“He was a bon vivant. Difficult in every respect. He had no discipline.”
“He is the organiser and manager. More than anyone else, he keeps ABBA together.”
These statements come from Stig Anderson and in both cases, it concerns Björn. It was a long road from undisciplined bon vivant to manager and organiser. But Björn went down that road. He was born on April 25, 1945 in Göteborg. When he was six years old, the Ulvaeus family moved to Västervik. When he was twelve, he got his first guitar. In the beginning, he played skiffle music, later on he changed to dixieland.
In the early sixties, young Björn went to grammar school in Västervik. But studying was a different story. He was more interested in guitars and music than hitting the books or studying his vocabularies. It was a good thing that he didn’t miss out much on music at school either. Björn and his class mate Tony Roth got the opportunity to join the Westbay Singers. A folk group that was founded by Hansi Schwartz and Johan Karlberg. Studying his vocabularies still wasn’t easy for Björn, instead he put far more effort in the Westbay Singers. With success. The group took part in an amateur competition and in the summer of 1963 they even started their first tour abroad. The Westbay Singers drove to Spain in an old Volvo PV and they were paid there in kind. In return for a performance, they got accommodation and catering. Despite this, it was big fun for all of them.
In the autumn of 1963, Björn’s mother signed the group up for a talent competition for Swedish radio. Coincidentally, at the same time Stig Anderson and Bengt Bernhag – who had just founded Polar – were looking for a Swedish group. In the newspaper, they read a small report about the upcoming performance by the Westbay Singers. Bengt Bernhag reacted immediately. He wrote that he would like the group to send him a demo tape. The Westbay Singers sent him the Spanish song ‘Ave Maria No Morro’.
“It must have been very convincing,” Björn remembers. “At that time, we had found each other musically.” And someone shared Björn’s opinion. Stig: “Bengt and I were blown away. It sounded fantastic.”
At Stig’s advice, the group changed its name into Hootenanny Singers and most of all, they concentrated more on Swedish folk music. How right they were was proven by the Hootenanny Singers’ first single, ‘Jag Väntar Vid Min Mila’. With this song, they won one of the most important prizes at the talent contest for Swedish radio.
In the autumn of 1964, Björn, Tony, Hans and Johan were reminded of the hard facts of life again. The four of them were facing the final exam of grammar school. How big their faith was in their educational skills, was underlined by a Swedish magazine. The readers were able to see pictures of the fresh graduates – taken one day before their exam. Thank God the pictures weren’t seen by the examiners and the four of them passed the exam with flying colours.
For the Hootenanny Singers, the hard times of playing small clubs now started. From 1964 until 1966 they toured through the folk parks and that was by no means a delight. But it wasn’t without success. The four of them started to become more well-known.
In the autumn of 1966, the lucky streak seemed to have ended. The military service unmistakably knocked on their door. Björn, Tony and Johan had to do their military duty. But this didn’t get them down. During the day, they were holding guns and at night they were performing. “We have never worked as hard as during that year,” says Björn.
In the summer of 1967, they could finally say goodbye to the military service. Björn started his studies (economics, business management and law) at Stockholm university. On the side, he worked at Stig’s music publishing company and he played with the Hootenanny Singers. Apart from that, he started to write his own songs for the group. “They were terrible,” as he admits today. One year later, he released his first solo single ‘Raring’. And then Björn was struck by love like lightning. It happened during a TV show, wherein a blonde, pretty pop singer performed as well – Agnetha Fältskog. Both of them had met each other before, but this time things became serious. The newspapers finally had something to write again about the music scene. The pop romance of the year was filling multiple pages.
At the same time, the collaboration between Björn and Benny became tighter. Björn and Agnetha got married on July 7, 1971. The wedding was overshadowed by the death of Bengt Bernhag, who had been Stig’s business partner for many years and co-founder of Polar Music. It was a heavy blow for everyone involved. But life had to go on. That same year, in the autumn, a contract was signed by Björn, Benny and Stig Anderson, after which Björn and Benny started to work as producers for Polar Music. The foundation for ABBA had been laid.
Finally, Stig, Benny and Björn were working under the same roof and they could get to work. The result was ABBA and super hits such as ‘Waterloo’, ‘Fernando’ and ‘Mamma Mia’...