Sunday 30 September 2012

Story, September 1977: Dutch kindergarten teacher discovered ABBA's Björn

On his first day, the Swedish little boy at the Amsterdam kindergarten didn't dare to open his mouth. Later on, he sang a St. Nicholas song in perfect Dutch.

23 years ago, a blonde little boy with a timid face stepped into May Borghols' private kindergarten class in the Van Eeghenstreet in Amsterdam at the hand of his mother. He desperately longed to run back to the car with driver, that brought him here and that was now waiting for his mother outside. He himself would have to stay with all these foreign children, who all spoke such a weird language. A couple of days earlier, he had arrived in Holland from his home country Sweden for a stay of approximately one year. His father, who was working in the paper industry in Sweden, wanted to check out the working methods at the company Van Gelder in Velsen. His mother decided it would be the best thing for young Björn to go to school in this foreign country, more particularly to the kindergarten class of singing teacher May Borghols, where more children of different nationalities were accomodated.

All of a sudden, the entrance of little Björn springs to the mind of Mrs. Henny Otten-Hobby from Almere-Haven - at the time the assistant of May Borghols - when the group appears on the television screen when she is watching the Eurovision Song Contest in 1976 with her family. "I know that one!" she exclaims. Her husband starts laughing. "But you have never even been to Sweden," he remarks.
"No," she says. "I've never been to Sweden, but that one ABBA member has been to Holland in the past! He was in my kindergarten class and his name was..." She thinks for a while and then she remembers: "Björn!"
The man on the screen turns into that little boy again, who was having such a rough time those first days at school, because no one could understand him. She even remembers a photograph with Björn on it. Industriously, she starts looking, but the photograph doesn't surface until she moves to a new home.
"Björn was a quick learner," she tells Story later on. "Mrs. Borghols and I paid extra attention to him those first few days. We pointed to all kinds of objects and told him what they were called. Soon he started talking a little and after a few months he spoke Dutch nearly as well as his Dutch friends. But he was a very modest little boy: maybe even too modest."
After she had seen ABBA win successfully with 'Waterloo', even more memories surfaced with Mrs. Otten. She saw little Björn playing in the Vondel park again, that was adjacent to the garden of the kindergarten class. And she remembered again how the blonde little boy ate his sandwiches at school during lunch time, because this was convenient to his parents.

"But my fondest memory is the St. Nicholas party," says Mrs. Otten. Quite some time before the party, we started teaching the children St. Nicholas songs. Since Björn didn't know who that important man was who would come over on his birthday and bring presents, we showed him some pictures and drawings of St. Nicholas. He was great at learning these songs. We were astonished how well he could remember all these (to him) unknown melodies and how well he could sing in tune. When St. Nicholas finally arrived, Björn was allowed to sing a song for him on his own. He was beaming with pride and so were we, because he did a great job. Who could have guessed at that very moment that he would become one of ABBA's B's and would make such beautiful songs himself?

Monday 24 September 2012

1978: Why ABBA's Agnetha was pregnant for fourteen months...

Blonde Agnetha from the pop group ABBA couldn't be happier with her young baby. Little daughter Linda, from Agnetha's marriage to the other ABBA star Björn, is quite taken with her little brother as well. There's only one person who has his doubts about this addition to the ABBA family: manager Stig Anderson. But he was also the one who stretched Agnetha's pregnancy to fourteen months.

"Yes, I'm really sorry," ABBA manager Stig Anderson proclaims, "but it's just not possible to do this photo shoot today!" Photographer Barry Levine, the man that took practically all pictures of Sweden's export article number one the past few years, isn't happy about this arrangement at all. He flew in especially from Los Angeles. But he has to deal with the facts no matter what, even more so when Anderson tells him that Agnetha is pregnant. We are talking about October 1976.
In May 1977 Levine travels to Sweden again for a photo session for the inner sleeve of the ABBA album 'The Album'. Agnetha is still pregnant and perhaps because of that a little moody. Barry notices that the atmosphere during the photo shoot is very tense at times. A heavy rivalry between Agnetha and the dark-haired Anni-Frid seems to have evolved. In December 1977 Agnetha gives birth to her little son Christian. So that's a pregnancy of fourteen months, and medically a unique occurance. Or... was there something else going on?

Manager Stig Anderson pretends to the outer world that everything is fine. And that isn't so strange because now that ABBA is about to achieve their big breakthrough in America, a quarrel among the four members would be very inconvenient.
"This is exactly the time that we have to make sure that the money keeps coming in," Stig says. "That's why we have to go after the dollars. Indeed, the girls can't keep on waiting until they have to bounce around on stage as old grandmas..."
It's clearly the vision of a tough businessman and that Anderson surely is. The sexy singers of the group are an important ingredient in the success of ABBA and you can't take advantage of that forever. On top of that, things weren't all well in the ABBA circle between the two singers and now it seems almost certain that Anderson has used Agnetha's pregnancy to calm the group down a bit. That's why it had to take that long. You couldn't come up with a better excuse, and probably Agnetha herself has made good use of it as well. After all, it's a public secret that the dark-haired Anni-Frid has become ever more envious of blonde Agnetha, who mostly steals the show during performances. And it isn't a secret either that Anna has recorded a solo record in the meantime. However, manager Stig Anderson has explicitly banned its release.
"The group has to remain a unity," he exclaims, still in an excited manner, thinking about the dollars that are about to pass him by. In the end, Anni-Frid has given in as well. But for how long? At least for the time being little Christian has subconsciously prevented the group from breaking up. But Anni-Frid isn't pleased at all about the fact that her own fiancé Benny, who's responsible for ABBA's image for the most part, is giving Agnetha so many chances to steal the show on stage.

Sunday 9 September 2012

Story, 1977: Is ABBA going to split up?

What's really true about the rumour that the four members of ABBA don't get along that well anymore? Is it true that blonde Anna, now that's she is expecting a baby, doesn't feel like doing alle these performances any longer? What's true about the rumours that ABBA is going to split up?
Only recently, Björn (the one without the beard and Anna's husband) felt the need to answer all these questions. He said: "Of course we do have arguments from time to time. It so happens that we are four different personalities and we all have our mistakes and flaws. But we are very open, therefore we always talk things out right away. Indeed, Anna is pregnant but we planned that in such a way that no performances will be endangered. Anna is actually the group member who likes to perform most of all. And now the answer to the last question. Of course, ABBA is going to split up eventually. It's just not something for anyone to be concerned about just yet. Because we are only going to split up when people stop buying our records. All four of us know that that time will come eventually, but we hope that won't be any time soon."

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Pop Foto, 1978: Agnetha will not be singing for the time being: "Everything has to make way for my little son!"

Quietly, she's gazing into the distance, the tiny bundle pressed against her. On the white hospital night table beside her, there's an empty bottle of champagne with a couple of half full glasses... The visiting hour at Stockholm's Danderyd Sjukhus is over and Agnetha Ulvaeus is exhausted, just like her one day old little son. She is not as joyful as the other women in the hospital's large maternity ward, but then again, Agnetha has a lot to think about...

She has to make a decision now. Not only about her own future, but about the future of four other people as well. Whatever she decides, the life of her husband Björn, who has just been babbling blissfully to his little son, is going to change radically. And the life of Anni-Frid and Benny, her colleagues and best friends, won't stay the same either... The small human being on her chest, so perfect and yet so helpless, makes such a decision inevitable... But it's difficult to decide if you're going to be a housewife from now on who lives for her children first and only then for herself or... pursuing your own and three other people's career, no matter what! The pink miniature fingers of the baby move against her body for a while. The voices and the relaxed laughter of only moments ago still seem to hang around the room, just like Anni-Frid's perfume and the scent of the flowers she brought along... A nurse enters the room quietly and takes along Agnetha's baby. She should get some sleep herself, just like her little baby, that doesn't even have a name yet. But when Agnetha finally shuts her eyes, it's late in the evening of 6 December 1977...

In the night of 4 to 5 December the new little human being was born, that's going to change everything radically that has to do with the group ABBA. It weighed 3.750 gram, it measured 54 centimetres from head to toe and it had a couple of great lungs.
Still a normal child, like thousands are being born in the world. But this youngest member of the Ulvaeus family is still different from other babies, because his parents make up one half of the world famous group ABBA, and then there's also his sister Linda. As long as Agnetha toured around the world with ABBA she has occupied herself with one thing: the fact that little Linda became a stranger to her. An unpleasant experience with a nanny, whom Linda mistaked for her mother, was a wake-up call for Agnetha. But still Agnetha continued with a brave face, working extra hard, to be able to be with Linda at least a couple of months per year. And then her little son announced himself...
"Actually," Björn told us right after our visit at the hospital that sixth of December, "we haven't dared to think about our future yet. You know that we kept working very hard, despite Agnetha's pregnancy, to complete the ABBA movie and our new album before the delivery. Now the job is done, our baby has been born and... now we don't know what to do. Sorry, guys, but I can't tell you anything about ABBA's future because we just don't know anything yet! Anni-Frid, Benny and I have decided to leave everything up to Agnetha...!"

That was almost a month ago. All this time, the editors of Pop Foto have been waiting anxiously for that one relieving phone call from Sweden, wherein we would finally be told what Agnetha had decided. Just before this issue went to the printing office, the message came through: Agnetha has decided not to do anything at least until the end of February or the beginning of March. Maybe shoot a promotional film for the single that's going to be the follow-up to 'The Name Of The Game' and that's going to be titled 'Take A Chance On Me', but apart from that... There won't be any album recordings, nor any promotional trips to far off countries... Agnetha is going to take it easy for the time being and only in March she is going to decide what ABBA's future will look like. Together with tens of thousands of ABBA fans, Pop Foto is waiting, almost in unbearable tension...