Monday 20 February 2012

Hitkrant, 1979: Behind the scenes with ABBA

And there we were, in Gothenburg, Sweden, ready for the first European concert of ABBA's world tour. When you enter the concert hall in the evening and the show starts, you don't always realize the amount of preparations that preceded it. Indeed, the whole afternoon and sometimes even the entire day has been spent in the hall for the so called 'sound check', testing the sound the way it should be heard by the audience in the evening. Not dressed in their stage clothes yet, without make-up, without glitter and glamour, a lot of hard work is being put in to achieve the best results. And they are very serious about that with ABBA, because Björn, Benny, Agnetha and Anni-Frid are only satisfied with top notch quality. A look behind the scenes. Hitkrant was there.

Pictures from left to right:
Benny is putting the finishing touches to one of his synthesizers, assisted by a technician from the extensive road crew that accompanies ABBA on their world tour.

Agnetha in full concentration in front of the microphone: sometimes hours are being spent on achieving the right sound equalisation.

Björn is tuning one of his guitars, because that has to be perfect as well.

In the aisles behind the stage, Björn shows that the Hitkrant pin that he got from us some time ago, is still in his possession.

Apparently, Anni-Frid had some difficulties during this sound check: she hardly appeared on stage and she looked tense. Later on - at the party after the concert - it all went better, as this photograph proves.

At that same party, Björn, Agnetha, Frida and Benny were presented with a platinum album for the sales of more than 100.000 copies of the 'Voulez-Vous' album in Norway by the president of Polydor Norway. At that very same party, Hitkrant dream wish winner Yvonne van der Meulen from Apeldoorn was going to meet ABBA. More about that in the next Hitkrant!

Saturday 11 February 2012

1977: ABBA - The Album album review

Anyone who watched the ABBA special that Veronica aired on the evening of the film premiere of 'ABBA - The Movie' has been able to see and hear a track from this new album 'ABBA - The Album'. In a magnificent film clip we saw the illustrious Swedish quartet perform the song 'Eagle'.
This record offers a very diverse range of songs, from the ballad 'One Man, One Woman' with good guitar and piano accompaniment and a multi harmony chorus to the rousing rocker 'Hole In Your Soul' wherein ABBA's speed and energy is highlighted in an excellent way.
In between we have commercial songs like 'Take A Chance On Me' - vocally a masterpiece and according to us a very strong follow-up to 'The Name Of The Game' - obviously included on this record too, the very unusual 'Move On' that is sung in a lower key than we've come to expect from ABBA but that once again accentuates the excellent vocals and production.
The trilogy 'The Girl With The Golden Hair' however comes across a little odd with the cabaret sounding 'Thank You For The Music', the soft 'I Wonder' and the somewhat sourish 'I'm A Marionette'.
Either way, this record once again proves that ABBA has tons of talent. We are absolutely sure that this album is going to sell well too and that the ABBA empire can look forward to some nice years to come.
Something that strikes me though is that Björn and Benny are focusing more and more on composing and producing the album instead of vocal contributions, a job that they leave to the ladies. If that's one of the reasons that more technical trickery and special sounds were used on this album is something that only ABBA has the answer to.

Joepie, 1978: In Paris, Mireille Mathieu was ABBA's guide

During a recent visit to the French capital - where they were guests in a series of programmes - the four ABBA members got a sympathetic and famous tour guide for their outing that was on their schedule after the programme: no other than Mireille Mathieu.
The French singer escorted her Swedish colleagues to a couple of museums and after that she took them to one of the top restaurants in Paris.
"I knew them already," according to Mireille. "I met them at a television broadcast in Los Angeles and we were the best of friends right away. It was a nice reunion in Paris. Benny told me in the dressing room that he had been in the French capital several times before but that he had never had the chance to actually see something of the world famous city. I suggested to go out together after the broadcast and they were all ecstatic about it. Benny - who seems to have an interest in art - wanted to visit a couple of museums first. And that's what we did. And after that we had a nice dinner! They were so enthusiastic about the menu that they asked the cook if he could share a couple of secrets from the French cuisine. And that man - who appeared to be an ABBA fan - went against his professional secret and brought them into his sanctum..."
Anna afterwards: "He gave me a couple of recipes that I'm going to try out right away when we get back home. Because it was finger licking good..."

Rocky, 1978: The happiness that no one was supposed to see

October 7, 1978, 19.00 o'clock. A brightly lighted mansion in Stockholm's northern suburb Lidingö. The residents, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, welcome their guests at the entrance door, who are about to find out the reason for this intimate party. Because - apart from Benny and Anni-Frid - only Björn and Agnetha as well as manager Stig Anderson are in the know: a wedding is celebrated at this occasion!
Indeed, up till now no one has ever got married in Sweden as secretive as now. Under the exclusion of any publicity Benny and Anni-Frid sealed eight years of living together and seven years of engagement with a simple wedding vow in the small church of Lidingö. Even their relatives were unaware of this event that already took place the day before.
Benny: "The hype surrounding Björn and Agnetha's marriage had been enough for us. This is a private matter that we are entitled to."
The party - that reminded one more of a conspiracy and that didn't even have relatives under its 25 attendants - took the wider public by complete surprise. Everyone assumed that the four successful Swedes were fully occupied with the recording of their new album. Anyhow, a honeymoon is out of the question. Benny and Anni-Frid aren't particularly longing for that either.
"We are on the road often enough. In November, we're off to America and in January we will appear in Musikladen in Germany. That's why we are enjoying every single minute now between our four private walls."
Understandable. And belated best wishes!

Saturday 4 February 2012

Muziek Parade, 1978: The ABBA Story, part 9

In the previous eight parts of Muziek Parade's exclusive ABBA Story, the Stig Anderson character has been brought up several times. And not unjustly. It was this ex teacher who has had an inspiring influence on Benny and Björn but who has been a father figure for Agnetha and Anni-Frid too.
Stig Anderson isn't called 'the fifth ABBA' in vain. Perhaps ABBA wouldn't even exist without Stig. We can be sure that ABBA would not have become this big without Stig. Ex singer, ex guitarist Stig Anderson is the driving force behind Benny and Björn. He knows how to make the boys enthusiastic, he comes up with ideas when B & B are writing songs. And in the studio it's always Stig who makes sure that there's an optimal working atmosphere. It's exactly Stig Anderson's perseverance, his constant flow of ideas that has turned B & B into wonderful musicians and even more so fantastic songwriters. It is even claimed already that Benny and Björn are the Lennon and McCartney of the seventies. A huge compliment!

Muziek Parade has promised this a couple of times already (and time and time again we didn't follow through) it's high time for Stig Anderson to have his moment in the sun. Of course, the fans already know a lot about him from the previous parts of the ABBA Story, but this time Muziek Parade's Cees van Leyde is showing Stig Anderson from a different side. In other words: a day in the life of Stig Anderson.
It's 6.30 in the morning when a brand new slick Maserati is driving through foggy Stockholm. Behind the wheel: a man of indeterminate age, with eyes that are glowing with vitality. Cool leather handgloves are holding the wheel. It's still quiet in Sweden's capital. The living and working environment there is so organised that no one can be reached before 8.30 in the morning. Stig Anderson has a different opinion: "I started this early, so that I could make some phone calls to business associates overseas. I'm making calls to Australia, America and Japan. The time differences are huge. Although it's almost midnight in some countries, my friends know that I could call at this untimely hour. Around 7 o'clock I have mostly finished quite a lot of business."
Stig Anderson - to his friends Stikkan - is president of Polar Music International. The records department, the movie section, the studio division and the section 'special projects' (we'll get back to that later) are all operating under this umbrella. Stig Anderson is a busy lad and he enjoys it: "Of course I have a busy life, Cees, but the busier you are, the easier you get your work done. Decisions are made quicker and often better. A full schedule is more inspiring than a schedule that sluggishly drags you through the day." And that Stikkan is right.
Still his doctor - Volkert Aschenbach - has advised him to hire a good assistant. "My doctor said, man, you are travelling so much. You are going through time barriers just as easy as other people are crossing the street. But a human body can't keep up with that. Get someone to help you. And that's what I did, Cees. I got myself an assistant. His name is Leif B. Bengtsson. And I have to say, my mind is much more at ease now when I'm travelling. He does a lot of work that normally piles up when I'm on the road."
It's 8 o'clock when Leif enters the ABBA building at Baldersgatan. At this hour the first discussion takes place. Stig talks to Leif about financial matters, like 'where are ABBA's profits invested' or 'how are we going to finance the new studio that is being built'. In 1977, Polar has made a turnover of about 50 million Swedish krona, still about 30 million Dutch guilders. A large percentage of this amount can be considered as true profit. It's Leif's job to find a destination for this profit. Preferably investments that in turn will make a profit as well. And that's how the snowball of money keeps rolling.
Stig Anderson: "The last couple of months, actually years, I've had to spend too much of my time on meetings with financial experts. To be honest, I don't like it that much. I'm more a music man. I want to play around with records and tapes and find markets for them. That's my life. And I also want to be present when ABBA is in the studio. I want to witness the miracle of a new hit being made. Yes, don't laugh, every time that's still a miracle." And then Stig says that the boys go into the studio with some kind of idea but the actual work is being done in the studio. By talking, playing, searching. Stig says: "Apart from that it's wonderful to work with Benny and Björn. They are perfectionists. A lot has to happen before they are satisfied. You should know how much work we put into the recording of 'Eagle'. That's a story in itself. Fantastic."

Stikkan thinks the results are all about a team effort. "Take someone like technician Michael B. Tretow, that man is priceless. He understands exactly what the boys feel and what they want."
But we digress. Around 9 o'clock Stig and Leif part ways and secretary Görel Johnsen comes in. At 8.30 she already put down a vase of fresh roses, because Stig insists on that. "I think the rose is a beautiful flower. The shape, the colour, a true joy to watch. I want a fresh bunch of roses every day."
Secretary Görel has been working with Polar since 1969. She takes care of his appointments, draws up the contracts and sees to it that everything runs correctly and businesslike. "Görel and I are something else. We have known each other for such a long time that we are starting to resemble each other. That's a good thing for me, but not for her of course." They both burst into laughter. Görel hands him a letter from Japan that says that 'Dancing Queen' is about to hit the big time over there. It's clear that the twosome is happy about that. "The Japanese market demands a special approach. You have to have a lot of patience. We do have patience, one day it will happen. It won't be long now," according to Stig. When MP asks Görel what her biggest problem is, she replies: "I don't have any problems in my job. It's easy to work here, they are all professionals. Everyone knows what his job is. But if there is one problem I would say: putting off all those reporters who want to book an interview and photo session with ABBA. Every week we get about 40 or 50 requests. To about 99 percent of them we say no. Saying no is sometimes harder than you would expect. I have to make sure that people - like reporters from News Week, Paris Match - don't think that we are arrogant or attach any value to interviews. Nothing could be further from the truth. But there is simply no time for interviews and photo sessions." Görel Johnsen takes some of Stig's instructions and leaves the office.
"To get back to Japan," says Stig, "ABBA's record company over there asked us if they were allowed to choose their own next single. Usually we don't do that, we decide ourselves. But the Japanese market is different so why should we be stubborn and insist on doing things our way."
Benny and Björn were very successful in Japan in 1972 with the record 'She's My Kind Of Girl'. And when Stig couldn't even dream about being the driving force behind a group like ABBA, he was already successful himself as a music publisher with the Spotnicks (1961) and Letkiss Jenka (1965).

There is also a letter from Brazil between the pile of mail that Görel brought in. The record company over there is complaining that 'white' ABBA records are flooding the market and that groups are operating under the name ABBA. "Things like this are very annoying for me," says Stig, "I have to fight hard against it. I've had to start a lot of lawsuits in several countries because people are releasing ABBA records without asking our permission and performing under our name. So now I will have to start a lawsuit in Brazil too."
A nice letter is the one from Finland. If Stig is interested in being the guest speaker at a yearly convention of the chamber of commerce. "I like to do things like that. Maybe because it brings me back a little to my days as a school teacher, it allows me to act in a didactic way. I was in Amsterdam recently where I held a presentation in front of an international company. I love it, I feel reactivated, especially when discussions are heating up."
How about these 'special projects' you mentioned earlier, we ask Stig. He takes a couple of letters from the pile again to underline his story. "I've told you that we hired Leif to find ways of investing the profits we make in this organisation. Well, 'special projects' buys and invests. For instance, we bought a company called AH-Grafik recently, that specializes in the production and sales of all kinds of graphical products. We have an import company called WIMAB that only imports sports articles. And recently a company has been founded (Sannes Trading AB) that engages in import and export of merchandise from and to countries behind the Iron Curtain. And Sannes has received a lot of publicity."
Stig explains that Sannes mainly takes care of getting licences for the export of ABBA records. That's how Sweden sells millions of ABBA records to countries like Russia and imports oil from these countries. This way everbody is happy.
Another project that stands on its own is the Polar Music Studio that is being built in a former cinema. It has a surface area of about 700 square feet. The studio has been designed by Tom Hidley and will cost about one and a half million Dutch guilders.
It's now 10.15. Stig drinks his second cup of coffee. He puts on a jacket and asks us to come along to the film production company. Stig is going to discuss how the ABBA movie has been received in several countries. Whether there is a growing or declining demand. If the demand is declining he has to discuss how to get the interest going again. Are there enough copies of the movie for Australia. "Lars Hallström has made a very nice movie," says Stig on our way there. "At least, that's what we think. In general, the movie has been received very well and I believe that the movie is going to have a longer run than we expected."

At about 12 o'clock Stig gets back into the car and drives back to the Polar offices. On his way back he stops for a 'quick bite'. This time it's a hot dog. "I never eat much at lunch time. I simply don't take the time for that. Of course I have business lunches every now and then but otherwise, no."
Back at the office, he runs through the telexes. Stig calls a whole list of people. After every phone call he records a short report of the conversation on a tape, says who does and doesn't have to get a confirmation in writing. Görel picks up the tapes and disappears again. Now he turns his attention to a pile of letters.
At half past one, photographer Barry Levine unexpectedly comes in, from Los Angeles. He acts as if he was just dropping by while he has been on a 10 hour flight. He shows the latest ABBA pictures that he took a couple of weeks before. He also gives Stig a nice Kiss poster, because Stig's youngest son is a fan.
At 2 o'clock he excuses himself. A couple of people from Germany have arrived and Stig has to talk to them. Topic of conversation: ABBA records for the book club Bertelmann!

Around 4 o'clock Stig gets out of the meeting and asks for another cup of coffee. "You have to know that I stopped smoking," says Stig, "but now I'm drinking much more coffee again. And that isn't healthy either." How is Stig able to cope with such a busy life? "I'm in good shape. I play tennis, I swim a lot, but above all: I love my job so much. And if you love what you are doing, you don't get tired that easily."
Stig is about to go to Görel Johnsen to sign a pile of letters but another unexpected guest is keeping him from it. Now it's someone from the Danish record company! Stig signs the letters and meanwhile he invites the man to have dinner at his home.
Before Stig and his company are going home, they make a stop at the studio where - not suprisingly - ABBA is at work. A couple of tapes are being played, criticism is being expressed and jokes are being told.
This was just a day out of the life of Stig Anderson. A normal day for him. A day that starts at 6.30 in the morning at the office and that ends at 5.30 in the studio. But the night is still young...