ABBA Photographic Reunion

There’s a fair bit in the papers today about ABBA’s “photographic reunion” when they appeared together overnight in Stockholm. Being ABC Local Radio’s resident “ABBA Expert”, I was asked to come on the radio in NSW and chat about this. You can listen to the audio below, or read my interview preparation notes below.

What’s the significance of this appearance?

It’s the first time they’ve appeared in public (all four of them) since the premiere in Stockholm of “Mamma Mia” in 2008. For the last thirty five years, all four members of ABBA have appeared in public together, but very rarely all four of them together. I was at the opening of Stockholm’s ABBA Museum in 2013, when Bjorn, Benny and Frida attended the opening. Agnetha wasn’t there, and the reason given was that she had already made plans to be in the UK to promote her latest album. Benny and Frida appeared together when ABBA were inducted in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame.  Frida and Agnetha appeared together when they received a Swedish music award.  There’s a video clip on Youtube of them on stage together, and it’s quite lovely to see Frida holding tightly to Agnetha (given all of the newspaper reports about Agnetha’s anxiety appearing in public).  My favourite moment from that appearance was when the presenter asked Agnetha and Frida what they talk about when they come together after such a long time. Agnetha replies, “mostly tonight it was about money!!”. And the reaction from Frida is hilarious – she can’t quite believe Agnetha was so honest.

So it’s not a sign the feud between them is over?

Was there ever a feud? I don’t know there’s any evidence of a feud. I think they just moved on with their lives. After a decade or so together, including as married couples, and then with divorces, they simply moved on. Agnetha is the one mostly commonly described as being reclusive. Her ex-husband Bjorn has reflected on that, saying he thought she would have been happy raising a family. He said she liked to sing and record, but touring wasn’t something she enjoyed. I think there’s probably evidence the Australian tour, in particular, freaked her out a little bit. There was also a particularly scary flight in 1979 in America, and after that I think she didn’t think it was worth it any more. I also think the idea of a feud comes from the fact there were divorces, and I also think this might be evidence of a bit of deep sexism. The idea there can’t be room for two fairly strong women in the same pop group without “cats fights” and so on. I think a key thing to remember is all four members of the group are now in their mid 60s to early 70s. For them, this whole thing was such a long-time ago.

So what is this new Mamma Mia franchise?

After the musical and the movie, comes a new incarnation of Mamma Mia. Basically, it’s theatre restaurant. It’s currently in Swedish, but they’ll be performing it in English during Eurovision this year, which is being held in Stockholm. By the way, last year’s winner, Mans Zelmerlow actually appeared this week at the Australian Open in Melbourne.

What are they all doing now?

Frida has been living in Zermatt, Switzerland for about thirty-five years. Occasionally she records duets, mostly for charity. She’s a Princess (she married a Swedish/German prince, who later passed away). And now she’s in a relationship with Henry Smith, one of the heirs of W.H. Smith. She has both a son and a grandson who are musicians. 

Agnetha has been living on the outskirts of Stockholm for the last forty years. Her daughter, son in law, and grandchildren live with her. She’s had a few relationships, including one rather disastrous relationship with a fan who became a bit of a stalker. She recorded and released a new album a couple of years ago, appeared on television a bit, as well as stage events like Stockholm Pride.

Bjorn continues to live in Stockholm. He’s become a fairly outspoken figure on atheism in Sweden, as well as the move for a cashless society.

Benny continues to perform music regularly. You see him on Swedish TV two or three times a year. His children and grandchildren have mostly followed a musical career also.

Army Of Lovers at Melodifestivalen

På svenska

This week, Swedish TV SVT, has announced the hosts for next year’s Eurovision Song Contest as Måns Zelmerlöw and Petra Mede. I’m really excited about this, as I like them both very much. But as much as I love Eurovision, I’m more of a fan of Melodifestivalen, the Swedish finals leading up to Eurovision. Eurovision is fun, but Melodifestivalen has passion. While the UK looks at Eurovision as a bit of a joke, the Swedes take Melodifestivalen very seriously.

But one of the things which has kinda annoyed me in recent years has been the tendancy for Swedes to sing in English. Yes, I know Swedish is not exactly the universal language of pop. But when ABBA, for example, won Eurovision in 1974, they sang in Swedish at Melodifestivalen, and then in English at Eurovision. I think this is a cool model. As much as a universal language interests me, I’d like to think people could speak their own languages too.

Also increasingly, I’ve noticed over the last few years an awful lot of Swedish pop singers have only been singing in English. But in the last year I’ve noticed a few Swedish singers have discovered their “Swedish Pride”. Interestingly, some of the most obvious ones have been the children of immigrants. I wonder if this is a response/reaction to the rise of the anti-immigration party, Sweden Democrats, or am I reading too much into it? Here’s a few examples:

Also lately, I’ve seen some great pop clips with some really strong imagery from Stockholm. Here’s a few examples:

I actually recognised someone from the last clip. Small world.

Meeting Magnus Carlsson at Golden Times in Stockholm

You Know It’s Christmas In A Week And A Day

As I’ve previously mentioned here, I’m a fan of Swedish pop singer, Magnus Carlsson. With Christmas coming “in a week and a day”, this is one of my favourite songs from him.

The jolly season is aproaching fast
Giving us a reason to be happy at last
I just wanna give you
The best that I have got
And it’s yours to keep
Waiting under the tree

You know it’s christmas in a week and a day
And I just can’t figure out what to give away
So I just wrap myself in paper for you baby

And then the christmas is past and long gone away
I’ll be right in your arms with a card that says
That I love you –
Merry christmas to you baby

We’re far from strangers
You’ve got a special glow
When we’re making angels in the beautiful snow
I just wanna give you
The love of my heart
And it’s yours to keep
Waiting under the tree

And here’s the full song.

Vaxholm, Stockholm

Leaving Stockholm

“Did I just hear you make another little sigh…? Sandra asked. With only a few hours left in Stockholm before heading to New York, I’d apparently developed a bit of a “sigh” whenever I saw something really wonderful. I wasn’t consciously doing it, though clearly the thought of leaving Stockholm was weighing on my mind. I really love it here, and though I’m looking forward to travelling to New York, I’m a little sad to be leaving.

Anthony and I started the day with visits to the ABBA Museum (his idea, not mine) and The Vasa Museum. As I’d previously visited the ABBA Museum (hey, I was here for the opening in 2013), I wasn’t all that keen at first. I still really enjoyed the visit, and especially since the museum has expanded the “Swedish Music Hall Of Fame” focussing on other Swedish performers also. This was also my second visit to The Vasa Museum. A couple of years ago Sue and I were also hoping to visit, though it was under renovation at the time. Though the ship remains the centre-piece of the museum, there were also some wonderful artefacts as well as some modern re-creations which made it an extremely worthwhile place to visit.

After lunch, we were joined on a three hour trip to and from Vaxholm. Great conversation. Great views. Yummy food and wine. How could you top that? Well by calling in to a bar on the waterfront. I think it was there that I developed the sigh. The water. The weather. The people.

Robert then joined us for dinner at Urban Deli. A few drinks later, and it was time to come home. “Sometime we’ll both live in the same city”, I said to Sandra towards the end of the night.

Stockholm, as viewed from the rooftop tour,

Experience More

When my old school-friend told me late last year he was planning to visit Stockholm, and was looking for a few “travel tips”, my first question to him was “when are you going to be there?”. Because there is so much climate variation between the summer and winter months, there are some things you can and cannot do, according to the time you visit. When he told me it would be early-mid August, I told him simply, “Don’t worry, I’ll show you around…”

One of the activities, for example, you can’t do during the winter months is the Stockholm Rooftop Tour, Upplev Mer (Experience more). I first did this tour in 2011 and absolutely loved it, and so recommended it highly. “Just book it…”, he said via email. Over the course of about 75 minutes, you get to walk (harnessed) along the rooftop of the old parliament building. It’s quite spectacular.

Since he arrived around lunchtime yesterday, we’ve also paid a visit to Katarinahissen (which has spectacular views of Stockholm); we’ve had a cocktail at Berns (my other school-friend who has visited, Sue has fond memories of this); and we had dinner and drinks last night at Fotografiska (the photograph museum) with friends Sandra and Robert. Despite a lengthy queue for dinner, we managed to secure a really terrific table, and enjoyed a sensational meal. While the others had salmon, I had the pork (which was excellent). Unlike many other restaurants, the philosophy at Fotografiska is that the vegetables are the “main course”. They were beautifully prepared and very tasty.

Over a few hours of great conversation, we enjoyed a bottle or two of wine, and watched last night’s beautiful sunset. The night ended with a walk through the city (the Stockholm Kulturfestival is currently underway)and through Gamla stan. So yeah, we’ve managed to squeeze a fair deal of activity into a few short hours.

Today, we’re heading off on a cruise of the Stockholm Archipelago (to Vaxholm and back); and will also visit the Vasameet and the ABBA Museum (his idea, not mine), and whatever ever else the evening may hold. Peter Hook from New Order is playing a free public gig tonight, as part of the Stockholm Kulturfestival. If the weather clears (currently there’s a little bit of drizzle), this should be a terrific way to spend my last full day in Stockholm before heading off to New York tomorrow.