Saturday, 23 March 2013
Sweden's capital Stockholm presents itself to its visitors in sparkling radiance. A sugary white layer of snow that covers houses and streets, and a wonderful Christmas illumination make for a perfect scenery. Candlelight and cosy sofas make sure that there's a celebratory setting inside the cinema. Everyone who is important in the Swedish entertainment industry came to this venue, among them ABBA film director Lasse Hallström and ABBA's manager Stig Anderson. But the centre of attention are obviously Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and above all Agnetha Fältskog who has just become a mother again. Together world famous as ABBA and with more than 50 million record sales in the past few years the most successful group in the world. Visibly excited for the big moment, the four Swedes are talking to the invited guests while sipping their champagne. In the cinema hall the tension is rising to boiling point. All of a sudden there's a stroke of the gong and the lights of the fluttery chandeliers are dimmed. There's a deadly silence, people can hear their own heart beating. A white, vivid flash of lightning, that reveals one of the sides of the stage. In the centre of the light beam there's Stig Anderson in front of a microphone. The ABBA mastermind greets the invited guests in a festive manner and explains the background of the movie. And then 'ABBA - The Movie' takes off!
Breathtaking scenes of the Australian landscape and kangaroos hopping around are the starting point of the movie on the big screen. What follows are 90 minutes of complete ABBA. Hunted by an interview-hungry reporter, Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Benny and Björn are playing and singing their way around the world, meanwhile performing all their big hits blow upon blow.
The lights have barely been turned on when a thunderous applause arises that makes the walls of the vintage theatre tremble. Moved and visibly relieved, the four headliners are taking in the standing ovations. Beaming Agnetha happily reveals to POP afterwards: "I am so happy that I was here tonight. At first, I didn't even want to come, because I was so nervous that I would rather have stayed at home. Now I would actually love to travel to Cannes to the International music fair Midem where 'The Movie' will be presented to the international music world. But the wellbeing of our little son takes precedence. That's why I'm staying at home and that's why there won't be any ABBA concert activities for the time being. By the way, our film will be released in your country in February. I'm curious if our fans in Germany and Switzerland will be just as impressed by 'The Movie' as the guests this evening."
Well, that should be beyond question.
Sunday, 17 March 2013
ABBA's home base is Stockholm. Polar Music is based in the city centre. The gigantic office from where manager Stig Anderson appears to have complete control over the financial household. He invests the money in oil, bicycles, real estate and art. Rumour has it that he has managed to make a deal with the Swedish tax collector. The group is also the owner of one of the world's best recording studios.
Stig has also been called the fifth member. At the end of the sixties, he founded his own company, together with Björn and Benny. Björn was a member of the popular Swedish group 'The Hootenanny Singers' and Benny had been playing with the Scandinavian group 'The Hep Stars' ('Sunny Girl'). Stig Anderson wrote English-language songs for the twosome and one of them even sold half a million copies in Japan. Stig was one of the most well-known songwriters in Scandinavia. In Holland, we are familiar with his 'Rocking Billy', at the time recorded by Ria Valk. ABBA was formed between '69 and '70. Agnetha and Anni-Frid both had separate solo careers and they both appeared regularly on Swedish television. They were already living together with Björn and Benny respectively. In 1972, the first single on which all four of them appear is released: 'People Need Love'. The surefire hit was reason enough for the Swedish broadcasting company to invite Agnetha, Benny, Björn and Anni-Frid to take part in the Swedish selection for the Eurovision Song Contest.
Contrary to all expectations, their entry wasn't chosen by the so-called experts, to the major disappointment of the public and the group. ABBA, in the meantime their group name had been shortened, decided to give it another go the next year and this time they were chosen to represent Sweden with 'Waterloo' at the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton, England.
Winning Eurovision, meanwhile beating Olivia Newton-John and Mouth and McNeal, was ABBA's big breakthrough. In the following years, ABBA would achieve enormous successes. Just a few of their hits: 'SOS', 'Fernando', 'Dancing Queen', 'Voulez-Vous', 'Chiquitita', 'The Winner Takes It All', 'Super Trouper' and 'One Of Us'. The success of their music can be attributed to the strong melody lines mainly courtesy of Benny (Björn generally writes the lyrics) and Agnetha and Frida's voices. Upon the release of 'Voulez-Vous', 'ABBA - The Movie' is released as well. A film that eventually was meant to be a simple documentary of the quartet's '77 world tour. However, the film features about 25 ABBA songs, alternated with scenes of a DJ trying to get an interview with the group. Reason enough for many critics to view the movie as one big promotional film.
'ABBA - The Movie' saved the foursome a lot of touring, because the fans were able to see their favourite group at the cinema. Björn and Benny concentrated on composing and Stig Anderson was making preparations for ABBA's definitive breakthrough in the USA. May 1978 was even declared ABBA month in the US, while the highlight of the campaign was a performance of the group on Olivia Newton John's television show, who had acquired superstar status by then. Indeed, 'The Album' climed the charts and 'Take A Chance On Me' became a top ten hit. But despite all Stig's attempts and despite their record sales, fact is that ABBA absolutely didn't conquer the USA. Björn: "Maybe we would have, if we had moved to America, but none of us was prepared to do that. We didn't like the atmosphere in America, after those few weeks we got tired of it."
In October '79, the group started their second world tour, on which they also performed in Rotterdam, and the rumours were circulating that Agnetha wanted to leave the group. Those rumours partly lead back to the fact that Agnetha is the only group member who hates to be away from home (and her children) for long periods of time. Meanwhile, their private problems started to become public too. Stig Anderson: "We never tried to keep the divorces a secret, we are relatively open. It's just that at the time when we share our problems with the general public, the internal problems have been solved already. The difficult thing is that the press then start to wonder whether the group will continue or not, while we have decided that already."
In the meantime, it has become almost one hundred percent certain that Björn and Benny are going to compose the music for a musical, while the lyrics are going to be written by Tim Rice ('Jesus Christ Superstar'). Frida is successful with her solo album 'Something's Going On'. Agnetha has been busy shooting scenes for a movie and she has declared that she would like to do more of this kind of work. She is starting recording sessions for her solo album in January, together with Mike Chapman. In conclusion, we ask Benny the question how long ABBA will continue: "As long as we enjoy recording music and as long as we still feel we have something to contribute to the music scene, ABBA will go on."
Sunday, 3 March 2013
This year, on the ABBA tour, Björn could almost constantly be seen with a girl by his side, who looks almost exactly like Agnetha. It's his new girlfriend Lena Källersjö. During ABBA's concerts, the 29-year-old Swede was sitting behind the amplifiers on stage or she waited for Björn in the dressing room. Whenever he had to give an interview or prepare for the concerts, she was patiently reading a book, until he had some time for her.
Björn knows Lena - who is working as a secretary at a record company - for almost a year now. It all started shortly after Christmas 1978, when Agnetha had moved out of their common residence permanently.
"Lena and I met each other by coincidence at a mutual friends' New Year's Eve party. It was love at first sight," says Björn. Soon after that, Lena already moved into Björn's home in Lidingö. Since then he barely wants to make a move without her.
Björn: "At first, I only wanted to bring Lena along on the American leg of our tour. At first I believed that I could get along without Lena for the rest of this giant tour. But when we performed in Munich, I craved so much for her that I begged her to come over immediately."
What is actually Agnetha's opinion about all this, that Björn is bringing along his new girlfriend on their tour? Isn't she just a little bit jealous?
Agnetha: "Why would I? Even when I have spend a wonderful time together with Björn, my marriage to him is history. Why wouldn't I grant him his happiness? Apart from that, Lena is a very nice girl. During our tour, I even went out to dinner together with her and Björn a couple of times. Our children Linda and Christian get along great with Lena as well."
Despite all this bliss and contrary to several rumours, Björn and Lena are not thinking about getting married yet. They want to take some time before that.
Lena, who has been married before too, says: "I'm happy with Björn, even without a marriage licence. Apart from that, we have to find out if we are compatible in everyday life too. Because ever since we met, Björn has been working like a madman. Actually we haven't had the time for a true private life just yet."
Agnetha gave rise to hot speculations on this tour as well. Several concert attendees believed to recognise that a bit of a tummy was developing underneath her skintight stage outfit. And that was all it took to assume that Agnetha was pregnant.
"Complete nonsense," Agnetha denies, "if I was having a baby, I would be the first to know. Apart from that, I couldn't imagine who should be the father."
But the premature speculators even have the answer to that question. On this tour there was a man with whom Agnetha was very affectionate. Often she could be seen backstage in the dressing room in an animated conversation with Mats Ronander, the guitarist in ABBA's backing band. A little smile during the soundcheck that was aimed at only him fuelled the rumours. And during the concert at the Olympic Hall in Munich, she stroked his hair tenderly, when she thought she was unobserved.
When asked if Mats is her new boyfriend, Agnetha however shakes her head. But her answer is less convincing: "We like each other and I get along great with Mats professionally. But there's no talk about a friendship, let alone love. I don't know how things will develop between us. Maybe I won't see Mats ever again."
Despite everything, the fans still haven't given up hope that Agnetha and Björn will get back together again one day. When you see them standing next to each other on stage peacefully, it's hard to believe that they don't have anything to say to each other privately anymore.
But Björn doesn't see any chance for that to happen: "We have drawn a line under our marriage. The only connection we still have are our two children Linda and Christian. Apart from that it's not necessary to hate each other when you have separated. We are still friends, just like we were before."