Sunday 28 March 2010

Bravo, February 1978: Finally in the cinema: ABBA 78

Already back in August ’77, Bravo published the very first colour pictures from the ABBA movie, that Anna, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid have been filming during their tour of Australia. Those were dreamlike, romantic scenes, the four Swedes had never been seen like this before. It was planned that the movie would be premiered in German cinemas at Christmas. But the negotiations with the distributors took longer than expected. But now everything is settled: from February 17 onwards, ABBA are movie stars in Germany as well!
The movie, titled ‘ABBA 78’ will be released simultaneously in fifty cities of the Federal Republic. We have seen the movie already and can assure you: ABBA fans will be very happy with the result, both visually as well as musically. Not only are Anna, Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny almost constantly in the picture, the charming movie is spiced up with ten of ABBA’s most well-known songs as well, starting with ‘Fernando’ continuing with ‘Waterloo’ up till the latest hits from the ABBA album ‘The Name Of The Game’.
And this is the storyline: an Australian DJ and ABBA fan (played by Robert Hughes) has got it into his head that he wants to interview the four Swedes. He is hot on their heels whenever they turn up at concerts and studios. But his misfortune is that he can’t get close to them. Time and time again, he is rejected, expelled or thrown out by employees...
But all of this can’t diminish his determination: in his fantasy, he is painting pictures of the most fantastic encounters with the group: a picnic with them on the lawn, at which Anna and Anni-Frid are pampering him; a golf match at which he gains the victory over ABBA; horseback riding with both Swedish girls through a beautiful park...
Of course, the movie has a happy ending as well: when even Robert himself doesn’t believe in the big meeting any longer and he gets back to his hotel feeling depressed, the elevator doors open up and ABBA walks out, ready for an exclusive interview with him...

Pop Foto, April 1982: “In the studio, we are having the utmost fun”

Since many years, Benny and Björn have been writing the most fantastic ABBA songs. And that’s a tough job. Obviously! But there’s more, because...

When you see ABBA’s Björn and Benny slaving away on a new song, it’s hard to imagine that the twosome sometimes has the utmost fun in the studio. Still, this happens more often than you would think...

Anyone who thinks that Björn and Benny, the composing duo of the Swedish group ABBA, come up with their hits just like that, is completely wrong. Indeed, sometimes the twosome is slaving away on only one song for days, and then it isn’t even recorded yet. Recently, Björn and Benny told us all about their working methods.
“We wrote our complete repertoire either at Benny’s home or in a little house just outside Stockholm,” Björn started his story. “We always start with the melody. That’s the most difficult part. We work very hard on that, day in and day out, from 10 o’clock in the morning till 4 o’clock in the afternoon. Whenever we have found a good melody, we write an accompanying lyric. Most of the time, that’s not the lyric that can eventually be heard on the record. In the studio, it often turns out that the mood of the music doesn’t seem to go with the mood of the lyrics. Well, and then it’s convenient to change the lyrics altogether.”
Björn leans back in his chair, while his colleague Benny takes over: “You have to understand that we are not easily satisfied with our own songs! Before a record is completely finished, a lot of work has preceded it. By the way, you mustn’t think that it’s all just work and no play. We are having the utmost fun as well, especially in the studio. We joke around a lot, together with our technician Michael Tretow.”
“Yes, especially whenever Benny is playing those silly tricks with his accordion,” Björn interrupts.
“Or whenever you have jokingly written a silly lyric that doesn’t make any sense,” Benny replies smilingly. “You know,” he continues more seriously, “a lot of people seem to think that our aim is to write only hits. But that’s not the case. We write a song and we work on that until we feel that it’s good ourselves. When the public thinks that that song is good as well, even so good that it becomes a hit, then that is so much to the good. We get an enormous kick out of the fact that our work is appreciated by millions of people. And that’s also one of the reasons why we are planning to continue like this for years to come. You bet!”

Saturday 27 March 2010

Pop Foto, June 1979: What David never dared to dream of…

David, our vigorous photo comic strip hero, encounters a whole lot of strange things. It takes a whole lifetime for a normal human being to experience the kinds of things that Dave goes through in only one day without blinking an eye. Indeed, we are able to witness that every month through his photo comic strip. But what life had in store for him now... even David would never have dared to dream about that.

It all started a couple of years ago. ABBA paid a visit to Holland and David, curious as always, went to great lengths to get close to his idols. Something that he miraculously managed to do, although it was necessary to disguise himself as the assistant of a photographer. But when Dave had finally managed to sneak into the hotel where ABBA would meet the press at that moment, it turned out that the biggest part of the ABBA company wasn’t interested at all in that Dutch foreign chap. Except Agnetha, she didn’t mind to find out more about that weird comedian. And before Agnetha and David realised it, they were tied up in a vibrant conversation about all kinds of things.
David asked her everything about the music business, curious as he is, and Agnetha elaborated on that extensively. But it didn’t end with that one meeting. David travelled along with ABBA to Belgium, had endless conversations with Agnetha again in Germany and he even took to the dance floor with her in Switzerland. Without realising it, David was starting to get hooked on the music business due to all these experiences. Quietly, the dream of becoming a singer and making his own record entered his mind. That desire kept on growing and growing until our Dave couldn’t think about anything else anymore. He wouldn’t rest until his silent wish had become reality.
Luckily for him, this restless feeling will now come to an end. Because his silent wish has come true: David has made his own record. While remembering all the advice that Agnetha gave him, he worked very hard in the recording studio for days on end, surprised friend and foe with his, for a beginner, professional approach and eventually came out with a fantastic single: ‘Love Concerto’. A single that will be available in all the shops on May 1.

Obviously, David couldn’t be more proud of his very own single. But we know someone else who will be very proud as well. Wanna bet that the first copy is spinning on a record player in Stockholm as we speak...

Sunday 21 March 2010

Muziek Parade, August 1977: The ABBA Story, part 4

Perhaps the failure of ‘Ring Ring’ in 1973 has led to an inspiration with big consequences. ‘Waterloo’ became the Swedish entry for the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton. And everyone knows what ‘Waterloo’ means: the end, failure, defeat. Alas, ABBA did not meet their ‘Waterloo’ in England. Even better, the fab four presented themselves to an audience of millions with a gusto that hasn’t been equalled yet. ABBA presented themselves so forcefully that now it seems that they will never disappear again.
The entire Anderson enterprise had joined in this peaceful but oh so commercial march to Brighton. With a precision, worthy of a military assault, Stikkan had figured everything out. As a commanding officer, he headed the campaign that should lead to only one goal: the conquest of millions of hearts. That’s one reason why they opted for the title ‘Waterloo’, as though it was a double challenge.
What had preceded Brighton? Stikkan had sent a memo to all his business friends all over the world, asking them to let him know exactly what was going on in the music business. Which trends are out there? Which rhythms are up and coming? At which sound will the judges prick up their ears and give high marks? His ‘secret agents’ sent Stig reports that were just as secretive, a desk full, and as a true chief of staff, Stikkan knew how to straighten everything out and... pass it on to Benny and Björn.
Step by step, ‘Waterloo’ was born. Step by step, it was puzzled out which clothes should be worn. Step by step, the act was worked out. Step by step, the international media were won over. Step by step, the enemy was driven away.
‘Waterloo’ would be understandable for the Japanese, but for the viewing public in Bulgaria as well. An up-tempo song was a good international choice at the time. When all this research was completed, the song was born. Stikkan and Björn spent hundreds of hours on that. The simpler a song and a presentation seem to be, the more sweat is at its foundation. With his somewhat cynical trademark smile, Stig now reduces matters to a proportion that’s just a bit too simple: “We were looking for and found a staccato boom-boom sound with a strong upbeat tune.” Well, it wasn’t that simple, Stig knows better than that.
Björn said: “Perhaps the song sounds a bit computer-like. I don’t blame anyone for thinking something like that. We played it safe. We weren’t allowed to make any mistakes, that would have damaged our reputation to the extent that we would have had to start all over again. Despite the fact that we played it safe, I still think that ‘Waterloo’ is a good song. I still believe that today. All three of us have worked very hard on it.” The three of them – Stig, Benny and Björn – wanted to achieve only one thing: the top. And that’s why that title ‘Waterloo’ was so nicely borrowed from a history book.
Apart from the musical part – the song, the arrangement – Stig had to take care of the visual effect as well. “You only have three minutes,” Stig says to MP, “and within these three minutes, it has to happen. The song has to work. The group has to be good. The presentation has to be flawless. In three minutes, you have to impress millions and millions of viewers. Not an easy task.”

Firstly, Stig made sure that the conductor was dressed in a Napoleon costume, complete with the crosswise hat. That was a great start already. Usually, these conductors take to the stage in their black outfits, they all look the same. This conductor won the audience over immediately. The first difficult hurdle had been taken. ABBA had to outshine the conductor with their costumes. That’s why Stig opted for glittery outfits that were so colourful and outrageous that even Gary Glitter’s costumes paled in comparison. Silk clothes, embroidered with all kinds of frills.
The people that didn’t favour ABBA had been removed from the judging panel and the audience was full of young people who understood what ABBA were doing. Alas, the sixteen other finalists paled into insignificance. ‘Waterloo’ had turned into a victory. The Spanish Armada had been defeated. Hardly recovered from their national victory, the question came up whether there would be any chances for ABBA to win in Brighton. Stig Anderson: “I can only say: we are going to win.”
And that’s how simple things are with a man like Stikkan Anderson. Shortly before the national final, he had decided not to present themselves as Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid any longer, but as ABBA. “It’s no use making things complicated for the people. ABBA is right. ABBA is understandable for everyone.”
The battle at ‘Waterloo’ had been won, but that didn’t mean that the four of them could rest on their laurels. It was like a series of European Cup games. In the quarter finals, you have beaten a team and right after that you are focussed on the semi final. It was the same thing with ABBA.
The single ‘Waterloo’ was released in every European country and Stig Anderson saw to it personally that all efforts were made to get this record into the charts. Stig sent out his people from public relations to do a lot of preparatory work for Brighton. In Sweden alone, he spent no less than 50.000 Swedish Crowns (at the time about 40.000 Dutch guilders) to display ABBA posters on every corner. Stig: “With ‘Ring Ring’ we had already cracked a lot of markets for the group. To me, it proved that ABBA appealed to an international audience. With ‘Waterloo’, the major breakthrough just had to come. There would be no way of stopping it.”

With ABBA, the inferiority complex of the Swedish show business had disappeared as well. Up till then, people had generally laughed when Swedish or other Scandinavian acts were discussed. For instance, they burst into loud laughter about the pronunciation. But that was all over now. Brighton was only a few weeks away and ‘Waterloo’ had already sold 110.000 singles and 97.000 albums in Sweden. Stig Anderson might have been full of confidence (and rightly so), but the ABBA members weren’t convinced yet. The superstitious Anni-Frid put on her good-luck charm again: a Mexican sombrero, that she didn’t take off up till Brighton. She wore that hat for a full two weeks, even in bed. Benny: “Indeed, that hat is our good-luck charm. I call it ‘our good luck hat’. People tend to laugh about it, but in show business you are superstitious. Therefore, when you see Anni-Frid wearing that hat, we are up to something very special. She even wore that hat in bed and you can imagine how awkward that is, but up till now it has always been worth it.”
ABBA has another good-luck charm: Björn’s star-shaped guitar. In other words: the conductor in a Napoleon costume... the girls in glittery outfits... the boys in their shiny, tight suits... Björn’s star-shaped guitar... the song ‘Waterloo’... all that ABBA had to say was: “Just try to ignore us now.”
In Brighton, not everything was looking prosperous. For some reason, ABBA was some kind of outsider. The people, especially journalists, were being rather negative and asked questions like ‘who do you think you are and what exactly is it that you do’ and ‘are you having a day off from school’.
It was Anni-Frid who managed to win these journalists over with her charming – but oh so sharp – answers. One wondered: ‘who is this well-mannered, courteous girl? You will not find many of those in show business.’ Anni-Frid was proclaimed the ‘Lady’ of the contestants, she had class, and she had the guts to speak up to the international media. She says: “It’s no trouble for me. It’s not my merit. It comes naturally.”
We haven’t talked about another good-luck charm yet. Even ABBA doesn’t talk about it much. It’s a textile donkey. A rather large doll, that’s not that easy to move around. But this donkey had helped ABBA through the Swedish final (ABBA says) so it should be present in England as well. The flight from Stockholm to London differed somewhat from the other trips that ABBA had made. Usually, there’s a lot of laughing and jokes are being told. But this time, the group just sat together, all of them in thoughts about the final. Seldom had a group been more motivated. “We didn’t talk about the Eurovision Song Contest at all,” Björn remembers, “but we knew that it was on all of our minds. All of us in our own (silent) way.” And about Brighton: “This town was a revelation for us,” Agnetha says, “the tension just faded away. There was a lovely fresh wind. Spring. I felt very happy.” But when ABBA took to the stage, there was no shiny, shimmering sea anymore that could take care of the necessary relaxation. The thought of five hundred million viewers or more was still rather daunting. The event took place in The Dome, a beautiful venue, packed with journalists, rattling telexes, ringing phones and clicking photo cameras. In short, the pulse of the Contest. Everything had been organised perfectly and it seemed as if Brighton itself – being a tourist attraction – got publicity worth a couple of million Pounds Sterling.

Stig arrived together with the group and wanted to do some business in advance. He travelled to London and played ‘Waterloo’ to a music publisher. The man refused to buy the song. “To protect him from embarrassment, I won’t mention the man’s name. He said something like: ‘With a ragged piano like that, you won’t be able to excite anybody. That’s old-fashioned.’” That same music publisher called Stig after the show and asked him if he could still buy ‘Waterloo’. “I just hung up the phone,” Stig smiles now.
Back in Brighton, Stig noticed that ABBA was a favourite among the bookmakers: 6 to 1. But when the moment of truth drew near, the opinion changed drastically: 20 to 1. In reaction to that, Stig, Benny and Björn started to place bets everywhere. They placed several pounds on... ABBA. Favourite at that moment: Olivia Newton-John with ‘Long Live Love’, followed closely by our very own Mouth & McNeal. Despite everything, Stig felt that it just couldn’t go wrong. Brighton had been closed off for everyone who didn’t have anything to do with the Contest. Nervous police officers were keeping a close watch on the people. And there was a special, strict security for the members of the groups from Israel, Greece and Ireland. At the time, there was an enormous fear running through England for the bombs that could be placed anywhere by the IRA. An event like this Contest would attract huge international publicity for the terrorists. Anni-Frid remembers vividly, when she says: “You couldn’t move a muscle without a security officer checking your pass or frisking you. I thought that was a shame. Especially in Brighton, it was a lovely, quiet and romantic town.”
The rehearsals started one day before the broadcast and they didn’t go smoothly for ABBA. The group had brought along their own backing track and when it was played, it all sounded horrible. The ‘boom’ in the song is extremely important and when it doesn’t come out of the speakers in the right way, its chances are severely diminished. The Swedish friends gathered around the technician and after several stressful moments, he had found the inaccuracy and ABBA was – more or less – able to do their rehearsal. That day, it was Agnetha’s 24th birthday and this meant that, after the rehearsals that for the rest were flawless, the group immediately opened a bottle of champagne at their hotel and raised their glasses to her health. And that’s how they spent these last hours before the big event. And as these hours passed by, the tension in the ABBA team increased. There were doubts: “would the backing track be flawless” or “will Anni-Frid’s voice make it through” or “won’t we burst out of our too tight costumes.” Despite this rising – and also exhausting – tension, the quartet slept for a full ten hours... in other words: this tension is so exhausting that the body just craves to get some sleep.

Saturday April 6. The day of the big finale. Benny was the first to get out of his bed and into the breakfast room, but he wasn’t able to digest any sandwich or biscuit. “I saw everyone making their way through giant English breakfast dishes,” Benny says, “I didn’t understand that. That bacon and eggs. Just the thought made me nauseous already. I really was very nervous. There was so much at stake for us. We had been working day and night for Brighton. The campaign just couldn’t fail, but I knew that the smallest mistake could lead to our mishap.”
Björn: “I felt the same way as Benny, but I was totally relieved when that technician dropped by to tell us that everything was just fine.”
Around noon, ABBA already withdrew to make the necessary preparations for their performance that evening. The costumes were checked, and again fitted. Flaws were pinned away and Agnetha handled the flat-iron to smooth obstinate wrinkles.
Agnetha: “I said then: these costumes look great on us. If we sing as good as we look, then no one will stand a chance.” There was yet another dress rehearsal, another camera rehearsal and more waiting. “To encourage us,” says Björn, “I had brought along a tape recorder with ‘Waterloo’ on it, and psychologically, I believe that was the right thing to do. We all believed in ‘Waterloo’. That was our support. So every time when the mood dropped, I played that tape.”
The group took another energetic walk on the beach – to the disgruntlement of the organisation – and returned rosy cheeked. Björn: “I felt great. Like a boxer would feel before a match: well rested, well trained.” At that moment, the four of them didn’t know about a review of ‘Waterloo’ in the Swedish paper Dagens Nyheter, written by Christa Lundblad. “For me, it was a stab in the back,” Stig says, “you don’t do something like that to your own people.” Christa wrote: “The song ‘Waterloo’ by ABBA is pure plagiarism. The intro is stolen from 10CC, the chorus comes from ‘Build Me Up Buttercup’ by the English group Foundations and the saxophone sounds come from Junior Walker records. I also recognise pieces from Tchaikovsky’s first piano recital. In short, ABBA has listened to quite a lot of records before they created ‘Waterloo’. It will probably turn into their personal ‘Waterloo’. They’ve asked for it.”
A ‘criticism’ like that is indeed a stab in the back and Stig was furious. Especially because hatred like that was still alive, against him and ABBA.

Let’s get back to The Dome. Back to the room where all the finalists were gathered together. “I was astounded,” Benny says, “how they had been able to get so many people in such a small room. The atmosphere was extremely strained, fuelled by the enormous heat. I got the impression that everybody wanted to perform first. Due to this room, the performance wasn’t a hard task at all, but a relief.”
One by one, the contestants took to the stage and returned at least just as nervous.
Benny: “I can imagine how they felt. A dry mouth from all this waiting and the tension. I was feeling sorry for those who had to wait the longest in this nerve-racking tension. And then all of a sudden, like in a dream, I heard our name being called. I kissed Agnetha and Anni-Frid and gave Björn a pat on his shoulder. ‘This is the moment’ I said.”
Björn: “That’s typically Benny. He acts very relaxed, but he is just as nervous as us. On stage, I didn’t think about anything else than those 500 million viewers. The strangest thoughts are going through your head. You feel as if something horrible is going to happen... forgetting the lyrics or stumbling over. We looked at each other and at that moment I decided that I would never perform on my own. During the Contest, in that final and at that moment, I loved Agnetha, Anni-Frid and Benny. We felt that we needed each other and that we were giving each other that support too. That has been the best moment of my ABBA career, that togetherness, the support, the help. When the first notes had been played, we felt by intuition: this is good, it hasn’t been in vain. After ‘My, my, at Waterloo Napoleon did surrender’, the nervousness had faded as well. We sang and played as never before. The conductor in his Napoleon costume turned around for a while and winked at me, and that was the last push we needed to give everything we had to give,” according to Björn.
And then those three minutes are over. A whole team has worked on that for months. The foursome goes back to the ‘sweating room’ and are stacked away with the other artists.
Anni-Frid: “Waiting for the results was truly unbearable for everyone. It simply hurt. I deflated like a balloon, the tension just disappeared.”
The ‘sweating room’ was getting ever more crowded... the tension was rising and Björn and Benny tried to get away from this scene, but they were sent back by security agents. The rescue came: ‘Waterloo’ at number 1 – ‘Si’ by the Italians at number 2 and Mouth & McNeal’s ‘I See A Star’ at number 3. Benny: “We had won and I just couldn’t believe it. We were jumping around like madmen and kissed everybody that crossed our paths. I had never kissed Stig the way I did then and... we weren’t ashamed of this fun. Anni-Frid started to look pale and she thought that she was about to faint. Björn was completely upset when he couldn’t find his guitar.”
Anni-Frid: “The television cameras were all pointed at us, in that little room. All of Europe has seen us like that, in that tension, but in that discharge as well. I wouldn’t want to go through these minutes again.”
There was even some kind of riot with the security agents when the composers of ‘Waterloo’ could pick up their trophy. The agents knew that Stig was the writer, but didn’t understand that Björn and Benny were co-writers. An explanation didn’t help here, only extreme measures: Benny gave one agent a shove and dragged Björn along out of the dismay. And one minute later they were standing there, eye to eye with 500 million Europeans. The scene that preceded this wasn’t captured by the camera. Unfortunately.

The four had to get back on stage to perform ‘Waterloo’ one more time. Photographers were storming the stage, so that this second performance came to nothing. Back in The Dome, the questions started to come, a cargo really and if it hadn’t been such a happy occasion, all those pushy people who wanted to see and touch the foursome, would have frightened you. Anni-Frid remembers: “In my entire life I haven’t seen so many photographers together. I think there were about 150 of them. I also gave the strangest answers to certain questions. I couldn’t do anything else because they asked 10 questions at the same time.”
At that moment, Stig revealed the Swedish review. It caused an uproar. And ever since that moment, the relationship between Miss Lundblad and ABBA hasn’t been very good. It was around midnight when ABBA managed to get away from the crowd and get back to their hotel, for a nice hot bath and fresh clothes. However, the night wasn’t over yet. In honour of ABBA, a cold buffet had been organised that hasn’t met its equal in show business yet and there was... champagne. Rivers of champagne, so it seemed.
And in the early hours of ‘the day after the night before’, Agnetha, Björn, Anni-Frid and Benny were strolling across the silent beach. Arm in arm, and they hardly said a word. The rustling sea and far away, the roaring of the breakers. Stig Anderson had left them alone on purpose. He was right about that because the foursome wanted to be alone for a while. They wanted to be able to digest all these tensions. They wanted to find themselves again after all these turbulent months, after all this time of working very hard. And there they were, young people in love, who had overcome an important hindrance in their lives. A hindrance that opened up a whole new world, because from Brighton onwards, things would only get tougher for them. Stig signed numerous contracts during these days, for television performances all over the world. And on the Brighton boulevards, the Sunday papers appeared with the headline ‘The Anderson formula has worked’ and more favourable reviews. The foursome didn’t read them then... they were strolling back to their hotel... to their room... where they threw themselves on their beds... and went to a happy sleep... of about ten hours!

Sunday 14 March 2010

Pop Foto, May 1978: ABBA wished Pop Foto good luck!

Fancy it happening that you attend an ABBA press conference as a Pop Foto reporter, together with numerous domestic and foreign colleagues, and you get proclaimed the guest of honour of the day! Something like this seems like a dream, or one of those fantastic scenes from the ABBA movie, and when it’s happening in reality you really don’t know what’s coming over you...

Therefore, Pop Foto’s team was dumbfounded when the world famous ABBAs welcomed us with exuberance when they got us in their Swedish sights. Right away, remarks like ‘Hello there, how are you doing?’ and ‘What a wonderful report you had in your last issue’ were flying around, and the eyes of the competition were almost popping out of their sockets. Obviously, we have known Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny for quite some time now, but still... When you realise that they have reached the pinnacle of their fame since ABBA The Movie, that they are welcomed as kings and queens in every country (during the English premiere of their movie, even Princess Margareth was present) and that television producers are screaming out for a performance, then suddenly people that you have known for several years are starting to become insignificant characters. Luckily, the four famous Swedes still aren’t burdened with an exaggerated diva-like behaviour, that much was apparent. Because instead of the excessive demands that so many artists are having, ABBA only had one wish that, frankly said, almost made us blush.
“We would like,” Anni-Frid confided in us, “that all magazines would write about us the same way that you do. In every Pop Foto that we see, our most beautiful pictures are being shown, and that special that you have made about our movie has a place of honour in our homes, truly.”
“And since we – as ABBA – want to show our appreciation,” Benny added, “for these fabulous covers of the girls (February and March issues) and all those wonderful reports, we want to do something in return. You just name it!”
Well, there we were, speechless! When you didn’t reckon with something like this, it’s extremely difficult to think of something. “Ehm... I... have an idea...,” our photographer mumbled after a strained silence, but immediately he was pulling a face as if he could bite his tongue. “Well, what is it?” it sounded in choir. “Well, ehm... perhaps it’s a little cheeky but, and you have never done this before, not for any magazine, but...”
“Well, come on now,” Björn grumbled. The photographer nervously shuffled from one foot to the other and all of a sudden he blurted out: “A picture of the four of you with our Pop Foto T-shirt!” For a while, the quartet looked suspicious, then Benny said: “Alright then, we will make an exception for Pop Foto and its readers!”
And thanks to that, you are looking at this rare picture!

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Hitkrant, March 1979: Anni-Frid is not jealous

Frida interviewed by Dutch magazine Hitkrant during ABBA’s stay in Leysin, Switzerland in February 1979.
Mrs. Andersson, who was still called Miss Lyngstad until recently, is tired. Indeed, a trip from Stockholm to the Swiss winter sports resort Leysin is certainly not a walk in the park. And on top of that, you have to appear in front of the BBC television cameras immediately after your arrival, and right after that an exhausting press conference. Oh well, that’s life when your name is Anni-Frid and you are a singer in the group ABBA...

“Oh my!” Frida sighs when I’m sitting opposite her in the hotel room. “This has been a terrible day. Everything went wrong.” But still, she is willing to give an interview. After all, ABBA and Hitkrant are old friends.
“That’s true,” she says. “Back then in The Hague, we’ve launched the first issue of your magazine and through your readers, we’ve acquired a lot of new fans.” There, the conversation has taken off.

Yes, the fans: you are having millions of them. How do you cope with that?
“You probably know that our Swedish fan club, that is located in the same building as our record company, is very active. We have a lot of interaction and they are doing everything they can to keep our fans informed all over the world. But privately, I get a lot of fan mail as well and I answer all the letters that I like personally.”
Do you have time for that?
“Oh well, I’m managing. Apart from that, I think that our fans simply have the right to get an answer, so I make time for it!”

Shortly before our meeting, during the press conference, somebody had asked why Anni-Frid and Benny didn’t get married until recently. Her response was: “Because we never had the time for it,” but I’m not falling for that.
“Oh no, that was just a simple way to give an answer. The fact is: after about ten years of living together, we felt that our relationship had become so good that we decided to get married.”
Does it make any difference, marriage or living together?
“Oh no,” Frida smiles. “I think that we got married to... ehm... consolidate our relationship. Is that the right word? I think it is.”

I almost forgot: I’ve brought a Hitkrant badge for the ABBA members.
“How nice,” Frida exclaims and pins it on. “May I give the others to Benny, Björn and Agnetha or do you want to do that yourself?”
No, that’s fine. And this brings me to the next question. What do you think about the fact that Agnetha is always the one who gets the most attention?
Frida smiles cordially: “Well, I’m not jealous! Look, Agnetha simply is the symbol of Sweden: blonde, young and beautiful.”
The only thing you are not out of those three is blonde. This remark is met with an enchanting smile.

Music. It’s impossible to ignore this subject while talking to an ABBA member. “This business is my life,” Frida says. “I can’t imagine myself ever doing anything else.”
Who are your favourites when it comes to music?
“The BeeGees and Earth, Wind & Fire,” Frida says decisively. “And lately, I’m listening a lot to “Jazz”, the latest album by Queen. I am a Queen fan. Recently, I’ve seen them perform live in Stockholm and, although I prefer their records to their live performances, I still thought it was a memorable experience!”

Our conversation lasts longer than anticipated; Frida keeps talking. About ABBA’s stage clothes that she designs herself most of the time. About the new album that is due to be released in the beginning of April. About ABBA’s world tour that will kick off after the summer. About bad music, that she never listens to, and about her Maserati, that is not allowed to be driven at a truly high speed in Sweden. But Mrs. Andersson is tired. I get up: “Tomorrow in front of the cameras again, bright and early?”
“Oh well,” Frida says. “That’s your fate when you’re singing in a group like ABBA...”

Tuesday 9 March 2010

Privé, 1979: Will ABBA now become a duo? The group is in a crisis – Allegedly, Björn and Benny want to leave the group!

And... another variation on the ABBA goes duo rumour. This one is from Dutch gossip magazine Privé.
“ABBA will stay together for at least five more years,” is what their manager Stig Anderson said only a few months ago. But recently, he stated something completely different. “ABBA is starting to fall apart. Björn and Benny want to quit. And Agnetha and Anni-Frid will then continue together!” It seems like the upcoming world tour will become the foursome’s final curtain call.

ABBA is going to break up. Agnetha and Anni-Frid will continue on their own. The rumours about the split up of the Swedish supergroup remain persistent. Only a few months ago, ABBA’s manager Stig Anderson stated that the quartet would stay together for at least five more years. But recently, Anderson was telling a different story. He said, during a meeting with Swedish reporters, that ABBA - as a foursome - is starting to fall apart. “We must think about our future,” was his dry statement.
Strong words, coming from a manager whose pupils are still enjoying one success after the other. But it even seems that their world tour, that kicks off in the beginning of September and leads them through America, Canada and a lot of European countries, is meant to be a farewell. After that, Agnetha and Anni-Frid would continue as a duo. Benny and Björn both want to go their separate ways as lyricist and composer. The rumours about ABBA’s possible split already started before Anderson had even said one word. In all secrecy, Björn already has had dinner with the president of EMA-Telstar, another big record company, Thomas Johansson. Allegedly, the twosome had been in very good spirits.
The reason why the group, that doesn’t have any competition in the world at the moment and that even seems to surpass the Beatles in popularity, wants to split up has to do with several factors. You don’t just quit when, in a manner of speaking, the money is falling from the sky. Last year, manager Anderson’s income was no less than 25 million Dutch guilders. And still there’s this decision to call it a day. However, the collaboration between the successful quartet seems to be extremely difficult. It already started with Björn and Agnetha’s divorce. The blonde singer herself stated that the divorce has caused a crisis. She says to Privé: “Björn and I have been married for ten years. But it just didn’t work anymore. This was not a sudden decision, it was preceded by a long process. That’s why we decided to get divorced in all peace and quiet, but it shouldn’t have any consequences for ABBA. Still, after six months, it doesn’t seem to work that way. Look, you could say that ABBA was born from love. Björn and I were in love and Benny and Anni-Frid loved each other as well. The four of us were happy. And when we became successful almost immediately with the Eurovision Song Contest, everything started to move so fast, it just couldn’t go wrong. Now, after our divorce, there is still contact on a daily basis between Björn and me and despite the fact that we decided to approach things professionally, it’s still very difficult. After all, we also have two children together and you can’t ignore that.”
On top of that, both the singer as well as her ex-husband Björn have a new relationship since recently. Agnetha is deeply in love with the Swedish ice hockey international Lars-Erik Ericsson (29). Allegedly, the couple met each other after an ice hockey match and the past few weeks they’ve been spotted regularly in Stockholm. And Björn has found a new love as well. It’s Lena Källersjö, a 29-year-old Swedish model.

Allegedly, the romances of both ex-spouses have been detrimental for the atmosphere in the group. Agnetha and Anni-Frid already had made it clear that they weren’t very happy with playing second fiddle in the ABBA frame. It’s still Björn and Benny who are responsible for writing and composing the songs. And especially Agnetha, who has already composed a couple of songs of her own in the past, would feel unhappy with this situation. She says: “I’m planning to start writing songs for an album of my own again. I want to be able to have more respect for myself again. I want to show that I can be successful on my own as well. Things about which you can say: ‘That’s something that I have written and recorded myself. Now this is my success.’ With ABBA, Anni-Frid and me are only performing Björn and Benny’s songs.” It seems to become harder and harder to write these successful songs too. Agnetha said about this: “Björn and Benny are getting ever more tired. Sometimes they spend weeks, sometimes even a month, pondering on a new song. Then they are together day and night without anything being put on paper. This causes extreme tensions. They exhaust themselves, you can clearly notice, by having to write success after success. That’s starting to avenge itself. Their enthusiasm and inspiration seem to disappear. This can’t go on for much longer.”
Apart from Agnetha, brunette Anni-Frid has the intention to be more prominent as well. Recently, she has already made a movie in Spain, wherein she plays the leading part. And it seems that she liked it so much that she wants to do more movies. Apart from that, Anni-Frid would want to compose songs of her own as well and record an album of her own, or together with Agnetha. At least, take things a little easier. All this travelling is starting to become too exhausting.
Agnetha misses her children, six-year-old daughter Linda and Christian who is only one. “We travel a lot, all over the world,” she says. “For a while, it’s fun. But after a while, I get homesick. Then I’m craving for my children at home. I prefer a simple life, it’s still hard for me to accept that we are millionaires. Being with my children is now my biggest wish. The world tour that we will start in September will see to it that I won’t be home for months, actually I can’t do that to my son and daughter. Stig Anderson has made a concession. They will come over to London and during our stay in England, I will have them with me for a while. I’ve often thought if it would be better to quit altogether and spend all my time with my children, especially now that they are at an age that they need a mother.”

All these personal problems in the group seem to confirm that ABBA has run its course. However, if Anni-Frid and Agnetha decide to continue on their own and if Björn and Benny want to go their separate ways as lyricists and composers as well, it doesn’t mean that they will stop making money. All of them are millionaires and their money is, thanks to the guidance of their manager Stig Anderson, cleverly invested in houses, properties and shares. But the group has joint interests as well. Their record company and contracts. And this heavy chain, that ties Anni-Frid, Agnetha, Björn and Benny together, might well be the obstacle for their separation.
Perhaps, this is more important than all the emotional tensions that come with being successful. However, when you look deep in the hearts of the four members of the supergroup, their collaboration will soon be over permanently. Agnetha and Anni-Frid don’t hide the fact that they would like to continue as a duo, or maybe solo. And for Benny and Björn it’s getting ever more difficult to keep on producing hits. They would much rather go their own way as composers. Björn’s dinner with the president of EMA-Telstar is saying quite a lot. Sadly, it’s not inconceivable that their grand world tour will turn out to be ABBA’s farewell. It’s just not a nice prospect for the billions of admirers of the Swedish quartet and for their manager Stig Anderson, who has made this group so big. For him, it will be hard to swallow.

Sunday 7 March 2010

Story, July 1979: An ultimate intervention has to save ABBA: Björn and Benny are not allowed to sing any longer

Here’s another 1979 article inspired by the rumour that ABBA would continue as a duo.
ABBA is going through difficult times. Manager Stig Anderson thinks that he’ll be able to turn the tide with an ultimate intervention: Benny and Björn will have to make way...

Connoisseurs have been predicting this for a long time: ABBA seems to turn into a successful, almost perfectly oiled music machine, that in the long run will only be able to supply very predictable (and therefore boring) products.
Manager Stig Anderson, the ABBA boss who is ruling with an iron fist, has now acknowledged this danger as well. The group is in desperate need of a new impulse. A meticulously placed load of gunpowder that can inspire the twosome Björn and Benny to more than a string of unimaginative variations on a successful blueprint or an equally uninspired adoption of the disco craze.
In short: ABBA will have to alter their course. Simply because a continuation of their current course will inevitably lead to the loss of connection with other (established or new) top groups. Anderson seems to think that he has found the solution. For that matter, he has the idea to let Björn and Benny keep on writing the ABBA songs, but not have them performing them any longer. No more exhausting performances, no more long days of recording sessions and no more television work. In the future, all of the gentlemen’s attention will be aimed at creating quality products.

In the ABBA studios, they are already working very hard on this new formula. From now on, only Agnetha and Anni-Frid will be on stage or appear on television screens. Musically, they will be accompanied by studio musicians or an orchestra, hired for the specific occasion. It seems like a drastic change, but it isn’t really. No one could or would deny that the girls made up 90 percent of the show, no matter what performance it concerned. Björn and Benny were (at least to the eye) redundant. That’s why Stig Anderson hopes that no one will miss them when they will no longer be present in the flesh.
Not only the (moderate) decline in popularity is a reason for the sudden urge for change. Björn and Agnetha’s divorce is playing a part as well. Just think about it: the former spouses hardly look at each other anymore in everyday life. It can’t be avoided that the image of the group has to suffer from these strained relations. In other words: Björn and Agnetha are having a very hard time to keep on ‘faking it’.

The danger that ABBA will lose their grip on the record-buying public, the decreasing productivity of the composers duo and the mental tensions within the group. All in all, reason enough for Stig Anderson to change his course. Once more, ABBA will present themselves in their well-known line up. At the end of this year, the group will start a tour through America and the Eastern bloc countries. The tour will end with a series of concerts in Scandinavia. You could call it a farewell tour. Not a farewell to ABBA, but to the group that, after winning the Eurovision Song Contest, conquered the world with striking, easy accessible melodies.
The name ABBA will keep existing. And rightfully so, since the four people that donated the first letter of their first name to the group will all remain involved in their creation. Still, ABBA will be a duo from now on. The only one who seems to have a problem with that is Anni-Frid. She expects to be separated from Benny regularly (and for long periods of time).
But when the new approach turns out to be a success, Anni-Frid will probably let go of her reservations as well. Because also for the duo ABBA, private problems will have to take a backseat to the greater, almost sacred cause: maintaining their position at the top of the international hit scene.

Pop Foto, February 1979: ABBA is unbeatable

How do you think an artist spends his spare time? Just being lazy, reading a lengthy book? Every now and then strumming a guitar and every once in a while going into the studio for one day? If you imagine the life of a star like that, you are dead wrong. You wonder how things are really like? Just tag along with ABBA for just one day. Bet that you’ll be just as exhausted as we were?!

Because ABBA’s Benny, Björn, Agnetha and Anni-Frid have one golden rule which is, short but to the point, no fooling around! In ABBA’s Swedish headquarter, every free minute is spent on sports! We followed the four world famous artists from Stockholm just for one day during their daily sports exercises and we can assure you that we were still having muscular pain for many weeks to come. Just take a look at the routine for an ordinary day off! The two ABBA men have a couple of favourite sports to keep them in shape. Firstly, it’s the so called ‘jogging’, toiling at the double for three or four (!) kilometres through the forests behind the ABBA houses. Then there’s their love for the game of tennis; either Björn and Benny are playing a couple of severe matches together, or they are hitting a resilient ball against a brick wall in a specially designed room, that comes back at them at full speed. That’s the ‘squash’ game, that the boys picked up in England. Anni-Frid and Agnetha have a different approach. Most of the time, Agnetha jogs once a day as well, but especially Anni-Frid is a very fanatical practitioner of classical and jazz ballet.

Today, something special is going on because instead of working on their physical training in pairs, the ABBAs are all doing something different. Together with a bunch of studio technicians, Benny has organised a tennis competition and he’s playing (from 8 o’clock in the morning!) until the sweat is pouring from his forehead! Then they jump under the shower and, after lunch, they are off to the highly modern ABBA studios that are appropriately located in an old sports hall. Later on, Björn will drop by there as well, freshly showered. Because after the ‘Lidingö Race’, an exhausting running exercise that he has done that day, thirty kilometres outside Stockholm, it’s time again for the real deal: making music!
And while Anni-Frid is doing her warming up already at nine o’clock in the morning at the ballet studio, to work hard on her jazz ballet exercises until noon, a ballet course that she’s been working on seriously only since last October, Agnetha is getting ready to do some sports as well, after having spent her usual hours with her children Linda and Christian. Today, she is running her 2 kilometres through the woods, before Anni-Frid drops by, to discuss ABBA’s new clothes with Agnetha, because that’s Anni-Frid’s job as well! Both ladies don’t go into the studio until the evening.
So that’s how huge pop stars spend their spare time. And only after they have completed all these self-inflicted sports exercises, they take the time for some cosy relaxation: a nice little game of tennis, playing mixed double! And with a condition like that, ABBA is unbeatable both in the hits area as well as in the sports area!