Saturday 27 November 2010

Muziek Parade, November 1977: The ABBA Story, part 7

The demand for ABBA was growing and growing. Everyone wanted to see and hear the group. In England – where one is used to something – about 5.000 tickets were sold within six hours. An amazing record. The interest was so big that the telephone operators were in total panic. As a matter of speaking, the flames were blazing from the switchboard. During this period, ABBA did two extra concerts in Denmark, so that they wouldn’t disappoint thousands of people.
In Munich, the Bravo editors’ phones were broiling. The fans had heard that the plane that ABBA travelled with had crashed. Allegedly, three ABBA members had died and Anni-Frid was the only survivor. When this rumour was spreading like wild-fire over Europe, ABBA was already safely at home, recovering from all the strains.
Benny says: “Things like this happen. You never know how a story like that comes into being, but when it starts circulating, it seems unstoppable. I can remember that the Beatles were pronounced dead a couple of times too. I think these rumours are a shame. It serves nobody.”
ABBA is very popular in Eastern Europe as well. In Russia, all of their albums are in the charts. East Germany is allowed to import a limited amount of records, to be exact: 5 million. In 1976, the import allowance was completely used on ABBA records. A number like that is unmistakable proof of the group’s popularity behind the Iron Curtain. In 1975, the Polish Prime Minister paid a visit to Sweden. When he returned home, he brought along some ABBA records. He had them played on the radio, because for once this wasn’t a ‘product of imperialistic twerps’. In that same radio programme, the DJ mentioned the address of the ABBA fanclub in Sweden. Barely one week later, about ten thousand letters had arrived in the mail box of the fanclub secretary. And to think that the ABBA records weren’t even for sale yet at that moment.
Clever Stig went to the Polish Embassy with all those letters and made an ardent plea for the group, to do a couple of performances there.

In October 1976, the time had finally come; ABBA was allowed to come to Poland... a twenty-four hour visit! The Polish government had given permission to bring along 50 Western reporters and photographers. Under the condition that the group would travel in a Russian plane. Stig agreed, provided that the ABBA logo could be painted on the plane. Everyone went along. There were about 100 fans at the airport... the drive to the city turned into a true triumph. During these 24 hours, a TV special was filmed and a couple of interviews were done. The whole event had been organised by the ministry of tourism and turned out to be a great success. No less than 200.000 albums were sold in the following weeks.
Stikkan Anderson says: “The reception was very warm-hearted. You wouldn’t expect something like that. But we just don’t know enough about these countries. That’s why it’s a good thing that a Western group has obtained a foothold there. Now we will have the opportunity to get to know these people better and the people there are getting to know us. Since then, we’ve been to Hungary and Slovakia. And always with great success.”
At the special press conference in Warsaw, there were about 250 reporters from Eastern Europe. People from the Russian press agency Tass as well. Stikkan: “It just goes to show that music brings people together. A good song is better than conferences that go on for days. Or to put it better: a big tour with the best European artists is a sort of guarantee for a peaceful life in all European nations. For us it’s a shame that these countries don’t want to spend more money on imported goods, otherwise we could have sold much more than those 200.000 records.” Anderson thinks that about 1.000.000 copies could have been sold. Now, illegal pressings are being put on the market, and ABBA can’t do anything about it. Another problem for ABBA. When the group performs in Poland or Eastern Germany or other countries behind the Iron Curtain, it’s not possible to take along the money they have made. The money has to be spent in the country itself. ABBA has bought piles and piles of clothes, icons and other stuff, only to spend their earned money.

Let’s get back to the press conference in Poland. Benny was asked if he knew any Polish musicians and he replied: “Yes, Chopin, I think he’s very good.”
The successful performance at the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton has made a lasting impression in the communistic countries. Stikkan Anderson: “We didn’t have any idea how many people had watched us there. They have the fondest memories. On the radio they are looking for frequencies, just to hear our records. That’s why Poland has been so good for us. The records were being played constantly and other communistic countries were listening along, with the well-known result that import allowances were being applied for our records. With the big disadvantage that our records are being copied there, and we don’t get a penny for them.”
Where records are concerned, what does ABBA’s future look like in these countries? Stikkan: “That’s hard to tell. I believe that we have a very strong reputation in Poland and we have already received requests to import our new, fifth album. They requested 800.000 copies and of course that would be fantastic. In Russia, things are getting less strict. Polydor Germany has sent about 25.000 albums to Russia. That can’t be enough for all those fans, not by a long shot. I think I will have to talk to the authorities myself. Maybe that will help.”
How does the group feel about touring? Stikkan: “Positive of course, but we don’t have much time to do concerts. Now we are working on the movie. This has taken up five months of our time and it still isn’t finished. Those five months are lost for concerts. Apart from that, the group has to write songs, and produce for others as well. The boys both have their families with its obligations. I think it’s a shame that reporters sometimes claim that ABBA doesn’t want to perform. That couldn’t be further from the truth. But there simply isn’t much time!”
In the beginning of this year, the group performed in England, Germany, Holland and Australia. A highly exhausting and... costly venture. That tour has cost ABBA a lot of money. But they don’t think that’s the most important thing.
To please the fans, Stig is having promotional films made that are being sent all over the world, for television promotion. This way, he stays in contact with the fans. And it also helps record sales.
Why are these concerts so costly for ABBA? Stig Anderson: “When the group is on tour, they don’t record anything. I can’t expect them to stop for recordings during a tour. And nothing is being written either, because they can’t put their minds to that, not mentioning the time problem. Furthermore, there are about 18 people on stage when ABBA performs. Pianists, guitarists, people to take care of the light, you name it. There is a backing choir. The whole venture is very expensive. And it has to be, because ABBA can’t afford to fail.”
Benny intervenes: “Sometimes I have the feeling that we don’t have enough true show numbers. With that I mean, not enough nice and fast rock songs. Maybe it’s because we don’t have a rock tradition like America and England. We are stuck in the Swedish musical tradition. It’s hard to escape that.” MP can hardly agree with that. ABBA is doing more than great on stage. Okay, there are a couple of slow songs in the show, but that doesn’t have to be a problem.
ABBA has said once that the group has been marked by the Eurovision Song Contest; what do they mean by that? Björn: “I think it has never happened before that a Eurovision winner has had more than one hit. Most of the time they came, they saw, had a temporary success and they disappeared again. With ‘Waterloo’, we had an incredible worldwide hit and – just like all the others – we would have vanished into oblivion if we wouldn’t have worked with all our strength on new songs, our presentation, on everything really... to remain in the limelight. Believe me, I am very proud of the fact that we have had more than one hit, for instance in England. That is really extraordinary for a group that doesn’t originate from America or England itself. We have developed so much as a group that nobody is actually thinking about Brighton anymore, where everything started.”

1976 has perhaps been ABBA’s biggest year. That Polish affair has played an important part in that. The TV special that was filmed there was broadcast all over the communistic countries, with all its convenient commercial consequences. In October of that year, ABBA was at number one in eleven countries! In England alone, ABBA had four consecutive number ones. The album ‘ABBA Greatest Hits’ was in the top 5 for no less than 6 months.
Perhaps, 1977 will become the year wherein ABBA exploited television in the right way. Not too many performances, not waiting at airports for hours, not staying at hotels. No, making smart and good promotional films that can reach the millions of fans as well. Those films are made under their own supervision too. They mutually decide about the script and they produce them themselves.
Stikkan Anderson: “ABBA works with tremendous discipline, the groups wants to get everything perfect. Nothing should be left to chance. The group comes to the office or the studio at nine o’clock and they keep working till five o’clock in the afternoon. There is a break for coffee or tea and they get time for lunch for one hour. I say: ‘get’. But of course I mean: ‘take’. I don’t have to chase them. They have more than enough sense of responsibility. Whenever they are recording and everything is running smoothly, the boys sometimes work till ten o’clock in the evening, but never later than that.”
Again, it is proven that all these nightly sessions with booze and so on are not necessary. A disciplined group that has made the right preparations can get the job done in less time than you may expect! Several top groups and artist in the Benelux can take an example by that.
The headquarter in Stockholm is being managed by Stikkan Anderson and two secretaries. He is also assisted by Görel Johnson, who can call herself ‘personal assistant’. “Whenever I’m away,” Stikkan says, “the business at the office has to continue. It would be ridiculous – if I would be in Australia – that no decisions would be made during my absence. That’s why I’m happy with Görel.”
Stikkan is also looking for possibilities to spread the group’s business interests. There is a record company, a music publishing company, a film company. That’s all settled. But the tax collectors office in Sweden isn’t very generous and usually ABBA would only have a couple of cents left from every Swedish krona. That’s why Stikkan is looking for interests in other companies. His oil transaction was sensational. There is also money invested in clothes stores and galleries. And not only in Sweden, but in other countries as well. Financially, ABBA can’t go to pieces anymore. In 1976, there was a turnover of 35 million Dutch guilders.

The absence of the fifth ABBA album is a disappointment for everyone. Allegedly, the album – that was announced a long time ago – won’t be released until February 1978. This has nothing to do with the movie or Agnetha’s (second) pregnancy. Benny and Björn don’t seem to be happy with certain tracks and since everything has to be perfect, the release date is postponed time and time again. Polydor – the record company – regrets this as well. They would have loved to have the record out in the middle of November, just in time for the St. Nicholas sales.
What is going on? Benny: “We are all working on the songs. But whenever one of us thinks a certain part isn’t very good, the entire song is scrapped. You haven’t seen our waste-paper basket. An awful lot is being thrown away. When a song has stood all the tests, it has to send shivers down my spine when I play it in the studio. Only then I know that we are working on something good. There’s a certain method for making records. It’s a combination of hard, very hard work, a good team spirit and a lot of instinct. As long as we are successful with this method, we are going to stick with it.”
Stikkan Anderson is the important arranger behind the ABBA songs. He is being called ‘the fifth ABBA’ just like Brian Epstein was called ‘the fifth Beatle’ at the time.
The American magazine Billboard pronounced him trendsetter of the year in 1974. Before him, Epstein acquired this title as well. After him, for instance Willem van Kooten or MP reporter Joost den Draayer were surprised with this honour.
Stikkan arrives at the office every day at 6.30. Baldersgatan 1. It’s a stately mansion in a fancy district in Stockholm. Baldersgatan became ABBA’s headquarter after the ‘Waterloo’ success. This building was bought with the ‘Waterloo’ profits. It’s in the midst of other Embassy buildings and this way Stig is assured of constant surveillance, because armed police officers are surveilling day and night in and around Baldersgatan. Why does he get up so early? Stikkan: “Then I feel fresh. The world is beautiful and... I’m still able to make phone calls to Australia. I have to consider all kinds of time differences. We are selling records all over the world, except China, North Korea and Vietnam. We have to do something about that.”
People who are close to Stig call him a ‘human dynamo’ who ‘can’t sit still for one second’ and who is ‘bubbling over with new ideas’ constantly.

Talk about a busy ABBA period... The four from Stockholm probably have the longest, the hottest, but definitely the busiest summer of their entire career behind them. Obviously, there’s the new single, that has finally seen the light of day after numerous recording sessions. Never before did the fans have to wait this long for a new release. Then they have worked very hard on the new album, that will be released in February 1978. The release date of the album has been postponed several times. Time and time again, Björn, Benny and Stig had different opinions about the creative sounds that should be captured in the record grooves.

Yes, and then there’s the movie. Producer Polar Film & Music Productions AB Svensk Film (SF) has finally made it. The movie is on its way. Director Lasse Hallström has been working with ABBA for six months and it seems that something wonderful is awaiting us. Lasse says: “Anni-Frid and Agnetha are born actresses. They have a wonderful feeling for the cameras, they know that they can keep certain actions small, because exaggerated and theatrical gestures don’t work well on film. Apart from that, the girls have something natural that’s so refreshing and that can be captured well on celluloid. I’ve had a wonderful time working with them.”

Five songs are being performed in the movie: ‘Eagle’, ‘I Wonder’, ‘Name Of The Game’, ‘I’m A Marionette’ and... ‘Thank You For The Music’. The movie is being released in the Benelux by City Film. These five tracks will also be released on the ABBA album in February. Simultaneously, another new single will be released by the group, that will hopefully do better than ‘Name Of The Game’.

Stig Anderson tells about the movie: “It’s a crazy story, but I don’t want to get into details yet. Anyhow, Lasse Hallström is still in the cutting room to give the movie its definite shape, so anything is still possible. But there are wonderful scenes in the movie, like picnics, beautiful images, we also have a couple of dark poker scenes. Some kind of nightclub atmosphere, that has turned out very nice thanks to the scenery. I want to tell something about the story. It’s about an Australian DJ named Robert Hughes. All the time, he is trying to get an exclusive conversation with ABBA and he just doesn’t succeed. Of course he gets his interview in the end. As the only reporter, he manages to hide on ABBA’s boat.” Afterwards, it turns out that this free rider is Robert Hughes from Australia. ABBA appreciates his little game and Robert gets his story.

Friday 19 November 2010

Hitkrant, April 1977: Win one of 50 Hitkrant ABBA books! – Exclusive advance publication: ‘In the ABBA studio’

Did you know that more than 600.000 copies are being sold of an average ABBA album? Did you know that ABBA attracted more television viewers in Australia than the historic moon landing? Did you know that there are still a lot of Swedes throwing tons of dirt on ABBA? Did you know that Agnetha’s pants fell down when she sang at the age of five?
The Hitkrant ABBA book ‘The Phenomenon ABBA’ – that will be available in Holland in the near future – is dealing with all these facts and the how and why of ABBA. Exclusively for the Hitkrant readers, we have an advance publication from that interesting book on this page!

The idea for ‘The Phenomenon ABBA’ was born during a press conference that was held by Stig Anderson in 1975 in Copenhagen. A Danish reporter asked Stig if he wanted to write a book about ABBA. Stig replied that he had indeed thought about it, but that he simply didn’t have the time. For the Swedish journalist Christer Borg this was the moment to think: ‘that might be a task for me.’ And that’s how it started.
The story is primarily based on long interviews with Agnetha, Björn, Benny, Frida and Stig, that were recorded on tape. Apart from that, a lot of information was drawn from the piles of clippings that have been written about ABBA. ‘The Phenomenon ABBA’ offers the only true and complete ABBA story. Beautiful colour pictures, all the song lyrics and a complete discography turn this book – that was translated by Louise McFarlane and Gabriël Witteveen – into a must for the fans. The price will be 9,90 Dutch guilders. Coming soon to this theatre!
Below you will find an excerpt of the chapter ‘In the ABBA studio’.

Exclusive advance publication: ‘In the ABBA studio’.
Although Björn and Benny compose most of their songs during their stay on the so called ABBA island in a small cottage near their summer house, the real work is done in the studio. An awful lot of hours of hard work with several handpicked musicians and technician Michael B. Tretow preceed every recording session.

There’s no other artist that spends as much time in the studio as Björn and Benny. Renting a completely equipped studio is a costly affair. Manager Stig Anderson estimates that producing the latest ABBA album has cost a quarter of a million. That’s at least five times more than a normal Swedish group spends on its recordings. As members of the most popular group in the world they can afford to spend this amount of time in the studio.

At least, it seems like that. But that’s not how it is in reality. Working until deep in the night at the Metronome Studio in Stockholm is really not a luxury. “Björn and Benny did just that,” according to Michael Tretow. “From the very beginning they kept on going until they were completely satisfied. They never gave up. They are the only ones in Sweden who work like this. It’s some kind of quest for perfection, a question of doing things the right way. They don’t mind a wrong note or a change in rhythm, but they want to produce a record that sounds great.”
Michael B. Tretow is mostly called Mick. Apart from Stig Anderson, he is probably the most important person behind the phenomenon ABBA. He plays an extremely important part in creating their special sound, a sound that is called ‘exotic’ by others. Mick, aged 32, has handled the mixing console since the first ABBA record. Even before that – as a sound engineer at the often used Metronome Studio – he has recorded the first records with Agnetha and Frida and he also got acquainted with the former Hootenanny Singers. He only wasn’t familiar with the Hep Stars. He didn’t meet Benny until he started collaborating with Björn. Mick is a certified electrician, but he never got the opportunity to practise his profession. Right after his education, he had the chance to work at the Metronome Studio. He was swiftly hired. He already had five recordings credited to his name, for which he had written the lyrics and the music. “They were extremely bad,” says Mick. “When I listen to them now, I start laughing.” Mick has worked at Metronome Studio for seven years now. He has learned his craft from scratch, supervised by Rune Persson, the founder of the studio. These years have been tough, but rewarding. “I worked very hard. If we were busy, we recorded one single per day.”

After a period of two years at the Glenmark Studio, Mick started working freelance in April 1976. Now he produces several Polar artists. Mick’s most important job at the moment is being ABBA’s chief sound technician. Every six months, he spends two days per week on that. “Björn and Benny are definitely their own producers. From the beginning, they have been working professionally. That’s probably one of the reasons why we get along so well. They are the two people in this business that I admire the most. They are always right. I have often said that this or that was impossible, but in the end they were proven right. Apart from that, they weren’t afraid to try new things. It happens regularly that I suggest to use some kind of crazy sound. Most of the time they are reluctant to use it, because they have never heard it before. Two months later, it is used on American records and then all of a sudden, everyone wants to use it. Björn and Benny are always a step ahead and that makes this collaboration so enjoyable.”

When Björn and Benny enter the studio with something new for the first time, most of the time only the melody is ready. Björn plays it on his guitar while singing an improvised lyric. “We think a good melody is very important,” Björn explains. “We belong to the few people that put a lot of effort in writing good melodies. That’s our biggest strength, according to the people abroad. When we are composing on our island, we only have Benny’s piano and my guitar at our disposal, but actually that’s more than enough. A good melody even sounds good on just a guitar and a piano. It’s easier to work with a strong melody. It’s not until you hear the melody that you get any idea how you want to record it: as rock, reggae or maybe even a waltz!”

What is Agnetha dreaming about?
Since we can imagine that a lot of you are heavily interested in the Hitkrant ABBA book, we’ve come up with a competition, that will make 50 participants happy. These participants will get this Hitkrant ABBA book! So get going!

What to do?
Describe in maximum 300 words a dream that Agnetha could have!
We will leave it to your own imagination, what kind of a dream that is going to be. Maybe you can dream about it yourself first! Anyhow, the 50 most original dreams will be rewarded with a Hitkrant ABBA book.

Thursday 18 November 2010

POP, 1979: ABBA is annoyed! – “We won’t quit, not by a long shot!”

Once again, the most successful pop group in the world is in the midst of the wildest speculations. ‘ABBA soon to be a duo!’, ‘ABBA is going to break up!’, ‘ABBA farewell tour!’ – Sweden’s million dollar quartet is being covered with a torrent of rumours. The result: millions of ABBA fans all over the world are worried about the future of their favourite group. So, what’s the truth?

At the end of this year, the ABBA contracts with the German and Swedish record companies will expire – in the middle of 1980 ABBA’s British contract will expire as well. “I’m already working on the draft of new contracts,” the ABBA boss confirms. “I certainly wouldn’t waste my time on that if I wouldn’t be convinced that the group will continue!” It hasn’t been decided yet if the group – that is a guarantee for a turnover of millions – will sign a contract with the same companies. Anyhow, it is clear that behind the scenes it will come to a tug-of-war for ABBA involving millions. Because whoever gets the Swedish group in his stable, won’t have to worry about his future. For instance, in Germany, more than 250.000 copies of the new ABBA album ‘Voulez-Vous’ were sold within eight weeks – that’s a gold album. Likewise, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Holland were reporting ‘Gold for ABBA’ already after a couple of weeks.

The cause of speculations was the fact that the group didn’t spend their holiday together this year. Agnetha was in Florida, USA, together with her daughter Linda and her nanny. Björn and Benny stayed in Sweden and Anni-Frid travelled to the Greek island Rhodes together with her two children Hans and Lise-Lotte for a couple of relaxing days.
“After the demanding recording sessions for ‘Voulez-Vous’, each one of them wanted to unwind in his or her own way,” Stig Anderson explains. “Agnetha spent her days in America lounging, Björn and Benny wrote new songs and discussed the upcoming world tour together and Anni-Frid enjoyed the sun together with her children. It’s only natural that four people who are usually together almost day and night, need some relaxation and recovery at some point. If Björn, Benny, Anni-Frid and Agnetha would spend their holiday together, firstly the press would be there as well within a couple of days and secondly they would only talk about the business again.”

After their divorce, Agnetha and Björn have been the most wanted victims of the gossip columns. Numerous romances were attributed to the both of them. Allegedly, Agnetha found comfort with the psychiatrist Hakan Lonnback and Björn was paired off with someone else almost every week. The truth is that the formerly married couple had a very difficult time coping with the divorce. Neither Björn nor Agnetha was aiming for a quick adventure after these trying times. Now, both of them seem to be ready for a new love affair. Agnetha’s new boyfriend is Lars-Erik Ericsson, he is 29 years old and he is one of the most famous ice hockey stars in Sweden. The blonde Lars-Erik is playing in the national team of his country and he is a dead ringer for his predecessor Björn! Björn is sharing his mansion in Lidingö with a new love as well! It’s the 29-year-old Lena Källersjö, one of Agnetha’s best friends. Stig Anderson about the new circumstances: “The whole thing is having a positive effect on all concerned parties. There are no problems whatsoever in the group. Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid have never been on such friendly terms as they are now!”

In the first week of August, Björn, Benny and both ABBA girls will get together in Stockholm to make scrupulously precise preparations for their major world tour. The four Swedes will dig themselves in their studio for about two weeks and rehearse day and night. Anyone who is familiar with ABBA and their manager knows that the group won’t leave anything to chance. The stage show, the orchestra, the song sequence, the costumes, the journeys from one concert venue to the other – when the ABBA gang arrives in Canada in the middle of September, the smallest details should be taken care of. The kick-off of the tour of the year will be in Edmonton, Canada on September 13. Four concerts in Canada, sixteen concerts in America, then it’s off to Sweden, Denmark, France, Holland, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium, England, Scotland and Ireland; when Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid give their last concert on November 15 in Dublin, Ireland, one of the most successful tours in show business will come to an end. The demand for tickets is already so high that there is hardly any doubt that all 41 concerts of the super group will be sold out. After the two-month tour, ABBA wants to unwind first. “Perhaps separately again,” Benny admits derisively. “But no worries, we will stay together. The end of our group isn’t in the cards yet!”

Joepie, 1979: ABBA on the Red Square in Moskow

“Nonsense, complete nonsense.” That’s ABBA manager Stikkan Anderson’s clear answer to the ongoing rumours that the popular group is on the verge of breaking up. “Shitsnack,” he curses in Swedish, “we will continue until it isn’t any fun anymore and we don’t make any profit anymore. No sooner than that.” And according to Stikkan Anderson that won’t happen in the near future.

He is still having outrageous plans himself. Plans are brewing in his brain. Sitting behind his far too big desk at the Polar Music International headquarter in Stockholm, he tells about these future plans, his blue eyes constantly fixed to the ceiling.
“Shall I tell you about this dream of mine,” he muses while bending over and slowy mumbling: “ABBA on the Red Square in Moskow!”
Still, Stig’s dream isn’t that crazy, because the group has received several offers from Russia. “I think there is room for more than one million people on the Red Square. That’s wonderful, and the concert could be broadcast live via satellite.”
Stikkan is smiling contentedly. He is picturing the whole idea in his mind. And he isn’t the only one, because an American broadcasting company has already shown interest to broadcast the programme and is willing to cover for the undoubtedly high costs. It all should take place during the Olympics next year.
“So it absolutely isn’t as crazy as it seems,” Stikkan claims. He only sees one problem. Will there be enough electricity in the Russian capital? “We will have to find that out, I doubt if they will be able to deliver enough electricity for all the amplifiers and other equipment,” according to Stig.

Up till now, he hasn’t had great experiences with the Eastern bloc countries. ABBA had plans to release millions of albums on the market over there. ABBA didn’t want to get money for them, but oil. The Russians didn’t fall for that. They offered art and old coins as a compensation. But ABBA wouldn’t have any of that. It wasn’t commercial enough for them. Whether or not the concert on the Red Square will happen, will be decided in the beginning of next year. Then the group should be recovered from the extensive world tour. “We must wait and see if that tour has been too heavy on them,” Stikkan says.

After the Moskow concert, the group could perform in other Eastern bloc countries too. ABBA is getting enough offers, lately especially from South America, where the super Swedes have become very well known only recently. ‘Chiquitita’ was recorded in Spanish by Agnetha and Anni-Frid. And it paid off. Number one in the charts of Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Mexico, Panama and Venezuela.
“Only today,” Stig says carelessly, “I received a request from Montevideo – I didn’t even know where it was – to have ABBA perform there in a big football stadium.”
The offers are piling up. “Yes, it would be great fun to be able to perform in these countries.” Stikkan is also playing with the thought of doing a summer tour in Europe on which they will perform in the biggest stadiums in several countries: Wembley in London, the Olympic Stadium in Munich and who knows in Belgium and The Netherlands too.

These plans are very nice, but will ABBA make it until the spring? If you have to believe the rumours, they certainly won’t.
“Rubbish,” is Stikkan’s reaction to all the stories that are circulating. “ABBA can go on for years to come. All these stories, they are nonsense. I don’t know where all these rumours are coming from, but let me tell you this: they are false, completely false.”
But still, the rumours are persistent and they actually are getting stronger.
“I will give you an example of how this nonsense comes about,” he says. “This year, I was at the Eurovision Song Contest in Jerusalem. It was late and I was exhausted. Some reporter asked me a question, I think it was a Dutchman. Then I told him: ‘I’m going to quit, I’ve had it.’ And the next day, all the papers said: ‘ABBA is going to break up, Stikkan quits’. When I only meant to say that I was tired and wanted to go to bed.”

He was getting calls from all over the world, asking if it was true or not. Stikkan raises his hands to heaven in desperation. “Oh well, all these reporters, let them write what they want. You don’t understand at all when you read all this nonsense that they come up with. The annoying thing is that the people are actually believing this.” But two rumours are more persistent than the others. Rumour number one: Björn and Benny are going to leave the group and from then on they will only concentrate on writing new hits and producing new records. Rumour number two: the atmosphere within ABBA has reached rock bottom since the divorce between Björn and Agnetha.
“Complete nonsense,” Stikkan says decisively. “And I should know, because I know the atmosphere within the ABBA family like no other. After the divorce, the atmosphere is even better than it has been in the last couple of months. Really, for six months we have kept the news about the divorce a secret to give Agnetha and Björn the opportunity to deal with their emotions. But when it was finally announced, a burden was lifted from our shoulders.”
Stikkan Anderson doesn’t rule out the possibility that Björn and Benny will keep on writing together outside the group. “But it won’t happen until ABBA quits,” he says.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Bravo, 1982: ABBA better than ever!

Björn is sitting alone in the almost empty and dark auditorium of the Saarland hall in Saarbrucken. Interested, he is following the rehearsals of Michael Schanze’s Show Express where ABBA was ‘Top of the Bill’ that same evening on the occasion of their tenth anniversary.
Agnetha spends her time before the rehearsals strolling through the town. In a jeans store, she buys a washed out pair of jeans and a warm blue sweater. She buys a red leather tie for her ex-husband Björn, which he thinks is “terribly sweet”.
Frida on the other hand likes to sleep late. She hates “running around the streets. At the most, I buy some things in London and Paris, in my favourite shops.” She doesn’t know how much money she spends on clothes every month. “Because sometimes I don’t buy anything for months, but then I buy a whole bunch again.” She is more economical when it comes to hairdresser expenses. “I always cut my hair myself.” For all purposes between the hall and the hotel – each of the four ABBAs has an own suite – two Mercedes 250 limousines – a cream-coloured one for the girls and a dark blue one for the boys – with chauffeur are at their disposal. At the stage entrance, both cars are surrounded by fans.
However, the Bravo photo session – taking place in a side room of the Saarland hall – two hours before their performance is kept top secret. Hours in advance, four people have been busy putting up four different backdrops, testing flash equipment and spotlights over and over again. The broadcasting company likes our improvised studio with the yellow New Wave background so much that they ask us if they are allowed to film an ABBA interview for the new Gottschalk programme Tommis Pop Show there. Approved (you’ve seen the result on your screen on November 27).
Björn, Benny, Frida and Agnetha arrive right on time. They strenghten themselves with coffee and hot sausages on paper plates from the canteen. The atmosphere is loose and casual, although Agnetha is still having a hangover from the platinum and gold awards ceremony the previous evening and photo sessions are not exactly Benny’s favourite activity.
It’s obvious that one of the first questions for the rolling television cameras concentrates immediately on the changed group atmosphere after the divorces and new marriages.
Benny says: “We are almost getting along better than before.” The others agree with him: “The private emotions have disappeared.”
That’s why it isn’t bothering anyone that Agnetha is accompanied by her blonde bodyguard that not only looks after her security professionally, and that Frida didn’t arrive from Sweden with the 16-seat ABBA private jet like the other three, but she glided in by airline, coming from a weekend with friends in Paris.
Ten years have passed for ABBA, 150 million records were sold, they hadn’t been in Germany for four years. A lot has changed since then – not only privately.
Benny: “We are working more individually now. Each one of us has the opportunity to pursue his or her own interests apart from ABBA. This gives us new energy for the group activities.” And that’s how it should be in the future.
Frida – encouraged by the success of “There’s Something Going On” – is planning a second solo album with Phil Collins.
In the beginning of next year, Agnetha wants to try her luck with a solo album too, under the direction of hit composer Mike Chapman. The master himself will submit a couple of songs. There are also conversations with Oliver Onions and Tomas Ledin.
Björn and Benny on the other hand want to try something completely different. They are going to write the music for a musical. The lyrics will be written by Jesus Christ Superstar lyricist Time Rice.
But all of this shouldn’t get in the way of the project ABBA. “As long as we are having enough energy for the group – despite all these solo plans – we will continue,” Benny and Björn explain.
You have to give them credit for one thing, everything is perfectly thought out by both ABBA girls. They have the answer to every question. They also know how to retort to the astonishment that they won’t fly back to Sweden with their private jet together after the Show Express: “Björn and Agnetha don’t want to fly together, so that one of the parents stays alive in case of a plane crash, to take care of the children.”
That’s why the next day in Frankfurt, Agnetha boards an airline to Stockholm together with her bodyguard...

Monday 15 November 2010

Bravo, 1981: Anni-Frid: I regularly read my horoscope

It’s difficult to say what I would have become if I hadn’t been a musician. Ever since I was seven years old, singing has been the centre of my life, and I already sang in school and church choirs when I was a child.
That’s why a lot of subjects bored me in school although I was a very good pupil. When I turned sixteen, music was taking priority. And that’s how it has been ever since. If I could live my life again, I wouldn’t change a thing, including all the mistakes. Because up till now life has been very good to me. Why would I do it differently?
I believe that I have changed to my advantage in recent years, although I think it’s very difficult to judge my characteristics and be honest at that.
Basically, I’m a peaceful and friendly person. Only every now and then I fly off the handle. When I was younger, this happened more frequently. Now, I’ve become a little quieter and I’m more in control of myself, so that such outbursts only happen occasionally.
I have realised that all the problems in this world would be solved if the people would finally learn to live in peace with each other. The worst thing in the world today is that there is always a war going on. I feel very sorry for drug addicts as well. They must be very unhappy people that don’t have any goal in life or don’t have anyone to give them inner stability.
Where I am concerned, I smoke a cigarette every now and then, mostly when I’m at work or when I feel stressed, but not every day. Every now and then, I have a glass of wine or champagne, but not regularly.
I don’t rely on fashion, although I am rather vain and I do follow the latest trends. But this has changed in recent years as well. I used to be a slave to fashion. Now I’m more critical and whenever something doesn’t suit me I leave it be.

Despite the discipline and love for my profession, I sometimes long for a day off. Then there’s nothing better for me than to forget about every chore and cooking as well and simply hang around and maybe read a book. Then I would allow myself to have some pieces of chocolate. I simply love chocolate, but I can’t eat it because I have to watch my slender figure. However, having snacks is part of a perfect day off for me.
I’m often asked what’s the most important thing in a relationship, according to me. My answer is quite simple: always telling each other the truth, being honest and loving each other. The worst thing is envy. That destroys every relationship.
Speaking of love: one of the most beautiful tokens of love was given to me last Christmas by my daughter. She had made a clay sculpture of me: a woman with long red hair that had her mouth wide open, that should be me. It really was very, very nice.
What else pleases me? When it comes to music, I especially love the group Earth, Wind & Fire and I play their songs constantly. Two years ago, I met them too, when we both performed at the Unicef concert. Apart from that, I like the movie One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
When I’m being asked if I believe in God, I can only answer that I’m convinced that there is a higher power, but I can’t define it. I feel the same way about horoscopes. I read them regularly, although I would never base any decision on them.
I rather rely on something real. For instance, you can see that from the things that I would take with me to a lonely island. That would be a man, my children and a boat. It would be enough for me when I would have something to eat as well. And I would also pack matches – not for cigarettes but to be able to light a fire.

Sunday 14 November 2010

Panorama, June 1983: Agnetha: no time for ABBA anymore

Agnetha interviewed by Dutch magazine Panorama, during her promotional visit to Holland in 1983.
Agnetha has shaken off ABBA. Her own career is taking full precedence. Success seems to be assured in advance. However, ‘Europe’s sexiest bottom’ – her nickname in the American press – is not without problems. Fear of flying, the care for her children, the unknown destiny of the Swedish super group, the ongoing gossip and her own fear of failure are the most difficult obstacles on her path, that might lead her to Hollywood.

Everyone in the RAI Congress Centre in Amsterdam is fed up. The stars of the television gala 100 years ANWB are peeved, because the rehearsals aren’t running very smoothly. “If I had known this in advance...,” Julien Clerc sighs, expressing the general opinion among the artists.
The TROS TV orchestra – led by Harry van Hoof – isn’t feeling comfortable because some stars are using backing tapes. The technicians are walking around with sweaty hands, the live broadcast might be getting out of hand.
In the midst of a corny Ron Brandsteder who – together with Holland’s loveliest computer named Willy Dobbe – has been recruited to take care of the connecting chats and an impatient crowd of press hounds, there is still somebody who radiates friendliness and serenity: Agnetha Fältskog.
The blonde from ABBA has come to our country primarily to promote her single ‘The Heat Is On’. With an ultra-luxurious touring car, she met the press on the European continent the past few weeks. Travelling with the futuristic looking vehicle – that remained hidden away from curious eyes in the garage of the Sonesta hotel in the Dutch capital – is equipped with every possible convenience. Apart from a bar and a bathroom, the touring car has a complete videotheque and there are eight sleeping accommodations.
“This way of travelling is new for me,” Agnetha ascertains halfway her bus trip, “but it suits me very well. You are not bothered by waiting time at the airports and all the nervousness that goes with that and you arrive right in front of the door of your hotel. You don’t even notice that you are actually travelling. I prefer to spend my time in that bus than in this dressing room.”
After her personal manager Mary Anderson – daughter of ABBA boss Stig Anderson – has brought her a plate of vegetarian food and a cup of tea, she talks about her fear of flying while she eats. “That has been another reason for me to travel with that touring car. I can’t cope very well with flying. I always dread it.”
With the knowledge in her pocket that – due to her ABBA past – her success as a solo artist is practically guaranteed in Europe, Agnetha Fältskog (pronounced as Ageneitiea Felskoeë) has set her sights on America. ABBA has never been as successful there as they were in the rest of the world. With difficulty, only some of the compositions by Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson made the top ten in the United States. However, her friend and colleague Frida (Anni-Frid Lyngstad, the dark-haired singer of the Swedish super group) suprisingly made it big on the American charts with her recently released solo album ‘Something’s Going On’.
Is there still some envy between the two ladies, about which so much has been written?
“Are you kidding? I think it’s fantastic what Frida has achieved together with Phil Collins (the producer). Her success only gives me a lot of confidence for my album. Even more so because my producer Mike Chapman (known from his work with Mud, Sweet, Suzi Quatro up till Blondie) knows the American market very well and he is very optimistic too.”

Frida is already preparing her second solo album in all silence. Even before the release of her album ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’, Agnetha is already thinking about her next project too. Therefore, ABBA seems to be on the sidetrack.
“That’s right,” she confirms in her velvety English, full of half incorrect accents. “The boys have taken on the task to write three hours of music for the musical they are going to create together with Tim Rice (Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita). This means that they won’t have any time to write songs for ABBA for the time being. I really don’t know if they ever will be up for that. Where ABBA is concerned, the future is widely open. We are not saying that we will continue, but we are not saying that it’s over either. I think that the development of our individual careers will be a deciding factor. And I know that it’s getting ever more difficult for Benny and Björn to write for ABBA. They are forced to come up with exceptionally good songs under that name. After ten busy years, that’s really a handicap for them. Everyone demands something new, something special. If they don’t deliver, then ABBA is cheap and the millionaires are only out to fill their pockets. To keep on distinguishing themselves, the boys will need more time, no matter what. According to me, being able to cope with this increasing pressure is far more imporant than for instance the internal personal relationships that leave nothing to be desired, by the way.”
Agnetha thinks it’s out of the question that the Swedish group will perform in the musical themselves. “That would be impossible for us. We would be obligated to perform night after night. None of us is keen on that. For the very reason that we didn’t want to be away from home for such a long time anymore, we decided not to go on tour anymore. We have really had our share the past few years. More than we could handle, because when we started out with ABBA, we actually only thought about making records. For me, we have always been more of a recording act than a concert attraction. Through our music and not least the promotional films, we have reached the top. The concerts in all kinds of countries were done because we wanted to meet the fans. For the moments of being on stage and feeling their support, I would want to go on tour again. That is the only reason for a tour. Opposed to that are many reasons not to do it. Like the preparations that take up a whole year and missing the children.”
She still meets Benny and Björn regularly. Delightedly, she talks about their compliments for her album, that was obviously recorded in their own Polar Music Studios in Stockholm. Agnetha has less contact with Frida since she moved to England to be able to follow the latest trends in pop music. The 33-year-old mother of Linda (10) and Christian (5) doesn’t have any similar plans.
“To England? No, if I would leave Sweden, I would move to a country with a nice climate. I feel best with the sun above my head. But I would have to give it some severe thought, if I had to pick a country. It’s nice to have sun every day, but you have to feel safe as well. That isn’t a problem in Sweden, but – apart from the weather – there are so many things that annoy me. But I don’t want to get into that. That’s purely a personal opinion. Apart from that, every country leaves something to be desired if you know it really well. The idea to move abroad won’t come up for discussion until the children are older and I will be less committed.”
Agnetha’s limited enthusiasm for her home country is partly caused by the ongoing pursuit of the gossip press. Her divorce from colleague Björn, her relationship with ice hockey star Lars- Erik Ericcson and her meanwhile cooled love for policeman Torbjörn Brander – initially the bodyguard of her children – turned Agnetha into the most important source of inspiration for all kinds of rumours and speculations. When her acting part as a pregnant woman in the Swedish movie Raskenstam was deliberately mixed up with her own life, she had enough of it.

A long letter to the editor of the biggest newspaper – Dagens Nyheter – under the device ‘know what you are reading, this is how some magazines practice their job in this country’, brought on a national discussion.
“I’m still proud of that, because more than ever people are now talking about getting back at the slanderers. It was crazy what they were writing about me. All kinds of people bothered me to ask me whether I was pregnant or not and why my boyfriend had left me.”
Fourteen years ago – when she just got back from a six month attempt to conquer Germany with her voice – Agnetha played one of the leading parts in the Swedish version of Jesus Christ Superstar. After that, there were the promotional films and ABBA – The Movie, but she didn’t get to serious acting until the filming of Raskenstam last year. The good experiences with actor and director Gunnar Helström in the movie about a national rascal that made love to every woman, has rekindled her love for acting.
“I don’t want to concentrate on just singing, but if it’s possible I want to develop as an actress as well. How the audience judges Raskenstam is just as important to me as the reception of my records. I am very curious about the reactions. I am very satisfied myself, but that isn’t saying much. But I will have to wait until its premiere after the summer. Fanny & Alexander is now very successful in the Swedish cinemas. That’s why our premiere has been postponed a couple of months. Depending on the success of Raskenstam, I will decide if I will accept other offers. There is one offer from abroad that is very interesting, but I’m not allowed to talk about it yet. I think that I can only accept an offer like that when I am believable with the people and not because I happen to be the blonde girl from ABBA.”
There’s a knock on the door. Mary is back again to take Agnetha. Doesn’t she ever get tired of this?
“I grew up in this atmosphere. My father, who managed a theatre company in Jönköping, sent me up on stage to sing at the age of six. After that, I always wanted to be a singer. And all that fuss surrounding it – like this – comes with the territory,” she smiles once more.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Bravo, 1982: ABBA, this is how it all started ten years ago

It’s now exactly ten years ago since their first single was released. It was called ‘People Need Love’, at the time the four Swedes weren’t called ABBA yet, but Björn, Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid.
However, not too many people seemed to care for that record at the time, because only 10.200 copies were sold. But the four were already used to working very hard for their individual careers to let that stop them.
One year later, they released their first single sung in German – ‘Ring Ring’ – the song that didn’t manage to win the Swedish heats for the Eurovision Song Contest but still hit the big time. In 1974, they were selected to fly to Brighton as Sweden’s entry for the Eurovision Song Contest. Meanwhile Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida (who is called Anni-Frid in her passport) had renamed themselves ABBA, taken from their four initials.
In the group, there was a strict division of responsibilities. Benny composed the songs, Björn wrote the lyrics (because he mastered the English language the best) and the arrangements, while Agnetha was responsible for their choreography and stage show and Frida designed the costumes.
Their focused preparation would pay off: as the first Swedish group ever, ABBA won the contest with ‘Waterloo’.
Benny still remembers this day very well: “After our victory we realised that the world was opening up for us. We only had to prove that it hadn’t been a chance hit.”
Undoubtedly, they succeeded at that, after nine times gold, eight times platinum and a further three times gold for more than 750.000 records sold. But Björn admits wholeheartedly: “There are songs that should have been left unwritten. There are others of which we are still proud today. Among them are ‘Dancing Queen’ (1976), ‘Thank You For The Music’ (1978) and ‘The Winner Takes It All’ (1980).”
Do you actually come up with these songs just like that?
Benny: “No, after so many songs it’s actually getting more difficult. You still want to better yourself and therefore you have to pass on a lot. Apart from that, it’s often difficult for me to restrict myself to songs that don’t last longer than five minutes at the most. That’s why I’m looking forward to the musical that I’m going to write with Björn. Then I can finally let off some steam.”
How do the ABBA lyrics come into being?
Björn: “About one year ago, I bought a new house in Stockholm together with Lena. It has about 700 square feet living space and a huge library. I get the best inspiration there.”
Do you still remember the start of your musical career?
Benny: “Sure, I was 14 or 15 years old, walked around with grease (pomade) in my hair, wearing baggy jackets and I was extremely into the German singer Caterina Valente. I’ve watched her movie ‘Du Bist Musik’ several times in the cinema. Still today, I have some of her records. Then I discovered Elvis Presley and I knew that something important was happening in the music scene.”
Björn: “With me, it all started at the age of 12, when I got a guitar and an instruction manual from my father. By listening to rock records, I learned to play the instrument myself.”

Saturday 6 November 2010

De Telegraaf, December 1977: ABBA, ideal music movie

When I talked to the members of ABBA recently during the unofficial first screening of ABBA – The Movie, Björn Ulvaeus told me that he thought most comparisons with the Beatles were nonsense, but that he hoped that ABBA at least had one thing in common with the pop sensation of the sixties: “Their timing was perfect. With the Beatles, everything seemed to come at the right time. Records, books, movies, tours, everything. We are consciously striving for that as well.”

ABBA can be called successful in that aim. The control that Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and manager Stig Anderson are having over ABBA’s artistic and commercial expressions from the beginning until the end, can be sensed every now and then and is sometimes painful for the audience that expresses its hunger for the group by resorting to second-hand ABBAs like Champagne and Brotherhood Of Man during the periods when the quartet doesn’t release any records.

ABBA – The Movie is a confirmation of ABBA’s class. The movie really has everything that a music movie should have: a look behind the scenes, humour and of course good music. The quality of the sound really exceeds everything that has ever been done in this area, including quite successful attempts like Elvis’ That’s The Way It Is and Mad Dogs & Englishmen.

ABBA – The Movie primarily revolves around an open air concert in Sydney, Australia that was in danger of degrading to a failed party, but thanks to the enthusiastic response of the audience and the group’s excellent form of the day transformed into an event that far outshadowed three-quarters of Woodstock (that is to say the movie, not the phenomenon).
Apart from that, ABBA has entrusted the practical part of the movie to someone whom they trusted, director Lasse Hallström, a movie maker of great class and with a renowned reputation in progressive circles, who made the ‘transfer of the year’ three years ago by changing from intellectual movies to promotional films that have contributed so much to ABBA’s worldwide success since then.

Hallström and his team took the opportunity to make a more lenghty product again with a budget that easily exceeded the total budget of his entire oeuvre – the group produced the movie themselves – with both hands by shooting wonderful scenes that describe the atmosphere of a top group on tour without getting into useless details.
You will probably understand that not much can go wrong with ABBA – The Movie, likewise ABBA – The Album, the record that will be released in the beginning of January, from which a couple of appealing tasters (the brilliant single ‘Eagle’!) have been included in this movie. How convenient and especially commercial, is what the critics will say, but what does it matter when the concerning products are good.

Thursday 4 November 2010

Bravo, December 1980: Anni-Frid, Benny, Agnetha and Björn drew pictures for you: who wants a ‘real ABBA’?

What springs to mind on the subject matter Christmas? ABBA hesitated for a while when we asked them this question. For one whole day, Bravo had the group in front of its camera in a Stockholm photographic studio – a world exclusive. Meanwhile, Bravo reader Manfred Weichel had his dream encounter: he presented the four Swedes with the silver Bravo Otto ’79.
During a break in the photo shoot, the idea came into being: we are going to draw something Christmassy for the Bravo readers! Björn, Agnetha, Benny and Anni-Frid got down to business with felt-tip pens.
Soon it turned out that the girls may have the better voices, but the boys know better how to handle the drawing pencil. It’s unforgettable for Björn that Santa Claus always paid him a visit at Christmas when he was a little boy. That’s why he drew a somewhat stern looking Father Christmas and wrote – since he knows how to speak German – ‘Fröhliche Weihnachten’ to go with it.
Agnetha settled for a needle-free Christmas tree, on which two lonely candles were burning. Agnetha: “I’m all for an economical Christmas, without too much presents, because I think that Christmas should be more about love than about presents.”
Why she wrote the wish ‘Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year’ in French? Anni-Frid is learning to speak French at the moment. And that’s why the girls looked up the translation together in the dictionary.
Benny rather gets something convivial than reflective out of Christmas; that’s why he drew a jolly little man with a sailor balloon. “At Christmas, I’m already looking forward to New Year’s Eve,” he smirked.
Anni-Frid makes no secret of where she would love to spend the Christmas days most of all: in the hot south where people are lying under palmtrees at Christmas time.
Each one of these drawings is obviously a valuable souvenir for ABBA fans (of course they are autographed as well). After all, you won’t be able to get a ‘real ABBA’ for your wall every day...