I’d arranged with Tony to meet up at Allsang pa Skansen, the regular summertime television program in Sweden focussed on community singing. Along with some Swedish “favourites” there’s usually a pop star or two with a show or concert to promote. This week it was Benny Andersson’s Orchestra and the cast of Mamma Mia. Benny, of course, is an absolute bloody legend and needs no explanation, while the English-language production of Mamma Mia opens in Stockholm in a couple of weeks time.
The weather today was shitty. Really shitty. So I figured I had two choices. Either find somewhere indoors, maybe back at the hostel, or head off to Skansen to try to find a good seat. I’d been told people arrive as early as 7.00am. I think that’s crazy myself, but some people do it. I figured since I had nothing to lose, I’d do my best to find a good seat.
I was also warned about the “crazy old Swedish ladies” who scream and shout if you get a better seat than them. I didn’t see any of those, though I did see quite a lot of people who I thought looked a little bit “dueling banjos” if you get my meaning.
Wearing my yellow berka, as I began to call it, I grabbed a seat behind a group of four (two men and two women) and a little old lady with no apparent signs of craziness. For a couple of hours I sat there with only my eyes peering through a slit watching the complete lack of action. It wasn’t too long, however, before I realised the people in front of me were actually ABBA fans. And not normal ones, like myself, but crazy ABBA fans.
A bit like some born again Christians, crazy ABBA fans get this weird glazed look in their eyes. From time to time this group kept looking back at me, suspiciously, trying to figure out who I was. “Did I have more autographs than them?” “Did I know Frida personally”? That kinda stuff. One of them said to me at one point, accusingly, “You came late. You weren’t here at nine o’clock this morning”. Weird stuff, eh?
The attraction, of course, was Benny Andersson from ABBA. Tonight’s program was all about Benny and ABBA.
I watched the soundcheck and the rehearsal. Hearing Helen Sjoholm sing “Du Ar Min Man” for the first time live was absolutely amazing. She has a really strong voice and sings with a great sense of drama. The second or third time was still good, but by the fourth I was getting a bit sick of it, to be honest. As she walked around in her raincoat, you could see she was quite cool, and had a bit of a sense of humour as she joked with a few people.
Benny also seemed quite nice during rehearsal. Politely stepping back to let people through. Chatting with everyone. Greeting the cast of Mamma Mia with a hug. He wore his raincoat, did what everyone else did, and there were no signs of any prima donna behaviour.
That said, you could just see how much in awe everyone was of him. Just mention the word Benny and the whole audience errupted into applause.
A young couple sat next to me for a while. At first I thought it was just she who was the ABBA fan, but clearly they both were. They were very grateful, by the way, that I had offered them to share my seat when so many others hadn’t. I suspect the fans in front may not have been so kind. Within minutes of sitting down, the young couple too, were singing along to some of the more obscure recordings of Benny Andersson’s Orchestra.
I was really surprised at how many people were there, and how many young people in particular. There were probably more people there this week in the rain than last week when it was sunny.
During the show itself, I moved away from the formal seating, as I was so incredibly cold and wet. Four hours in the Swedish rain was too much for a boy from Sydney.
So how did I feel about the experience of seeing Benny perform live? I find it a little hard to articulate actually. I enjoyed the performances. I also feel a sense of “completion” in some ways, that I’ve seen him in a live performance. Would I go to a BAO concert? Yes, though I wouldn’t fly to the other side of the world, especially.
And with a couple of ABBA songs sung in Swedish, it was a very interesting place to spend my final full day in Stockholm. It was a very “Swedish” moment being at Allsang tonight.