Sunday 27 March 2011

Joepie, 1976: ABBA is conquering Poland (part 2)

In our previous issue, you’ve been able to see and read how the four ABBA members were welcomed by thousands of fans at the airport in Warsaw, how they were escorted to the television studios and how they talked to the Polish press, at the end of the evening. So it was a very busy day and the quartet was very excited about the idea that they would be able to stroll around the Polish capital the next day, completely relaxed. At least, that’s what they thought, because Björn, Benny, Anna and Frida didn’t reckon with the enthusiasm of their Polish fans, who would follow them in a procession through the streets of Warsaw, the entire morning...

Benny didn’t make a fuss about it. “That’s part of the package if you are famous,” he mused. “We don’t have the right to disappoint these people, because they are the ones that buy our records...” In a small van, adorned with ABBA stickers, the driver guided us first through the oldest part of the city. Björn and Anna, who sat next to us in the van, seemed rather impressed and so were we. “I knew that Poland was a poor country, but I didn’t know that it was this bad...” Indeed, Poland is a couple of years behind compared with us. In the streets, you don’t see anything else but old vans and cars. Old houses in a row, people who are dressed less trendy, soldiers on every street corner, those are the main ingredients that make up the scenery of the city. In short, not a paradise dream for a Westerner. “Although I have to admit that the people are extremely nice and that life is very cheap here,” Björn added. Our first stop was in front of the Royal Palace that was destroyed in the war and that they are now rebuilding again. “The population of Warsaw is paying for the rebuilding,” our guide explained. “Somewhere on the big market there’s a collecting box, wherein people can put money for the rebuilding. I can assure you that an amount of money is scraped together every week.” From there, the ABBA company (closely followed by an increasing crowd of fans) walked via the big market to the old city walls. Björn and Anna were leading the way, Benny and Anni-Frid somewhat kept to themselves. “On stage, we are a foursome,” Benny explained. But off stage, we try to be two separate couples as much as possible. We see each other when we have to work, and that’s more than enough. Believe me, that’s the best strategy if you want to keep going as long as possible...” But even that explanation couldn’t prevent us from thinking that both girls don’t especially get along. During our entire stay in Poland and Sweden we rarely – if ever – saw them talk to each other. A coincidence? Only ABBA knows the answer to that... Fifteen minutes later, we were back in the van and – to brighten things up – Björn and Benny started to sing some Scandinavian folk songs. They were laughing and we were laughing along, although we couldn’t understand a single word. “You have to learn how to speak Swedish, guys,” Benny smiled. “It’s going to be the language of the future.” To round this little trip up, they paid a visit to the Palace of Culture, more or less the historic monument of Warsaw, like our Atomium and the French’ Eiffel Tower. As it happens, good times don’t last long and before we knew it, it was time to catch our plane again, back to Sweden. Our umpteenth torture in the air...

Thursday 24 March 2011

Das Freizeit-Magazin, 1978: Björn – from bon vivant to manager

“He was a bon vivant. Difficult in every respect. He had no discipline.”
“He is the organiser and manager. More than anyone else, he keeps ABBA together.”
These statements come from Stig Anderson and in both cases, it concerns Björn. It was a long road from undisciplined bon vivant to manager and organiser. But Björn went down that road. He was born on April 25, 1945 in Göteborg. When he was six years old, the Ulvaeus family moved to Västervik. When he was twelve, he got his first guitar. In the beginning, he played skiffle music, later on he changed to dixieland.
In the early sixties, young Björn went to grammar school in Västervik. But studying was a different story. He was more interested in guitars and music than hitting the books or studying his vocabularies. It was a good thing that he didn’t miss out much on music at school either. Björn and his class mate Tony Roth got the opportunity to join the Westbay Singers. A folk group that was founded by Hansi Schwartz and Johan Karlberg. Studying his vocabularies still wasn’t easy for Björn, instead he put far more effort in the Westbay Singers. With success. The group took part in an amateur competition and in the summer of 1963 they even started their first tour abroad. The Westbay Singers drove to Spain in an old Volvo PV and they were paid there in kind. In return for a performance, they got accommodation and catering. Despite this, it was big fun for all of them.
In the autumn of 1963, Björn’s mother signed the group up for a talent competition for Swedish radio. Coincidentally, at the same time Stig Anderson and Bengt Bernhag – who had just founded Polar – were looking for a Swedish group. In the newspaper, they read a small report about the upcoming performance by the Westbay Singers. Bengt Bernhag reacted immediately. He wrote that he would like the group to send him a demo tape. The Westbay Singers sent him the Spanish song ‘Ave Maria No Morro’.
“It must have been very convincing,” Björn remembers. “At that time, we had found each other musically.” And someone shared Björn’s opinion. Stig: “Bengt and I were blown away. It sounded fantastic.”
At Stig’s advice, the group changed its name into Hootenanny Singers and most of all, they concentrated more on Swedish folk music. How right they were was proven by the Hootenanny Singers’ first single, ‘Jag Väntar Vid Min Mila’. With this song, they won one of the most important prizes at the talent contest for Swedish radio.
In the autumn of 1964, Björn, Tony, Hans and Johan were reminded of the hard facts of life again. The four of them were facing the final exam of grammar school. How big their faith was in their educational skills, was underlined by a Swedish magazine. The readers were able to see pictures of the fresh graduates – taken one day before their exam. Thank God the pictures weren’t seen by the examiners and the four of them passed the exam with flying colours.
For the Hootenanny Singers, the hard times of playing small clubs now started. From 1964 until 1966 they toured through the folk parks and that was by no means a delight. But it wasn’t without success. The four of them started to become more well-known.
In the autumn of 1966, the lucky streak seemed to have ended. The military service unmistakably knocked on their door. Björn, Tony and Johan had to do their military duty. But this didn’t get them down. During the day, they were holding guns and at night they were performing. “We have never worked as hard as during that year,” says Björn.
In the summer of 1967, they could finally say goodbye to the military service. Björn started his studies (economics, business management and law) at Stockholm university. On the side, he worked at Stig’s music publishing company and he played with the Hootenanny Singers. Apart from that, he started to write his own songs for the group. “They were terrible,” as he admits today. One year later, he released his first solo single ‘Raring’. And then Björn was struck by love like lightning. It happened during a TV show, wherein a blonde, pretty pop singer performed as well – Agnetha Fältskog. Both of them had met each other before, but this time things became serious. The newspapers finally had something to write again about the music scene. The pop romance of the year was filling multiple pages.
At the same time, the collaboration between Björn and Benny became tighter. Björn and Agnetha got married on July 7, 1971. The wedding was overshadowed by the death of Bengt Bernhag, who had been Stig’s business partner for many years and co-founder of Polar Music. It was a heavy blow for everyone involved. But life had to go on. That same year, in the autumn, a contract was signed by Björn, Benny and Stig Anderson, after which Björn and Benny started to work as producers for Polar Music. The foundation for ABBA had been laid.
Finally, Stig, Benny and Björn were working under the same roof and they could get to work. The result was ABBA and super hits such as ‘Waterloo’, ‘Fernando’ and ‘Mamma Mia’...

Friday 18 March 2011

Muziek Expres, December 1977: Anni-Frid and the inhuman side of success

No fairytale without its downside. ABBA sure knows something about that. When Sweden is asleep, Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid are working extremely hard on a new chapter in their success story.

Actually, Anni-Frid can’t really deal with it. When she knows that she has to get into the studio for a couple of days, she is in a bad mood long before that moment arrives. And when the time has come, the others know that they will have to do everything in their power to spare vulnerable Frida. The later it gets on a day like that, the more often Anni-Frids grabs every opportunity to give her exhausted body some rest. While the other three keep themselves going with litres of black coffee, she falls asleep. Simply because she needs a normal dose of sleep, unlike for instance Agnetha.

“Oh well, of course it doesn’t help all that much, this sleeping,” she confides in us. “You don’t get any rest at all on such a chair or a couch. Especially because you know that it will only be for a very short while. That’s why I am completely exhausted at the end of a day like that. I will never forget that one time when we kept working without interruption for two days and two nights in a row. That’s right, after that I was sick for three days. That’s why the doctor gave me the advice to never do something like that again. But that’s easy for him to say. He is not a member of a top group.”

Björn, Benny and Agnetha realise that Anni-Frid is not putting on some act whenever she lays herself down.
Anni-Frid: “That’s why they always wake me in a friendly way. When I wake up, I mostly don’t even know where I am. And when I see all these laughing faces around me, I always think at first: yuck. Because I realise all too well that I’m expected to sing a couple of songs with a beaming face. At first, I always have to restrain myself. That’s why the first attempt mostly doesn’t turn out very good. I simply have to take some time to get myself going again.”
The downside of success. Actually, everyone who is infatuated with ABBA should be able to witness a day in the recording studio once. To see with their own eyes under which circumstances fairytales come into being.

Monday 14 March 2011

1988: The new Agnetha – Beautiful like Madonna

The blonde hair cut short, bare shoulders, the arms under her chin: Agnetha Fältskog is looking sexier than ever with her 37 years. “I really like the new look, although I was sceptical at first,” she says herself. With her new album, the once somewhat plain looking lead singer of the Swedish mega quartet ABBA, presents herself with a brand new look!
For that matter, behind the new Agnetha are the men that look after Madonna as well:
Alberto Tolot, Madonna’s official and personal photographer. Now he photographed Agnetha for the album cover. Beautiful and sensual.
Peter Zavic, Madonna’s make-up artist and hairdresser. He created the new look and hairdo.
Bruce Gaitsch, he wrote the hit ‘La Isla Bonita’ for Madonna. He worked for Agnetha as a co-producer, guitarist, keyboard and synthesizer player.
But the most important man behind the new album ‘I Stand Alone’ is without a doubt the former Chicago musician Peter Cetera, who enjoyed enormous successes as a solo artist recently (‘Glory Of Love’, ‘The Next Time I Fall’). Peter first met Agnetha in Stockholm two years ago, when both of them performed at a benefit concert for the Red Cross. They got along with each other instantly.
Peter Cetera at the time: “I’ve always wanted to produce a record with you!” Up till then, Agnetha had sold more than 100 million records with ABBA and her two solo albums. Agnetha Fältskog: “I don’t think highly of these long range plans and ramblings about ‘we should do something at some point’. That’s why I was really surprised when Peter called me from the USA and we kept talking about a new album on the phone over and over again.”
It took three months and hundreds of dollars spent on phone calls, before Peter came up with a couple of concrete song suggestions, that he brought to Stockholm. Subsequently, both of them went to David Foster’s studio in California, where Peter’s talent to find hits and Agnetha’s unmistakable feeling for the best songs caused for creative sparks to fly.
Agnetha: “I was finally able to bring my interest in Latin music to the table.” The songwriters – apart from Peter and Bruce Gaitsch – are all top-class: Albert Hammond, Peter Brown. For ‘I Wasn’t The One (Who Said Goodbye)’, Agnetha and Peter Cetera were both sharing the studio microphone.
Agnetha Fältskog: “Working with Peter was truly wonderful. He polished the vocals carefully, very insightful and always with incorruptible ears. It has been a big challenge for me, especially because he has always liked my music and I wanted to live up to his standards. For the future, I can only wish for more challenges like this.”

Monday 7 March 2011

Bravo, October 1979: ABBA, the highlights of their ’79 show – Hits, blow upon blow

It was the ultimate ABBA triumph: after an almost two-hour-long show at the Coliseum in Edmonton, Canada, 14.000 spectators were cheering the Swedish supergroup on. It was ABBA’s first live performance after two and a half years, the first concert on the American continent and at the same time the kick-off of their mammoth tour lasting several months through the USA and Europe.
ABBA likes to start their tours high up north. And Edmonton in the federal capital Alberta is the city that is situated the highest up north in Canada.
September 13 was ABBA day in Edmonton: the radio stations played ABBA hits non-stop, and continuously the radio reporters reported the latest news about the rehearsals at the Coliseum. Even late in the afternoon, before the concert, ABBA was on stage to put the finishing touch to their show.
Then the time had come. A narrator announced that ABBA would put on a ninety minute show, without a break. That’s why the concert attendees made sure they had a sufficient supply of sweets, popcorn and coke.
The lights in the hall faded, the deep blue curtains at the end of the hall (where usually ice hockey is being played) were illuminated, festive organ sounds were resonating.
When the curtain was lifted, ABBA was standing on stage in a bright red light. On the left Björn, then Agnetha and Anni-Frid and ultimately Benny who rapidly walked from the organ in the background to the piano in the forestage. During the first chords of the opening song, Agnetha and Anni-Frid were stretching both arms widely. Their beautiful capes in silver and white with the reversed ABBA triangle in three different shades of blue established a large triangle.

In the whole ABBA show, the colours white and blue were dominating and triangles were the predominating shapes. In the background, triangles in different shades of blue – the official ABBA trademark for this tour – were looming in front of a white wall and in all the costumes of the musicians, white was the dominating colour. Even the roadies were wearing snow-white overalls. With the ultraviolet light, the whole stage looked like a giant ice crystal.
They were enthusiastically welcomed by the audience with their opening song ‘Voulez-Vous’. After this latest hit, Agnetha and Anni-Frid went backstage, to take off their triangle capes. They came back in a skin tight white jersey with blue stripes on the upper part. Around their hips, they had wrapped a refined white-blue triangle cloth, that was yet again removed after a couple of songs. White leather boots completed their white-blue stage outfit.
Björn was wearing a shiny jersey in bright violet, completed with a white jacket and white boots. Benny was dressed in white trousers and a white jacket over a naked upper body. On his chest, a blue tie was dangling.
‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ was the second song, after which Björn introduced all the group members. The last one to be introduced was Agnetha with the words: “The tall blonde, my former wife. And I’m not sure if she is as good as you.” This was a hint to Agnetha’s next song ‘As Good As You’. Subsequently, on her way to the microphone, Agnetha walked past Björn and jokingly insinuated that she was going to give him a blow to the jaw.
After that, Björn performed his solo ‘Rock Me’, whereby he was rocking wildly across the stage. This was followed by a song for Anni-Frid: ‘One Man, One Woman’. Then something unusual happened: Agnetha announced a song that was written by one of the backing singers and ABBA switched parts with their backing group: all of a sudden the guitarist had become the lead singer and the backing singer was sitting at the piano. The ABBA stars retreated to the background: Björn was playing the tambourine, Benny was handling the rhythm section and Anni-Frid and Agnetha joined the backing singers.
From then on it was blow upon blow: Agnetha sang ‘Chiquitita’, Anni-Frid ‘Money, Money, Money’ (with a cigarette holder in her hand). They performed ‘SOS’, ‘Fernando’, ‘Name Of The Game’ – one hit after the other.

Then came another surprise: after two verses of Anni-Frid’s song ‘I Have A Dream’, both ABBA girls went backstage and came back with 20 children. They came from a children’s choir in Edmonton, and they finished the song with both girls. The audience was so ecstatic that they had to repeat the last verse. Many a time during the show, Benny’s piano was raised on a hydraulic platform, so that he could play standing up, like he did in ‘Gimme A Man After Midnight’, ‘Take A Chance On Me’, ‘Does Your Mother Know’ and ‘Summer Night City’. Anni-Frid offered a special surprise as well. When she appeared on stage during one song wearing a hat and a large Oilers T-shirt – the Edmonton ice hockey team – she got an extra applause from the audience.
For the last three songs, Agnetha and Anni-Frid appeared on stage in a dark blue jersey. And during ‘It’s Gotta Be Rock ‘n’ Roll’, all four of them were centre stage, romping around, while the blue triangles in the background suddenly started moving and an illuminated ABBA logo became visible. The audience was raging with excitement.
However, this was the finale of the concert. But obviously the 14.000 spectators were clapping their hands until they got an encore. The four Swedes came back on stage. Benny was provided with an accordion and together they sang ‘The Way Old Friends Do’, a sentimental song that tells the story about old friends that will always stay together. And this was followed by the big bang: the song was segued into ‘Dancing Queen’, the biggest hit that ABBA ever had in the USA. The ovations seemed to have no end.
14.000 delighted audience members left the hall in Edmonton. And the four Swedes can rest assured that they will gain a lot of new fans with their amazing stage show on this tour.

Sunday 6 March 2011

Rocky, 1979: ABBA is being mysterious

During the rehearsals for their 41-city-tour, ABBA was almost completely shielded from the outer world. Still, Rocky was able to talk to them.

“Actually, this time we didn’t want to do any interviews at all, until the rehearsals for our new tour had been completed,” Björn explained, when the four from ABBA arrived right on time for the scheduled photo session. “Because we don’t want to take the risk that glitches will occur during the first concerts of our tour and our fans will be disappointed.”
The team from Sweden has plenty of fans. The concerts in the UK, Scotland and Ireland with 75.000 tickets available, were sold out within one day. In Denmark, the ABBA tickets were even on sale for only half a day.
“Of course, that’s a great success for us,” says Anni-Frid, “but it means a tremendous obligation as well. We have to be better than ever.”
And to live up to these expectations, the entire ABBA crew, together with six musicians and three backing singers, withdrew in a film studio in Stockholm for almost a month.
“We have tried out every step, every song, every sound and light effect, until we were fed up with it.” No one wanted or was allowed to tell us how their costumes and their show will look like. “Whoever says something, will be sacked,” Benny threatened, “because we want to offer a real surprise to our fans. Everything that’s being said about it before the start of the tour is very far-fetched.”
When ABBA comes to Germany at the end of October, they will already have performed 19 concerts. “But you don’t need to worry that we will be too worn out by then to put on a good show,” Agnetha remarked preventively. “We love our job, and when we get a good response from the audience and we don’t get bugged too much in between the concerts, the stress of the tour doesn’t matter to us.”

Hitkrant, 1979: Children from Rotterdam are singing with ABBA

Odd that the song that was actually performed – ‘I Have A Dream’ – was not on that tape...
A choir from the Rotterdam Music School is going to help ABBA out in two songs during their concert at the Ahoy venue in Rotterdam. The choir – consisting of 25 boys and girls – received a tape with the two songs on it, namely ‘I Wonder’ and ‘Thank You For The Music’. At the moment, the choir is very busy with rehearsing the songs, so that they will achieve the best result possible. Obviously, everyone regards it as very big honour to be able to perform with ABBA once.

Saturday 5 March 2011

Das Freizeit-Magazin, 1979: ABBA, in the autum they will go on a world tour – a new beginning for Björn and Agnetha?

Something is cooking with ABBA. Because every day, Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid are discussing the last details and ideas for their 1979 world tour. On September 13 it will have its kick-off in Edmonton, Canada.
Benny: “However, we weren’t able to surprise our fans with a new album at the beginning of our tour. We just didn’t have the time. But we have put together a show that will reveal completely new sides of ABBA. We haven’t reached the end of our road yet, not by a long shot. And the tour will be anything but a farewell.”
Ever since the divorce between blonde Agnetha and 33-year-old Björn, the rumours about the disbandment of the group won’t fade away.
Björn: “Since the divorce, we even get along better than before. We are able to talk to each other again, and there are no accusations or arguments anymore.”
In the first weeks of their disagreements, Agnetha didn’t even permit her ex-husband to see their children. However, these times have passed.
Little daughter Linda sees her father very often and she got used to seeing blonde Lena there as well, who moved in with Björn in the meantime. In return, she has made friends with the Swedish ice hockey player Lars Ericsson, who visits her mother regularly. According to Linda: “But being with mum and dad alone is the best of all.”
On the tour, mum and dad will be alone. Lena and Lars will stay in Stockholm. Anni-Frid and many ABBA fans are hoping: “Perhaps they will get back together during the two-month tour. They have let off enough steam in the past few months. And what the tour won’t be able to accomplish, the children perhaps will. It’s up to Björn and Agnetha to decide if ABBA still has a future. And in the meantime both of them have realized that as well. They are on it to create a new foundation for a partnership.”
A new beginning for Björn and Agnetha? At least a survival for ABBA! The German fans will be able to convince themselves too, when the group will visit Dortmund on October 25. Other tour dates in Germany: October 27 in Munich, October 30 in Stuttgart, November 1 in Bremen and November 2 in Frankfurt. The tour, that will encompass almost every continent, will end in Dublin on November 5.