Sunday 27 February 2011

Bravo, 1975: Everything about the currently most popular group in the world: ABBA

Bravo spent two days with ABBA in Stockholm. The result: an intimate and surprising story, that turns the stars from Sweden into real people. Anna, Björn, Anni-Frid and Benny show openly and honestly how they live their private lives, how they work, how they think...

ABBA’s headquarter is situated in the upscale diplomatic neighbourhood in Stockholm. The streets are being guarded by two soldiers. They are there to protect the Chinese Embassy, which is next-door to ABBA’s head office, that’s hidden away behind a high wall. It turns out to be a smart mansion, wherein ABBA’s publishing company, management and recording studio are located. Only one year ago, all of this was shoved into a small three-room office...
The pretty, twenty-year-old Sussie Wageborg is sitting at the reception desk. As it turns out, for the fans she is the most important contact to ABBA: Sussie answers the fanmail. She gets 100 letters per day, almost half of them are from Germany. She requests to use the new fanmail address: ABBA Fanclub, c/o Harlekin AB FACK, 100 41 Stockholm 26. Sussie makes a promise: “Whoever writes to this address will get a reply within seven days.”
Two doors onwards, we bump into the weekly ABBA meeting: like business executives, Anna, Björn, Anni-Frid and Benny are sitting at a long table, between them their joint secretary Görel Johnson. Standing next to them, manager Stig Anderson is reporting about the current state of affairs: “We are number one in the charts in Germany, Belgium and Holland, we are number six in England and in America, we’ve stormed to number 17. We have received four offers for USA shows, that we could do at the end of November. Before that, we will go to Germany for two days to film a New Year’s Eve show for television...”
ABBA’s schedule is always packed to capacity. Benny says ironically: “We are on the road fourteen days every month, during the remaining days we are working. Apart from ABBA, Björn and I are producing four other Swedish artists, the girls are taking dancing lessons, they take care of our wardrobe and not least the children and the household.”

No wonder, that ABBA is living a fenced off life at home in Sweden. Up till now, no other magazine in the world except Bravo was allowed to visit ABBA privately. Why exactly this exception? “Because we already got to know each other and became friends before our Eurovision victory in Brighton,” Anni-Frid says. “All other reporters only came afterwards, when ‘Waterloo’ had made us famous...”
When one wants to describe ABBA and their world, plain words are in place. Any bigheadedness or pomposity is far removed from the hardworking quartet. From their modest townhouses in the Stockholm suburb Vallentuna, they haven’t moved into big palaces, but into good middle-class houses. Anna, Björn and their little daughter Linda are now living in their own house near the city centre. Anni-Frid and Benny have bought a place in the picturesque Old Town of Stockholm. They have to pay for the wonderful view over the harbour with the stairs that count 99(!) treads. Frida and Benny are only able to see the children, Hans and Lise-Lotte from Frida’s previous marriage and the joint children Helen and Peter, during the weekends. The rest of the time, they are living with relatives in the country.
Anna and Anni-Frid sometimes argue about the children. Because Anna says: “I would never give Linda away, even it would cause difficulties.” And honestly she admits: “At our home, things don’t look as organised as at Anni-Frid’s place. Toys and clothes are lying around on the floor, but I gladly accept that...”
While both men are playing the same part privately as they do on stage – Benny is the quiet tinkerer, Björn is the sunny boy –, with the girls it’s completely the opposite: Anna – on stage the sexy girl – is shy and dreamy privately, Anni-Frid on the other hand is secretly a bundle of energy.
Anni-Frid, who is into psychology, explains: “It’s revealing in which position one sleeps. I always sleep on my back, completely stretched out. This means that I’m not afraid of the world and I feel secure. Anna on the other hand sleeps on her belly, snuggled into her pillow. She is in need of affection, she needs a lot of love and always wants to be protected...”
You could discuss topics like this for hours with ABBA. They can talk until their heads see red (especially the girls) or laugh and relax with relish (the boys). A conversation like that, an extensive meal in a gourmet restaurant, reading a book, a film about the children, a little bit of time for themselves – these are the small joys that the four from ABBA are dreaming about – and that they rarely allow themselves.
There’s no doubt about it: at the moment they are the most hardworking pop group in the world, and with that, the most successful. ABBA’s dream wish for the future: “When the children are a little older, we want to buy a giant sail boat and sail around the world...”

Friday 25 February 2011

Joepie, 1979: Björn reveals the truth about his divorce from Agnetha

Ever since Agnetha and Björn got divorced, the wildest rumours are circulating about this half of ABBA. But what is actually the truth about this matter? For the first time, Björn agreed to reveal the truth about his former wife and fellow ABBA member and himself.

Björn gets straight to the point in the exclusive conversation we had with him about this subject. To be exact, there is a lot of fuss about the so-called new girlfriend...
“Lena Källersjö is a girl that I have known for many years because she works at a record company in Stockholm,” he says. “But to claim that she would be my girlfriend because of that, is of course pure nonsense. We met recently at a party. We talked to each other and coincidentally there was a photographer around who took a picture of us. That’s how the rumours started about an affair...”
What’s the truth about the psychiatrist with whom Agnetha allegedly fell in love and who would be the cause of your divorce?
“That psychiatrist is named Hakan Lonnbak. He has a practice in Stockholm and Agnetha and I consulted him from October 1978 onwards. We hoped that he could help us out with our problems. But he didn’t succeed. But not because Agnetha fell in love with him. That’s nonsense. They are not living together either, as some magazines would have you believe.”
In Switzerland, you were linked with Liz from Boney M...
“That’s an even crazier story. We met Boney M. in Switzerland while filming an international television show. ABBA and Boney M. stayed at the same hotel and it’s obvious that we got along as colleagues. Also during the long waiting time before the actual filming. Apart from that, Liz is a great girl who likes to have fun all the time. So we laughed a lot with the entire Boney M. gang and I even danced with Liz a couple of times. For some reporters, that was enough to start talking about an affair. But there wasn’t more going on between us than friendship.”
Are you already divorced officially?
“Yes, completely official, with a verdict by the judge and everything that goes with that. It may sound strange, but since then I get along with Agnetha better than before.”
Is it true that the new ABBA album got postponed because of these private problems?
“Perhaps the divorce was a factor, after all, these times aren’t easy. The explanation is much simpler: initially Benny and I thought that the songs we had composed for the new album weren’t good enough. We kept working on them until we were completely satisfied, primarily because we know that our fans expect something special from us time and time again.”
Is it true that you two are arguing about the children?
“Not at all, we have come to an agreement that’s satisfying for both of us. The children will stay with Agnetha, but I will be able to see them whenever I have the time or need. We will both be involved in their upbringing as well.”
Wasn’t the ABBA tour endangered by your problems?
“No, it wasn’t. First, we will take a holiday and when we get back we will determine in which countries and places we want to perform. As you know, we will start a major tour in America in the autumn, but after that it’s Europe’s turn, with performances in Belgium and Holland as well. That will probably take place in October.”
Allegedly, ever since your divorce, you are playing the happy bachelor again, the partygoer who’s crazy about girls.
“I don’t agree at all. In nature, I’m a couch potato who is most at ease within the four walls of his home. I actually don’t go out more than I used to do. Maybe it’s more conspicuous now, because photographers are waiting to take pictures wherever I show myself in public and they love it even more when I’m in female company. Everyone is lurking around to take the picture of my new girlfriend. This gives the impression that I’ve suddenly become a playboy.”
It is also claimed that Benny isn’t very happy because he is convinced that your divorce isn’t doing ABBA any favours.
“That’s not true. Benny understands our divorce very well. He has gone through it himself before. I don’t believe that our fans will blame us for taking this decision. On top of that, this is purely a private matter that’s actually only our own concern. What is important, is the music that we are making.”

Sunday 20 February 2011

De Nationale Hitparade, November 1976: ABBA: gold, platinum and the Hitkrant trophy – triple celebration in The Hague

Yes, it was indeed a triple celebration on November 19 at the Bel Air Hotel in The Hague: not only was the supergroup ABBA finally welcomed in our country in the flesh, and not only did Agnetha, Frida, Björn and Benny receive an impressive pile of gold and platinum records and even a gold musicassette. Apart from that, the Dutch press, radio, television and the record industry had the opportunity to get acquainted with the Hitkrant. And for the first time, on behalf of this new magazine, the Hitkrant trophy was handed out. To ABBA, obviously: a tribute from a young pop magazine to a world famous pop group!

Of course it cost a good deal of trouble before we could have this celebration: endless discussions and phone calls. With ABBA, with ABBA’s manager Stig Anderson and with record company Polydor whose help was vital. But in the end everything turned out right and that’s why that Friday a celebration was held that will be talked about for a long time to come.
It all started at 12 o’clock noon, when ABBA arrived at Schiphol Airport (not by helicopter, but it still was a spectacular ‘arrival’) and they were welcomed by representatives of the record company and Hitkrant (Ruud van Dulkenraad and Ad Visser). The interest from the press and television was more than we had expected. When ABBA came out of the tunnel at Schiphol, it was completely crowded with people. A VOO television crew was filming the proceedings and without a doubt you will be able to watch it on your television screen in the near future.

From there, the four stars took off in limousines to The Hague where they had the opportunity to catch their breath in their hotel room for a while. And they would need that breath for the rest of the day, because their schedule was packed: rehearsals for Mies Bouwman’s programme Eén Van De Acht, that would be broadcast that same evening from the Congress Centre situated next-door to the hotel and that you undoubtedly have watched.
And then there was the press conference that started around five o’clock, where ABBA would be surprised with a load of gold and platinum and of course the Hitkrant trophy: an award that will be presented on a yearly basis from now on to the group or artist that deserves it the most according to its readers.

Because already now, before the closing date, it became clear from your submissions to the Poster Top 5 and the NHK Poppoll 1976 that ABBA had a huge advance that could not be beaten anymore. The popularity of the Swedish group seems to be immensely big. This also showed during the rehearsals for Eén Van De Acht when a spontaneous applause erupted from the television people and representatives from the press when ABBA entered the stage and performed three songs from ‘Arrival’, professional as always, even when the strip of Björn’s guitar broke during the first bars of the first song...

Meanwhile, Björn, Benny, Frida and Agnetha (to name them in a different order for a change) were on their toes from fatigue. But still they remained friendly and appeared in good spirits at the press conference in their hotel, under loud cheers from the people present.
The president of record company Polydor handed over an impressive pile of gold and platinum records and even – that’s a novelty – a gold musicassette. After that, the Hitkrant representative Ad Visser came on stage who not only presented them with the Hitkrant trophy but also the so-called zero issue of Hitkrant, wherein – who would have expected anything else – an ABBA photo turned out to be the first colour poster.
Subsequently, the press got the opportunity to ask some questions and girls dressed in Hitkrant T-shirts entered the room to hand out zero issues to the people present.

A zero issue isn’t meant to be commercially available, but it serves the purpose of showing interested people what the first issue will look like: it almost looks the same as issue one and the reactions we heard were actually only positive, reason enough to look at the future with confidence.
Besides, ABBA themselves were pleasantly surprised by this new magazine as well. Frida: “This is something very special and I’m almost certain that it will be very successful.” In the first issue of Hitkrant, there will be an extensive interview with ABBA by Ad Visser, of course accompanied by exclusive pictures. But you will have to have some patience for a little while longer. We also saw Willem van Beusekom working industriously with his tape recorder, so chances are that you will hear more about this on the radio too.
It was a day that we won’t easily forget: the meanwhile most popular group in the world and the first Hitkrant together in Holland!

Monday 14 February 2011

Joepie, 1978: ABBA off to Japan

Just like everywhere else in the world, a lot of ABBA records are being sold in Japan as well. But oddly enough, until recently the four Swedes never received an invitation from Japanese television, they even started to wonder what they had done wrong. But they don’t need to ask themselves that question any longer, because in November they will travel to Tokyo to film a television special.
“I’m already looking forward to this trip,” according to Benny. “We’ve never been there before, and I’ve already heard so many good things about Japan. The show that’s going to be filmed there will last approximately one hour. And obviously, a couple of tracks from the new album will have their premiere too...”

Joepie, 1978: Benny and Frida married! – Joepie revealed the ABBA marriage...

Benny and Frida from ABBA got married after all, like we already announced exclusively a couple of months. Our report caused a stir because apparently few people in the music business thought their marriage would be possible. A couple of other pop magazines even went as far as saying that our news was pure fiction. The fact that Joepie had been chosen by Benny and Frida during a promotional tour in Poland to reveal their wedding plans in the Benelux, probably somewhat annoyed our colleagues. Hence the insinuations that allegedly should prove that Joepie wasn’t the best informed pop magazine in Belgium and Holland after all...

Benny and Frida’s marriage still came rather unexpected and it even was a secret for many friends and acquaintances. The reason for that was that they wanted to avoid that thousands of interested people would come to the public ceremony, as had been the case in 1971 when Björn and Agnetha got married. A couple of teenagers were even hurt in the hustle then. Benny and Frida got married in all silence on Friday evening October 6 in the scenic little church of Lidingö, the island just outside Stockholm where they own a beautiful, French style mansion. Likewise, the party after the ceremony was strictly limited to the closest relatives (among them Frida’s father whom she found again a couple of months ago after many years, for the first time since her infancy) and most intimate friends, led by their manager Stig Anderson and of course their two ABBA colleagues Björn and Agnetha.
Needless to say, on behalf of all its readers, Joepie adds a bouquet of best wishes to that, especially to the brand-new mrs. Andersson, who was glowing like never before.

Saturday 12 February 2011

Mix, 1977: How the first performance by Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid turned into an enormous failure

Like a comet, they have left their trace in the sky of pop music. In the meantime, ABBA – the extremely successful Swedish quartet – has sold more than forty million records. In a fascinating series of articles, Mix is going to tell you how they found each other, how they won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 and how their success story unravelled.

ABBA has conquered the world with music and charm. Without a doubt, the ABBA story is the most remarkable success story in the world of pop since the Beatles.
Here we have Anni-Frid Lyngstad, born on November 15, 1945 and daughter of a Norwegian girl and an officer from the German occupying force. Anni-Frid emigrated with her grandmother to the Swedish town Torshälla and proved already at a very young age that she was an excellent singer. She won an amateur competition, lived together for a while with the furniture salesman Ragnar Fredriksson, had two children, travelled to Japan and Venezuela, performed successfully on Swedish television and with that she introduced herself explicitly.
There we have Benny Andersson too, born on December 16, 1946 in a Stockholm suburb. When he didn’t know what to do after highschool, he decided to join the pop group the Hep Stars. Benny, who prefers being lazy to being tired as he honestly admits himself, considered this pop business as a nice pastime and he didn’t understand why he was adored like an idol by Swedish girls. This burdensome adoration however did put an end to his relationship with Christina Grönvall, an attractive red-haired girl who had given birth to his little son and daughter.
The third main character in the ABBA story is Björn Ulvaeus. He was born on April 25, 1945 in Gothenburg and eleven years later he moved to Västervik at the Swedish coast. Together with a couple of school buddies, he founded a group that sang folk songs. Björn and his Västervik singers did pretty well and with their performances they caught the attention of the energetic music publisher and producer Stikkan Anderson (not related to Benny) who asked Björn to send in a demo tape.
Stikkan saw something in talented Björn and decided to guide the enthusiastic singers professionally. He changed the name of the group into The Hootenanny Singers and made sure that they remained successful. The Hootenanny Singers were one of the first that started singing in English, the international pop language and they extended their success by doing exactly what the audiece – that seemed to get younger and younger – wanted to hear.
“If they would rather listen to pop than folk songs, then pop is what they will get,” Björn used to say. Björn played his guitar just as well as he could entertain the audience.
The last character in the now world famous ABBA quartet is Agnetha Fältskog who was born on April 5, 1950 in Jönköping. She was discovered – if we can call it that – by a former pop singer who, after a short career, had taken up the much safer profession of talent scout at a record company.
Almost on a daily basis, Little Gerhard – that was his name – received tapes from hopeful fathers and mothers who thought that their children could sing so well. Gerhard listened to all these tapes patiently and carefully. When one of his nieces sent him a tape once, he obviously felt obliged to listen even more carefully. But he wasn’t very enthusiastic. Gerhard gave his honest opinion but he gilded the pill by remarking that somewhere on the tape he had discovered a fragment of a song that he liked. His sweet niece replied honestly that she actually wasn’t the one singing that song but a new girl, someone named Agnetha Fältskog. Agnetha had made her debut at a very young age as well. “I think I was five years old when I performed on a social evening for elderly people,” she told later. “I will never forget that halfway through the song my pants fell down. These elderly people didn’t know what hit them.”

This unfortunate incident didn’t discourage Agnetha. When she was ten years old, she started to come up with her own melodies on a piano and seven years later she caught Gerhard’s attention with a song on his niece’s tape. Gerhard’s record company – CBS Cupol – recorded the song and within a matter of time ‘I Was So In Love’ was number one in the charts.
For such a young girl, Agnetha showed an unprecedented business-like character. The astonished bosses at CBS Cupol couldn’t do anything else than meet het demands: a steady (and attractive) monthly income for a period of five years! Her next songs were just as successful.
In course of time, a series of coincidences led to the four of them getting in touch with each other. At one day, the Hep Stars and the Hootenanny Singers met each other in a motel in Västervik. Björn and Benny got acquainted, talked about music and composing vigorously and they got along so well that they decided to write songs together.
Not lang after that, on a warm and lazy Sunday afternoon, Björn was listening to the radio in his lazy chair when he was struck by the song ‘I Was So In Love’ that was sung by someone named Agnetha Fältskog.
“I fell in love with that voice,” Björn confessed, “and when I met Agnetha a couple of months later in Gothenburg, I fell in love with her too.”
Benny and Anni-Frid met each other when they coincidentally ended up in the same motel on their separate tours. And with that, the foundation had been laid for what was to become the ABBA fairytale. Björn and Agnetha got married in July 1971. Benny and Anni-Frid were hit by Cupid’s arrow as well and they started living together. In November 1970, Björn and Benny invited Agnetha to perform together with them in Gothenburg. “Actually, why not perform as a foursome?” asked Björn. “Let Anni-Frid join us too.” That first joint performance turned out to be a giant fiasco, because Agnetha repeatedly sang off key. The four artists went their separate ways again and one year later they gave it another shot. They still didn’t click, but by working very hard they eventually achieved the perfection they had been striving for.
Stikkan Anderson immediately saw the enormous possibilities, offered by the combined talents of Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid. He realized that he had gold in his hands. But how should the group be called? A summary of their four names was too silly to even contemplate. At the end of 1972, a note in his schedule caught his eye. It said: ‘rehearsal with A, B, B and A’. Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid! “ABBA!” Stikkan Anderson cried out. “Excellent. That’s how they will be called.” The pop group ABBA had been born.

Sunday 6 February 2011

Story, March 1978: Eat yourself slender with ABBA

Nothing is more annoying than having to go on stage in clothes that are too tight, according to the members of ABBA. And still this was happening lately. Agnetha told Story what the group is doing about this imminent overweight.

“Did you really think that we can keep our weight by singing, dancing and travelling around the world?” Blonde Agnetha is laughing derisively. “I wish it was true!” she continues. “It may be true that we are leading an exhausting life but opposed to that is the fact that all four of us love delicious food. For instance, when I think about smörgåsbord, it makes my mouth water. All those delicious fish and meat snacks. You know,” she says confidentially, “Frida can eat whatever she wants, the lucky girl. But whenever I eat tasteful things, it immediately ends up here!” Her hands brush past her hips, rear and thighs.
Then, smiling cordially: “Journalists always kindly write that I have a sexy behind, but this simply means that I am too fat in that area. When Björn and Benny read that, they immediately say: ‘we have to start watching our weight again, girl!’ And with ‘our’ they mean themselves too, because by that time they have already felt their waistband getting tighter. And there is nothing more annoying than having to perform in too tight costumes.
Then Agnetha starts going through her handbag. Eventually, she digs up a wrinkled piece of paper. “Look,” she says, “this is our clever diet. A thousand calories diet, wherein 25 calories count for one point. Every day you are allowed to – or rather: you have to – get 35 to 40 points. The good thing is that you can compile your own menu and you are able to eat pastry every now and then! We have compiled a couple of favourite menus for our diet days and you are free to publish them if you want,” she says generously.

Saturday 5 February 2011

Bravo, 1982: Agnetha: “We are coming on tour!”

If it was up to Agnetha, she would be in the studio this week and record her first solo album with Barry Gibb as her producer. But the blonde ABBA singer had to postpone her plans. The other three ABBA members need her...
It had been very quiet for ABBA for weeks. Time to relax, time to spend privately on their favourite hobbies. Benny decorated a new house in Stockholm together with his wife Mona, Björn could only be found with his daughter Emma, who was born in January. Agnetha didn’t leave her boyfriend Torbjörn Brander’s side for a minute. Only Anni-Frid was busy the whole time. She recorded her new solo album with Phil Collins.
But then the usual flurry of activity returned at Hamngatan in Stockholm, where the ABBA building is situated. First of all, Anni-Frid and Phil took residence in the big recording studio. In six weeks time, they recorded the eleven tracks for Anni-Frid’s solo album. It will be called ‘I Know, Something’s Going On’. It should be released at the end of August. The single ‘Something’s Going On’ will be released already in July.
Anni-Frid had barely completed her recordings, when Agnetha actually wanted to start recording her album. But Benny and Björn prevented this from happening. They had written for new songs that they wanted to record. In the beginning of May, both of them went into the studio, followed by Anni-Frid and Agnetha at the end of May, to sing those four songs. Then they were mixed.

The four songs will be released on two new ABBA singles. The first one will be released in the summer, the second in the autumn.
Because then a new ABBA double album will be released. All ABBA singles that were released so far will be on that album. From ‘Waterloo’ to ‘SOS’ and ‘Super Trouper’ up till the latest single ‘Head Over Heels’, and of course both new ABBA singles.
When the album is released, the four ABBAs will appear in public abroad again. They want to perform in Paris, London and here with us in Germany in a couple of TV shows.
Björn and Benny are also working on a concept for a new live show. This will be the basis of a big ABBA world tour, that the four have planned for 1983.
To Agnetha, this means: she won’t be able to start recording her album before the end of November. Although most of the songs have been written already, she won’t have enough time until the end of the year.
There’s one advantage to the matter: by that time, Bee Gees boss Barry Gibb will have completed shooting the Bee Gees movie and nothing will be in the way of his collaboration with Agnetha. Just like Anni-Frid, Agnetha won’t use the other members of ABBA in her solo venture. Both girls want to stand on their own two feet.
Only one thing is clear: whoever is rumouring about an ABBA split, is wrong. The four of them are working harder than ever. And during the press conference on the occasion of the launch of her solo album in Stockholm, Anni-Frid emphasized as well: “ABBA will be around for a long, long time to come.”