Sunday 24 July 2011

Melody Maker, 1979: Agnetha and Björn are getting a divorce, but no danger for ABBA!

The ABBA members Agnetha and Björn were always one of the happiest couples in the pop business, always smiling and still in love, even after eight years of marriage. But the appearances were deceiving: since quite some time there was something wrong in the Fältskog/Ulvaeus marriage. And now Agnetha and Björn have confessed in an interview that they have been living separately for some time and that they want to get a divorce. MM correspondent Jan Bengtsson is reporting from Sweden.

“Already six months ago, we have decided that we want to get a divorce,” Agnetha confesses, “and since Christmas we are living separately. However, the distance between our houses in Lidingö is only seven minutes, because we want to keep on taking care of the upbringing of our children together.”
But what is the reason for the divorce? Infidelity perhaps? Agnetha: “Speculations are pointless. Fact is that Björn and I couldn’t live together any longer. When people don’t have anything to say to each other any longer and don’t get through to each other anymore, it’s no use to keep living together. But I want to emphasize that we are separating as good friends.”
The victims of these proceedings are the two children of the couple, Linda (6) and Christian (1). “The most difficult thing was telling our daughter gently that we are getting a divorce. All three of us ended up crying.”
The report about the divorce came just as unexpected to ABBA manager Stig Anderson as it did to the rest of the world. Only the other two ABBA members, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson, knew that their colleagues wanted to get a divorce.
However, although the collapse of Agnetha and Björn’s marriage surely is regrettable, in the end it’s definitely a private matter that only concerns those involved. But for the ABBA fan, the question now rises if this will have any consequences for the group ABBA. Melody Maker posed this question to the ABBA management in Stockholm and got a pleasant reply. ABBA will go on and they will go through with their schedule for 1979 as planned. In February, the group will film a TV show in Switzerand, entitled ‘Snowtime Special’. The proceeds from this broadcast will flow to Unicef, the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund.
The new ABBA album, that still hasn’t got a title yet, will probably be released in the middle of April. And in the beginning of August, the start of a world tour is even scheduled.
So it’s clear: some things have definitely changed for Agnetha and Björn, but not for the millions of ABBA fans all over the world!

Sunday 17 July 2011

Hitkrant, 1979: Is this ABBA’s farewell tour? Stig Anderson confirms rumours

It’s very quiet in the ABBA camp. Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid have withdrawn on their island. They are rehearsing day in and day out, because the biggest tour that ABBA has ever made is right around the corner.

The supergroup from Sweden will visit no less than 35 countries, after the start of the tour in America on September 13. “We have to conquer America now,” says Benny. Because over there ABBA still hasn’t achieved more than a couple of incidental hits. But there are no signs whatsoever of an ABBA mania.

So when reports started appearing in the American media a couple of months ago wherein doubts were expressed if ABBA actually existed in reality, Björn and Benny were furious.
Benny sighs: “We are well-known all over the world, except in America. That has to change now as soon as possible!” That’s why ABBA is working very hard on their repertoire for this tour. Because they are going to show those Americans something else!

But what happens when the tour ends in Dublin on November 15? Will this be ABBA’s last tour? The answers to these questions aren’t that simple. The rumours that this will be the last one are persistent. ABBA will probably continue as a duo.
Allegedly, Björn and Benny are going to retire from the group. They want to concentrate completely on writing and producing. The television performances will then only be done by Agnetha and Anni-Frid.

The most important reason is that the relations in the group are strained. Björn and Agnetha’s divorce didn’t do much good in that respect. The other reason is that writing songs – which is done by Björn and Benny – is getting ever more difficult for them.
A couple of months ago, manager Stig Anderson denied all these rumours, but he isn’t denying them any longer. The only thing he wants to say about it is that there is some truth in all these reports. Either way, the concert in Rotterdam on October 24 might very well turn out to be of a historical value!

Monday 11 July 2011

Elegance, July 2011: Princess Frida

She still looks amazing, the dark-haired of the two ABBA singers. The love of her life, a German nobleman that gave her the title of Princess, passed away not long after their wedding day. But as Agnetha once said about her: “Anni-Frid is a strong woman. Nothing will bring her to her knees.”

Swedish monument. Although Anni-Frid Lyngstad (1945) is regarded by the Swedes as a national monument, in reality she was born in the Ballangen area Björkåsen in Norway out of a relationship between Synni, at the time only nineteen years old, and a married German soldier, Alfred Haase. The timing wasn’t very fortunate: the end of World War II also means the end of the Norwegian occupation. Alfred returns to Germany and Synni and her mother Arntine – afraid of retaliations – elude the country.

No stage fright. Grandmother Arntine goes to Sweden with the baby, where she takes every job that she can get to earn their living. It doesn’t take long for Synni to join her mother and child. When she is twenty one however, she dies of a renal disease, so that Arntine is forced to raise Anni-Frid – barely two years old – on her own in Torshälla, where she finds a job as a seamstress. She sings a lot of old Norwegian folk songs together with her granddaughter, who likes to sing along: soon she is known as the girl with the beautiful voice at school and in the neighbourhood. When she is thirteen years old, she performs for the first time officially, as a schlager singer with the Evald Eks Kvintett. “I could hardly believe that such a young girld could already sing so well,” Ek said later. “She rehearsed with ease and she was never shy on stage. The only thing I taught her was to sing to capacity: she had the tendency to hold back too much.”

Talent competition. Frida performs every weekend with the dance band with whom she sings golden oldies: “I was far too young to work, but I looked older and I lied about my age.” With the same gusto, she takes singing lessons (“school was of secondary importance to me but I took music very seriously”), she changes to a jazz band and in 1963 she forms her own group: the Anni-Frid Four. With this group she wins a talent competition and the prize is a recording contract and a performance on national television.

A star at one blow. By pure coincidence, the broadcast is on the same day that Sweden changes from left to right hand traffic: September 3, 1967. People are advised not to head out on the streets and almost the entire population is sitting in front of the television that evening. That’s how all of Sweden sees her perform ‘En Ledig Dag’ (A Day Off). Frida is an overnight star. Not some little pop star, but a real woman with a strong personality and voice. “When I think about Anni-Frid, then I think about fierceness,” is what her ABBA colleague Agnetha Fältskog says about that later on. “I got to know her long before ABBA and my first impression of her was: a strong, independent woman. And she proved that later on, nothing will bring her to her knees. She alway goes on. I admire that deeply.”

Teen marriage. Anni-Frid has to be strong, because since she was seventeen years old, she was married to her bass player Ragnar Fredriksson. Together they have two children: Hans (1963) and Ann Lise-Lotte (1967). Performing, fronting a band and taking care of two children turns out to be too much. Just like her mother left her in the care of her grandmother to be able to work, Frida leaves her own family to start working in Stockholm. The marriage doesn’t survive, the couple separates in 1969 “because we got married when we were ridiculously young,” according to Lyngstad who always remained good friends with Ragnar. “I was just as naïve as my mother when she had me. At that age, you think you can do everything.”

Agnetha. At least she can sing and she becomes a huge star in Sweden. During that time she regularly bumps into Agnetha Fältskog in the music circuit. “I liked listening to her, as a singer you are always jealous of the voice of someone else,” according to Frida. “Already then, she could sing very high and crystal clear, I had a darker sound. And in return, she loved my sound.” But they don’t get to collaborate. “We mentioned it every now and then, but we were always too busy. And we had no idea how strong the combination would be.”

Pure magic. Benny Andersson does have an idea. Since 1969, Frida has a relationship with this composer, whom she will marry in 1978, at the peak of ABBA’s success. In 1971, he produces her first – very successful – solo album. The other ABBA members are singing backing vocals on it. This begs for more, and the relationship with Benny combined with the growing friendship with Agnetha and her boyfriend Björn Ulvaeus leads to ABBA, although she keeps recording and performing on her own too. “It wasn’t easy to choose,” Lyngstad says about that. “I had been working as a solo singer for years, but at the same time I heard what happened when we played together as well. The group won. I was curious what else we could achieve with that sound.”

The ABBA sound. The secret of that sound is a mixture of a rock rhythm, a sparkling guitar, a synthesizer and two to four voices (thanks to their experiments with overdubbing that doubled the voice tracks), that could sing close harmony with audible ease. Frida’s mezzo soprano has to struggle to complement Agnetha’s high sound, which makes for the trademark, somewhat metallic ABBA sound, according to Ulvaeus. “Frida has a clear, clean, unique voice with a little edge,” he says. “She has a wide range, in the lower regions as well. She had the most experience too. We just composed in our own range, because Frida could sing everything anyway.”

Cowboy boots and hotpants. Frida is the sophisticated brunette (“sometimes red, sometimes orange, sometimes reddish – I was obsessed with my hair and dyed it far too often. You shouldn’t experiment in a hotel room with products of which you can’t read the instructions for use”), Agnetha the sexy blonde. She is the driving force behind the white cowboy boots and the pink hotpants. She enjoys the success more than the others. “I was used to large-scaled performances and I loved to tour,” she said about that later on. “Sometimes I couldn’t believe that the others were having such a hard time with all the attention. I thought: this is why you are an artist.”

Hit machine. Still, she sometimes has her doubts about their massive success. “If I’m completely honest, I have had moments that I regretted being a part of ABBA,” she says. “But never on stage, I was always happy behind the microphone. But having to be a ‘hit machine’ was difficult for all of us. We had families, but we barely had private lives and we depended on each other. I think less critical about that now. It’s better to remain positive because you can’t escape ABBA. It’s no use to have regrets about the fact that we liked to dance and dress like that during that time.”

Genealogy. The international mega success causes a remarkable reunion. Lyngstad had always thought that her father had died on his way back to Germany because the ship that he was on went down. However, in 1977 the German teen magazine Bravo publishes a poster with the genealogy of the ABBA members, which mentions the names of Frida’s parents as well. This is perceived by her halfbrother Peter Haase, who asks his father if he was in Ballangen during the war. A couple of months later, Anni-Frid meets her father for the first time, but a strong connection doesn’t develop and five years later the contact between them comes to a halt. “We remained strangers to each other,” she said about that in an interview. “I refuse to believe that he didn’t know anything about my mother’s pregnancy. I prefer to spend my time with people that stand by you in difficult times as well.”

New paths. That doesn’t happen either when ABBA falls apart in the beginning of the eighties. Just like Björn and Agnetha, Frida and Benny get divorced as well in 1981. The group quits after that. “It wasn’t a matter of arguments, it was more that we had lived out of each other’s suitcases as couples for ten years,” Frida once said about that. “We had the feeling that all had been said and done, we didn’t live our own lives anymore. It was time for something else. It says a lot about the mutual harmony that this point was reached by all of us almost at the same time. And it says something about our friendship that we have always kept in contact privately.”

Second beginning in London. Almost immediately, Frida takes up her solo career again, she moves to London and is successful again, especially in Europe thanks to the ‘Something’s Going On’ collaboration with Phil Collins. “On the one hand, it offered a tremendous creative freedom,” she said about her second beginning. “On the other hand, everything I did was compared to ABBA. I only realized later on how huge and important the group was. It was a blessing that I had been working for such a long time before my time with ABBA, so that I could rely on the routine of a working artist. If ABBA had been the first thing in my professional career, I don’t think I would have dared to sing at all after that. Even with all that experience, it has taken me quite some time to accept that I could never match that.”

Doing her own grocery shopping. Because the press in London barely leaves her alone, she moves to Switzerland permanently in 1986, to a spot that looks out on the Matterhorn. “I already knew Zermatt because of my skiing holidays with Benny,” she says. “Swiss people are not impressed with famous people and there was nothing I wanted more than a normal life. Simply doing some gardening, doing my own grocery shopping. On television I see one talent competition after the other with people who want nothing more than become famous. I can’t speak for others, but according to me it’s better to have a normal life.”

Prince. This normal life comes to an end when Lyngstad gets married for the third time in 1992, to a five year younger nobleman and architect: Prince Heinrich Ruzzo Reuss van Plauen, which turns her into Her Serene Highness Princess Anni-Frid Synni Reuss, countess van Plauen. It’s love at first sight for the couple: he leaves his wife for Anni-Frid. They get married in Denmark so they don’t violate the German nobility. “The title is a non-issue for me,” she said at the time. “The press thinks it’s very interesting, but for me it is not. We recognize something in each other, that’s the only thing that matters.”

Friends with the Queen. Still, the marriage resembles a fairytale in a way. The society welcomes Frida with open arms almost immediately. She already knows Queen Sylvia: in 1976, she sang ‘Dancing Queen’ with ABBA for the royal couple’s wedding and as well-known Swedish ladies they regularly bump into each other. Thanks to Heinrich, who went to boarding school with King Gustav and remained friends with him, Frida gets to know the Bernadottes privately as well. She becomes one of Queen Sylvia’s closest friends and she regularly accompanies her in a discrete manner on working visits. The couples spend a lot of time together and even go on a holiday together, to Bhutan.

Tragedies. Daughter Ann Lise-Lotte dies in a car crash in 1998 near Detroit and one year later, Frida loses Heinrich to lung cancer. The grief breaks down her usual optimism. “I was happier with Ruzzo than I had ever been in my whole life,” she says in an interview. “I was in my fourties and every insecurity had faded away, it was a good period in my life, everything fell into place. Nothing lasts forever, but it’s completely unnatural for a mother to survive her daughter. Just like you can’t imagine that you have to watch your life partner die.”

Wonderful moments. After a long retreat wherein she barely leaves her house for months on end, she comes back to life. “Life has pushed me in a different direction,” she says in 2001. “Crises shape you, they point you to the fact that you have to cherish the wonderful moments. To try every day to be happy about something and to make something out of life. To dig a little deeper to find out what really matters in life and not pay too much attention to superficialities, that sadly seem to become more important these days. Be who you are, be happy with what you’ve got. There is a reason for your existence, for that reason you have to live on.”

Family takes priority. She devotes most of her time to environmental and child protection and her loved ones. “Family is very important to me,” she says. “It wasn’t until I was grown up that I realized how difficult it must have been for my mother and my grandmother. I didn’t face the sadness in my life on my own. I have a son, a son-in-law, a grandson and two stepdaughters who support each other. It’s very comforting to have each other and to live with each other, no matter in what way. I use the word ‘family’ in the widest sense of the word possible, my friends are a part of it too. All those people together give your life a meaning.”

Reunion? Although Frida says that she lacks the motivation to start performing again, the wildest rumours are circulating that ABBA would get together for a one-off charity concert. Frida: “Agnetha and I have discussed this several times, but we both feel that other things become more important when you get older. I never say never, but I’m afraid it won’t happen. Even we realize that something magical happens when we are together somewhere. But it’s also a lot of fun to celebrate ABBA in a different way, like we do at premieres of the musical or the movie. I have the impression that our presence brings about an enormous joy and it gives me the opportunity to enjoy the things that I have done earlier on in my life. I didn’t have the time to actually enjoy it then. That’s the beautiful thing about this period in my life: every now and then standing still and enjoying things, without being in a hurry.”

Joepie, April 1979: ABBA wants to coach young Swedish talent

Ted Gärdestad, Sweden’s entry at the Eurovision Song Contest has the two gentlemen of ABBA to thank for his success in his own country – and who knows in the near future across the borders as well.
Officially, it is claimed that Polar Music – ABBA’s record company – is only engaged in Ted’s business interests, which is already an enormous support in itself. But insiders know better than that: Ted, who recorded his album in the ABBA studios in Stockholm, was supported unofficially by Björn and Benny during the recordings. And it might very well be the case that Björn and Benny will launch other newcomers in the near future.
“ABBA has become a household name, so it isn’t necessary for us to be in the charts continually any longer,” Benny told us recently in Switzerland. “And that’s all for the better, because we need more and more time to create an original product that doesn’t sound like a previous one. That new album for instance has cost us an enormous amount of strain...”
“In these couple of months we have worked on about thirty songs, out of which we’ve made a selection,” Björn continues. “These discarded songs actually sound good too, but they sound too much like things that we have recorded and released before. We thought it would be a shame to throw these songs in the dust-bin and that’s what gave us the idea to start working with newcomers. Because if these same songs are being sung by a male or female singer or a group, then you can make a different arrangement of the song. An arrangement that hasn’t got anything to do with ABBA...”
“To give you an example,” Benny interrupts. “Some of these songs would come off really well in a new wave arrangement. But do you see ABBA recording new wave songs? Look, this working method suits us fine, because this way the songs don’t go to waste. And it benefits these newcomers as well: they get good songs from us, a recording studio and assistance from ourselves whenever that is possible. If we do less travelling that is. A sort of university for young talent, that’s what we want to provide, with a complete tuition. We have a complete infrastructure at our disposal: an office, a recording studio, a publishing company, our contacts abroad, you name it. Why wouldn’t we make use of that outside the ABBA frame?”
This working method will most likely benefit the newcomers in Sweden!

Thursday 7 July 2011

Joepie, November 1978: ABBA goes sports!

For several days, Benny had not been feeling especially well when he went to see a befriended doctor in Stockholm. Had he simply been working too hard or was there really something wrong? That question had already caused Benny several sleepless nights and it still took quite some time before he finally gathered his courage and went to see his friend. The diagnosis relieved all Benny’s fears. “What you need, is some more exercise,” his friend told him. “You are a bit stressed, that’s all...”
Benny: “I have never felt this relieved in my entire life. But this little incident still got me thinking: aren’t we all working way too hard and aren’t we asking too much of ourselves? During a meeting, we discussed this subject and everyone was convinced right away: we should get more exercise!”
And he kept his word: barely one day later, he became a member of a tennis club in Stockholm.
Benny: “I had been playing tennis before with Frida, but at the club I got genuine champions as my opponents. I sweated like a horse and the next day my muscles were completely stiff. But I’m feeling much better now. I go there at least once a week, if I’m home that is...”
Lovely wife Frida chose a more relaxing kind of sports: jazz dancing. She became a student at the Stockholm Ballet Academy where she gets two hours of tuition every other week.
Frida: “I’ve always been interested in jazz ballet, but I never had the time for it. Now that we are taking the time to do some sports, I decided to sign myself up. The plan is that I will be demonstrating some of these dance moves next year on our upcoming tour.
Björn even went as far that he signed himself up for the Lidingö, a marathon of thirty kilometres. Björn didn’t finish first, but he still ran the entire track. “And I think that’s quite an accomplishment for me,” according to Björn. “I have been in training for two weeks for that competition and during that period I have forced up the amount of kilometres. But thirty kilometres is still a lot, believe me. I have to admit that I have walked a couple of kilometres, but I wasn’t the only one. I’m not planning to join these kinds of competitions regularly. I actually did this one more to please the organizer. But these days I do run four or five kilometres every day...”
Anna is now regularly getting into her jogging gear as well to loosen up her legs. “But I would never consider to join in a competition,” she says. “I’d rather determine my own pace...”