Friday, 21 February 2014
The stage design is composed of blue, yellow and white pyramids, behind which Agnetha, Anni-Frid, Björn and Benny now emerge simultaneously. There's an enormous, thundering applause. ABBA doesn't wait until the applause fades, but gets right to it - with 'Voulez-Vous'.
The girls are wearing sporty, silk capes with reflecting gold patterns. Underneath skin tight, white latex suits. Benny has dressed himself in flowing, dark-brown trousers and a shirt. And Björn comes in a striking satin look and white baseball shoes.
Their music sounds exactly like the records. To be able to replicate the ABBA sound like that, the Swedish superstars are accompanied by three backing singers and six musicians. The Canadian people - who actually became aware of the quartet from Stockholm only one year ago due to a television show - are mostly pleased by the new songs.
The visual focus of the show is on Agnetha and Anni-Frid, who have to work the hardest. They have to do most of the singing and even have some small solo spots: to the fans' surprise, Agnetha is taking a seat behind Benny's piano and plays and sings 'When I Kissed The Teacher'. No one had ever seen her like this before. Because in former times she was only allowed to sing. Anni-Frid turns herself into a sultry vamp. With a long, white cigarette holder and pouting lips, she comes across like Marlene Dietrich during 'Money, Money, Money'.
The technical sensation of the supershow are Benny's keyboards that allow him to move hydraulically upwards, downwards and in a circle.
In the second part of the 120 minute show, ABBA makes sure that the audience is going completely wild and proves that they are one of the few groups that are able to churn out hit after hit. A medley of 'Fernando', 'Chiquitita', 'The Name Of The Game', 'Take A Chance On Me'.
ABBA has passed the test in America. From 25 October until 2 November, the group will be in our country with their fantastic show. Read on the following pages which extreme efforts have been necessary to make sure that the show turned out so good that it gets everybody out of their seats now.
Rocky has watched ABBA during their last days of rehearsals in their Stockholm studio. All of a sudden, things got pretty intense, because the foursome had to record their next single as well.
"It's a wrap!" Completely worn-out, Agnetha and Anni-Frid drop down in the first chair they can find and throw their shoes across the room. "In general, we have had fun during the rehearsals," says Anni-Frid after she has taken a deep breath, "but the last few days have been a real ordeal." Agnetha nodds approvingly and says: "It's true that we had an elaborate mode of operation wherein time was set aside for delays as well. But still there have been several unexpected difficulties. In reality, things can turn out a little different than one would have expected."
And they wanted to be as perfect as possible. The sound, the lights, the show, everything has to fit together and be coordinated. "That's why it could happen that I had to rewrite a complete arrangement for a song," Björn explains as he calmly takes the blame for all the hecticness. "But it's great that our musicians have done their jobs so well."
Anni-Frid - pretending to be angry - punches him in the side and complains: "And you had us dancing until we dropped and singing until we were hoarse. But we don't hear anything about that."
The relaxed atmosphere on this late evening proves that the irritations and tensions that had sometimes occured previously were just the result of stress. Anni-Frid: "We are feeling great and we are positive that this tour will be a success."
A world tour of 41 days, which will have its premiere in only 17 days. "Before that, we still have our next single to record. In between there will be a final dress rehearsal and we will also need a couple of days of relaxation," says Benny, appearing a little nervous, because again it's still unclear which song the group is going to record. "That won't be decided until we're in the studio," he reveals, "and that's why we have somewhat shortened our rehearsals to have a little more time for recording." Apart from that, the four of them also want to spend some time with their children before the tour kicks off. "Meanwhile, they are seeing more of the nanny than of us," Agnetha complains, "and they are mostly looking forward to 16 November, when we will be back home."
Tuesday, 18 February 2014
Libelle, 1977: Frida, after years of bad luck and sadness: "Not ABBA, but Benny is the best thing that ever happened to me"
A couple of times, just for a second, they stepped out of character. All of a sudden their smiles didn't go with the glances they exchanged any longer. Those glances were cold and snappy. Ever more often after that they started turning their backs to each other during their acts. That way it should be less conspicuous that they actually couldn't look each other in the eyes any longer. They were asked about it in interviews. What was going on with Anna and Frida? The blonde girl replied astutely: "Apart from the performances we are obviously not always as thick as thieves. We see a lot of each other and that's when little things can become a little irritating. That's all." She would liked to have said that nothing's the matter. That those spiteful glances were nothing more than stage fright. But too many people would not have believed an answer like that. So the truth was disguised by an explanation that anyone could have made up. Frida tried to be a little more honest: "Actually, it has annoyed me that Anna always put herself in the foreground. She was the eye-catcher of the cameramen. The boys Benny and Björn can hardly be seen on the screen in close-up and I very rarely. And I didn't like that very much, although it actually isn't her fault. She simply comes across as being more sympathetic than me. She is more spontaneous, she smiles a lot and is more open to other people. I have a more inhibited personality. That's why I look arrogant on television, but I can't help it."
This was a very daring statement coming from someone from ABBA. None of the four group members is very open-hearted about their personal lives. This is not Swedish rigidity but a mutual agreement that should protect the group's slick popularity against scratches and dents. The four group members should always be beaming with happiness, and not just on stage. That's the way it should be when everyone likes you. They always have to look like four Sunday's children who - after a smooth childhood - don't want to do anything else than make music that can be enjoyed by the young and the old. Only then millions of people will keep buying their records. And that's the most important thing to Anna, Björn, Benny and Frida who seem to beat all the Beatles' records after only three years of popularity. Soon they will have sold more records and be richer than the British quartet.
Anyone who ever thought that something like Beatlemania would never occur again, knows now that he was wrong. Everywhere where ABBA appears, thousands of fans are waiting for them. The venues wherein they perform, no matter how big, are packed to capacity. The ABBAmania is only a little quieter, just like their music. It's not real pop, raw and with lots of beating drums. The Swedish foursome is bringing something different to the table: melodic songs, that are even liked by children. Father is pleased to look at the girls, who have the right amount of sexiness without crossing the line. And mother is interested in "what will they be wearing this time". It's a show for the entire family. An enjoyable unity, wherein there is no room for difficulties that everyone has to go through at some time. That's why the quartet has all the reason in the world to be not too open-hearted.
The happiness that they radiate should not be overshadowed by the true story about the tensions between the girls. That's why Frida's words were rather daring, too open-hearted for a group about which no bad word may be spoken. In the eyes of the public, the girls are meant to be close friends who confide in each other with their deepest secrets over their morning coffee. While the boys are working in the studio, composing, deliberating, taking care of business, they should be inseperable and tell each other about the spats with their husbands or the most intimate happiness they have experienced. But anyone who takes the trouble to put together the pieces of Frida's life like a jig-saw puzzle, knows this can't be the case. Her life was too different from Anna's. After everything she has been through, it's no surprise that - to Anna - the dark-haired girl will always remain the odd one out in the group's harmony. She - Anna, who's actual name is Agnetha - is the youngest group member and she has always had a life that was running smoothly. Her father was active in the show business and he made good money from it. With his help, his talented and pretty daughter just had to reach out and grab her success. The only scandal in her career was that her pants once fell down while she was on stage, but at the time she was only six years old. The audience just couldn't stop laughing. The most horrible thing she experienced as a teenage singer immediately turned into a commercial success: her engagement came to an end and inspired by so much sadness, she wrote a song that moved the entire country and brought in a lot of money. After that she met the piano player Björn, married him and joined ABBA. Together with the other three group members she won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 which made her, together with her husband and child, even richer than she already was.
Even before ABBA existed, Anni-Frid once told about how she tried to find her father: "All traces turned out to be a dead end. The only thing they could tell me in Germany was that he probably died at sea. The cargo-boat that carried the troops was scuttled by an allied torpedo near the coast of Denmark. I'm positive that he would have returned otherwise. Thankfully I still had my grandmother. She was really a sweet human being. She encouraged me in everything I did and during the long winter nights she taught me old folk songs. That's how I got my first singing lessons from her."
Still, Frida doesn't have a lot of wonderful memories of her childhood. It was a difficult time. In the Swedish city Eskilstuna, grandmother tried to make a living by working hard as a seamstress. Frida spent a lot of time on her own. Then she would sit at home, singing to herself, all the songs she had learned. These were good exercises, because at school she wasn't particularly good at anything, except singing. When she was eleven, she performed for the first time as a singer and when she was thirteen she joined a local band. But to be able to join that band, she had to lie about her age and tell them she was sixteen. This wasn't very difficult for her, because she made a very independent impression. And with that band, she performed at a restaurant.
Life started to look up for her. And in this excited state of mind, within a day she fell in love with the leader of the band, the bass player Ragnar Fredriksson. He had a second job on the side as a furniture salesman and that's how he managed to make enough money to start living together with Frida. It was all very romantic and she didn't know any better than to think that this was it. But in reality she didn't have any clue what she was doing with her young life. When she was sixteen, they got their first child, son Hans. Three years later, daughter Lise-Lotte was born. But this second child didn't seal a happy marriage. Soon afterwards, she and Ragnar separated. With pain. They had been happy in their childlike way, but when Frida started discovering herself, she realised she already had a whole life behind her before her actual life had begun. She wanted to move forward, achieve something, become famous. She talked about this for days with Ragnar. When he offered to raise the children, she felt that anything was still possible. That there was still a way out of the dead end road she had found herself in. And she made the hardest decision that a mother could make: "At the time I was known as a happy little singer, but that was just a charade. The reality behind it was utterly sad. It's a pity I have to say this, but when I decided to leave Ragnar and the children, there were people that were very cruel to me. And they really should have known better. They said I simply didn't care about the children. And that wasn't true at all. I only knew that Ragnar could take better care of them than I could. That's why I let them go. Don't let anybody think that's an easy thing to do. You hurt yourself and you keep feeling that, all those years that follow."
That's how they went their separate ways. Without holding a grudge, alone, but very sad about their failure. The doubts whether it would have been better to give it a second chance remained. Frida's only comfort was that she became very successful soon after her divorce. She was lucky with her very first television performance. That night, Swedish traffic would change from left to right. The authorities had advised everybody to stay at home so that they would have enough time to move all the traffic signs to the other side of the road. The entire country saw her talent that evening. That's how she became famous, long before ABBA was even in the picture. And one day, there was Benny, another celebrity from the Swedish show business.
That's how Benny was exposed in public. As a father and as a pop idol. He learned his lesson: "My experiences with Christine are the reason that I never tell anybody anything about my personal life. After that, I have had a very hard time getting any work. And my children? I can only think about them with nostalgia."
Only after four years of slaving away to get rid of his debts, Benny was able to think about the future again. He met Björn and realised that they got along really well. The good times of getting to work and making music seemed to return. And then he met Frida in this club in Malmö. He already knew her as that little singer, who sang those delicate, serious songs. Their conversation started out about their job, about the differences between her songs and his and Björn's repertoire. But then they discovered how wonderful their talk was. And before they realised they were listening to each other's life story full of interest. After that first meeting they kept thinking about each other. Their experiences with their adolescent loves and with the children, who they didn't see any longer, seemed similar. Then they knew that they had both met someone who understood them. Not long after that they ran into each other in a radio studio and they made an appointment. Since then they have been inseparable.
Meanwhile, Benny and Björn kept working on their musical plans and the idea of ABBA was born. The boys would compose and perform the music and the girls would be the faces of the group and sing. Everything seemed to be in the right place, but Frida remained an outsider. She was having difficulties in adjusting to the ABBA formula of 'oh, how happy we all are'. Despite the success, she couldn't simply forget about Alfred Haase, Ragnar, Synni and the children. But Anna and Björn didn't really feel like dragging along all those difficulties from the past. They thought they should be forgotten. Only Benny understood. That's why Frida once said: "Not ABBA, but Benny is the best thing that ever happened to me." And she showed it, even on stage. Now everything has been cleared up between the four of them. The acts and the dance moves have been adjusted. Frida is getting her share in the foreground as well. The girls are singing less in unison and more and more they are taking turns. The millions that the quartet have earned together with their manager Stig Anderson, are safe again. The quarrels have been talked out.
"It's all peaceful now," says Frida. They keep their private lives as separate as possible, but they still spend their summers together on the island they have bought together. And Frida's son Hans is welcome there as well. Perhaps she and Benny will finally get some peace to start thinking about marriage. Until now, Frida is still not in favour of such a thing: "We don't know if that would be a wise decision. So much has happened. Although we would love to have a baby, but since we are ABBA, that will be very difficult. That's why we say to each other: "We are happy with the children that we've got."
Sunday, 16 February 2014
ABBA's Agnetha Fältskog is alone again. Her boyfriend, ice hockey player Lars Erik Ericsson, with whom she had been living together for a couple of months in her mansion just outside Stockholm, has suddenly broken off their relationship and left the mansion.
For the twenty-nine year old singer this means the second tragedy in one year. One year ago she divorced her husband and fellow band member Björn Ulvaeus. The end of her romance with the twenty-nine year old Ericsson was too much for Agnetha. She has withdrawn from public life and for the time being - until the start of ABBA's tour next week - she stays alone in her mansion.
Friends are saying: "Agnetha adored Lars Erik. She hoped she could marry him soon, right after the world tour. She thought he would be a good father for her children, the six year old Linda and little, one year old Christian."
But Lars Erik couldn't handle his relationship with Agnetha. Although he is a well-known Swedish ice hockey player - he is playing in AIK '77 and the Swedish national team - he was still ignored by the public. All attention went to the famous singer Agnetha. When the couple appeared in public, the fans were all surrounding Agnetha, Lars Erik was just standing on the side. To them, he was just Agnetha's boyfriend, not the ice hockey star Lars Erik Ericsson. "He wasn't seen as an individual anymore, but as Agnetha's companion. He couldn't stand it any longer," according to the couple's friends.
He felt that - if he would continue with the relationship - it would go further and further. He would be seen as Mr. Fältskog and not as Lars Erik Ericsson. "Although he still loves her very much," according to intimate friends, "he still thought it was better to make the decision to end their romance now."
But Agnetha's sadness about the fact that the man she really loved, and who would become the father of her two children, has left her, is enormous. Agnetha is planning to stop singing after ABBA's tour, she wanted to do that for Lars Erik and her children. She wanted to build a new life together with him. As a happy family. Out of the limelight and without the public.
But that same public made sure that the happiness of the blonde singer has come to an end. That's the other side of ABBA's success. It turns out that twenty million Dutch guilders in the bank and all the glamour aren't everything. The man she loved has disappeared from her life, because of her popularity. She doesn't seem to be entitled to personal happiness.
Despite the fact that Agnetha was willing to make the decision for her personal happiness with her lover Lars Erik, by quitting her career after the gigantic tour, he still chose to leave her. "He knew," according to friends, "that the pressure - even though Agnetha would quit her career - would still be too big to have a chance to be happy together. There will always be people chasing after Agnetha and he would always be seen as Agnetha's man instead of the famous Swedish ice hockey player that he actually is," according to the friends.
That's why Lars Erik has decided to leave Agnetha, alone with her two children in her immense mansion. And now that she probably still will stop singing, the void will even be greater for her. It's the downside of success. The price she has to pay means she can't be happy in love.