Report International ABBA Day - 18 April 2015
By Ron Miskoff
The International ABBA Weekend is a celebration of the greatest group in history, but it is also a reunion of fans who have decided to meet in what has become Ground Zero of ABBA fandom. The weekend features music, videos, dancing, discussions and memorabilia, but most important is the camaraderie of fans.
The 2015 edition was especially enjoyable, both for newbie fans as well as those who remember seeing ABBA when they performed at the Dome in Brighton for the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. The weekend featured several key people in ABBA's history, as well as a collection of fans who are drawn to Roosendaal year after year.
The ABBA Weekend began on Friday night at the de Moriaan, known for its "eten and drinken", a lovely bistro that unites ABBA fans with local residents in an aggregation of food, drink, dance and, of course, ABBA music. Walking from my hotel, I began to hear the harmonies of Super Trouper. At first, I imagined that they had placed speakers outside but, upon rounding the corner of the building, I saw that a local troupe of perhaps 20 singers with musical instruments had taken to the stage in front of de Moriaan and were singing one ABBA song after another.
Aside from the fans who had shown up for the evening's fun, perhaps 200 local townsfolk had gathered to listen as well. The local choir's singing was crystal clear and, though not identical to ABBA's, was enjoyable and inspiring. After they had finished, it seemed like everyone in the square - fans, townspeople, choir singers and bar regulars - rushed into the pub in a frenzy of solidarity. It was wonderful.
In no time, the pub was jammed so tight with people, it was hard to differentiate between the regular fans and the Dutch locals who had come out to hear the choir and then enjoy a tall one. Still, Helga, Anita, and Ursula made a valiant attempt to conduct the rather difficult ABBA quiz - and eventually succeeded. Some of the fans stayed quite late, finding their way back to their hotels in the wee hours.
The next day, was the official ABBA Day at the dance school Rottier, with an all-day second hand and memorabilia market, where fans can buy CDs, videos and trinkets of every sort, including welcome mats, costumes, autographed pictures and newspaper and magazine clippings. In the centre of the hall were chairs (a good resting place for tired feet after picking through the many items for sale), facing a screen where ABBA videos including ABBA's background, their bios and the latest clips played. Some were a little offbeat, some rare, and all the time there was the great music…
On stage: Mattias
There first guest on stage this year was Mattias Hansson, the CEO of ABBA the Museum in Stockholm. It was fascinating to hear him talk about ABBA as a "brand", a current term that seems to equate more with selling cars and soap than the very personable four members of ABBA. However, he did say later that he is an ABBA fan and does not see the group as a commodity.
The goal of the museum, he told the audience, was to show ABBA as "ordinary people". Their outlandish costumes were just for show, he said. He mentioned his goal in setting up the museum - which he said happened in a lot less time than he would have preferred - was to capture the "soul" of the "real ABBA." I do not think he meant to portray the members of ABBA as museum pieces, but a large portion of ABBA's history is already told, and the job of the museum was to collect it and show that history, he stated.
Mattias said he hoped that the displays and collections of material in the museum would still be appreciated "300 years from now". He mentioned the ABBA members became celebrities in Sweden first and then became a "super group" to the rest of the world. "There is no ‘brand book' about ABBA," he said. The way ABBA were supposed to be seen by the world was simply something that was in Björn and Benny's head; their three key principles were "heart, humanity, and quality". That described their music as well, Mattias said.
As for "heart", people said that the four ABBA members were kind. One engineer compared ABBA to Led Zepplin, which he said were like "day and night". ABBA, he said, had a lot of heart. As for humor, Björn told Mattias, "We always laughed in the studio." As for "quality," Mattias said B&B always took extra time in the studio to make the "highest quality pop songs".
Mattias also mentioned that the museum allows, even encourages, people to have their weddings in the museum.
Helga, Anita and Lennart
On stage: Lennart
The second guest was Lennart Östlund, a Polar Studios sound technician, who worked with ABBA around 1978. When ABBA began recording, they immediately realized that they needed to have their own studio, Lennart said. That is why they built a ‘super studio' in Stockholm. "If we get the best studio to work with, we will create big hits," he said B&B reasoned. In the Polar Studio, no walls were parallel to each other to avoid undue echoing, and the control room was in the centre. He showed a picture of the control room under construction, which seemed to fascinate the crowd.
In The Arms Of Rosalita/Chiquitita was the first song ABBA recorded in the Polar Studio, Lennart said. He explained how he laid down tracks for the group as they recorded. In those days, he said, they mixed 24 tracks (nowadays it is more like 300 tracks on pop songs). Lennart was proud that he engineered Super Trouper and played tambourine on On And On And On. He called Benny "the number one musician" of all the musicians he had worked with and added that "Björn is also great."
The third guest, Govert de Roos, unfortunately had fallen ill but managed to send some of his photographic work. He was the photographer for some of ABBA's promotional items in the 1970s and 1980s. His work was impeccable, with excellent clarity and intense detail. It appeared to be shot on medium format film, an excellent selection for that era.
The disco started at 7 p.m. with a special presentation of an ABBA video that pulled together hundreds, if not thousands, of instantaneous clips from every time period in their history. It was fascinating. Then, the disco floor was open for dancing. Almost all the music was by ABBA or the individual members. Even though 2015 was not a special round-up year, there was the usual number of dancers on the floor, and many talked about next year, when the club celebrates its 30th anniversary.
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The dancing continued until 11 p.m. when the disc jockey played The Way Old Friends Do, during which everyone held hands and danced together in a circle. In a sense, it is a song of solidarity for people who believe that ABBA is a special force, not just an ordinary pop group. Once the disco was over, people continued hugging and crying over having to split up for another year. Some drove off into the night, while others waited for taxis to take them back to the pub or their hotels so they could leave in the morning.
The most enjoyable part of attending the ABBA Weekend, of course, cannot be described in a series of events; for me, it was meeting friends I had not seen in a while since I had missed the last two events because of work commitments. Personally, I just cannot wait to return next year for the 30th anniversary weekend to, once again, celebrate the greatest pop group the world has ever known.