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ABBA Weekend 2022: The Return To Roosendaal

Here is a report by Shanika Ranasinghe from the United Kingdom

After being kept apart by the pandemic for more than three years, it was a joy to reunite in Roosendaal, ‘the way old friends do’. The weekend started at De Moriaan pub on the evening of Friday 30th September, with fans informally gathering from 8pm to have drinks and to catch up with friends old and new. As usual, there was a wonderful playlist for people to sing and dance to, expertly put together by Jason Swan. This included eight songs from the Voyage album, as well as some tracks from Pippi På Cirkus. Around 9pm was a quiz with thirty questions about Voyage (the album and show), written by Gary Collins and hosted by himself and Anita Notenboom. Dutch fan Gerard Hesen took first place in the quiz, with a score of 28 points. His prize was an ABBA Voyage concert programme booklet, signed by all four ABBA members.

The main ABBA Day took place at Rottier Dance Studio in Roosendaal, on Saturday 1st October, from 11am onwards. The welcome gift was a keyring with a photo of the four ABBA members, taken from the Super Trouper album photoshoots. After introductions from Helga and Anita, Anders Eljas – conductor and orchestrator of Chess and Kristina Från Duvemala, who was due to be the special guest at the 2020 Fan Club weekend – gave a video message to say hello to Fan Club members. This was followed by a video greeting from Benny and Björn. Benny played a line of Dancing Queen on the piano, before Björn commented how remarkable it is that the Fan Club keeps on holding these annual meetings. Benny encouraged us to have fun, saying “don’t behave yourselves!” before ending the video by playing the chorus from Thank You For The Music on his piano.

The theme of the ABBA Day was us fans: all the guests speaking on the stage were fans with interesting stories to tell about meeting/seeing ABBA, travelling to ABBA locations or writing about ABBA. Christine Colla told her story of accidentally ending up in ABBA’s hotel in London during the ABBA Voyage premiere; she shared photos and video footage she had taken herself of the four ABBA members leaving their hotel on 26th May 2022. Next, Stany Van Wymeersch on how ABBA influenced him to start writing books about them. We heard about how he has met all the ABBA members – even getting to kiss Frida on the cheek – and his experience of interviewing other famous musicians, e.g. Kim Wilde, about ABBA for his books. Stany also showed us a video message from Lena Andersson – one of the 1977 tour backing singers – and two videos showing people he had interviewed for The Legacy of ABBA, including photographer Anders Hanser. There was also a presentation by Franklin van Liempt, who had organised the crowdfunding campaign for the deluxe CD/DVD reissue of the Herinnering album by Dutch singers Bonnie and José, who had recorded covers of some ABBA songs. Franklin was delighted to bring José onto the stage briefly to say hello to fans herself. She then sat signing CDs/DVDs and taking photos with fans.

In the second half of the ‘Fans Speak’ presentations, we heard from Stephan Verhees, who has been a big Agnetha fan for 44 years and is currently in the process of putting together a book with all the Agnetha newspaper article clippings he has gathered over the years. Then Bart, a Belgian fan, told us about his experience of attending the ABBA concert in Antwerp (Deurne) on 5th February 1977. Due to the technology of the time, his photos were square (though he was recently able to have them remastered to rectangular photos) and he could only take a limited number of pictures. It was fascinating to hear his story and see how close he had got to the stage. Next, French singer Philippe Elan had a Q&A session with Helga, where he told us about his various meetings with Frida over many years. Philippe spoke engagingly about how warm and considerate Frida has always been towards him. She loves his singing and it was particularly moving to hear how, on the day his grandfather died, he received a letter from Frida (he had sent his album Toujours [Always] to her, as it was inspired by her Djupa Andetag album). Finally, we heard from Frank and Sandra: two pen-pals who met in person for the first time several years ago in Roosendaal. They shared how their love of ABBA inspired them to visit Verum (where Agnetha and Björn married) and Marstrand (where ABBA filmed the video for The Winner Takes It All).

There was, of course, a short quiz with three questions that fans could answer, to win more signed ABBA prizes. Successful entries were separated and put into a bucket with names drawn out by audience members at random. Prizes included a further ABBA Voyage concert programme booklet signed by all four ABBA members, as well as a Voyage poster similarly signed. The exhibition at Roosendaal was based on the 1980 Super Trouper album (which the Fan Club were due to celebrate in 2020), with beautiful unseen photographs from the album cover photoshoot. A highlight was Frida’s Super Trouper video dress, which was displayed on a mannequin. There was also a small selection of ABBA Voyage artefacts on show.

The disco was a huge success, with fans gathering early to watch a montage video whilst I Still Have Faith In You played. This was, of course, our first opportunity to dance as a Fan Club to songs from the new album, and many were played; Don’t Shut Me Down was a particularly special moment on the dancefloor. As is traditional, after some very moving closing speeches and applause for Helga and Anita, the disco ended with The Way Old Friends Do. Afterwards, several fans went from the disco to the Chagall bar in town and enjoyed a few hours there. The next day, many of us met up at Roosendaal’s new cinema (just by De Moriaan), where we enjoyed watching ABBA: The Movie together on a big screen. At the end of the film, many fans stood and sang along to Thank You For The Music which was very moving to witness.

Overall, there were almost four hundred fans in attendance, so the weekend was a great success. It was so special to be together to remember lost friends and celebrate the new album and Voyage show. While we do not yet know when or where the next Fan Weekend will be, we can only hope that circumstances never keep us apart again for so long.

Photos of the weekend can be found here.