Saturday, 4 February 2012

Muziek Parade, 1978: The ABBA Story, part 9

In the previous eight parts of Muziek Parade's exclusive ABBA Story, the Stig Anderson character has been brought up several times. And not unjustly. It was this ex teacher who has had an inspiring influence on Benny and Björn but who has been a father figure for Agnetha and Anni-Frid too.
Stig Anderson isn't called 'the fifth ABBA' in vain. Perhaps ABBA wouldn't even exist without Stig. We can be sure that ABBA would not have become this big without Stig. Ex singer, ex guitarist Stig Anderson is the driving force behind Benny and Björn. He knows how to make the boys enthusiastic, he comes up with ideas when B & B are writing songs. And in the studio it's always Stig who makes sure that there's an optimal working atmosphere. It's exactly Stig Anderson's perseverance, his constant flow of ideas that has turned B & B into wonderful musicians and even more so fantastic songwriters. It is even claimed already that Benny and Björn are the Lennon and McCartney of the seventies. A huge compliment!

Muziek Parade has promised this a couple of times already (and time and time again we didn't follow through) it's high time for Stig Anderson to have his moment in the sun. Of course, the fans already know a lot about him from the previous parts of the ABBA Story, but this time Muziek Parade's Cees van Leyde is showing Stig Anderson from a different side. In other words: a day in the life of Stig Anderson.
It's 6.30 in the morning when a brand new slick Maserati is driving through foggy Stockholm. Behind the wheel: a man of indeterminate age, with eyes that are glowing with vitality. Cool leather handgloves are holding the wheel. It's still quiet in Sweden's capital. The living and working environment there is so organised that no one can be reached before 8.30 in the morning. Stig Anderson has a different opinion: "I started this early, so that I could make some phone calls to business associates overseas. I'm making calls to Australia, America and Japan. The time differences are huge. Although it's almost midnight in some countries, my friends know that I could call at this untimely hour. Around 7 o'clock I have mostly finished quite a lot of business."
Stig Anderson - to his friends Stikkan - is president of Polar Music International. The records department, the movie section, the studio division and the section 'special projects' (we'll get back to that later) are all operating under this umbrella. Stig Anderson is a busy lad and he enjoys it: "Of course I have a busy life, Cees, but the busier you are, the easier you get your work done. Decisions are made quicker and often better. A full schedule is more inspiring than a schedule that sluggishly drags you through the day." And that Stikkan is right.
Still his doctor - Volkert Aschenbach - has advised him to hire a good assistant. "My doctor said, man, you are travelling so much. You are going through time barriers just as easy as other people are crossing the street. But a human body can't keep up with that. Get someone to help you. And that's what I did, Cees. I got myself an assistant. His name is Leif B. Bengtsson. And I have to say, my mind is much more at ease now when I'm travelling. He does a lot of work that normally piles up when I'm on the road."
It's 8 o'clock when Leif enters the ABBA building at Baldersgatan. At this hour the first discussion takes place. Stig talks to Leif about financial matters, like 'where are ABBA's profits invested' or 'how are we going to finance the new studio that is being built'. In 1977, Polar has made a turnover of about 50 million Swedish krona, still about 30 million Dutch guilders. A large percentage of this amount can be considered as true profit. It's Leif's job to find a destination for this profit. Preferably investments that in turn will make a profit as well. And that's how the snowball of money keeps rolling.
Stig Anderson: "The last couple of months, actually years, I've had to spend too much of my time on meetings with financial experts. To be honest, I don't like it that much. I'm more a music man. I want to play around with records and tapes and find markets for them. That's my life. And I also want to be present when ABBA is in the studio. I want to witness the miracle of a new hit being made. Yes, don't laugh, every time that's still a miracle." And then Stig says that the boys go into the studio with some kind of idea but the actual work is being done in the studio. By talking, playing, searching. Stig says: "Apart from that it's wonderful to work with Benny and Björn. They are perfectionists. A lot has to happen before they are satisfied. You should know how much work we put into the recording of 'Eagle'. That's a story in itself. Fantastic."

Stikkan thinks the results are all about a team effort. "Take someone like technician Michael B. Tretow, that man is priceless. He understands exactly what the boys feel and what they want."
But we digress. Around 9 o'clock Stig and Leif part ways and secretary Görel Johnsen comes in. At 8.30 she already put down a vase of fresh roses, because Stig insists on that. "I think the rose is a beautiful flower. The shape, the colour, a true joy to watch. I want a fresh bunch of roses every day."
Secretary Görel has been working with Polar since 1969. She takes care of his appointments, draws up the contracts and sees to it that everything runs correctly and businesslike. "Görel and I are something else. We have known each other for such a long time that we are starting to resemble each other. That's a good thing for me, but not for her of course." They both burst into laughter. Görel hands him a letter from Japan that says that 'Dancing Queen' is about to hit the big time over there. It's clear that the twosome is happy about that. "The Japanese market demands a special approach. You have to have a lot of patience. We do have patience, one day it will happen. It won't be long now," according to Stig. When MP asks Görel what her biggest problem is, she replies: "I don't have any problems in my job. It's easy to work here, they are all professionals. Everyone knows what his job is. But if there is one problem I would say: putting off all those reporters who want to book an interview and photo session with ABBA. Every week we get about 40 or 50 requests. To about 99 percent of them we say no. Saying no is sometimes harder than you would expect. I have to make sure that people - like reporters from News Week, Paris Match - don't think that we are arrogant or attach any value to interviews. Nothing could be further from the truth. But there is simply no time for interviews and photo sessions." Görel Johnsen takes some of Stig's instructions and leaves the office.
"To get back to Japan," says Stig, "ABBA's record company over there asked us if they were allowed to choose their own next single. Usually we don't do that, we decide ourselves. But the Japanese market is different so why should we be stubborn and insist on doing things our way."
Benny and Björn were very successful in Japan in 1972 with the record 'She's My Kind Of Girl'. And when Stig couldn't even dream about being the driving force behind a group like ABBA, he was already successful himself as a music publisher with the Spotnicks (1961) and Letkiss Jenka (1965).

There is also a letter from Brazil between the pile of mail that Görel brought in. The record company over there is complaining that 'white' ABBA records are flooding the market and that groups are operating under the name ABBA. "Things like this are very annoying for me," says Stig, "I have to fight hard against it. I've had to start a lot of lawsuits in several countries because people are releasing ABBA records without asking our permission and performing under our name. So now I will have to start a lawsuit in Brazil too."
A nice letter is the one from Finland. If Stig is interested in being the guest speaker at a yearly convention of the chamber of commerce. "I like to do things like that. Maybe because it brings me back a little to my days as a school teacher, it allows me to act in a didactic way. I was in Amsterdam recently where I held a presentation in front of an international company. I love it, I feel reactivated, especially when discussions are heating up."
How about these 'special projects' you mentioned earlier, we ask Stig. He takes a couple of letters from the pile again to underline his story. "I've told you that we hired Leif to find ways of investing the profits we make in this organisation. Well, 'special projects' buys and invests. For instance, we bought a company called AH-Grafik recently, that specializes in the production and sales of all kinds of graphical products. We have an import company called WIMAB that only imports sports articles. And recently a company has been founded (Sannes Trading AB) that engages in import and export of merchandise from and to countries behind the Iron Curtain. And Sannes has received a lot of publicity."
Stig explains that Sannes mainly takes care of getting licences for the export of ABBA records. That's how Sweden sells millions of ABBA records to countries like Russia and imports oil from these countries. This way everbody is happy.
Another project that stands on its own is the Polar Music Studio that is being built in a former cinema. It has a surface area of about 700 square feet. The studio has been designed by Tom Hidley and will cost about one and a half million Dutch guilders.
It's now 10.15. Stig drinks his second cup of coffee. He puts on a jacket and asks us to come along to the film production company. Stig is going to discuss how the ABBA movie has been received in several countries. Whether there is a growing or declining demand. If the demand is declining he has to discuss how to get the interest going again. Are there enough copies of the movie for Australia. "Lars Hallström has made a very nice movie," says Stig on our way there. "At least, that's what we think. In general, the movie has been received very well and I believe that the movie is going to have a longer run than we expected."

At about 12 o'clock Stig gets back into the car and drives back to the Polar offices. On his way back he stops for a 'quick bite'. This time it's a hot dog. "I never eat much at lunch time. I simply don't take the time for that. Of course I have business lunches every now and then but otherwise, no."
Back at the office, he runs through the telexes. Stig calls a whole list of people. After every phone call he records a short report of the conversation on a tape, says who does and doesn't have to get a confirmation in writing. Görel picks up the tapes and disappears again. Now he turns his attention to a pile of letters.
At half past one, photographer Barry Levine unexpectedly comes in, from Los Angeles. He acts as if he was just dropping by while he has been on a 10 hour flight. He shows the latest ABBA pictures that he took a couple of weeks before. He also gives Stig a nice Kiss poster, because Stig's youngest son is a fan.
At 2 o'clock he excuses himself. A couple of people from Germany have arrived and Stig has to talk to them. Topic of conversation: ABBA records for the book club Bertelmann!

Around 4 o'clock Stig gets out of the meeting and asks for another cup of coffee. "You have to know that I stopped smoking," says Stig, "but now I'm drinking much more coffee again. And that isn't healthy either." How is Stig able to cope with such a busy life? "I'm in good shape. I play tennis, I swim a lot, but above all: I love my job so much. And if you love what you are doing, you don't get tired that easily."
Stig is about to go to Görel Johnsen to sign a pile of letters but another unexpected guest is keeping him from it. Now it's someone from the Danish record company! Stig signs the letters and meanwhile he invites the man to have dinner at his home.
Before Stig and his company are going home, they make a stop at the studio where - not suprisingly - ABBA is at work. A couple of tapes are being played, criticism is being expressed and jokes are being told.
This was just a day out of the life of Stig Anderson. A normal day for him. A day that starts at 6.30 in the morning at the office and that ends at 5.30 in the studio. But the night is still young...

1 comment:

Monica said...

Nice interview, but I had to laugh at the sentence about Stig being a "father figure" to the girls. I didn't realize they needed one?!!
Thanks for the translation Michel.