Monday 25 April 2011

Das Freizeit-Magazin, 1978: Benny – at full throttle into bankruptcy

“He has music running through his veins... He is a musician and not one that only plays. And that’s the best compliment that you can get,” says Stig Anderson. “He plays with his heart.”
The person at whom this compliment is aimed is called Goran Bror Benny Andersson, born on December 16, 1946 in Stockholm. The part about music running through the veins was applicable to the entire Andersson family. Grandfather Efraim and father Gösta both played the accordion. It was obvious that Benny should get an instrument too. At the time he was only six years old and the accordion was four centimetres bigger than he was.
“My father and grandfather taught me everything,” Benny remembers. “I never had any musical education. During the summer holidays, we always played together. I was as happy as I could be when I could listen to Swedish folk music.”
“When I was ten, I got a piano. At first, I always tried to play the piano like I played the accordion. At school, I had three or four hours of playing the piano. But I thought that was rubbish.”
Together with his sister Eva-Lisa, Benny grew up in Vällingby, one of Stockholm’s suburbs. His father was a construction engineer and the plan was that Benny would follow in his footsteps one day. The music made sure that these plans were thwarted. In Vällingby, there was a youth centre, where various pop groups played every Saturday night. During the intermissions between the performances, the same thing went on every time: Benny got on stage and played the piano. “These days, it’s still the same. Whenever I see a piano, I just have to play it.”
During his musical intermezzos, Benny was accompanied by a young singer, Christina Grönvall. When both of them were fifteen years old, they got engaged. Christina is the mother of Benny’s two children, Peter and Helen. But their engagement didn’t last long...
After high school, Benny worked as a doorman. He also joined a group, called Elverkets Spelmanslag. However, Benny’s big breakthrough came when he became a member of the Hep Stars. This happened in October 1964. The group was composed of Svenne Hedlund, Janne Frisk, Lennart Hegland, Christer Petterson and the new organ player Benny. During New Year 1965, the Hep Stars performed on television, and all of a sudden they were well-known all over Sweden.
“We were lucky enough to make the right music at the right time,” says Benny. The right music was Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Already during his time with Elverkets Spelmanslag, Benny had written a couple of songs. He has long forgotten about these songs today. But he hasn’t forgotten the first song he wrote for the Hep Stars ‘No Response’ and his first hit for the group ‘Sunny Girl’.
‘Sunny Girl’ was a slow-paced song and it actually didn’t fit in with the Hep Stars’ repertoire. It was because of Svenne that they played it anyway. During a performance, he had jumped off a loudspeaker and ricked his foot. Benny: “This forced us to make our show a little calmer and play something slower.”
The next hits were ‘Wedding’, ‘Consolation’ and ‘It’s Nice To Be Back’. But the group had their biggest success with a Swedish song ‘I Natt Jag Drömde’ (‘I Had A Dream Last Night’). 200.000 copies of that single were sold.
The Hep Stars became the most popular Swedish pop group of the sixties. They were awarded with gold records for three albums and five singles.
When it came to music, the Hep Stars had nothing to complain about. And because everything was going so well, the group wanted to try their luck with something even bigger: their own movie. The title of this epos would be ‘Habari Safari’. Filming started in February 1967 – but the script wasn’t ready until July that same year. For Benny and his friends, ‘Habari Safari’ meant that they were catapulted into bankruptcy. 5.000 metres of film had been shot, but the movie didn’t have a story. And a movie without a story is a like an egg without its yolk. All of a sudden, the Hep Stars found themselves with a debt of 280.000 Swedish kronor.
The next blow came in December 1967: they still had to pay 900.000 Swedish kronor to taxes. None of the Hep Stars had paid any taxes for two years. Now they received the receipt. It took Benny four years to pay off his tax debt. He hardly saw a penny of the money that he made during this period, but the tax office did.
So it isn’t surprising that he says nowadays: “The best thing that happened to me was that I met Stig. He taught me the importance of thinking economically and an organized life.”
The Hep Stars split up in 1969. Around this time, the partnership between Benny and Björn – who had met each other for the first time in 1966 – had grown bigger and bigger. The foundation for ABBA had been laid.
These days, Benny is the calming influence in ABBA. He is the one with the most balanced character. The people who know Benny say that he is kind, open and generous. Sometimes too generous. During his time with the Hep Stars, Benny had a small bowl in his apartment. It was filled with 100 kronor banknotes. When friends of his came by who needed money, Benny put some of these banknotes in their hands...

Saturday 23 April 2011

Privé, November 1980: ABBA troubled by divorce distress!

ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus is unhappy. During a private filming session in Stockholm, Privé discovered that the strong man from ABBA has not been able to deal with the sadness of his divorce. His new blonde girlfriend Lena seems to be nothing else than a ‘surrogate’ for his true love, Agnetha...

Europa Film Studios in Stockholm, Friday evening ten o’clock. Outside, no one would guess what’s going on inside this somewhat deteriorated film studio: a happening with the world’s most loved group ABBA. When Privé enters the studio, everything becomes clear. In the midst of one hundred and fifty frivolously dressed people, the super group is waiting to be photographed by European photographers. The girls, Agnetha and Anni-Frid, have become skinny. They look fantastic in their long, white evening dresses. Björn and Benny, also dressed in white, protect ‘their’ women from the impending hassle from the photographers. In the studio, there’s a penetrating smell of horses and make-up. Circus music is being played and smoke bombs are being blown up. All one hundred and fifty people are smiling and singing. The ABBA members seem to be a little lost. It all seems to pass them by. For the umpteenth time, they have to show a fake smile...
Their hearts are clearly not in it. Between the photo shoots, Agnetha concentrates on totally different things. Björn keeps calling her to order. “Agnetha, Agnetha, please pay attention. They are coming for you!” he says to his ex wife. The only thing that’s important to Agnetha is that her little daughter Linda (7) is not being tread under foot by these hundreds of people.
It’s apparent that photo sessions and interviews are not important to ABBA any longer. The four artists are overwhelmed by the sudden invasion and they hold on to each other convulsively. On each picture the same smile...
The only one who thinks this photo session is a party, is Björn. At moments like these, he is able to hold his ex wife close to him. For him, the promised thirty minutes are too short. He wishes this could last forever. However, the truth is different than that. Agnetha doesn’t want Björn anymore. She was the one who insisted to get a divorce. Married life didn’t suit her any longer. This came like a bolt from the blue in the small ABBA family. Indeed, a couple of months earlier Agnetha had given birth to her son, ‘born from love’, Christian, now two and a half years old.

It was a heavy blow for husband Björn as well, who loved her very much. He has had to deal with enormous grief due to Agnetha’s decision to live her life without him. Until this day, he has not been able to cope with this sadness. His new girlfriend Lena Källersjö, a dead ringer for Agnetha, is not more than a ‘surrogate’ for the woman that he truly loves, Agnetha.
Agnetha doesn’t even want to consider a new relationship with her ex husband, whom she has known for ten years. She is enjoying her life of freedom and her many lovers. “I do still love Björn,” she confesses. “But I would never want to marry him again. Too much has happened. I didn’t choose to be free without a reason.” Agnetha’s freedom doesn’t have the meaning that it should have. Less than one kilometre from her house, Björn is living with his new wife. The former couple still has the same friends. Every other week they take care of the children. On top of that, Björn and Agnetha still have contact on a daily basis. They still go on tour together and rumour has it that they still share the same hotel rooms...
“This way, Björn will be able to accept the divorce,” friends of the former couple are saying. “He would fall apart if he wouldn’t be able to see Agnetha anymore. He still loves her dearly!”
This state of affairs keeps ABBA alive. However, apart from that, Agnetha is recording solo albums as well. These albums don’t get much publicity. They are only available in Sweden...

Many ABBA fans are wondering how it is possible that Björn and Agnetha are able to come across as a normal married couple to the outside world. “Björn enjoys it,” intimate friends are saying. “He simply doesn’t want to let go of Agnetha.”
Lena Källersjö is not present during the filming session. Björn is determined to keep her out of the spotlight, is the explanation. He doesn’t think it’s pleasant for Agnetha to see them together either. Lena is waiting at home for the man she loves in their luxurious mansion in Lidingö, an island just outside Stockholm. She tries to fight the attraction that Agnetha still has to her lover. For that matter, Björn’s sadness doesn’t leave Agnetha unaffected. Often, they talk to each other for hours about the future and the past. Thousands of times, Agnetha had to explain to Björn why she decided to divorce him. Björn still can’t understand it. Everything was going so well, didn’t it...
A few weeks ago, no one was aware of Björn’s sadness yet. To protect himself and Agnetha, he tried to keep his secret to himself. Until the moment that ‘The Winner Takes It All’ became a worldwide hit. The public thinks that it’s Agnetha who puts the melodramatic divorce across as her own experience. But the truth is a different matter. It was Björn who wrote the song and uncovered his own feelings. He wasn’t ashamed any longer to show his fans that he was still grieving. But in the promotional film, it’s Agnetha who is looking sad and Björn seems to be having fun.

‘The Winner Takes It All’... That winner is Agnetha. She got what she wanted, she is living the life that she wanted to live. In a sensitive way she is singing: “Does she really kiss like I used to kiss you. Does it feel the same, when she calls your name...”
Björn is putting his biggest fear into words here. Will Agnetha ever be able to love someone as much as she loved him? He wants to know it all, despite the fact that he is torturing himself.
In the Europa Film Studios, the promotional film is made for the new ABBA album, the album that includes ‘The Winner Takes It All’ as well. Polar, ABBA’s record company, has hired one hundred and fifty people from Circus Safari from Germany. All good friends and acquaintances of the group are dressed in circus outfits too. Horses and dogs, fire-eaters, clowns, women-with-beard and other typical circus characters are running through the studio, surrounding ABBA.
Why a circus? “Up till now, only ABBA’s faces have been seen on record covers,” Görel Hanser explains. “Now they wanted to try something different. A circus seemed the obvious possibility. At first, we wanted to do the photo and the filming session at Picadilly Circus in London. But this caused some probems with the police in England. Then we decided that we might as well do it here in the studio. We don’t know yet what the title of the album will be. It will definitely be something concerning a circus, or a dream. In any case, with both titles we will indicate what ABBA really is: a big circus, and still a dream for Agnetha, Björn, Anni-Frid and Benny...”

Friday 22 April 2011

Muziek Expres, August 1979: ABBA are wholesalers in platinum

Perhaps everybody is already aware of it, but still, for those few people who don’t read newspapers or listen to the radio, the following: the Swedish group ABBA is coming to Holland. On October 24, they will perform a one-off concert at the Ahoy hall in Rotterdam. Since there is room for only 8.000 people in that venue, it is necessary to get tickets as soon as possible.

ABBA’s concert is part of a gigantic world tour that will kick off in Sweden on October 16 and that will take the foursome to countries such as Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria, Belgium and also America and Canada. Rumour has it that this might very well be the last time that the quartet will operate in the familiar line-up, since several members of the group want to venture out in other territories. And this happens at a time when ABBA’s popularity is starting to go through the roof. In England, they achieved an absolute record with their latest album ‘Voulez-Vous’ by entering the album charts at number one, straight from nothing. A feat that no other pop group or pop hero has been able to achieve in the past. The result: a platinum award within one week after the release date. The group is doing very well in The Netherlands as well. In the meantime, it has become clear that the album has achieved double platinum status. In other words: more than 200.000 copies were sold.

Sunday 17 April 2011

Pop Foto, 1978: Agnetha left her little son alone...

Well, it had to happen some time. For the first time since her little son Christian was born, Agnetha had to leave him at home. Because after a couple of months of ‘forced’ silence, ABBA performed again. And for no less than forty million television viewers... Forty million people watched Rudi Carell’s German television show ‘Laufendem Band’ recently. A huge amount of viewers, obviously. But the fact that the Dutchman Rudi Carell is extremely popular in Germany wasn’t the only reason. No, Rudi had four world famous guests that he had on his show that evening to thank for this enormous interest: ABBA! For the first time since Agnetha and Björn’s son Christian was born, the world’s biggest pop group performed again. Thanks to the special intervention by Rudi Carell and ABBA, Pop Foto was allowed to get inside the otherwise so hermetically closed German television studio. Photographer Pieter could do his job without interruption. And what we saw in that studio gave us all the confidence we needed for the future. Because Anni-Frid, Agnetha, Benny and Björn were one hundred percent committed to their job again. “We had to take it easy the past few months because of the baby. We wanted to give Agnetha all the time she needed to recover from giving childbirth,” Björn said at the press conference that preceded the television performance. “Where Agnetha was concerned, her little son obviously took precedence over ABBA during the time after he was born. But ABBA goes on no matter what. That’s proven by the fact that we are performing here again.” During that press conference, ABBA was rather vague about their plans for the future. “We have a lot of surprises in store for our fans, but unfortunately we can’t say much about it yet,” Benny smiled mysteriously. We are very curious. Pop Foto will keep you posted.

Monday 11 April 2011

Bravo, 1983: Agnetha is stealing everybody’s show

The fans are taking a sprint next to the arriving bus, to be able to take out their autograph books right on time at the opening bus door. This wasn’t the case only in Bremen, where Agnetha Fältskog introduced her current solo single ‘The Heat Is On’ in the TV show Musikladen, but everywhere where the blonde Swede made an appearance on her promotional tour across Europe. No wonder. Because ever since the ex wife of ABBA’s Björn took a chance on a solo career once again with Tomas Ledin and the single ‘Never Again’, she is looking better than ever before. This individual success made Agnetha self-confident, calm and relaxed. In her appearance as well. She wears her blonde hair in a fringy way and she comes across like a teenager in her casual clothes. But still, Agnetha – who was born on April 5, 1950 in Jönköping – already has two children from her eight-year-long marriage to Björn Ulvaeus: her daughter Linda was born in 1973, son Christian followed in 1977. In the meantime, she has come to terms with the shock of her divorce, now four years ago. Her solo career is nothing new for Agnetha either: she has been playing the piano since she was five years old. When she was eighteen she got acquainted with show business for the first time through her father who was the leader of a Swedish television ballet. Immediately – still that same year, 1968 – she turned up in the Swedish top ten with ‘I Was So In Love’. She quit her job as a telephone operator, that she had started after getting her high-school diploma, to be able to sing in the evenings at a dance bar. She moved to Stockholm, composed and wrote lyrics herself and ultimately she fell in love with Björn. In 1973, at the Swedish heat for the Eurovision Song Contest where ABBA finished in third place with ‘Ring Ring’, she was already heavily pregnant. Today, no one remembers the fact that Agnetha also sung in German before her time with ABBA. In 1968, ‘Ich Bin So Verliebt’ was released, in 1969 ‘Wer Schreibt Heut Noch Liebesbriefe’ and in 1972 ‘Geh mit Gott’. Agnetha’s current single ‘The Heat Is On’ was taken from the album ‘Wrap Your Arms Around Me’, from which album the next single ‘Shame’ will be taken as well. Who is allowed to wrap his arms around Agnetha privately remains a secret, ever since her relationship with the 39-year-old bodyguard and policeman Torbjörn Brander came to an end one year ago.

Monday 4 April 2011

1977: ABBA – The Movie: a musical spectacle without much frills

On Saturday morning, the ABBA movie had its European premiere in the big movie theatre of the City venue. One day before that, the movie was screened for the very first time in Australia, the country where it was mostly filmed. Next week, the rest of the world will follow like a ‘forest fire’. ‘ABBA – The Movie’, as the feature film is simply called, will be screened in fourteen Dutch cinemas coming Thursday. Among other places, the following cities will get a copy: Amsterdam, Rotterdam, The Hague, Den Bosch, Nijmegen, Deventer and Zwolle. Without any doubt, the cinemas in these cities will be packed with people the coming weeks, because - like most anything else that comes from the ABBA factory - the movie is aimed at a large audience. It is a very commercial product, that actually doesn’t have any weak spots. Or it would have to be the commercialism that it radiates. They kept the story quite simple. Director and scriptwriter Lasse Hallström, the man who has made all promotional films for the Swedish quartet in the past, actually only filmed ABBA. He used an Australian DJ, played by Robert Hughes, as a glue to piece all the scenes together. DJ Ashley gets the assignment from his boss to have an exclusive and very extensive interview with the popular group for the radio station that he works for. The programme is scheduled to be broadcast on the day that the Swedes leave Australia. Of course, he doesn’t manage to get that exclusive interview and Ashley tags along with the four Swedes. This way, Hallström gets the opportunity to use something from each concert in the movie. It is clear that the movie for the most part consists of the concert performances by Anni-Frid, Benny, Björn and Agnetha. Practically all songs from ‘Arrival’ have been captured like that. Furthermore, a couple of songs from ABBA’s formative years and to top things off, five truly marvellous songs that will appear - later on in January - on the new album that carries a title that is at least as simple as the title of the movie, namely ‘ABBA – The Album’. The movie is filmed entirely on 16 millimeter film and this was blown up later on in the studio to wide screen Cinemascope. For one year, Hallström worked on editing the vast amount - sixty hours - of rough material that he filmed during the concerts in Australia. You can see the fruits of this long editing period in the end result, because there are no mistakes in the movie. Although they faced quite a few difficulties in recording the sound. In Sydney, it rained so hard that the tapes mainly consisted of the sound of rain pouring down and far away in the distance you could hear ABBA. Still they succeeded to straighten things out in the recording studio. And meanwhile the equalization remained perfect. The rest of the editing is done impeccably too. The filmed scenes are outstanding and the sound - thanks to the studio trickery - is perfect. The only downside is probably - but which ABBA fan pays attention to that - the enormous music machine that rolls over the spectator. Quite rightly, remarks are being made afterwards that this could all be too much. “The audience doesn’t get any time to catch their breath; time to make preparations to listen to the next ABBA song,” according to one of the reactions. That might be true, but on the other hand this is of course a music movie and this is understood very well by the clever manager of the group, often proclaimed the fifth ABBA, Stig Anderson. He set out to make this movie a musical spectacle without too much frills. And he succeeded. Before the movie will be screened in those fourteen cinemas next Thursday, Veronica will get the opportunity to dig into the group’s past a little bit more. The past that begins with the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton (1974) when the quartet was still easily approachable for journalists. Now that’s no longer possible. The news about the group is being spread in the newspapers by the Swedish company Polar Records (owned by ABBA). Interviews are no longer possible. And who can blame them, because the group has achieved so much fame in the past (almost) four years - fifty million records were sold - that they wouldn’t know where to start. There is a slight possibility that ABBA will come to Holland in May next year. The group is working on a mini musical that they want to stage during their next tour. Some parts of it were featured already during the tour earlier this year but Benny, Björn and Stig have allegedly finetuned the musical part of this performance. Before they will perform it on an official tour, the Swedish group wants to try it out first. And they have chosen Amsterdam for that. If this concert - the second one in our country - will fail to happen, then we will have to wait until 1980, because America is the first thing on their schedule. Except for television performances, the group has never performed a live concert over there yet.

Sunday 3 April 2011

Bravo, 1982: ABBA privately

Bravo: Agnetha, pictures of you have appeared recently, on which you look heavily pregnant. Where do these pictures come from? Agnetha: “They are from the Swedish movie Raskenstam that will be out in the cinemas in early 1983. It’s a tragic and funny story about a marriage impostor in the forties who took a lot of money from about one hundred women and who had to go behind bars for six years for that. I’m playing the character of the only girl that he really loved and got married to. My character also has two of his children, hence the pictures with the big pillow under my dress.” Bravo: Privately, you often wear glasses? Do you have a problem with your vision? Agnetha: “No, they only have plain glass. I only wear them to change my face.” Bravo: Talk about changing – Björn, why did you decide to grow a beard as well? Björn: “It was about time to cover up my face. But seriously: it’s pure laziness, because it’s much more convenient if you don’t have to shave every day.” Bravo: You have given your meanwhile eleven months old daughter the German name Emma. What gave you this idea? Björn: “The name is not uncommon in Sweden. My wife Lena and I found it in a names book. Apart from that, the little girl looks like an Emma – small, cute, blonde hair, blue eyes.” Bravo: Are you able to change your baby’s diaper? Björn: “Of course. Changing diapers, feeding, pushing the pram are even mostly my task, because Lena is working at an advertising agency again. I was also present when Emma was born, I even cut the umbilical cord.” Bravo: Benny, a photographer secretly took a snapshot while you were pushing the pram... Benny: “In Sweden, it’s very common that husband and wife both take care of the children. Ten percent of the Swedish men even take the so-called maternity leave instead of their wives. I belong to those ten percent as well and I’m playing the homemaker. Since Mona is working again at her job as a TV producer, I am taking care of our baby Ludvig.” Bravo: Who is taking care of your babies when you are at work? Björn: “We both have a nanny. Lena and I have a Swedish au pair girl. She is 22 years old and her name is Ulrike.” Bravo: Frida, you have already gone through all these problems. How many children do you actually have? Frida: “Now let me think... Kidding aside, I have four children. Two from my first marriage and Benny has two from a previous relationship. And because I have been with him for such a long time, his chilren are mine as well to some extent. My daughter Lise-Lotte is attending high school in America. My son Hans (19) is working as a sound engineer with Swedish artists.” Bravo: Can you cook? Frida: “Yes, very well actually. But for about four years, I have been living like a vegetarian. Around that time, I read an article about the way that pigs were treated. I thought that was so disgusting that I haven’t touched meat ever since.” Bravo: Is it true that you are going to move to England? Frida: “Yes, I have decided to leave Sweden because I can’t be anonymous in my private life any longer. In the near future, I would like to spend most of my time in London which is better for me professionally and for my solo career as well. But I will keep on working with ABBA too.”