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Monday, 11 April 2011

Greying Men Of ABBA Still Going Strong

by Mari Koppinen, Helsingin Sanomat

Benny & Björn in Helsinki - photo: Olle Lindberg

Life wasn’t easy for the artists in the 1970s. When the Swedish band Abba won the Eurovision Song contest in Brighton in 1974, the performers had to wear costumes that were uncomfortably tight.
“Björn couldn’t sit on the bus with the overall that he was wearing”, laughs Benny Andersson at the plight of his friend Björn Ulvaeus.
He forgets to mention that he would never have managed to get into Björn’s costume himself.
So here they are, these Nordic superstars, known simply as Benny and Björn. Both are easy-going and cheerful, with a good sense of humour.
Both could be any one of us – unless we consider that few of us have had to wear full-body lurex.
It is Monday, and the men are in Finland with director Lars Rudolfsson. They are here to work on and market their musical Kristina från Duvemåla, which has its premiere at Helsinki’s Swedish Theatre in less than a year.
Tickets are now on sale.
When the trio joined the project, at the suggestion of theatre director Johan Storgård, they joined in with full vigour.
Last autumn they spent three weeks in Finland listening to nearly 700 singing actors in Finland. When rehearsals begin in Helsinki in November, the trio will move to Helsinki.
The men would not need to do this, as they are massively wealthy – but they want to. “Because this is fun”, says Ulvaeus, who is 65 years old.
They also want to make the effort because the musical is their “baby”.
“We are very proud of this. We don’t want to give this musical to anyone else, or to tell someone that they can do what they like with it”, says Benny, 64.
Abba’s career spanned just ten years, and later the two very active men have been involved with any number of projects.
They have come up with three musicals, all of which are projects spanning several years.
They have also had other business activities. Benny has racehorses in Sweden and Britain, as well as his own hotel in Stockholm, loosely themed after Abba.
Then there is folk music.
Back in 1987 Andersson was among the founders of the Orsa Spälman group, and today he has a 16-member Benny Andersson Orchestra.
“Five violinists, a tuba, two singers, myself, and Lars on the accordion, and Björn writes for us”, Andersson says with enthusiasm.
He also looks enthusiastic in the numerous YouTube videos where he plays music ranging from Bach to Swedish folk music and dance music. “We have eight gigs in the summer. We will bring a dance floor with us to let people dance to the music.”
They also have time for their beloved grandchildren. Benny has six of them and Björn has four, and a fifth one is on the way.
The grandchildren may be the reason why the Abba grandfathers have kept their feet firmly on the ground.
Benny tells about three-year-old Viola who, like many other children, loves the musical Mamma Mia! more than anything else.
“Her father tried to explain that the music from the movie was from Abba, which her father used to be a part of. Viola did not understand it at all. For her we are Mamma Mia men.”
Although next year will mark the 40th anniversary of the first Abba single, the group follows Benny and Björn wherever they go.
They are not bothered by this.
“You have to be proud and humble. Our music is still being played, even though it happened 35 to 40 years ago. It’s a miracle”, Björn says.
Amazingly enough there has also been a renaissance in the colourful overalls, shoes, and other paraphernalia of the 1970s.
Now they can be admired at exhibitions in Sydney and Stockholm.
But do the Abba men ever wear these clothes themselves for the benefit of the people at home? “Not very often”, Benny jokes.
“Well, I tried on one suit”, Björn unexpectedly discloses. And he adds: “It still fitted. However, I didn’t look quite the same any more.”

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