International ABBA Weekend
The International Fan Gathering
"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 all the telephones there and speak randomly to people visiting the exhibition, she replied instantly that she would love to do that, too.
That and the bit about Benny playing the piano remotely is interesting for two reasons. First, it is an indication the new museum will have some wonderful attributes, thanks to new technology. Second, it is a sign that all members of ABBA seem to be fully behind this. Even though Agnetha has said she will not be around for the opening (due to conflicting publicity commitments in the U.K), 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, what she went through when trying to find out the real story about the transformation of the famous white piano from its previous brown colouring which featured in the archipelago room of ABBAWORLD. "Oh, I can't remember. There were so many pianos," Frida reportedly told her with a laugh. Indeed, all four members of ABBA have recorded parts of the audio commentary to accompany the tour.
I visited 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) while in Sydney it was very much about the story of ABBA in Australia. I did not get a real sense of how the exhibition was going to be developed further but, in true Ingmarie style, the project was going to evolve…
Having spent several years of her life working on this project (and before that many years working with ABBA when they were an active group), you might think Ingmarie was a little bored with the project. However, she spoke with such passion that it was evident that this was not 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 her ideas. "When you visit the exhibition, you'll be 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 had been writing a book that would 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 Björn and Benny were asked individually to describe the other. Björn 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 films, 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 had hoped we were going to get to hear the album in full. Unfortunately, we will all have to wait for a few more weeks.
For many years, I wanted to attend the International ABBA Day. Distance (coming from Australia) was a significant reason why I had not, even though I knew many Australians had made the trek previously. One of the main reasons I wanted to attend was to meet some of the people I had known about for years and had corresponded with previously. Like many people though, I am a little shy. When I wrote this in a blog post to ABBA Village, the following day I had a lot of people come up to me, concerned, and asking if I was okay. A couple of others told me they felt the same, and they were pleased I had 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 is important to make contact with people ahead of the event so you have some people you can feel comfortable with. I do not mean that in any kind of mercenary way, it is just a recognition that some people feel more comfortable in smaller groups than larger ones, 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 my involvement in the quiz held on the first night, put together by the wonderful Gary Collins. "We should have hung out with you," I joked with 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 upon arrival. On the ‘main day’ of the event, there was another quiz where the main prizes included an Agnetha promo single and a notebook signed by all four members. The winner was a guy called Erik Liebstaedter who obviously had known the answer to the question which had stumped many (including myself) about which release had featured the first ‘reversed 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 behind the bar 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.