By Felicity Glover.
Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!: The famous foursome in the bench scene.
It is 1976 and a cool, cloudy day in Sydney. My friends and I have been practising all day for an impromptu neighbourhood performance of Dancing Queen, the signature song of Swedish pop group Abba that found its second and third winds thanks to Muriel’s Wedding, The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Mamma Mia! (the movie).
We knew the words by heart and had the dance routine down pat. But we couldn’t decide on our roles. With two blondes and one brunette in our schoolgirl trio, it was inevitable that an argument would break out.
Sure, our brunette friend was a no-brainer: she would be Anni-Frid (Frida) Lyngstad. But who would be Agnetha Faltskog, or Anna as the Western press dubbed her because they couldn’t pronounce her name properly? I was standing my ground. No way was I going to be Benny Andersson. Or Bjorn Ulvaeus, for that matter (no offence, guys). I was always Agnetha, as was our other blonde friend.
In the end, we settled for two Agnethas and one Frida. Ten-year-old logic at its best. Our performance, of course, was atrocious and nobody turned up to watch us strut our stuff in the front yard, unless you count a few sniggering boys from down the street.
Our concert was a far cry from the glamour of the real Abba, who had performed Dancing Queen in front of King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden and his fiancee, Silvia Sommerlath, on the eve of their wedding just a few months earlier, on June 18, 1976.
Still, it was a thrill to pretend that we were our favourite pop stars. And it was a scenario that was being played out by tens of thousands of other kids across the suburbs of Australia. A band of children and teenagers I call “Generation Abba” – the ones not quite old enough to have been influenced by the likes of the Rolling Stones. Or perhaps couldn’t quite remember the day that Elvis’ heart finally gave out after a life of excess and too many fried peanut butter sandwiches.
Photos and recording gear. Photo: AFP
Fast-forward 30-plus years and I am in Stockholm, the home of Abba and one of the most beautiful, historically rich cities in the world. I might be a long way from home – more than 15,000 kilometres – but I have been transported back to when Abba ruled my world. To a time when I fought with my siblings over whose turn it was to get that week’s coveted Abba iron-on transfer from one of the Sunday papers. A time when I became a proud, card-carrying member of the Official Abba Fan Club, knew the lyrics to all of their hits and was devastated when my parents decided I wasn’t old enough to go to their concert at the Sydney Showground on March 3, 1977 – torrential rain and all.
But that is all in the past as I walk across town from the upmarket Ostermalm district to the island of Djurgarden, home to such venues as Skansen, the world’s oldest outdoor museum; Tivoli Grona Lund, a charming amusement park built in 1883; and Nordiska museet, a museum devoted to the country’s cultural history.
For once, I’m not here for the usual, ancient culture and history that Stockholm is renowned for. This time, I am heading to Abba: The Museum, the newest kid on the tree-lined Djurgardsvagen block that opened on May 7, to relive my childhood.
A modern building next to Grona Lund, the museum is the first permanent exhibition for all things Abba, including paraphernalia such as concert guides and tickets, fan letters and de rigueur merchandise of the day.
There’s a room devoted to every album they released, as well as their gold records, flamboyant costumes, musical instruments and the helicopter used on the cover of Arrival.
Their recording studio at Polar Music has been re-created, while the office of the late Stig Anderson, their manager and co-writer of many of the band’s lyrics, is tucked away in a corner. There’s the famous park bench where Benny and Frida were photographed kissing as Agnetha looks ahead and Bjorn reads a brochure about, wait for it, antibiotics! (look closely for this one).
Ingmarie Halling, the museum’s curator and Abba’s former hair and make-up artist, says it was an easy exhibition to put together, not only because she knows the members of the group but also because she had kept so many items from their touring days, including their trip to Australia in 1977.
“I, for one, had quite many items as I used to work with them on tour doing their costumes, hair and make-up,” she says.
“Since I know these people very well, I don’t have to do so much research. It has not been difficult collecting the items for the museum. Frida donated her gold records, Benny the accordion, Bjorn a guitar. Everyone has contributed. And they were all very helpful when I was calling them.” But it is the interaction opportunities that are the star attraction of the show, such as allowing diehard fans to become the fifth member of Abba, a feature after my own (10-year-old) heart.
With the help of holographic images, you can perform “live on stage” with the supergroup and download your effort on your way out. Then there are the karaoke suites, where you can lay down your favourite Abba track, or even see what you would look like dressed as your favourite band member.
There’s a piano connected to Benny’s studio. When it starts to play, you know that Benny is at work, real time. Then there’s the Ring Ring phone. Only four people in the world have the number. If it rings when you are standing by it, make sure you answer – it could be Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny or Anni-Frid on the other end.
“All people are interested in most things with Abba as they have seen them in photo shoots and in films,” Halling says.
“As a visitor, you walk through their career from the beginning in 1966.
“By doing this, I think we help people to understand more about the group. The aim was to understand these people; they had a 10-year career [as Abba] and [have] sold 379 million records [so far]. You want to be true to the story.”
And true it is. From when they first met, when Benny and Frida fell in love, then Agnetha and Bjorn, to winning the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo in 1974 and tracking their journey as they took the world by storm with such hits as Fernando, S.O.S, Honey, Honey, Rock Me, Ring Ring and Mamma Mia, not to mention everybody’s favourite, Dancing Queen.
“As naturally as we came together, we came to the end,” Agnetha once said.
And while we thank them for the music and memories, Abba, at least for the fans, will always live on through this museum.
Five more Abba must-sees in Stockholm
1. The park bench where Benny and Frida are kissing while Agnetha stares ahead and Bjorn reads a brochure on antibiotics, apparently because that was all there was to read when the photo was being taken. Where: Rosendalsvagen (about 50 metres from the Ulla Winbladh restaurant at Rosendalsvagen 8 and within walking distance of Abba: The Museum).
2. Sheraton Hotel. Some fans might be surprised to learn that the hotel room featured in Abba: The Movie wasn’t actually in Perth, Australia, as claimed. Rather, it was filmed at the Sheraton in Stockholm because Agnetha was pregnant and she wanted to hide her stomach. Where: Sheraton Hotel, 6 Tegelbacken — the heart of Stockholm’s business district.
3. Frida and Benny’s apartment. According to The Abba Guide to Stockholm, Frida and Benny moved in to this apartment in Gamla Stan, or the Old Town, in 1974. Here the couple was filmed for a Japanese commercial in which Benny is vacuuming and Frida is taking it easy, reversing the traditional male/female role and causing a sensation in Sweden, despite its progressive policies towards women. Where: 21 Baggensgatan, Gamla Stan.
4. Kungliga Operan (Royal Opera). On the eve of the wedding of Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden to his fiancee Silvia Sommerlath on June 18, 1976, Abba performed at a gala for the couple at Kungliga Operan, which was built in 1898. Who knows what the future queen of Sweden thought of the lyrics, in particular: “You’re a teaser and you turn them on.” However, she appears delighted at the end of the performance, which can be seen on YouTube. Where: Gustav Adolf torg.
5. China Teatern (China Theatre). The premiere of Abba: The Movie took place here, with all band members attending. Just three weeks before the launch, Agnetha had given birth to her son, Christian. She was pregnant with him during the making of the movie. Where: Berzelii Park, a small park in central Stockholm.
Source: The Abba Guide to Stockholm; 40 kronor ($6.30) from the Arlanda Airport Visitor Centre.
Abba: The Museum
Address 68 Djurgardsvagen, Stockholm.
Telephone +46 8 12 13 28 66.
Adults 195 kronor ($30.50).
Children (up to 15 years) 145 kronor.
Children (accompanied by adult) 50 kronor.
Opening hours 10am-8pm.
Abba city walk
When Saturdays at 2pm in English
Meet City Hall Courtyard, 1 Hantverkargatan.
Tickets From Stockholm City Museum or through Ticnet (ticnet.se).
The Hotel Rival, owned by Benny Andersson, is a must-stay for fans of Abba. The hotel hosted the premiere of Mamma Mia! in 2008 and it is the only time all four members of Abba have been pictured together since they split in late 1982. Prices start from 2395 kronor ($375) a night for a standard room in June.
3 Mariatorget, 11891 Stockholm, Sweden.
+46 8545 78900, www.rival.se.