International ABBA Day – The Main Day

“If you’re in the ABBA Museum and you’re standing near the Ring Ring exhibit, you should answer the phone, as it’s probably going to be Frida” we were told by Ingmarie Halling from the ABBA Museum, soon to open in Stockholm. “And if you see the piano suddenly playing, it’s gonna be Benny doing it remotely”, she added.

The telephone call from Frida (or indeed any member of ABBA, as “they all have the number”, we were told) was inspired by a John Lennon exhibition in New York. When Frida heard that Yoko Ono would sometimes call the telephone there and speak to people randomly, she replied instantly that she would love to do that also.

That, and the bit about Benny playing the piano remotely is interesting for two reasons. One – that’s it the kind of thing now possible because of modern technology. Two – that it’s a sign of “buy in” by the members of ABBA who, seemingly, have been somewhat reluctant to recognise their musical legacy.

The appearance by Ingmarie was the most interesting and engaging part of the second (and main day) of the International ABBA Day I attended in Roosendaal. That, and the screening of a number of recent television appearances by ABBA members, notably one from Finnish TV where Bjorn and Benny were asked individually to describe the other. Bjorn has a good sense of humour, but never shows it much, according to Benny. They meet weekly, we were told, mostly to discuss business activities, such as licensing of the songs for movies, but not much outside of that.

These were the things which interested me most. I have almost no interest in collecting memorabilia, a major focus for the day. As I walked into the room the first thing I noticed was the bar, and then the big screen, and then as I looked down from the screen, there were “stalls” with people selling lots of ABBA material – DVDs, vinyl, rare recordings. A flea market, you might say. “Unless there’s some amazing new recording, I’m not really interested in collecting an obscure Japanese 7” pressing of a song I already have”, I told a couple of people.

Thus, we didn’t really stay all that long during the day. We were there for two or three hours to watch some of videos, hear the talk by Ingmarie, and to chat with other fans from around the world. For me, meeting those other fans was the main reason why I wanted to go. The day was informal enough so that I had sufficient time to do that in a meaningful way.

After a late afternoon meal, we were back at 7.00pm sharp for “The Video”. It’s become a regular part of the International ABBA Day over the years for a compilation video to be played at the start of the Saturday night disco. Of the few I’ve seen, I’ve thought they were always very good. But this year, a number of people commented to me they thought the video was a little disappointing. Maybe the anticipation of it was too much, but I was inclined to agree, finding the listing of all of ABBA’s stage performances by city and date overlaid over a lot of live footage I’ve seen many times a little disappointing.

I was also a little disappointed by the number of rare recordings played on Saturday night, both at the disco venue, and at the after-party. “Put On Your White Sombrero” is a shit record, I said to a couple of people. “It was never released by ABBA because they didn’t think it was up to scratch and yet I’ve heard it three times this weekend”, I added.

I think I understand the “group dynamic” amongst ABBA fans going on with all of the rare material being played. I think it’s about sharing something hard core fans have in common, which doesn’t involve the rest of the population who “like”, but who don’t “love” ABBA in the way people attending this event do. I also think there’s probably an issue with many people having heard the most well known tracks many, many times. That said, it sometimes seems like there’s an aversion to playing the big ABBA hits (or even good B-sides and album tracks) at some of the fan events. Personally, I would prefer to hear and dance to fully-formed, rounded great songs than incomplete songs discarded by ABBA as not worthy of release.

That said, I spent a fair bit of time on the dance floor, and like the young girl in “Dancing Queen” found I was having the time of my life.

That, and chatting to people. One of the things I discovered was that my blog post yesterday where I talked about being shy, and how daunting it can be at events like this to meet people, really touched a lot of people. In addition to the number of people who came up to me, concerned, asking if I was okay, a couple of others told me they felt the same, and they were pleased I’d written about it. My advice is that if you feel similarly shy in large groups, it’s important to make contact with people ahead of the event so you have some people you can feel comfortable with. I don’t mean that in any kind of mercenary way, it’s just a recognition that some people feel more comfortable in smaller groups than larger, and that if you have a smaller group within that larger group, you might find it a little easier.

After the main event, we headed into town for the “After Party” which was at the same venue as the night previously. This time around the bar was initially packed more heavily with “locals”, some of whom really got into the swing of things, while others left soon after we arrived, possibly finding themselves a little overwhelmed by hearing the B-sides and rarities, and not the more well-known ABBA hits.

The bar staff at the “After Party” venue were terrific. In particular, we got chatting with a young guy who had worked the night before but who was there the following night just to enjoy himself. “The ABBA Weekend”, he told us “is a great thing for Roosendaal, having so many people come from all parts of the world.” I mentioned to him my theory that, although it seems crazy on the surface to have this day in a small town in The Netherlands, it actually works. “If it was in Stockholm or London or Amsterdam, people would break up at the end of the night and go their separate ways, whereas here everyone sticks together”, I told him.

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