footage, the steady answer is: "There is no footage of ABBA available. Would you like something else?" And of course the reply is: "No, we only want to buy ABBA footage."
There are people who claim that ABBA doesn't fit in with the social-democratic regime in Sweden. They don't like groups like ABBA. It's all too whimsical, too agreeable and not socially engaged. And Swedish TV has that same attitude. After huge pressure from Stig, Swedish TV had to produce a special with ABBA because Stikkan could actually prove that it would sell worldwide.

However, a highlight in ABBA's career does come from Sweden. In 1976, king Carl Gustav married a 'simple' girl: Silvia Sommerlath. In honour of their wedding, that got the whole country excited, a gala was being held at the Stockholm Opera House. ABBA performed in the big finale, dressed up in French baroque outfits they sang 'Dancing Queen'. "It was our tribute to Silvia, who would be the first queen after the war. The royal couple was overwhelmed. There was even a wonderful television broadcast. But of course there was again criticism aimed at those commercial ABBA people," according to Stikkan.
Stikkan Anderson: "In that same year we recorded another hour-long TV show. We wanted to sing live to show everyone that we weren't afraid of criticism. That programme was called 'The ABBA Story'. But not much did come of those live performances, because the TV sound isn't suitable yet for live performances. You have to understand that an ABBA song takes nights and days of hard work in the studio, where first class equipment is available. You can't recreate this sound just like that. That's why we decided to use a backing track and sing live to that. And it turned out really well. There were people who said that we sounded rather thin and that was justified. In the studio we overdub our vocals, which makes for a full sound. On TV, you can't overdub anything, that's why it sounds thinner. But we'd rather have a thin sound than mime, because ABBA actually isn't that good at miming. They hate it because it's dreary."

In Sweden, where the 'ombudsman' is a dreaded figure, it was decided by that same 'man' not to broadcast the top ten charts anymore because "the listener is being urged to only buy those top ten records". Complete nonsense, but in Sweden things like that are possible. In response ABBA has written an open letter to all the newspapers wherein the headman of the programme Stig Ulin was encouraged to take action against such a brutal decision. Nothing happened and in Sweden there are still no programmes such as Top Thirty, Top Forty or Euro Parade.

Finally something about a boycot in England. Precisely in the place where ABBA won Eurovision, Radio Brighton decided to put 'Waterloo' on their boycot list. Station manager Bob Gunnel said: "That song can be number one one hundred thousand times but that doesn't mean that I have to like the record or that I have to play it. I believe that our listeners don't like the record, that's why I don't play it." And that's how Radio Brighton has never played 'Waterloo'. We are living in a strange world, where other people are telling us what we can and what we can't listen to.

Thursday 17 July 2014

POP, 1979: ABBA promise: "In the fall we will come to Germany!"

ABBA's clean image has suffered a great deal since Agnetha and Björn's divorce. "Is this the beginning of the end?" their worried fans are wondering. During the filming of the Eurovision broadcast 'Snow Special '79', that should be aired in 16 countries at Easter and was filmed in the Swiss ski resort Leysin, ABBA peacefully showcased unity and harmony. POP accompanied the most famous group in the world during their stay and got to know all the background stories about the divorce and the group's future. And that's a scoop!

ABBA's trip to the Swiss mountains doesn't start very promising. Shortly after take off in Sweden, the plane that should transport the four famous Swedes to Switzerland, has to go back. A frozen jet engine makes a riskless flight impossible. With a different plane and a delay of more than six hours ABBA ultimately arrives in Geneva. POP photographer Hannes Schmid, who was hired by ABBA for their Swiss outing as their official photographer, is awaiting the group. After barely having landed in Geneva, the job begins for Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid. In front of a DC-9 by Swissair, that was decorated with the ABBA logo by the show's producers, the camera people once again re-enact the arrival with the famous quartet. When the filming of this scene has barely been completed, ABBA board a helicopter, that will take them to the ski resort Leysin within 20 minutes.

In the Valais ski resort, over 50 reporters and photographers from all around the world are already waiting for the first ABBA press conference since Björn and Agnetha's divorce. But before ABBA has to face the first questions, it's the photographers' turn first. Only after a fifteen minute long storm of flashing lights the reporters finally get the opportunity to ask the patiently enduring and always smiling quartet some questions.
The first question is aimed at Agnetha and obviously concerns the divorce and the group's future. Of course ABBA expected this and therefore it's not surprising that Björn answers instead of Agnetha: "There's absolutely no reason to worry about ABBA as a group. Our divorce only has private reasons. Agnetha and I simply couldn't live together any longer, although we've tried everything. The divorce was inevitable. As anyone can see, Agnetha and I will remain good friends." Meanwhile Björn glances at Agnetha in a sweet way.
Another reporter claims to know that another man is the reason for the divorce, since many newspapers have written about a relationship between Agnetha and her psychiatrist. The blonde Swede denies this fiercely: "Björn and I saw this psychiatrist together because we wanted to try everything to make it work again. The rumour about an alleged relationship emerged, because at times I saw our psychiatrist on my own. Because Björn and I wanted to avoid any speculations about our relationships from the start, I had to meet my psychiatrist secretly and at odd times. Unfortunately someone saw us together, that's how these ridiculous rumours started." Agnetha adds smilingly: "The only man in my life at the moment is my son Christian."

Shortly after the official press conference, POP reporter Heier Lämmler meets Benny for a private interview. The bearded Swede reveals that all eight songs for the new ABBA album have already been recorded. The recordings still have to be mixed and when everything goes according to plan the album should be available around Easter.
Benny: "At Easter, the 'Snow Special '79' should be aired in 16 countries as well. It is estimated that 500 million people will get to see it. Of course that would be an invaluable promotional tool for our album." Furthermore Benny reveals that ABBA wants to come to Germany this year. "As soon as the album is ready, we will start preparing for a major world tour. In our mind, the show is already in place and we are already planning the exact tour dates. No later than the beginning of October we will visit Germany. Our equipment will be more than 40-ton heavy and be transported in four trailers. But I can't reveal any further details."
That same evening ABBA has to appear in front of the television cameras again. In the ice rink of Leysin the four Swedes will be filmed as ice skating stars. Benny, Björn and Anni-Frid are having great fun at ice skating. But Agnetha is fighting the pitfalls of the slippery surface to no avail. Only after the blonde Swede has been given a lecture in figure skating by Denise Biellman, the sweet Swiss figure skating champion and third in the European Championships '79, is she able to skate round after round.
In the next few days ABBA is rushed around the beautiful ambiance of Leysin. The camera people want to film them everywhere. From all this material, a television special called 'ABBA in Switzerland' will be put together still this year. Apart from this ABBA special, the television producers are working on another major show, wherein ABBA will be one of many famous names. For the 'Snow Special '79' super show, they were able to engage, apart from the Swedish super quartet, Boney M, Leif Garrett, Roxy Music, Kate Bush, Bonnie Tyler, Eruption and many other major stars. In order for this gala to have the right ambiance, a circus tent was put up in the middle of the white arena of Leysin, wherein the television blockbuster should be filmed.

On the second to last day, ABBA shines in yet another form of sport. In the mountains of Les Diablerets they are putting on their skis. And then there's exactly the same scene as in the ice rink: while Benny, Björn and Anni-Frid are cheerfully skiing away, Agnetha is fighting with herself and her fear. Alone and trembling, she is standing at the slope. POP photographer Hannes Schmid, a brilliant skier and trick skier, takes care of the helpless ABBA girl. Slowly he is going down the ski slope. Agnetha follows him with a wide track and balancing fiercely. But she makes it. When she arrives in the arena, she wants to try again. In a flash, she is back at the top of the ski slope and only after the third descent, Agnetha has had enough as well. Anni-Frid can hardly believe that her colleague has suddenly become an ardent skier. Jokingly she says: "It's probably because of the ski instructor. Now we will soon read the headlines: 'Agnetha has fallen in love with her ski instructor!'..."

Sunday 4 May 2014

Mikro Gids, May 2014: Golden girl Agnetha Fältskog: "With ABBA, we were working amateurish"

In 1974 - the year of birth of Mikro Gids - ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest with 'Waterloo'. The enormously popular band split up eight years later. This was a big relief for the blonde singer Agnetha, she says. "In the end, I couldn't get up on stage without having had a whisky." A portrait of a blonde angel with broken wings.

It probably didn't go unnoticed to anyone that Agnetha Fältskog (64) and her three bandmates won the Eurovision Song Contest forty years ago and went on to become one of the most popular pop acts ever as ABBA. But the fact that the pressure of international fame, having to do constant promotion and endless touring affected her well-being tremendously is less known. "It's strange to sing 'I've been so lucky, I am the girl with golden hair' all the time when you don't feel that way," she admits. "I was less confident than the others, my English was not that good and I had less fun with it all." Where Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny enjoyed all the applause, the fans and the jetsetting, Agnetha only wanted one thing: to be back home. "I am a simple country girl, not a showgirl. The others liked to party, I enjoyed being alone. But I loved them too: Frida and I were companions. We had our differences now and then, but when one of us wasn't in great voice, the other stepped in. In all those years, we've only had to cancel two shows. But when I compare it with Beyoncé's approach to her performances, we were working rather amateurish. And Frida was even considerably more gracious than I was."

As a child Agnetha was already a musical talent who could play the piano very well and performed locally with her friends. "I was young, so nothing is scary at that time," she says. "A wonderful overconfidence. And in the sixties I had great role models: Connie Francis, Dusty Springfield, Sandy Shaw and the French girls like France Gall and Francoise Hardy. When I was seventeen I went to Stockholm, I could get a recording contract."
She became a national star primarily with songs that she had composed herself. That's how she met her future colleagues, with whom she worked together on a regular basis from 1970 onwards. "We noticed how our voices blended so beautifully," she says. "And we were all perfectionists and could have a laugh together - there was a connection." From 1972 onwards, ABBA started to take shape and in the following ten years Agnetha achieved superstar status. She didn't compose anymore: "Benny and Björn did ask me, but they were so good that it made me feel insecure. And I also didn't have the time for it, with my two children."

Performing live was becoming increasingly hard on her. "In the end I couldn't get on stage without having had a whisky. No one who has ever been in front of a screaming, boiling, hysterical crowd can avoid feeling shivers down their spine. There's really not that much difference between adulation and rage. It's terribly frightening when fans are pounding on your car. We were always afraid that somebody might get hurt in the commotion."
It didn't help matters that her fear of flying became worse: in 1979 the group's private jet got caught in a thunderstorm. After that she only boarded a plane when there was no other way to travel. On top of that she had to deal with a relationship crisis: that same year both she and Björn saw a psychiatrist. Agnetha: "I knew that the end of ABBA was drawing near, that's what made me hang on. When it was really over, I felt relieved. Ten years of working non-stop, getting married, having two children and a divorce. I haven't been able to listen to our music for a long time." In 1982, Anni-Frid, Björn, Benny and Agnetha went their separate ways.

Agnetha tried her luck with a solo career, but after an accident in 1983 when her tour bus crashed and she was catapulted out of the window, she preferred to withdraw on her private island in Ekerö. But she didn't find peace and quiet there either. Sometimes without her being to blame - many times fans were standing at her gate - but sometimes due to her as well. Agnetha namely had a colourful love life. First she fell for a Swedish ice hockey player, after that a fashion designer, a detective and subsequently her therapist. "Sometimes you are looking for happiness with others, when you actually have to find it in yourself." A marriage with a surgeon broke down within two years. And then there was the bizarre relationship with the Dutch truck driver Gert, who stalked her for years after she broke up with him. In her inner circle, there was also bad fortune. Her mother committed suicide in 1994 by jumping out of the window of her apartment. "It was awful," says Agnetha. "You wonder if there wasn't anything you could have done. Within a year my father passed away as well. So painful."

What followed was a depression. "Those were awful years, between forty and fifty. During that time I seriously started to do yoga because so many emotions were coming out. I stayed at home, I meditated, listened to music, lit candles. It helped me to heal, to distance myself a little from the sadness, but it never goes away completely." Her two dogs, who had to be walked, eventually brought her back among the people. She made an album in 2004, but it flopped. A reason for that was that her stalker turned up again so that she was too scared to do any promotion. In the following years, the peace and the inspiration returned. "I started having fun in making music again and I took singing lessons to find my voice again," she says about the album 'A' that was released last year. "The fact that I am having fun again, is enough for me. I have had a period where the music fell silent. Both within me and around me. Now I am able to enjoy it again, but on my conditions: no performances or tours anymore, that ship has sailed. I want to wake up in my own bed."

The other three
After the ABBA era, Björn and Benny kept composing songs together and they were intensively involved in the production of both the musical and the movie 'Mamma Mia!' Since 1981, Björn is married to journalist Lena Källersjö, he lives in London and still composes. Benny performs with his own orchestra and has been together with Mona Nörklit since 1981. Anni-Frid Lyngstad lives in Zermatt Switzerland with her current partner Henry Smith, viscount of Hambleden. She is a fanatic home pigeon racer and close friends with Queen Silvia from Sweden.

Sunday 13 April 2014

1975: The Hep Stars - Golden Hits (liner notes on Dutch compilation album)

The Hep Stars from Sweden - who remembers them? In 1968 they hit the big time with 'Sunny Girl' and 'Music Box', two romantic songs that stormed up the Dutch top 40. Shortly after that, the group disbanded and the first Swedish pop successes came to an end. But the Hep Stars were the origins of the Swedisch pop explosion of the last couple of months. The organ player of the group namely was Benny Andersson, who was already close friends with Björn Ulvaeus around that time and together with him he wrote songs on a regular basis. These days, Benny and Björn of course make up the male half of the most popular group in Europe at this time: ABBA, who have conquered the whole world with their hits 'Ring Ring', 'Waterloo', 'Honey, Honey', 'I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do', 'SOS' and 'Mamma Mia'.
Thanks in part to the phenomenal success of ABBA, Sweden has suddenly become an important pop country. Some examples: Sven & Charlotte with their 'Bang-A-Boomerang', Harpo with 'Moviestar', Blue Swede with 'Hooked On A Feeling' and Bo Hansson with his music accompanying the book 'The Lord Of Rings'.
The Hep Stars were the frontrunners of this Swedish pop explosion. They were the first pop group from that country that scored hits all over Europe and whose records were released in America (on Dunhill).
The story of the Hep Stars begins at the end of 1963 when guitar player Lennart Heglund and drummer Christer Petersson ran into each other during their military service with the air force. Their mutual hobby music soon started to pay off, so that they decided to form a pop group after their military service. Jan Frisk was hired as a solo guitarist and he would also do the vocals. An organ player was hired as well, but the archives don't mention his name anymore. After a couple of months his job was taken over by Benny Andersson. It soon turned out that the band needed a proper singer as well, that was found in Sven Hedlund which completed the line up. Their first try on record failed. Their single 'Kana Kapila' was hardly noticed. That's why the boys started looking for good songs abroad. Soon the right songs were found and recorded, like Mike Berry's 'Tribute to Buddy Holly' (already then!), the ancient 'Farmer John' and 'Cadillac', which became their first truly big hit. This song was initially recorded by The Renegades, a British group that moved to Finland to find the success that they couldn't find in their home country. The Hep Stars recorded a cover of this song and that established their name.

Not before too long there was a genuine Hep Stars mania in Sweden. It happened frequently that the boys were in the Swedish top 10 with two or three records simultaneously, an unprecedented achievement in that country. The boys got their nicknames too. Sven became Svenne, Jan became Janne, Lennart became Lenne, Christer became Crille and only Benny remained Benny. But the Hep Stars' success remained limited to Scandinavia, which wasn't that surprising because the group didn't have a very original sound at that time. They played tough rock and roll music, dominated especially by Jan's guitar and Benny's organ. Their approach may not have been too original, their performance mostly was outstanding and the group had a good ear for good songs. This is obvious from the choice of songs that they recorded: apart from the mandatory 'Sweet Little Sixteen' and 'Oh Carol' they also recorded 'Surfin' Bird', 'Then He Kissed Me' and 'Be My Baby'.
At the end of 1965 a live album was released, called 'Hep Stars On Stage' and that record made clear why the Hep Stars were the most important Swedish group in 1965. The album is one of the finest rock 'n' roll live records and it even far outshines the group's studio albums from that time.
The first two Hep Stars albums mainly consisted of covers, but after a while they also started to compose songs themselves. Especially Benny Andersson and Sven Hedlund were very productive in that department. At this stage, the musical approach of the group also changed. The tough rock was exchanged for music that was more mellow. The big example of singer Sven Hedlund was Elvis Presley. Sven even recorded an album full of songs of his idol.
Around this time, Benny also met Björn Ulvaeus, the lead singer of the Swedish folk group the Hootenanny Singers. The first song they composed together can be found on the fourth Hep Stars album: 'Isn't It Easy To Say'.
The international breakthrough of the Hep Stars was finally achieved in 1968. 'Sunny Girl' became a hit in our country and soon Germany and the other countries on the European continent followed. The follow-up was 'Music Box', perhaps a little less striking but still good for a couple of decent chart placings. After this sudden success things started to go wrong with the Hep Stars. Singer Sven Hedlund brought in his American girlfriend Charlotte Walker. Charlotte is known from the American girl group The Sherries who scored a hit in 1962 with 'Pop-Pop-Pop-Pie', good for a gold record. A nice addition to the group, but not everyone agrees. Sven decides to leave the group with his girlfriend. Benny Andersson quits as well and that sealed the group's fate.
Sven started recording with Lotte and now they are a popular duo in Scandinavia, where they are known as Svenne & Lotta. Abroad they are simply called Sven & Charlotte. Meanwhile they have recorded two albums together that both achieved gold status for sales in Sweden and Denmark. Benny started working at Polar Records, Stig Anderson's record company, where he became a producer together with his friend Björn Ulvaeus. In 1970, they recorded an album together called 'Lycka' (Happiness) for which they called in their girlfriends to help them out. That album certainly brought happiness for Benny and Björn, because it was the start of a new success story.