A few months ago I was asked to write a couple of articles for the magazine of the International ABBA Fan Club. A copy of the magazine arrived in the mail this week, and so I thought I’d share them here both for general interest, and as an online archive.
ABBA DAY REPORT
“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 randomly to people visiting the exhibition, 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. First, it’s an indication the new museum will have some wonderful attributes, thanks to new technology. Second, that’s it a sign all members of ABBA seem to be fully behind this. Even though Agnetha has said she probably won’t be around for the opening (due to confliciting publicity commitments in the UK), she has indicated she has donated a number of items to the museum.
Ingmarie mentioned how all four members of ABBA had been interviewed for the exhibition, and how she was constantly checking facts to make sure everything was just right. She told us, for example, the lengths she went to trying to find out the real story about the transformation of the famous white piano from its previous brown colouring which has featured in the “archipelago room” of “ABBA World”. “Oh I can’t remember. There were so many pianos”, Frida reportedly told her with a laugh. All four members of ABBA have recorded parts of the audio commentary to accompany the tour.
I have seen ABBAWorld in both Sydney and Melbourne, In Melbourne it was very much about the global story of ABBA (with a lot of Swedish language material); in Sydney it was very much about the story of ABBA in Australia. I didn’t get a real sense of how the exhibition will be curated editorially for its final iteration, but it was clear from the way in which Ingmarie spoke, the project continues to evolve.
You could imagine having spent several years of your life working on this project (and before that many years working with ABBA when they were an active group), Ingmarie would be a little bored with the project. However, she spoke with such passion that it was fairly evident that wasn’t the case. She spoke, for example, about exercising her own personal creativity in the design of some couches which will feature in the exhibition, and how she approached some young designers in Sweden to further develop that idea. “When you visit the exhibition you’ll able to sit and listen to ABBA on couches which look like a stack of vinyl”, she told us. Along the way, Ingmarie also mentioned she has been writing a book that will go with the museum. “It’s the one book about ABBA I might be willing to read”, Benny reportedly said to her.
For me, 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.
Obviously the big “buzz” for this weekend was the forthcoming album release by Agnetha. The two tracks released so far were both sing-along dance-floor fillers, and it was interesting to hear short snippets of Agnetha talking about some of the tracks which will feature on the album. I spoke to a lot of people over the weekend who thought there was a chance we would get to hear the album in full. Unfortunately, we’ll all have to wait for a few more weeks.
For many years I’ve wanted to attend the International ABBA Day. Distance (coming from Australia) is a significant reason why I haven’t, even tough I know many Australians have made the trek previously. One of the main reasons I’ve wanted to attend is to meet some of the people I’ve known about for years and have corresponded with previously. Like many people, though, I’m a little shy. When I wrote this on a blog post to ABBA Village, the following day I had a lot of people come 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 are thinking about the day at some point in the future, and 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.
Another great way to meet people was through involvement the quiz held on the first night put together by the wonderful Gary Collins. “We should have hung out with you”, I joked to the winner of the quiz. He was an English guy, I think his name was Tony, and he told me he was planning to visit Australia next year. I gave him my card and told him to contact me when he arrived. On the “main day” of the event, there was another quiz where the main prizes included an Agnetha promo signal and a notebook signed by all four members. The winner was a guy called Erik Liebstaedter who obviously knew the answer to the question which I think stumped many (including myself) about which released featured the first “reverse B” logo.
One thing I should mention is how fantastic the bar staff at the “After Party” venue were, as were the double-act who entertained us with some live performances of ABBA songs, including a Dutch language version of “Does Your Mother Know”. “They wrote it themselves, and it was in a Southern Dutch dialect”, Marco Dirven told me, as we walked back to our hotel.
At the end of the second night, a group of us 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.
ABBA MUSEUM PREVIEW
The idea for a permanent ABBA Museum in Stockholm had been around publicly since the end of 2006. The original idea was for the museum to inhabit the space now occupied by the city’s Fotografiska Museet [Photographic Museum]. When that did not prove to be economically viable, the organisers launched a number of short-term exhibitions in a number of countries, including two quite different exhibitions in Melbourne and Sydney, which, of course, I visited.
In Melbourne, the exhibition was very much about the global story of ABBA (with a lot of Swedish language material, and extensive coverage of the post-ABBA solo careers) while in Sydney it was very much about the story of ABBA in Australia. In Stockholm, it is very much the global story once again, though probably not as comprehensively covered as it was in Melbourne. “Melbourne was like the box set, Sydney was like The Best Of ABBA, and Stockholm is like ABBA Gold,” I have said to a number of people.
Along with a couple of hundred others, I was lucky enough to attend a Fan Club preview of the museum ahead of the official opening. It was lovely to see other fans I had met previously, including a few people who, like me, had travelled from Australia. On arrival, we were warmly welcomed by the Chief Executive of ABBA The Museum, Mattias Hansson, and the curator, Ingmarie Halling.
As we made our way around the museum there were, naturally enough, a few bottlenecks as people stopped to take photographs and experienced everything in a chronological order. I am not one for crowds, so I made a quick skim of the early parts and resolved to return later when the crowds had thinned. In all, I must have spent two or three hours in the space, and even then felt like I had only touched the surface.
Of course, you see the costumes, the gold records, the photographs and so on. You also get to see some of the recreated spaces from the story of ABBA, including the offices of Polar Music and the famous island shack in the Stockholm Archipelago where Björn and Benny composed many of their songs. These are lovely spaces, indeed.
There are also some wonderful intimate touches in the new museum. A few weeks ago, speaking at the International ABBA Day (see other article), Ingmarie told us about her design ideas (such as the one for the resting place that looks like a pile of records) as well as the little red telephone that the members could ring. “You want to start a riot?” I asked a friend as we stood near the telephone during the Fan Club preview on Friday. “I have an old fashioned ring tone on my phone. You go over there, stand next to the phone, and when I play the ring tone you answer it,” I joked with him. Of course, we did not do that as it would have been cruel, but it gave us quite a laugh.
Much of the interactivity from the previous ABBAWORLD incarnations is there, too, including a sixty-second electronic ABBA Quiz (I got 12 out of 12 correct), and the ability to sing along with holographic images of ABBA and later download a video of your performance to name a few.
When you know so much about something before actually experiencing it, there is always the risk you will be disappointed. I was not. The museum has clearly been put together with care and an eye for detail. I liked it very much and would recommend it to anyone visiting Stockholm.
Due to the obsessive nature of fandom, ABBA fans can sometimes be very harsh and judgmental. As I walked around, I heard a few complaints about things which were ‘missing’ but, by large, I heard mostly praise from those attending. I overheard Ingmarie say with a smile to a colleague, “It seems to work.”
Rather than concentrate solely on ABBA, the museum has a longer-term focus on the success of Swedish music more generally. Apparently, that is something all members of the band were keen to see when agreeing to support (and invest money in) the initiative.
It will be interesting to see the museum expand over the next few years, as it takes on the broader remit as a celebration of Swedish music more generally. I also think it is great we now have a new ‘home’ for ABBA in Stockholm and can imagine it will become an important location for fans to celebrate major anniversaries, birthdays and so on. After a long time coming, good luck to the museum and all of those who have made it possible.