Sunday, 4 July 2010

Muziek Parade, September 1977: The ABBA Story, part 5

After Brighton: the champagne marathon!
They had a good night’s sleep, after all the tensions. After months of preparation. And the morning after their victory, ABBA was awakened by the officials of their British record company CBS. A champagne breakfast had been organized for the group. And not only on that sunny morning. A succession of champagne receptions was on their schedule. Stig Anderson didn’t sit still either: the world wanted to see ABBA, well, the world was going to get ABBA. Stig Anderson had prepared the contracts already, with their time schedule near at hand. Only the signatures were still lacking. But that wouldn’t take long of course. Stig signed one contract after the other.
And Anni-Frid said: “I’ve never seen this much champagne in my entire life. The sprightly bubbles jumped up to my nose, as if they wanted to say: congratulations, we are seeing success and prosperity on the horizon. And that’s how I felt as well. I felt: my life is now really going to take off.”
Along with the champagne, a series of photo sessions followed. During these days, ABBA was accompanied by people from the press, with their entourage. ABBA was being interviewed hundreds of times. And numerous photo sessions were being set up, about which Benny now says: “It was really crazy. We had to stand in all kinds of positions and keep on smiling. My face couldn’t do anything else anymore than produce that grin that I used for photos. It really made me feel quite nauseous, but oh well, it’s part of this business and actually I was very happy with all this attention. We had worked very hard for this.”
And only now, Björn makes an astonishing statement: “Actually, we have to be very honest and say that we didn’t expect to win and we certainly didn’t expect all those doors to open for us in the world because of Brighton. During the contest, I thought Mouth & McNeal would win. I believed that the judges would be more Holland- than Sweden-minded. Apart from that, the duo had a fantastic song: ‘I See A Star’. I thought they were the best!” And Björn, the father-to-be, confesses: “There was another wonderful moment when Mouth & McNeal came over to us and congratulated us spontaneously. They thought that the best song and the best group had won. It was very generous of these people.”
Agnetha remembers: “I experienced the entire event in Brighton as if it was a dream. The tensions are too high. The thought that hundreds of millions people are watching me, paralyzes me and almost takes my breath away. You can’t think straight at a moment like this. Then you hear that you have won and it all turns into a frenzy. Everyone kisses you. Everyone wants to talk to you, photographers. What would have happened if we hadn’t won. And there you are, with a glass of champagne in your hand. You get ever more tired, but you keep on smiling. When it was all over and we were back at the hotel, I awakened from that dream and I remember exactly what I said to Björn: ‘Pinch me. Did it all happen for real. Won’t they take that trophy away from us?’ And Björn put his arm around my shoulders, kissed me in my neck, caressed me and whispered: ‘This was a madhouse, but it did happen! And... brace yourself. For the time being, it will remain this way. We have to keep our feet firmly on the ground, and not let ourselves get carried away!’” Sensible words from the ‘computer’ of the group.
Björn set up a meeting with Stig, Benny, Anni-Frid, Agnetha and some other people from Polar Music. In their hotel room they discussed the future, the series of contracts that Stig had signed, their days off. “From the beginning, I want to organize things properly,” Björn said, “we mustn’t allow our lives to be taken over, and definitely not say yes to everything. We have to last a little longer than these couple of months.” A clear – and sensible – statement, that was put forward in the Napoleon suite of the hotel. Stig Anderson advised the foursome to get some sleep and take a long walk in the afternoon. Later on, they would get together in one of Brighton’s best restaurants. That (Sunday) evening, Stig had organized an intimate dinner for the members of the Polar team, who had worked so hard for this success. Champagne was flowing again and an enormous fish-dish was being served. Meanwhile, Stig read out telegrams, 200 of them. Many from Sweden. On Monday after the contest, the group drove to London in a limousine and ABBA happily plumped down in the car seats, when the car radio played ‘Waterloo’. It seemed as if the four of them heard the song for the first time. At their hotel, the champagne corks were popping again, the BBC cameras were entering their suite and a live interview on Top Of The Pops was filmed. Björn and Benny said how happy they were that the contest was taking place in England, that the whole organization was flawless, that the people were so friendly. It was a tribute to the British Empire. Followed by ‘Waterloo’.

The phones kept ringing and the telexes kept rattling. Offers, offers and more offers for ABBA to come and perform, to appear in talkshows, to do commercials, to perform in films. And Stig said to everybody: “How wonderful that you have called us and it’s even more wonderful that you have considered us, but we are fully booked...” And that was true: ABBA was fully booked for the entire year.
Benny, completely exhausted, withdrew in his room, switched the TV on and watched a horror movie. Now he says: “I had had an awful lot of champagne and I was really worn out and then it’s funny that a horror movie can be relaxing.”
Another dark cloud appeared in the sky: Agnetha was complaining about a sore throat. “My tonsils are troubling me,” she said, “always when I’m overtired, they start nagging me.” The doctor was called in, injections and... rest. It did help. You wouldn’t even dare to imagine that Agnetha would have been bothered by her throat before their performance. That rest suited her well. Agnetha and Björn went out shopping and beer drinker Benny couldn’t be happier when he found himself in a real pub. Those days in London were very pleasant for the foursome, clothes were bought, they went out, in short: the much-desired relaxation after their hard work. For that matter, there was a lot going on in London during that time. London was the swinging centre of Europe, where everything was happening. ABBA made use of the situation. ABBA saw everything.

Busy ending in London
Benny: “To me, those days in London were a big party. I like to have a beer and then you can go to the pubs. I think the people that visit these pubs are wonderful. They are relaxed and always seem to be in good spirits. Drinking beer is a much more social happening in England than it is in Sweden. Björn didn’t like it that much, he thinks that having a drink on a Friday or Saturday evening is quite sufficient. He was truly astounded that everyone in London is having a beer in his favourite pub every day.”
On the last day of their stay in London, there was another photo session scheduled in Hyde Park. The girls had bought special dresses for this occasion and Benny had bought a genuine nappa jacket. After that, the whole bunch went to the Swedish embassy, where the ambassador – a man called Ole Jodahl – spoke the following words to them: “This is my finest day in England, as an ambassador. Never before did I have such fantastic assistants, all four of you are goodwill ambassadors for Sweden, not only now in England but all over the world. Sweden can be very proud of you. Make sure that Sweden can remain proud.”
And after that, the BBC cameras entered the room again, followed by a television interview, this time by deejay David Hamilton.
Agnetha felt nauseous and had a fever. Anni-Frid had hardly gotten any sleep the previous nights. It seemed as if they really started suffering from nerves now. But Agnetha didn’t want to stay in the hotel and after their visit to the embassy and after the BBC interview, she joined the others for a photo session at Waterloo Station, this time for Daily Express: the photographers provided wonderful clothes and they got a lot of attention. And Agnetha kept on smiling, despite the penicillin and antibiotics, that she had been injected with. Björn was very considerate and kept people away from her as much as possible, to give her some peace and quit in all this frenzy.

Back at the Park Lane Hotel, Stig had gathered the international pop press around him and ABBA for the last time. A farewell press conference of sorts. Benny said: “It’s been one big champagne party here. I even had my cornflakes with champagne, but I want to thank you all.”
Björn got up and said: “I think it’s marvellous to be here with you and simply chat about the show business. And not about politics. In Sweden, they always ask questions about our political preferences and we don’t know anything about politics at all. I think it’s even more fun to go back to Sweden now, where we have had some difficult times. In our home country, they didn’t see us as the big conquerors or as a special group. After this overwhelming success, they will have to surrender and stop comparing us to Sweet and Mud, we are different.”

At that meeting, Agnetha confided in a reporter and told her: “Right before the final, I wanted to cut my hair short because it’s so much work, but Stig wouldn’t let me. He said ‘if we lose, then you can cut it’. But we won and since pictures of us had been spread all over the world, I couldn’t cut my hair short all of a sudden. It had become part of the ABBA image. In hindsight, I think it’s a shame that it has to remain long, it’s so much work, but on the other hand I’m very successful with it, especially in Italy and Spain, where they love blonde girls with long hair.”

Here are a couple of other reactions after Brighton.
The well-known lyric writer Harold Spiro: “With ABBA, a new era has started in the Contest. From now on, more countries are going to send groups to the Eurovision Song Contest.”
An enthusiastic Stig Anderson: “After everything that I have experienced here, I believe that we are beginning to outgrow Sweden, we have to get out there, to Australia, America, Japan. How wonderfully big the world is, when your own country is rather small in its surface area.”
Rosemary Horide in Disc Magazine: “After the Song Contest on April 6, 1974, the Eurovision Song Contest is dead, thankfully. Gone are the days that more or less beautiful boys and girls are simply singing a song. Now we expect more than that: a good song, a good show, a good outfit. ABBA has introduced a new formula and we can only be happy about that.”
Participant Paulo de Carvalho from Portugal was angry: “We all had to sing live, but ABBA had brought backing tracks. That’s not fair, I object.” A BBC spokesperson replied: “It is allowed to use backing tracks. Objection denied.”
A somewhat sour Olivia Newton-John, who failed herself with ‘Long Live Love’ thought: “‘Waterloo’ is not the song that I would have picked myself, but I think it’s rather nice. I didn’t believe in my own song at all.”
After the final, Stig received a phone call from Sweden. A reporter asked: “Did you know that forty thousand people died in Waterloo?” Stikkan, completely astounded, replied: “Don’t you realize that we only used ‘Waterloo’ as a symbol, instead of the word ‘loss’?”

When the people from Polar went back to Sweden, Agnetha was the happiest of them all: “I can’t wait to get back to Linda. Of course it’s fun to travel, but it’s a big task for me to leave Linda at home. Maybe that’s why I felt so bad here.”

Via Hamburg, where an Easter television show was quickly filmed, ABBA arrived at Arlanda airport in Stockholm. Their arrival had been kept a secret. ABBA came back into the country through the backdoor, because the employees at the customs office respected their request: to get back home as soon as possible!
Agnetha and Björn were taken back home first, in Vallentuna. Benny says about his homecoming: “I plumped down in a lazy chair. Anni-Frid opened a bottle of champagne – as if we hadn’t had enough of that already – put up a game of chess and we played for a couple of hours. Now we were at home. Really at home. Far away from all these people. Peace and quiet.”
The next morning, Anni-Frid, Benny, Agnetha, Björn and Linda drove out of Stockholm together with Stig and his family, to an island just outside Stockholm. There they celebrated Easter together. They took walks together, went out fishing. “Those couple of days were terrific,” Agnetha says now.

In the summer of 1974, a storm of protest went through Sweden. ABBA had cancelled all their concerts in the country, all thirty of them. Stikkan had the following excuse: “The group has a lot of contracts to fulfil in the world. The boys have to write new songs for their own album. And they have to make preparations for new recordings by other Polar artists.” The organisers of the concerts were furious, threatened them with legal actions and demanded financial compensations. The newspapers were called in. Anderson defended his strategy like this: “What would you do if you were us? We have to go to Paris, to London and so on. Do we have to cancel this because we have to perform here in front of a few hundred people. Would you do that?” The riot escalated in such a way that they resorted to television, where Björn – in a highly rated programme – defended ABBA and the decision they had made. He talked extensively about their preparations that had led to the success in Brighton. About their experiences in England and he concluded: “Of course we would love to do these thirty concerts, but that means that we would have to face yet another tiring month – after the exhausting Eurovision experience – before we will go on a world tour again. I’m asking for understanding from every Swede for this joint decision we have made. We want to spend one month working on our new album and other Polar recordings.”
Of course the word ‘world tour’ had been chosen somewhat dramatically, because ABBA would go to countries like England, France, Germany and Belgium. But they had achieved the desired effect. ABBA travelled through Europe and it wasn’t until one year later that they did a 15-day tour through Sweden, that was concluded with a gigantic concert at the Tivoli in Stockholm. But even on this tour, not everything went according to plan. Agnetha was having throat problems again, concerts were cancelled and/or postponed. And of course the newspapers didn’t hold back on their criticism. The press in Sweden has always been a little reserved towards ABBA. For instance, they objected to the fact that Stig Anderson had stipulated a portion of the turnover at all these concerts. And Stig replied to the criticism: “It seems reasonable to me that ABBA gets paid a higher amount when a lot of people show up to see them. In the end, ABBA is simply a big international group.” And the press kept quiet again for a while.
And then it was Björn who had an argument with a reporter. Björn replied to his question like this: “You always ask us about making money and our political preferences. We are popular, so we are making a lot of money, therefore we pay a lot of taxes as well. We don’t mind that at all. I don’t want to talk about politics. What is socialism, what is democracy? I wouldn’t know. I just want to write good songs for as many people as possible.” And the reporter was silenced.

Benny: “I really don’t understand all this whining by these reporters. We are still the same guys. We prefer the simple things in life. Of course we are having a larger financial budget now, but I still eat one steak. I still like the same movies. I like to spend time at home, with a glass of beer. All of that doesn’t change because you are popular all of a sudden.” And Björn agrees with these words.
After their big success in Brighton with ‘Waterloo’, Stig advised to release ‘Ring Ring’ in England as its follow-up. It was an oldie for ABBA, but for England it was something new. And the chief was right once again. Proudly, he said on Top Of The Pops: “Now this is the song that could have won Eurovision last year.”
Despite all these successes, negative reports kept appearing in the international media, like: ‘ABBA is a one-hit-wonder’ or ‘ABBA is a gimmick group’.
Stig Anderson: “When you become really successful, stories like this will inevitably appear in the newspapers. On the one hand it’s a good sign. It proves that you are following the right path. On the other hand, it tends to spoil the fun of the successes for which you’ve worked so hard. I’ve always believed in ABBA. Even without the Eurovision Song Contest, they would have become really big. Brighton has been an extra push. A push towards a speedier recognition. There’s nothing wrong with that.”
And Anderson is obviously right. The Eurovision Song Contest is being watched by hundreds of millions of people, but countries such as America, Japan and Australia have never even heard of this contest and in those countries ABBA is a major force as well.


Iris said...

Thank you . One of the best Abba blogs on the internet . The articles and pictures are so wonderful and it brings back great memories .

Ellie1997 said...

This articles is great! Thanks for translating and posting! : )))

Michel said...

Thanks ladies. I appreciate your comments!