Friday 30 April 2010

Popshop, 1977: Intimate portrait, Björn (from ABBA)

Björn Ulvaeus is the non-bearded young man from the ABBA quartet. He was born on April 25, 1945 in the town of Gothenborg on the Swedish west coast. As an eleven-year-old, he learned how to play the guitar and he fooled around with his skiffle group. As a seventeen-year-old, he decided to form a dixieland jazz band, together with his musical pals, with the intention to play at parties and bring in some money for their education. But most of the time they sang in the style of the American Kingston Trio. Under the name West Bay Singers they entered a competition on Swedish radio. That’s where the well-known Swedish talent scout Bengt Bernhag got to know them. He introduced them to his boss, the well-known music publisher and producer Stikkan Anderson and he saw a future for them as well (and money), on the condition that they would change their name, because the West Bay Singers was too banal. The American Hootenanny music was starting to become popular and that’s why they were called the Hootenanny Singers.
With their first record, they made it big. It was an old Swedish song about workers in the wood, a big moment for Björn and his friends, but for Stig Anderson as well, who had just launched his own record label, Polar Records.
This success was followed by the inevitable tours around the Swedish folk parks in 1964. Everybody loved the Hootenanny Singers, but they weren’t stormed by pushy teenagers. In one way or another, the members of the group didn’t have enough musical ambition. In essence, they were all boys from a little town who were a little intimidated by this sudden success. They didn’t believe in a future in music. Soon, the boys started to go their own way: one of them became a car salesman, the other an accountant, yet another one started working in his dad’s company. Björn wasn’t very positive anymore either and he decided to go to Stockholm university. Björn chose to study law and economics. But it wouldn’t last very long. Luckily, there was Bengt Bernhag who believed in Björn and taught him the ropes of the business, especially in the technical area. Without Bengt, Björn would never have become a superstar.
Despite everything, the Hootenanny Singers stayed together a few more years. Especially in the summer months they toured the country, mostly with an old, borrowed Volvo. Although Björn didn’t want to betray the Hootenanny Singers’ trust, he was well aware of their limited possibilities: three blokes with a guitar and a fourth one with a bass. Musically, he was head and shoulders above the others. Björn was convinced that a Swede would be capable of more than some cheap success in the folk parks. He wanted to reach higher, further than that. Under Björn’s influence, the Hootenanny Singers started to switch from Swedish folk music to English-language pop music. Then Björn met Benny and musically they hit it off immediately.

Tell us something about your early childhood?
“I don’t remember that much about it anymore. I’m always amazed by people who can talk incessantly about their early childhood years. I barely remember anything. When I was eleven, we moved from the east coast to the west coast. Around that time, I started to play guitar as well, I remember that very well! My mother has always encouraged me in that respect. Later on as well, when I didn’t know exactly what to do after high school and we – rather to kill time more than anything else – tried to sing and play music. My mother signed us up for a song contest, without informing us about it. When we were invited, we didn’t even have a name for a group. Once again, it was my mother who came up with the name West Bay Singers!”
You are more or less singled out as ABBA’s intellectual. You also studied at university. Why did you quit?
“Several different factors must have been the cause of that. Because of those first tours, I had outgrown the narrow-minded and provincial mentality. I didn’t want to go back to my place of birth. I was still too inexperienced for a career in music, so I was off to Stockholm to the university. I changed from one course to the other and I didn’t know exactly what I wanted. But I believe my mind was more set on music than on my studies. The university meant some kind of safety net, in case the Hootenanny Singers would split up. But I still was a good student all the time. With a little more dedication and a little less musical ambition I would definitely have finished my studies.”
Why is it that you have always been fond of Benny as a friend and a partner?
“When I met Benny for the first time and we talked to each other, it was like I was listening to myself. We had exactly the same musical opinions. From the start, we thought we had to create original music instead of reproducing other people’s music. In the beginning, our only problem was finding a space to make music together. I called my father, who worked at a factory at the time, and he saw to it that an empty office was placed to our disposal, where we could install Benny’s piano and my amplifiers. It was the only office in Sweden where the lights stayed on at night and where work was in progress!”
Do you ever argue?
“Very rarely. Especially not on a musical level. We have totally different personalities. Benny is a cheerful guy, while I’m constantly pondering, experimenting and planning. These days, we are obviously far more critical of the music that we make, but we really don’t argue. And that’s still extraordinary, when you realize that it sometimes takes days to find one satisfactory chord.”
Is it true that you are arrogant?
“That’s the story. But I don’t think so. I like to talk and I talk easily. Sometimes too much and that’s not always to my advantage. It is also said that I’m too businesslike, but I don’t see that as a criticism. You have to be businesslike in life, otherwise you won’t make it. If I hadn’t been businesslike, I would still be a Hootenanny today or ABBA would have turned into a one hit wonder after Eurovision. It is claimed that sound technicians in the studio can’t stand me because I interfere with every technical aspect. I’m not stingy but I do keep an eye on the price of things.”
So you are the brains of ABBA?
“Benny is not very interested in money and all the traps that come along with it. He is the pure and simple musician. Benny provides the spontaneous musical ideas. Mostly I am the one who organizes them, who brings order in the proceedings and, well, makes the decisions every now and then, not because I want to, but because the others simply leave it up to me.”
Is it true that you can’t smile?
“Hahahaha! But joking apart: probably I have never known that I wanted to do this: being a songwriter, a performer, a technician in a recording studio. Sometimes I get the feeling that I’m most comfortable in the studio and it’s probably true that I’m actually predestined to work in the studio. If I really had to choose between singing and performing or producing records, I would choose the latter. Performing is really a big task for me. I’m hardly able to relax on stage. Every time that we are performing I have to encourage myself: go on, be friendly, smile, don’t forget to smile, smile again. Does it surprise you that it turns into a grin? I’m not very good at pretending in life, and that goes for the stage as well. But being a record producer, that’s appealing to me! Later on, I will probably become a cool, businesslike producer. It would be stupid to think that ABBA will stay on top for ten more years in this formula, wouldn’t it?”
How did you meet Agnetha?
“I was listening to the radio in my apartment, but without paying much attention to it. Then the crystal clear little voice of a singer got through to me. I’m not into all that sentimental stuff but there was something about that voice, and I didn’t even know Agnetha. I couldn’t even imagine how she would look like. But already then I knew that this voice had to belong to someone who was fragile, delicate and sweet. In my imagination – and that’s bizarre – Agnetha looked exactly as she looked like in reality. Several months later, a cute blonde walked up to me in a television studio and she introduced herself, but I knew immediately – even before she had said her name – that it had to be Agnetha. I had to catch my breath. The rest of the story is well-known!”

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Veronica, February 1988: Agnetha Fältskog, the ice queen stands alone

After the split up of the immensely popular group ABBA, the four former members have all gone their separate ways: Björn and Benny were off to London where they – among other things – composed the music for the musical Chess, Frida worked with Phil Collins and chose to live in Majorca, but Agnetha preferred to stay in Sweden more than anything. For over twenty years, she has been a popular appearance in her home country or, as she herself puts it: “People see me as a logical part of the inventory, so that I can shop without being bothered in Stockholm.”

In reality, the ‘cool blonde of ABBA’ is a friendly, but reserved woman. She has an aura of self-confidence around her, that vanishes for a moment when she expresses that she won’t talk about a certain subject. “After all those busy years, I’ve come to the conclusion that I want to execute projects well considered. Ever since I was five years old, I’ve been busy playing piano and composing, followed by performing with a dance orchestra, a solo career and of course ABBA. The device has always been ‘selling yourself’, but that takes the backseat now. Added to that, I don’t like touring, it takes a lot of energy to be in different cities at different times. My two children were born during the ABBA period and in between proceedings I had to raise them. Now I’m able to spend all my time on them and in between I can compose and produce.”

Although she has released several albums in the past with her own Swedish compositions, on the new English-language album ‘I Stand Alone’ she went for songs written by Peter Cetera, former singer of Chicago. Agnetha met him at a special Unicef gala, an organization that she supports actively. After a couple of months of international phone calls, it was decided to record the album in Malibu, California.
“In one word, it was inspiring, if only because we were working with renowned studio musicians such as Robbie Buchanan and Paulinho da Costa. I’ve been a fan of Peter for a long time... his voice, compositions... I don’t think I would describe the lyrics on this album as melancholic, no, rather a collection of love songs with a bit of tragedy. Peter had written about thirty songs, out of which I made a selection. What appeals to me the most is the power that the songs express, the music sounds strong and danceable. The most difficult moment was when I went back home after five weeks and the demo tape was sent to me later on. I knew what to expect, but I was still tensed. I’ve listened to the album quite a lot since then and I believe that we achieved the result that we aimed for.”

It remains a question what the aimed result is. On the whole, ‘I Stand Alone’ is a solid, well produced album, tailor made for the American market. The result is an accomplished product, but here and there it lacks the sorely needed emotion. The criticism pales compared to the success: the album has been number one in Sweden for several weeks and has been received well in several countries. Just like every aspect of the presentation, a lot of attention has been paid to the accompanying videos as well. Director Marcello Anziano, responsible for a couple of colourful Peter Gabriel videos, filmed the videos for ‘The Last Time’ and ‘I Wasn’t The One (Who Said Goodbye)’. We ask Agnetha the question if it isn’t difficult to keep up visually with the youthful, good looking artists of today. “Obviously, my approach is completely different. I don’t want to look like a sixteen-year-old, but like the mature woman that I am. Indeed, I believe that it’s more difficult for an older artist to create some kind of video image. For me, the album and the video have the same quality standard.”
Her little son Christian enters the room. She looks aside for a moment. “It’s only logical for me that I’m living in Sweden, it’s my country! I feel at ease here, I enjoy the environment, I have my children around me... Okay, the climate is bad but you have to take the bitter with the sweet. I also think it has to do with some kind of balance, after having gone through different stages: solo career, ABBA, and subsequently a solo career again. Sweden determines by background, just like all those stages influence your voice and spirit. If my cool voice is a reflection of my character? Oh well, I think it has to do with experience, that you know what you can do with your voice. That doesn’t take away from the fact that I still have to work hard to keep my voice in shape.”

Saturday 24 April 2010

Hitkrant, January 1981: What should ABBA do now? – ABBA off to Ireland?

1980 didn’t end very joyful for ABBA: the threat by an up till now unknown faction to kidnap Agnetha and Björn’s little daughter Linda has put a severe pressure on the Swedish quartet. Strict police protection, house arrest, problems. What should ABBA do now? Although there haven’t been any new threatening letters, the Stockholm police is taking this case very seriously and the threat remains weighing heavy on the four – five, counting Linda – shoulders.

All trips have been cancelled for the time being, and this at a time when a couple of very important trips had been planned. Because it is namely inevitable that – even as one of the most popular pop groups in the world – after having just released a new album you can’t sit back in a lazy chair and wait around how it’s going to sell.

No, promotion has to be done: interviews, radio and television performances, it all comes with the business, if you want to remain the centre of attention. Where the performances in Germany and England had already been cancelled and the scheduled television broadcasts had to be set up via a satellite link with Stockholm, it remains to be seen whether they will be able to go ahead with the other promotional trips.
And this is damaging ABBA’s career: it’s something completely different to see a group actually perform live, rather than on a television screen from Stockholm or – in the worst case scenario – not at all. ABBA’s Swedish record company told us that they are more or less desperate. The insecurity about the group’s safety is ruling all decisions at the moment.

Another problem: due to all the difficulties surrounding the group, the intended distribution of ABBA shares on the Stockholm stock market has become uncertain as well. The insecurity about the future doesn’t make future investors very keen on spending money.
We hope it will all be resolved in the near future. At the moment, the turn of the year is a period of worries and questions for ABBA. It’s our wish – and most probably your wish as well – that 1981 will turn out to be more peaceful for ABBA.

The problems surrounding ABBA seem to be serious: in an interview with an Irish newspaper, Björn Ulvaeus stated: “If they keep on pursuing and threatening us in Sweden, chances are that we will be moving to Ireland.”
Björn and Benny have already spent several holidays in Ireland and it suited them splendidly. Certain spokespersons in that country are even claiming that the foundation has already been bought, whereupon the ABBA houses are planned to be constructed.

Tuesday 20 April 2010

Das Freizeit-Magazin, March 1978: ABBA, a place of honour for Das Freizeit-Magazin / ABBA by ABBA

The 13-year-old Andrea John from Mannheim was extremely lucky: she got the opportunity to hand over the bronze Freizeit-Magazin to her favourite group ABBA personally. To do just that, Andrea flew to Bremen, where the four Swedes were paying a quick visit on the occasion of the premiere of the ABBA movie. In the afternoon, the FM reader was greeted by Anni-Frid, Agnetha, Björn and Benny at the hotel, with an accent free ‘Guten Morgen’. And in the meantime, Björn speaks German so well that he could really have a conversation with Andrea. “We are extremely happy about the bronze Freizeit-Magazin,” Björn confessed honestly, when he saw the heavy bronze placard with ABBA’s portrait, “we know from the many letters we get that our most loyal fans are among the Magazin readers.” And Agnetha was beaming: “This is by far the most original award that we have ever received. It will get a place of honour at our home!”
The festive ceremony was celebrated with champagne and Andrea John got along with Benny and Björn so well that both ABBA girls almost got a little jealous. For that matter, she got a ‘stereo kiss’ from the ABBA boys as a little thank you. Before they said goodbye, Agnetha revealed ABBA’s secret future plans: “We are already working on a new album and on a musical, that should have its premiere on Broadway. We probably won’t go on tour again until next year.”
Das Freizeit-Magazin has a special surprise for Andrea and the many, many fans of the Swedish supergroup. From this magazine on, we will publish the authentic life story of the foursome. Told by ABBA themselves. Just turn the page. It will kick off on the next page.

This is the fantastic story of ABBA. A sensation. For the first time, Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid have told the real story. An unbelievable story. A fairytale of the twentieth century: how a singer from Jönköping, a folk singer from Västervik, a pop idol from Stockholm and a jazz singer from Eskilstuna met each other and started one of the most successful groups that the world has ever seen.
A group that has sold more records than any other artist. A group that reached number one in England, Europe’s number one country where pop music is concerned, five times in one year – with three singles and two albums. A group that attracted more viewers in Australia with their television shows than the historic moon landing by the Americans. ABBA has told everything to the journalist Christer Borg. Their hopes and wishes, tears and disappointments. Their big successes. Their most beautiful and most difficult moments. And how it all started. With ABBA. On that warm summer evening in the year 1966 when Björn and Benny met each other at a party. And composed their first song. In a windmill in Västervik. ABBA by ABBA. From this day on. Only in Freizeit-Magazin!

Every story has a beginning. The ABBA story started in the summer of 1966. The venue: a party in Västervik, Sweden. The ones involved: a lot of young people, among them two upcoming musicians named Björn and Benny. Both of them weren’t around to experience the end of the party. They had already left the party long before that. In the middle of the night they drove to the paper mill in Västervik, where Björn’s father worked, they dragged an organ, a guitar and an amplifier into the office and started composing.
In the morning, one more song was born into the world: ‘Isn’t It Easy To Say’. Their first collaboration. The song didn’t become a worldwide hit. At the time, Björn was still a member of the Hootenanny Singers. But he was already fed up with their sentimental style. When Benny asked him if he would be willing to replace guitarist Janne Frisk with the Hep Stars, Björn didn’t need to think twice.
The tour brought Björn and Benny even closer together. Even the break up of the Hep Stars didn’t change that. And then the two close friends suddenly became four: Björn met Agnetha Fältskog and Benny fell madly in love with Anni-Frid Lyngstad. On November 1, 1970, the four of them performed in a show in Göteborg. ABBA’s first performance. However, a musical breakthrough wasn’t in the cards yet.
Instead, Benny and Björn started concentrating on composing. One of their first joint songs ‘Language Of Love’ made it to number six at a music contest in Malaga. Björn: “From that moment on, it became serious.” Björn, who was still studying at Stockholm university, quit his studies. “I finally knew exactly what I really wanted to become.”
The first real ABBA hit became ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’ in 1972. In Europe however, the sales figures weren’t very impressive. Instead, more than half a million copies of the record were sold in Japan.
‘People Need Love’ became their next success. In America, it even entered the top 100. And for the first time, the record cover was labelled: Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid. However, at this time the Swedes were far more interested in a major breakthrough in Sweden and Europe than in sales successes in the Far East or the USA. The date had already been set: February 10, 1973. On this day, the Swedish heats for the Eurovision Song Contest were taking place. Among the contestants were Björn, Benny, Anni-Frid and Agnetha as well. They finally wanted to make it big with ‘Ring Ring’. Their performance only had one hindrance. Agnetha was expecting her first baby. The doctor had estimated the child to be born on February 2. It was a question for Agnetha: a maternity hospital or a pop contest?

Sunday 18 April 2010

Bravo, 1977: Alfred Haase, Anni-Frid’s father has something to tell you

Here’s a letter by Alfred Haase about his experience of meeting his daughter Frida for the first time, as published in German magazine Bravo.
After all the commotion that my sudden fatherhood of Anni-Frid Lyngstad and the reports in Bravo magazine have caused, I would like to address all of you personally once again, on the following grounds: firstly, I would like to thank Bravo with all my heart that it set the ball rolling and made the contact with the group ABBA and especially Anni-Frid possible, by publishing an item about Anni-Frid’s ‘unknown German father’. Secondly, I would like to thank you, Bravo readers, for the enormous interest and sometimes moving participation in the whole story.
Ever since I returned from Stockholm, where I had my first meeting with Anni-Frid, the phone hasn’t stopped ringing. Almost incessantly, I get calls from Bravo readers, primarily girls. They congratulate me and fire questions at me, about how my three day visit with Anni-Frid and Benny went. They want to know all the details. You will surely understand, that I can’t share every single detail. After all, I’m at my job the entire day and in the evening, especially at night, I need some peace and quiet.
That’s why I’m willing to tell you the most important things this way, things that you haven’t been able to read in Bravo yet. First, you should imagine that the house that Anni-Frid and Benny are living in is like a castle. When I was standing there for the first time, on Friday September 9, at the bottom of the wonderful stairway, with a bunch of red roses in my hand, and saw my ‘new’ famous daughter standing right at the top of that stairway, I thought I was dreaming. We approached each other and embraced each other. Those first moments, we both didn’t say a word. We just knew and felt that there weren’t any doubts about our consanguinity. I will never forget that moment when we looked in each other’s eyes for the first time. After that, it struck me that she had the same high forehead as her mother, there’s also a lot of resemblance in the eyes.
At last Frida slowly said, in clumsy German: “Good evening... welcome.” Then we went into the house, together with Benny and Anni-Frid’s aunt, who had picked me up from the airport. The friendliness and the hospitality that was bestowed on me in the next three days, was a once in a lifetime experience. Anni-Frid and Benny both told me that I should feel at home with them. And that wasn’t just an expression. I was allowed to pick my own room, where I wanted to stay in. But of course, everything was fine with me.
Anni-Frid made our meals herself and she spoiled me. At first, her aunt translated everything that we said to each other. Benny also speaks German quite well. With every day that passed, Anni-Frid understood German a little better. She asked me to speak very slowly. She asked me if it bothered me that she kept staring at me, because the whole thing was still like a fairytale for her. I said: “Of course not, it’s the same for me.”
That first night, we sat together until four o’clock in the morning. Obviously, Anni-Frid wanted to know exactly what I remembered from her mother, and I wanted to know all the details about her mother’s fate as well. When I imagined that she had to go through an entire pregnancy, the birth and all of those daily worries as a nineteen-year-old girl on her own, you can surely imagine how sad that made me feel. And I didn’t know anything about that for 32 years. How cruel life can be at times! When Anni-Frid was only two years old, her mother died at the age of 21 due to a kidney failure.
When Anni-Frid made it clear to me on the second day that she wanted to learn how to speak German as quickly as possible, because there were things that she only wanted to share with me, without anyone translating them, then I broke down. I disappeared to my room. All of a sudden, everything had become too much and too overwhelming. After a couple of minutes, Benny came to me and he asked delicately: “Did we do something wrong?” I replied: “No, on the contrary. I will get come back to you in a minute.”
To distract me a little bit, both of them then showed me the old town of Stockholm, they bought my wife two beautiful porcelain candles as a souvenir. We also went to a top restaurant to have dinner.
Actually I wanted to get back to Germany on Sunday, but due to all the excitement and all the stories we had to tell, none of us thought about booking a flight back. When this struck me on Sunday morning, all flights were fully booked. That’s why I flew back on Monday. Anni-Frid accompanied me on my way to the airport and she promised me that she would call as soon as possible. In the meantime, she has. Now she also wants to start writing letters in German, so that she will learn my language faster.
Bravo readers, now you may be able to imagine what it means to suddenly be the father of Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Obviously, this fantastic thunderbolt in my life has its downside as well. For instance, you may be able to imagine how bad I felt when a reporter from a Hamburg newspaper called me after the story had appeared in Bravo and asked: “Will you stop working now? What are you going to do with all those millions from your daughter?” A reporter from Cologne called me and asked: “Are you the famous mister Haase?” I said: “No, I’m not the famous mister Haase. My name is simply Haase, and it should stay that way.” Even when the thought of having a daughter like Anni-Frid now is making me very happy.

Saturday 17 April 2010

Muziek Expres, March 1981: The ABBA Business, part 2

Here’s part two of a lengthy article called The ABBA Business, as published in Dutch magazine Muziek Expres in 1981.
ABBA is one of the best selling products in the world. This product consists of the exceedingly strong melodies by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson and the good looking and singing duo Frida Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog. But there’s more behind this quality product. For instance, a golden recording method and a flourishing company with twenty-five employees who are all under the leadership of ABBA manager Stikkan ‘Stig’ Anderson. In this second part of The ABBA Business, among other things, interviews with the producers duo Ulvaeus/Andersson, manager Stig Anderson and sound technician Michael Tretow.

Manager and president Stig Anderson comes out of his office, looks around and subsequently puts out his hand to me. “Come on in, have a seat, would you like some coffee, I’ll be right with you, have a cigarette, did you bring a tape recorder, where is your photographer, what time is it, aha, then I still have 45 minutes, wait awhile, I’ll be right back...”
The office is decorated quite modestly, a couple of gold records on the wall. The rest of the trophies is spread over the entire building. A nice arithmetical problem: how many gold and platinum records have been handed over with interim total sales of fifty million singles and albums?
ABBA is the richest company in Sweden and, apart from that, has a considerable amount of financial influence in other companies. There’s no business like ABBA business. For most people, ABBA is a band, for some others a money machine and for many Swedes, except for a music group, canned herring and caviar as well. Because there’s another company in Sweden that’s called ABBA. ABBA with the sea scent had no objection to the ABBA that produced sounds, so today two ABBAs exist. With the difference that the musical ABBA put one B backwards. For that matter, since a couple of years the musical ABBA indirectly has shares in ABBA the fish factory as well. What a coincidence...
He enters the room, meanwhile gesturing industriously to his ex-secretary and now vice-president Görel Hanser. He hands over my coffee with a foot-bath personally. Then we are alone. Anderson (I’m allowed to call him Stig, if I want) drinks his coffee black, but during the entire interview he keeps stirring his cup. From time to time, his other hand puts out a burning cigarette in the ashtray. I only knew Anderson from the pictures that were taken during the illustrious Eurovision Song Contest (April 6, 1974) in Brighton. The boss of the ABBA company now looks like he is sixty years old, instead of fifty, an age that he has yet to achieve.
A little question at the president: has everything been achieved where music is concerned?
A passionate Anderson: “The basic assumption of that question is completely wrong. How often do I have to say that money is not the most important thing. It’s the fun and after that it’s the money. Artistically speaking, you have never reached your peak. ABBA has a recognizable sound, but none of these songs sound the same.”
He’s right about that. However... the money, it keeps coming in. The assets of the four ABBA members is estimated at nearly 200 million Dutch guilders, Stig Anderson himself has plenty of dough as well: 30 million. Such an enormous wealth is not within easy reach for everybody, and certainly not that kind of success. What’s the secret?
Stig: “In the first instance, I think it’s luck. Because you have got to have luck, otherwise nothing will happen. Furthermore, I believe that we as a group have created a rather unique situation. I wanted to have everything under one umbrella. To have a record company and at the same time publish music and so on. This means that you benefit from your own creations one hundred percent. No one will exploit you. It’s a smart, democratic and social system.”
Stikkan’s plan was that smart that even too much money was coming in at one point. And the tax-collection office kept calling ‘Ka-ching’. That’s why the company ABBA, that initially only occupied itself with musical activities, rapidly started participating in other kinds of companies. Buying and especially investing was the device. And all of a sudden, they were acquired faster than the speed of light: warehouses, supermarkets, houses, sports businesses, an art gallery. They invested in oil, cucumbers, horses and bicycles. It’s Anderson’s dream to introduce his ABBA on the stock market. “A sensible fan will then, apart from the latest ABBA album, buy an ABBA share as well...”

A shrewd business man, that Stikkan Anderson. First a salesclerk, then a teacher, after that a lyric writer and president of his own music publishing company. “Why should others make money of my songs.” Anderson already had a lot of hits credited to his name and a lot of money in his bank account before he first met Björn and then Benny. For instance, he wrote the music and original lyrics for the European hit that became well-known in Holland under the title ‘Hou Je Echt Nog Van Mij Rockin’ Billy’, sung into the charts in 1960 by Ria Valk. That gold record is hanging on the office wall as well. Doesn’t he miss this writing?
“Yes, very much. As you know, I’ve contributed to a lot of ABBA hits as well, especially lyrically. But I don’t have any time these days to sit down and write songs myself. Artistically speaking, I still think along with ABBA. The outfits, album sleeves, stage designs, promotion, songs, actually I interfere with everything. Keeping yourself busy on a business level only tends to become tiresome. I think that having conversations with foreign record companies is a creative job as well. As you may know, ABBA’s own record company Polar Records has closed distribution deals with all kinds of big record companies all over the world. In every country, I’ve chosen the best record company. Why? Very simple, because every record company is as good as its president. It might very well be the case that one record company is very good in Holland and that same company in England very bad.”

Björn says about Stikkan: “In former times, Stikkan was indeed often on top of the songs, yes. He helped us out with the lyrics, chords and he gave us very valuable advice with his expertise in this business. Obviously, this has decreased over time. Meanwhile, we have become experts in this business ourselves. But despite Stig’s focus on business activities, he remains the most artistic manager. He is still on the same wavelength. Therefore, ABBA consists of five masterminds...”
According to Stig, there are indeed five and he’s certainly not the only one responsible for the Big Success.
“Nonsense. That would be true if I had written and sung everything myself.”
But Stig likes to commend himself for the fact that he put the guys on the girls’ track and therefore he is taking credit for putting the eventual ABBA together. Andersson met Björn Ulvaeus already back in 1964, one of the Hootenanny Singers, who were then very popular in Sweden. He was the songwriter of that successful band, just like Benny Andersson was of another Swedish top group in those days: the Hep Stars. Benny was the pianist and he even came to Holland to perform ‘Sunny Girl’ on television, which was a huge hit in our country at the time. The two B’s of ABBA recorded an album together in 1969. Actually, it wasn’t massively successful. Stig: “I expected more from it. But what was missing from that record became all the more clear later on...”
What was lacking were female vocals, like Frida and Agnetha’s. Vocals as they sounded on the song ‘Waterloo’. The song that started their victory. While most Eurovision winners don’t have a very prosperous career, ABBA managed to work magic with one magnificent song after the other. Songs that are pieced together perfectly soundwise. Therefore, the producers Ulvaeus and Andersson are often called the Phil Spectors of the seventies. Benny: “A compliment, but it’s a bit exaggerated. The most important thing is that we have found a sound that harmonizes with the melodies. I think that the team is smaller than you would think. No, you choose musicians that go with a song. Actually, the team consists of the four of us and the technician. He is crucial, no matter what...”

Technician Michael B. Tretow usually works for ABBA at the Polar Studios. And when he doesn’t have to work for ABBA, he works at home. For himself. In his own studio, an hour’s drive from Stockholm. Goodness knows how Michael looks like in person, but on the phone he sounds a bit like this: “At home, I mostly do recordings for audio visuals or things like that. I don’t have a real studio here, you know. It’s not that advanced. It’s more like a control room and some microphones in the bathroom. But I’ve recorded quite a lot here.”
ABBA as well?
“Haha. No, we only do that in the Polar Studios. We have more options there.”
Tell me, Michael. In what respect do you see yourself as someone whose contribution was vital to ABBA’s success?
“Now that’s a question. I truly believe that every self-respecting technician would have done the things that I did. Do a good job and think along. It’s your job.”
But didn’t you invent a certain technique that made the sound bigger?
“That’s true, yes. I incorporated a couple of speed changes. When you play back a recorded voice at different kinds of speed, you get some kind of enhanced sound. These days, there is equipment to do that.”
What does a recording period for one song look like?
“On the first day, the basic instruments like bass, drums and piano are recorded, the second day is used to add a couple of separate instruments and the next day the vocals are recorded. So that’s when the ladies enter the studio and mostly Benny and Björn are singing along on backing vocals as well. The next day a couple of overdubs are being done and then the mixing starts. That’s mostly the longest period. Sometimes we even spend months on that. We spent eight months on the whole album ‘Super Trouper’.”
Is there some kind of recipe for the ABBA sound?
“As I mentioned earlier, the separately recorded voices. Apart from that it’s really the song that should have enough quality. If that isn’t the case, you can bend over backwards as a technician, but you won’t succeed. And without Agnetha and Frida, the ABBA sound would never have been the ABBA sound...”

Björn and Benny are somewhat vague about their future. The first one says that there are no plans outside ABBA. “There are,” the other then adds. But Björn puts a stop to it. He tells Benny that he can’t say anything about that yet. Bad luck. Let’s give it another try. How about that musical? Four years ago it was announced for the following year. “That doesn’t mean that it’s off the table,” Björn says smilingly. “It will come, when we have the time,” Benny adds.
Wrong, gentlemen. Stig Anderson has just claimed that he has scheduled a meeting about this musical business a day after tomorrow. Basically, everything seems to be settled. Well, financially speaking, that is. Because according to Stikkan, a concept still has to be found. The theme that the musical will revolve around. Only then, action can be taken. That basic theme has to be on the table faster than the speed of light though, because Stikkan already has a couple of things planned concerning this musical in 1981. So there’s work to be done.

Sunday 11 April 2010

Pop Biz, 1978: ABBA’s Agnetha speaks her mind: “I wouldn’t know what to do on my own...”

Agnetha Fältskog got married on June 6, 1971 to the then already well-known pop musician Björn Ulvaeus. At the time, nothing was pointing to the fantastic things to come. Now, seven years later, blonde Agnetha sometimes thinks about the old days with melancholy. Then she wonders how it’s all going to end...

Actually, Agnetha has never made much effort to put herself forward. But in one way or another, other people have always encouraged her to keep singing. It all started with her father, a musician himself, who wrote songs for her when she was very little. Later on, Björn and ABBA eventually made her a star. Maybe that’s why she is able to look at things in a cool, businesslike way.
“I know that we are world famous and are at the absolute top. But I try not to think about that too much. Sometimes, it makes me a little scared,” she confesses openly. When you talk to Agnetha, it is clear that she doesn’t behave like a star at all. She notices small details, gets tea herself and she talks about music as little as possible. “It may sound strange,” she apologizes, “but I don’t interfere at all with the plans of the group. I’d rather leave that to Benny and Björn. They know exactly what’s right for ABBA.”

Agnetha’s faith in the team of Benny-Björn-Stig is unlimited. “There is some kind of family bond between us,” she explains. “It’s not a business relationship, like you often see between artists and their managers. ABBA is a true family company.” Agnetha herself takes care of the daily worries of her own ‘family company’, namely her own little family. She has now been a mother for almost a year and during the past year she has had to compromise and improvise quite a lot to divide her time between both tasks as good as possible. Luckily, ABBA has taken things a little easer this year. But will it remain that way in the future? “I don’t know,” Agnetha says pensively. “We’ve already done everything once and in Europe we can go on like this for some time to come. However, America is still one big riddle. If our records will make it big over there, everything will change. Then we will be away from home very often, because you have to work hard to stay on top there. Television performances and tours will take up a lot of our time then. To be honest, I’m not sure if I would really want that. Now, we can make new recordings in peace and quiet and we live comfortably here.”

On the one hand, Agnetha is a homely type of person, but on the other hand she is also a little ‘addicted’ to success. “I wouldn’t want to stop for quite some time,” she smiles spontaneously. “That would leave an enormous void in my life. Sometimes I try to imagine how it would be like without ABBA. I know at some point the day will come that we will quit. It may be years and years before that day arrives, but it will come. And what happens then? I wouldn’t have to work or anything like that, because there’s more than enough money. Maybe we could have some more children. But oh well, there won’t be any time for that in the near future...” Agnetha thinks it’s a little disquieting to think too much about the future. Maybe that’s because there were always other people who defined her future. She doesn’t mind: “I know that I didn’t take a lot of initiatives myself, but I have no regrets about that. Life has been good to me and I have a lot of sweet people surrounding me. I trust them wholeheartedly and I couldn’t cope without them. I’m just not very independent, but that’s not a bad thing, is it? For that matter, I wouldn’t have achieved as much on my own. I don’t think it’s any fun either to have a solo career. It’s fantastic to make an audience enthusiastic with the four of us, but I wouldn’t like to be on stage alone for all the gold in the world.”

Friday 9 April 2010

Bravo, October 1974: ABBA, love the Swedish way

Two happy couples are making the music in the Swedish top group: in the last issue, we introduced Anna & Björn, who are married to each other. This time, it’s Anni-Frid & Benny’s turn – a typical Swedish love couple.

Anni-Frid & Benny: “Waterloo’ stopped us from getting married.”
Two small, silver friendship rings are the only ‘official’ sign that Benny and Anni-Frid are in love with each other since five years. They are living together in the suburb Rosengarden, 30 kilometres outside Stockholm.
Anni-Frid has been married once before. She already has two sons, aged 6 and 9, that you wouldn’t expect the blonde 28-year-old Swede to have – she looks that young. “I got married to my adolescent love when I was seventeen, and that was simply too soon,” Anni-Frid says. “We got divorced after five years of marriage. In mutual understanding. I see my ex-husband and my children regularly. Despite everything, this marriage was a great experience for me, and that’s why I would love to get married again...”
Benny doesn’t have anything against marriage either. He reveals: “Actually, we wanted to get married once. The date was set, the invitations had been sent – but at the last moment something came in between: our Eurovision victory in Brighton with ‘Waterloo’. After that, we received so many offers that we had to postpone our wedding, that had been planned in July. Maybe we’ll have time for it next year, in January we will finally have two weeks off...”
Both of them are convinced that nothing will change their way of living together, just because of a marriage certificate. Since five years, Benny and Anni-Frid have been living in their wooden bungalow with their dog Zappa. The chores have been divided efficiently: Benny is taking care of the music, and Anni-Frid of everything else: the housekeeping, the mail and the money. “Anni-Frid is very independent and much cleverer in business matters than me,” Benny admits. “She knows exactly what she wants...”
Apart from that, Anni-Frid is responsible for ABBA’s stage outfits and show. She designs all ABBA costumes, she draws them and makes them, together with a seamstress. Every costume costs up to 1000 German Marks. The girls’ costumes are usually a little cheaper, because they are showing more ‘skin’.
While Anni-Frid gets most of her chores done at home, Benny has to drive 30 kilometres to Stockholm every day in his brown BMW. It’s there where he writes new lyrics in his office or produces records by other artists in the studio. Most of the time, he doesn’t come home until nine or ten in the evening. Is there any private life left for the both of them in these circumstances?
“We mostly have time for each other in the weekends. Then we drive to our sailboat,” Benny says. “It’s anchored on a lonely isle. The boat carries the name Simona, has two sleeping cabins and a real kitchen. We own it together with Björn and Anna. Mostly we go out on 48 hours long non-stop sailing trips. Two weeks ago, we were experiencing shipwreck and we were rescued by a fishing boat...”
During the entire interview, Benny and Ann-Frid are cuddling each other. Most of the time, Benny calls her ‘Frida’, and she gives Benny a kiss or wraps her arm around him. That’s why I ask a candid question: is it true that Swedish girls always take the initiative and that they are easier to conquer than girls in other countries?
“It’s definitely not easier, but rather more difficult,” Benny thinks. “Swedish girls know exactly when they want to do what with who. Swedish girls are not easily taken off guard, like it is often claimed. But when they love someone very much, then they commit to that physically as well.”
Anni-Frid adds: “It even gets to the point where the girls are allowed to bring their boyfriends to their homes, even to stay the night. At least, this was the case with me. When I was sixteen, I made love to a boy for the first time and I could also talk openly about that to my parents. Putting your trust in each other – that’s the most important thing...”
Benny and Anni-Frid want to raise their child in that spirit as well. Both of them agree that they want a child. But when, that’s just as problematic as the date of their wedding. When Bravo paid them a visit, they were extremely busy with the preparations for ABBA’s big European tour. The tour kicked off in October and will continue until the end of December. It will lead them through Norway, Denmark, Germany, Holland, Switzerland, France and Italy. ABBA will perform in Germany from November 18 until November 30.
The hits ‘Waterloo’, ‘Ring Ring’ and ‘Honey, Honey’ are all present in the set list, that has been compiled by Benny. Apart from that, a couple of Swedish folk songs, tailored for pop, and the latest songs from the upcoming ABBA album ‘So Long’. “I’m a little scared of giant tours like this,” Anni-Frid admits. “You are on the road constantly, you have to get up on stage every night and your are completely exhausted afterwards. There’s not much time for love in these circumstances...”

Monday 5 April 2010

Joepie, September 1979: ABBA is feeling great, how about you? – Swedish top group has already sold 100 million records!

A report from Belgian magazine Joepie about the opening night and the accompanying press conference of ABBA’s 1979 tour.
It seemed as if ABBA had brought along all of their silver, gold and platinum records to Edmonton in Canada. In the hotel room, where the famous Swedish quartet gave a press conference on the occasion of the premiere of their world tour, literally an entire wall was covered with sparkling, shining discs. Their Canadian record company even added to that number by handing out two gold and five platinum albums for the impressive sales figures of the group in that country. At the table in front of that wall, accompanied by ‘big boss’ Stig Anderson, a slightly tense but still generously smiling ABBA. “Not without pride we can announce that ABBA has sold more than 100 million records since they started out,” Stig was beaming above his prominent moustache. The press gathering had been declared opened with a brand new world record!

This meeting with journalists from all corners of the world, among them Joepie’s regular photographer from London André Csillag, was actually meant to be the official launch of ABBA’s 1979 world tour. In particular, to give the photographers the opportunity to take some pictures of the occasion, as well as a series of pictures of the new show.
For that matter, during the entire run of the tour, it won’t be possible to get an appointment with the complete ABBA, because the tour, that will last for over two months, is considered to be too exhausting. Especially for Frida and Agnetha. There will also be severe restrictions for photographers during every concert, firstly because the fans should not be bothered too much and secondly because the concerts in London and Brussels will be filmed for an ABBA special.
But obviously it could be expected that ABBA would be asked a couple of ‘annoying’ questions. Not only was there the recent divorce between Agnetha and Björn to talk about, but especially the rumours about the end of the group. Of course, they had been expecting this and they had prepared themselves, supported like a tower of strength by their manager, not without reason called the fifth ABBA.
“We are happy that our divorce is now completely final,” Björn said convincingly when asked what the deal was between Agnetha and himself. Whereby he was supported with a spontaneous wink from his ex-wife, but still his colleague. And how were they feeling now? Whereupon Agnetha, more mesmerizing than ever, replied with her prettiest smile: “We are feeling great, how about you?”
That their divorce has been finalized in the most amicable atmosphere was proved yet again the next day during the concert. After the opening song, Björn introduced the group to the fans. The last one to be introduced was Agnetha. “And this is... Agnetha... my ex-wife,” he hesitated playfully, whereupon Agnetha acted as if she wanted to walk off, but then threw herself in his arms as if she was his best friend!

Obviously, the long-awaited question that was on everyone’s lips was what was true about the rumours about the quartet splitting up and their farewell to live performances. Their unified, carefree faces took away every doubt immediately. “Everything is going terrific with ABBA, why would we quit?” Benny wondered. “Apart from that, all four of us are still full of plans,” Björn continued, “but I can’t tell very much more about that at the moment. Maybe our manager Stig Anderson wants to do that.” For a while, Stig frowned his eyebrows, cleared his throat and said, clearly in a sharing mood: “Look, we know perfectly well that there’s life after ABBA. The girls were already famous before they joined the group. Benny, Björn and I could continue composing hits. We could have second homes in London, New York or Los Angeles. Everyone will ask us if we want to write songs for them. And then there is also our studio in Stockholm, Polar Recording Studio, that’s going really well. We’re now already running one year behind on our working schedule, the studio is that busy. So there’s no talk at all of ABBA splitting up, although it’s possible that we will organise things differently in the future than we are doing now.”

For instance, from a different ‘home’ country? “The ABBA members and I don’t believe that it’s worth it to move abroad,” Stig emphasized. “We prefer to be able to live a normal, everyday life in Sweden. It may sound insane but it’s the truth.”
But will this be a farewell to the exhausting and nerve-racking tours and the live performances? The ABBA fivesome had to laugh cordially at so much stubbornness. “May we finish this tour first before we give an answer to that question,” Björn replied jokingly. Meanwhile, boss Anderson skilfully took care of the closing speech. “You know, this tour will not make us any money, even though every concert is completely sold out, which seems to be the case according to the latest reports. But this is something that we owe to the fans. And do you know what delights us most? That we have proved that good music for everybody can come from anywhere, and certainly not only from England or North America.”
After we managed to get hold of Stig for a joint drink, he invited Joepie to an exclusive and extensive interview in his Swedish headquarter. In between some of the performances, he would have to go home for business anyway, so we might as well fly along with him. As a present from us, starting next week, you will get his revelations about the future of the biggest pop group in the world today.

Sunday 4 April 2010

Joepie, January 1977: ABBA was only founded after their victory at Eurovision

An ABBA special from Belgian magazine Joepie, published on the eve of ABBA’s 1977 tour.
Without any doubt, ABBA is the most popular pop group at the moment. Their record sales, amounting to millions, underline this fact more than enough. To give you yet another example: for their one-off concert in London, the organisers received so many ticket applications that ABBA could have performed there 147 times in a sold out concert hall. And also for the concert that will take place on February 5 at the Arena Hall in Deurne, the demand for tickets was much higher than the supply. As a taster for the lucky ones among you who have been able to get such a ticket, and as a small comfort for the others, there’s an ABBA special on the next few pages, wherein the two boys and girls talk more extensively than ever about the past, the present and the future. With accompanying pictures as a bonus...

A bored teenager with two children.
Anni-Frid (the dark-haired lady) is the oldest of the girls. She was born in Narvik, a little village in Norway, on November 15, 1945 as Anna Frida Lyngstad. Two years later, she moved to Sweden with her family. “I was ten years old when I taught myself how to play the guitar. A couple of years later, I started taking dance lessons, and when I was fourteen I founded my own band. We played at school parties and things like that, not much was happening. Until I met a boy, when I was sixteen, and gave up everything for him. I didn’t want anything to do with music any longer, because he wasn’t really into that. We were madly in love with each other. We got married two months after we had first met. Here in Sweden, that’s not out of the ordinary in any way, even our parents didn’t have anything against it and they organised the entire party. Twelve months later, my son Hans was born, and later on Liselotte, who is two years younger. I’ve experienced wonderful moments with my husband, those first three years were like heaven on earth for me. But the being in love passed by and I started to get bored. Due to his profession, my husband was out quite often and I was left alone. I was nineteen years old, mother of two children and being a housewife was my profession. For a lot of girls, that would be sufficient but not for me. At one night, my husband came home while I was crying. We talked everything out – we chatted until 8 o’clock in the morning – and decided to separate. I see my husband every two months when I visit my children, who stayed with him. Despite everything, we’ve remained good friends.”
There were no obstacles anymore for Frida, and she could start working on a permanent career in show business. In the meantime, her husband has remarried, but Frida still carries his name. “That’s right, my passport still mentions the name Fredriksson. We did get divorced officially, but I omitted to have it changed on my documents. And apparently, now it’s too late for that...” Frida went on to live alone in an apartment and took a job as a ballet dancer. “I was lucky that I never gave up dancing, not even when I was married. Otherwise I may have turned into a bulky woman, and paled into insignificance.”
Within a few months, Frida managed to work her way up and she even got a contract to work for Swedish television. “In one of these shows, I was allowed to sing a song, a Christmas song, I remember it very well. That came across so well on the television screen that I found four record producers on my doorstep the next day, waving with a contract. I chose the best one, and my first record was a duet with the Swedish singer Lars Berghagen. It became a hit, and after that I recorded some more solo singles, that all ended up in the charts...”
Her first meeting with Benny took place at a broken coffee machine. “I remember as if it happened yesterday,” Frida smiles. “Coincidentally, we were guests on the same television programme and – again coincidentally – we were thirsty at the same time. But it turned out that the machine didn’t work, and that’s why Benny invited me to quickly have a drink across the street. After the show, we had another drink, but this time in a more relaxed setting. What attracted me in Benny was his charm and his sense of humour. Later on, I learned to appreciate him as well for his seriousness and his love for his profession...”
According to Frida, Benny is the ideal man for her. Do they never argue then? “We do, and that even happens regularly when a new ABBA single is being made. Because then, Benny gets worked up by everything and nothing. Every cigarette I smoke is too much, and he gets furious immediately when he can’t find something in the kitchen. Believe me, those few weeks that precede a new release, Benny isn’t easy to live with. Luckily, he is the complete opposite when he isn’t nervous.”

Benny had five sweethearts at every finger.
Benny Andersson (the bearded one) was born on December 16, 1946 and he originates from an extremely musical family. He was only four years old when he learned how to play the flute, three years later he knew his way with the accordion as well. “From the age of seven until seventeen, I performed with my parents in a family trio. We were very popular in Stockholm and its surroundings. I remember that I had to learn how to sign my autograph to keep the fans happy, because I didn’t know how to write yet at the time. But in ’63 – I was seventeen – I heard ‘Love Me Do’ on the radio, sung by an English group who called themselves the Beatles. I was so fascinated by the sound that they produced that I wanted to start a group like that as well. But the only problem was that I was still playing with my parents. At one night, I talked about it openly with my father, and his reaction was really cool: you do that, boy, just forget about the trio. For that matter, my parents decided to quit as well. I started playing with the Hep Stars, and it didn’t take long for us to score our first hit. A prominent Swedish paper gave another boost by calling us Sweden’s answer to the Beatles. All in all, we’ve achieved eight gold records, among them four compositions written by me. In those days, I was quite a big star in Sweden. At receptions, I was often the guest of honour, in the streets I was stormed by teenagers and I had five sweethearts at every finger. At the time I thought that was extremely cool, obviously. Frida always looks a little upset when I bring up stories like that...”
Benny is regarded as ABBA’s strong man. He writes the music and afterwards Björn writes the lyrics.
“Recently, Björn and I have bought a little island, about 20 kilometres from Stockholm. We each have our own house there and whenever we have to compose, we always go there together with the girls. The island itself isn’t that big: you can walk around it in five minutes. But it’s extremely cosy and very quiet. Whenever a melody springs to my mind, I go to the piano and then I only tolerate my dog Zappa as my company. I play the piano and sing as well, the most inconsistent sentences, because Björn is specialized in lyrics. Out of the four of us, he speaks English the best. Yes, then I sing any nonsense lyrics that come to mind. When Björn has finished his lyrics, then we complete the rest together. And sometimes that takes quite some time! We worked on ‘Money, Money, Money’ for three months...”
Despite his busy life, Benny makes time for his two children, Helen (8) and Peter (7). And he is doing sports as well, like cycling, tennis and rowing. “I’m thirty years old now. But in five years time, I still want to be around...”

Anna’s first boyfriend was a German.
Blonde Anna was born as Anna Agneta Fältskog on April 5, 1950 in the Swedish village Jönköping. Her father had a revue hall there, and it probably won’t surprise anybody that Anna made her debut on stage at a very young age. “There was a lot of singing going on at our home. When I was five years old, my father gave me a piano as a present and three years later I got a classical education. For years, I played the church organ every week. But when I turned fifteen, I wanted to make a more contemporary type of music and I joined a local dance band. Every week, we had to perform somewhere in the neighbourhood. My father has always been a big support for me. For instance, without my knowledge, he sent one of my tapes to a record company and that’s how I managed to get my first recording contract. I recorded a song, ‘Jag Var Så kär’ (I Was So In Love) and it became a hit in Sweden...”
A dream come true? “Not exactly,” Anna says. “Because, despite my musical past, as a teenager I dreamed about becoming a psychiatrist or a veterinarian. My uncle had a farm and animals have always interested me. The fact that I ended up in show business, is thanks to my father...”
Before she joined ABBA, she released 15 singles and 5 albums as a solo singer. All of them became hits in Sweden, one of them bigger than the other. She also made a couple of German recordings. “Most people think that Björn was my very first love, but that’s a little lie. During the time that I spent in Germany to make some recordings, I met a boy who worked in the studio. I was madly in love with him and vice versa. We’ve experienced wonderful moments. But well, he lived in Berlin and I lived in Stockholm, and after some time we lost track of each other...” Much later, she met Björn. “That happened at an open air show somewhere in Sweden, where we both had to perform. He was part of the Hootenanny Singers, in Sweden a fairly well-known folk group. In the dressing room, our eyes met several times, but it didn’t come to a conversation that day. Björn was – and still is – extremely shy. But a couple of days later, I did receive one of the records of his group. He had drawn a circle around his face and had written: I want to see you again. And that happened two months later in a television show. Together with a group of people, we went to the bar of the building to have some drinks and again we stared at each other without saying anything. Then I realized that he was very shy, that’s why I asked him myself if he wanted to come walk with me. The ice had been broken, because that same evening he told me that he had fallen madly in love with me...”
Apart from Björn, Anna has yet another big love: her three-year-old daughter Linda. “Linda is my life,” she says. “I’ve scheduled our concerts – or rather, had them scheduled – in such a way that we will have a couple of days off every week. Then, Björn and I will fly back to Stockholm to pay her a visit...”

Björn brought the two girls together.
Björn Ulvaeus was born in Gothenburg on April 15, 1945. Eleven years later, he moved with his parents to the village Västervik, where he founded a dance band together with some school friends. Later on, he ended up with the folk group the Hootenanny Singers, with whom he achieved an enormous success in Sweden. “At one night, Benny and his group performed on the same programme as the Hootenanny Singers. Since we were both the composers of our respective groups, we started a conversation in our dressing room. And right away, we felt that we were on the same wavelength. That same night, we stuck around after the show to chat some more in a bar, until deep in the night. Within barely seven hours, we composed four songs there, among them ‘Ring Ring’. Benny and I would, as some kind of hobby, record that song the following week in the studio. There was no talk of splitting up with our respective groups, because it was only an experiment. The recordings turned out great, but after listening to the tape we just felt that the song sounded too empty. Coincidentally, it came up for discussion that we were both engaged to a singer, and that’s why we decided to bring along the two girls the next day and record the song again. That day, Anna and Frida met each other for the first time. In a sense, they were each other’s competition, since they both released solo singles. But still they got along great. And yes, ‘Ring Ring’ sounded wonderful with the four of us, and it also gave us our first hit outside the Swedish borders. Still, we pursued our own activities for one more year (Benny and I with our groups and the girls on their own). It wasn’t until our victory at the Eurovision Song Contest that all four of us became fulltime ABBAs. ABBA won the Eurovision Song Contest without existing officially...”
At last, we ask Björn to reveal something about the upcoming concert. “Well, we will be on the road with a ten piece orchestra, and added to that three backing singers. There will be no opening act and we will be on stage for two hours without an intermission. The girls will change their costumes three times. We will sing our hits, and added to that we will perform three brand new songs that haven’t been released on record yet. But I won’t tell you more than that, it has to remain a surprise more or less...”

Veronica, December 1977: ABBA: “We are not actors”

Here’s a report from Dutch magazine Veronica about ABBA - The Movie, that was about to be released in Holland at that time.
This year, Christmas will be dominated by two major blockbusters. The cinema fans will undoubtedly get in line for ‘Star Wars’, but the music fanatics don’t want to miss an inch of celluloid of the movie ‘ABBA’. A highly anticipated product, that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Indeed, the music factory ABBA has sneaky plans with this, in advance already successful, movie.

Obviously, it’s manager, songwriter and (the pianist) Benny’s father, Stig Anderson who is willing to tell a little bit more about the meaning of this feature film. “This movie is a test for ABBA’s popularity,” he says. Stig is not a very friendly person, but when the subject is success or money, something seems to defrost. “And then I’m not talking about Europe, but America. I’ve been asked a hundred thousand times why ABBA hasn’t toured yet in America. They’ve had hits and gold records over there, so what could possibly stop us, you would think. I’ve kept ABBA out of the United States on purpose. They’ve been there a couple of times to do some promotion, but that’s all. Indeed, America should become the crowning achievement of ABBA’s success. They will only go on tour there if I’m one hundred percent convinced in advance that it will be an overwhelming success. The ABBA movie is able to provide all the necessary clues.”
Insiders in the music industry all agree that, if ABBA makes it big in the States, this quartet will become the most important export article after Volvo. ABBA is able to strike an inexhaustible goldmine over there.

“We want an ABBA invasion. Not an uphill struggle. I won’t let them loose on the American market before success is guaranteed.” Stig’s words are resolved and self-confident. As a true commanding officer, he leads his group. A musical strategist of the Napoleon calibre. With the difference that Napoleon lost his battle at Waterloo and ABBA started their string of victories at the same place. The ABBA movie has had its premiere in Australia recently. There was a special reason for that. The Swedish group has toured extensively in that country. Director Lasse Hallström has shot no less than fifty hours of film over there. All action shots originate from that. The major part of this movie will consist of the most exciting moments of this tour. Still, Hallström has managed to incorporate some kind of storyline in the movie, in collaboration with the Australian scriptwriter Bob Caswell. The focus is on a DJ who is going through this movie adventure together with ABBA. In the end, it all comes down to music, because the DJ is honoured by ABBA with four new songs, that have been composed by Benny and Björn. The titles are ‘Thank You For The Music’, ‘Eagle’, ‘I’m A Marionette’ and ‘I Wonder’. The fifth new song is already familiar. That’s ‘Name Of The Game’, already a hit in The Netherlands. In the movie, this song is presented in a surrealistic scene, wherein ABBA goes up and down in an open elevator. Bizarre, but effective. That’s also the aim that’s strived for. Now back to commanding officer Anderson.

“It’s not a movie wherein high profile acting achievements should be expected. ABBA is music. I assume that people will come and see the movie for that.” Director Hallström can be more specific. “I did my best to avoid a copy of the Beatles’ ‘Help’. In that movie, the four boys were suddenly introduced as actors, who also sang a song every now and then. In this movie, it’s all about the songs. I can hear you think that this is one big promotional film for the new and fifth album, but that’s a mistake. I have a reasonable reputation as a director and I want to keep it at that level, especially now that it concerns an international blockbuster.”
Anyone who want to see ‘ABBA’ can expect an impression of the Swedish quartet that’s far from complete, but nevertheless a lively (albeit glamorous) image of their current lifestyle. Hallström: “I’m not dealing with four fresh actors, who want to make it big as actors and actresses. They are only playing themselves. When they are acting, they do it on stage during their performance. For the rest, I only followed them with my camera to portray them on the big screen as natural as possible. We decided to incorporate a little storyline to make some kind of concession to the art of film. ABBA rightfully says: ‘we are not actors’. And that’s true...”
Manager Anderson avoids every bet about the success of the movie. Anderson doesn’t speculate. With patience and craftsmanship, he wins over the entire international market. No less than 544 cover versions have been made of ABBA’s songs in no less than 24 countries.

Still, the movie has cost a lot of money. Polar Film & Music Productions and AB Svensk Film (SF) have spent more than two and a half million Dutch guilders on this product. It might have been worse, because numerous countries are interested already. In Holland, the movie will be released around Christmas with twelve copies. No one needs to be anxious about the success in our country. The biggest blow should take place in America.
“We’ve seen to it that not too much Swedish is spoken in the movie,” Hallström says. “This should be easy to swallow for everyone. And mark my words: it will be. Anderson would never have allowed us to make this movie if he wouldn’t have been able to predict the box office results in advance.” With this easy-titled movie, ABBA is on its way to equal or even beat the records set by the Beatles.
The director has the last word: “I didn’t lose a night’s sleep over this. I have only dreamed about long lines of mothers and children, teenagers and elderly people, who are all waiting in line in front of hundreds of cinemas. A wonderful dream. I hope to live it in reality in the near future.”

Friday 2 April 2010

Popshop, January 1977: Why did Polydor misuse ABBA’s press conference? – Dutch press was absent in Poland

Recently, reporters from all over Europe travelled to the Polish capital Warsaw to keep a close eye on the activities of the Swedish top group ABBA. From Stockholm, reporters and photographers flew along with the idols and for three days in a row they could chat and take pictures of the group, that can be considered as one of the busiest supergroups at the moment. The European press could thank the record companies, that release ABBA’s records in the respective countries, for this trip. However, the Dutch press was conspicuous by its absence...

ABBA was in Poland to film a television special and one thought that this was a nice subject to invite the media to come along. Apart from that, the Swedes are extremely popular in Poland, as they are everywhere, so the photographers could take pictures of ABBA with a crowd of fans in the background. ABBA’s Dutch record company, Polydor, didn’t think this was very important and the only Dutchman who got an airline ticket in his mail was the DJ Willem van Beusekom...

Afterwards, Polydor stated that ABBA probably wouldn’t have performed in Mies Bouwman’s television show at all, if a delegation of the Dutch press had come to Poland. Of course, it’s very touching that the gentlemen at Polydor are so considerate to look out for Mies Bouwman’s interests, but what was done for the Dutch press that has always looked out for ABBA’s interests with big stories and photo reports?
A press conference was organised at the Bel Air Hotel in The Hague, where numerous people from other record companies were present, people from the radio and television world and at last the Dutch music press. Barely one and a half hour was reserved for this event, and during that time the Swedish quartet had to receive gold and platinum records as well, so that the press hardly had the opportunity to chat with ABBA. But the most astounding fact was that Polydor thought it was necessary to use this ‘press’ conference to advertise a music magazine that will remain unnamed. The walls were covered with prominent billboards that mentioned the name of this magazine and of course a copy of this magazine was put in ABBA’s hands. Obviously, the magazine grabbed this opportunity with both hands to advertise their new publication extensively. For instance, they had a nice trophy at hand for the four Swedes who were standing around tongue-tied, because... who exactly was the centre of attention here?

When you look at the facts, it’s clear that Polydor, as the only record company in Europe that represents ABBA, did not invite journalists to make a nice report in Poland, and thought that the customary pictures with gold records and trophies were sufficient. Journalists in Poland had more than enough time to talk to the Swedes quietly, which was a far cry from the heated atmosphere at most press conferences. In short: Polydor let a unique chance go by to give the press the opportunity to get some good material for its magazines and indirectly promote ABBA and Polydor, naturally!
No, Polydor says, we are going to have a different approach, we will organise the customary press conference with gold records and put one music magazine in the limelight (the why of this wondrous decision obviously isn’t revealed) and use ABBA as a publicity stunt to focus even more attention on this one magazine. Because of this, it all turned into a boring happening for the other journalists, because you may be each other’s colleagues, a publicity stunt of this calibre simply isn’t interesting for other magazines. ABBA in Poland was!

ABBA has the last word in this matter. How do they feel about incidents like this? It is widely known that ABBA isn’t one of those glamorous groups that exclusively appears at every party. On the contrary, they are very normal people who emphasize the fact that they are normal people in every interview. They work hard and are very happy with their success. As a famous group, you can’t avoid being used for a publicity stunt, but it doesn’t have to be at the expense of your own name! In this case, ABBA was able to read only one miserable story in a Dutch magazine about their visit to Holland: we don’t need to explain that this is not the kind of press reception that ABBA is aiming for!

All in all, it’s quite an unpleasant situation and rightfully ABBA pointed out: “Where are our Dutch fans?” In return, displeased ABBA fans wrote: “Where is ABBA?” The accompanying photos from Poland prove that ABBA is not to blame in any way. Our photo correspondent took these exclusive pictures because we want to show our readers something different than boring pictures of official receptions. Apart from that, these pictures prove that ABBA is willing to appear in front of photographers and fans in a natural atmosphere...