|Molly Meldrum With ABBA In Sweden|
ABBA Mania Down Under: bomb scares, a coup for the blues and the $800 school lunchbox
by Neil McMahon
There are countless memorable, magic and mad ABBA moments from a wild run of Australian success that peaked with nationwide mania during their 1977 concert tour.
From the up-close encounters of Molly Meldrum to the lucrative passion for ABBA memorabilia, here is a collection of ABBA memories shared with Fairfax Media to mark the 40th anniversary of the tour that stopped the nation.
Keys to the city
Melbourne Town Hall - where ABBA appeared on the balcony as The Beatles had done in 1964 - is still home to a piano played by members of both bands.
"People all around the world know what Melbourne Town Hall looks like thanks to widespread vision of The Beatles waving from the balcony in 1964 and ABBA on the same balcony in 1977," says Lord Mayor Robert Doyle. "Iconic moments for both super groups and our town hall."
During one of their Perth shows, ABBA were forced to flee the stage after a bomb threat. Tour manager Michael Chugg approached pianist Benny Andersson mid-song.
"I said, 'Excuse me, but there's a bomb scare, you need to leave the stage'. He looked at me, they finished the song and they left the stage. I got on the microphone, we emptied the hall out, nice and orderly. And then of course the copper comes up and says, 'There's no bomb, you can bring them all back and finish the show'."
Money, money, money
Australian producer Reg Grundy owned exclusive rights to ABBA merchandise, creating a worldwide collectors market that can be lucrative for anyone who held on to that ABBA schoolbag or lunchbox.
Says Australian fan and keen collector Roxanne Dickson: "It depends on condition and what colour it is because certain colours are more rare … but they can range from $250 to $800 per lunch box."
During their Melbourne visit, Carlton Football Club pulled off one of the great PR coups thanks to club GM Keith McKenzie.
"When we knew they were about to land at Tullamarine I told our marketing bloke Michael Whitewood, 'Grab a couple of guernseys, get up to the airport and take them out to ABBA'", McKenzie says.
ABBA singers Agnetha and Frida even wore the jumpers years later in a film clip.
Martial arts expert Richard Norton was hired as a tour bodyguard - but ended up the band's personal trainer as well.
"I suggested to Anna and Frida that maybe they would want to do a little workout .. and it snowballed from there. They ended up working out just about every day at their hotel. We'd either be down by the swimming pool or on a beach. They thoroughly enjoyed the whole idea of that."
A long way to the top
Where Ian "Molly" Meldrum flew to Sweden tor ABBA's Australian tour announcement in 1976, he found an Australian band on the rise were busy conquering Sweden.
"ABBA were just wonderful to me," says Meldrum. "Really, really lovely. During the day they'd be showing me around shops and that sort of thing and I was amazed because in a lot of the record shops were posters of AC/DC."
Lasse Hallstrom, creator of the band's famous film clips and later an Oscar nominated director, shot ABBA: The Movie during the 1977 Australian tour - but many scenes passed off as Australia in the film were shot in Sweden because during the tour there was no proper script.
"We made it up as we went along," says future Neighbours star Tom Oliver, who played their bodyguard. "It wasn't till we went to Stockholm that he put some semblance of a script together."
Stop the presses
When the album Arrival was released four months before the 1977 tour, record company RCA went to extraordinary lengths to meet massive demand for a band that had sold nearly 3 million records in Australia in a year.
"Every record plant in Australia was pressing Arrival - never happened in history - so it could be dropped simultaneously in all the stores," says then RCA publicist Annie Wright.
Australia is home to one of the world's only ABBA choirs, the Canberra-based Andante Andante choir who once sang for the King and Queen of Sweden.
ABBA keeps other performers busy too: the stage show Mamma Mia is being revived for a national tour starting in November, and a star of the original Australian production, stage legend Rhonda Burchmore, has her own ABBA-themed show in the works.
And the NSW town of Trundle is holding its annual ABBA festival in May.
Thank you for the music
After Priscilla, Queen of the Desert helped spark an ABBA revival in the 1990s, director Stephan Elliott received belated thanks.
"One day this box arrived in the post and it was the full collection of everything they ever recorded. It was signed by all four of them and somebody had written, 'Dear Stephan - Thank you for the money'."