Saturday, 22 January 2011

Bravo, 1981: Benny: this is how we founded the group ABBA

I still remember vividly the day that I met Björn, early 1966. It was at a party that the Hootenanny Singers had organized. At the time, Björn was the leader of his group, and so was I with the Hep Stars. We were competing with each other in the charts, but we got along very well privately – at least after this party. But it wasn’t until a couple of months later, in the summer of 1966, that we first worked together.
We got the idea in my home town Västervik. My father had a job there in a paper mill. One night, we carried an organ, a guitar and an amplifier into his office and played together all night long. In the morning, our first joint song was ready, ‘Isn’t It Easy To Say’. I recorded the track with the Hep Stars.
In the following years, we wrote some more songs together, but it wasn’t a tight collaboration yet. Because I had some other problems to deal with first.
In 1967, the tax collectors office wanted 174.000 Swedish krona from me – I had forgotten to pay taxes. In two years time, I paid back almost the entire debt. But the next claim was already waiting for me. I had to pay an additional 83.000 Swedish krona. Added to that, my company Hep House went bankrupt. Because of a movie that we wanted to shoot – which left us with a debt of 250.000 Swedish krona – I was completely finished. I was composing like a madman, hoping I would be able to pay off my debts with the money I made from royalties. I took every job that I could get, I produced an album for Anni-Frid with whom I was already befriended at the time.
In this situation, I met Stig Anderson. He knew the music business very well, he had his own record company and he knew how to deal with money. He was the Hootenanny Singers’ manager. Björn convinced me to talk to him. We came together quickly – Stig had the idea that we should perform together as a quartet: Björn and his girlfriend Agnetha and me and Anni-Frid.
On November 1, 1970 the time had finally come. We named ourselves Festfolk Quartet and performed in Göteborg. It wasn’t an overwhelming success, but we did take our first step. Only none of us knew how we should continue. Björn still performed with the Hootenanny Singers every now and then, I produced records for other artists.

In 1971, we signed a new contract at Polar, Stig’s record company. That’s when the story of ABBA started, although that wasn’t our name yet at the time.
In 1972, our first record was released, ‘She’s My Kind Of Girl’, a song that we had already composed in 1969. Although the cover only mentioned the names Björn and Benny, it was the girls’ voices that really stood out.
Our first big success was ‘People Need Love’. Outside Sweden, it was credited to Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Frida. In America, we were called Björn, Benny & Svenska Flicka.
With the growing success, we became more confident. We decided to enter the Swedish heat for the Eurovision Song Contest. ‘Ring Ring’ was the song that we composed for that event.
On February 10, 1973 the final decision would be made in Stockholm. We weren’t sure whether Agnetha would be able to take part at all. She was pregnant, and the expected date of delivery was February 2. We were more nervous than we had ever been in our life. We knew that our future was depending on our success at the contest and at the same time we had to consider that Agnetha could go into labour.
It all turned out well – until the disappointment after the votes had been counted. We had only finished in third place. This meant that the Eurovision Song Contest would pass us by. On February 23, Agnetha and Björn’s first child Linda was born.
The miracle happened later on – our ‘Ring Ring’ started to climb the charts and it sold really well outside Sweden too. We gave it another try and decided to enter the Swedish heat for the Eurovision Song Contest once again in the spring of 1974, and this time we actually made it. From then on, we named ourselves ABBA. With ‘Waterloo’ in our luggage, we travelled to Brighton to represent our home country Sweden.
When we left Stockholm, we were still convinced that we would return as the winners. But in Brighton we started to get cold feet. Barely any reporter took notice of us. Olivia Newton-John, who represented England, was the big favourite with the experts. On the other hand, this was good for us. We were able to see the city and prepare for our performance in peace and quiet. Shortly before our performance, Agnetha checked the costumes once again, Anni-Frid rehearsed the dance moves. Only Stig sat alone in his hotel room, already making plans for the future. He was thinking about how to continue with ABBA when the victory would become a fact.
Everything went really well. Nothing had been left to chance – then the nerve-racking counting of the votes started. It was an exciting neck and neck competition between us and Gigliola Cinquetti who had sung for Italy.
The tension was rising until the last minute. It was simply unbearable. We were sweating in our costumes. Like most of the other artists, our eyes were glued to the scoreboard. Then the definitive result was announced. We had won with six points ahead of Italy. For the first time in the history of the contest, a pop group had won.

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