ABBA Weekend 2023: Stockholm with Museum's tenth anniversary
Here is a report by Lars Stenmark from Sweden.
As a Swede, I was thrilled to read that the Fan Club was returning to Stockholm for its Annual ABBA Day, which coincided with ABBA The Museum’s tenth anniversary week, and it was especially heart-warming to be able to welcome friends and fellow fans to Stockholm.
Unfortunately, I was not available the last time it was in Stockholm in 2018, so I made the most of everything this year. I had especially been looking forward to meeting friends and making new ones, and I was excited by the programme of events the Fan Club had arranged.
It is truly a fantastic experience to be connected, through various digital and live platforms with so many like-minded ABBA fans from all over the world. When you share a common interest and a love for a group such as ABBA, you feel like you know each other, even if you have never actually met in person. That is the experience I had with so many of you who visited Stockholm and made this weekend such a successful and memorable one.
On May 4th a few of us started with a guided walking tour following in the footsteps of ABBA round Royal Djurgården. The tours, exclusively for Fan Club members, were held over two days. ABBA seemed to have a special preference for this part of Stockholm during their career. It makes the area particularly interesting to any ABBA fan. There are a lot of ABBA landmarks to discover. A few of their most iconic pictures used for publications as well as album covers were taken there. A few scenes from ABBA The Movie were also shot at various less well-known spots around the island.
The ABBA Quiz night was held the evening of May 4th at a night club in the centre of Stockholm. The quiz consisted of thirty challenging questions, even for the most knowledgeable of fans. Bernard Deman from Belgium won with a score of 29. There were three people in joint second place with 28 points, David Legrand from Belgium, Ellen Harreveld from The Netherlands and Marc Handke from Germany. Prizes included singles from Voyage, signed by all four members and other signed merchandise. The quiz was followed by a disco with an excellent mix of ABBA songs selected and played by Jason Swan.
A guided visit of the Kronberg Studio at the open-air museum, Skansen, a couple of minutes’ walk from ABBA The Museum on Djurgården, was another highlight of the weekend. This modest building was once the studio of the 19th century painter Julius Kronberg and has achieved a kind of cult status amongst ABBA fans ever since it was used for The Visitors album cover photo shoot. More international ABBA fans know of this studio than the average Stockholmer, let alone Swedes in general.
I could sense the gloomy mood and subdued colours of the paintings and decorations, as well as the untouched, historical interiors creating a very unique atmosphere. Altogether, they make the studio an ideal setting to create a mood of distance, silence and separation, which supposedly was the purpose of the picture. An ambience ABBA aimed for and achieved with great success.
Fans were given the opportunity to stage the scene and recreate the photograph on the album cover, but not to move any items around. Nevertheless, the fans’ own creativity alone proved good enough to catch the right moment in the same poses as their idols once stood or sat.
There was also a lovely picnic at Skansen on Saturday, May 6th. We enjoyed being together in the sunshine and some live music and Swedish folk dancing.
The weekend’s main event was of course the ABBA Day itself with the party, which took place at ABBA The Museum on Friday, May 5th. The day started with a short message from Helga van de Kar who extended a warm welcome to fans from around the world who had gathered to enjoy this memorable occasion. Helga also gave the exclusive digital present to Ingmarie Halling, ABBA The Museum’s creative director and main curator; namely the digital photobook which we (the fans) all gave to the museum. You can have a look yourself online. (L)
Ingmarie greeted everyone on behalf of the museum with an interesting and amusing speech relating anecdotes and shared fun moments, which occurred backstage during ABBA’s tours (in those days she was ABBA’s head stylist and wardrobe supervisor). My personal favourite was when Frida broke a sink in the dressing room prior to one of the concerts at Wembley Arena in 1979. She was about to go on stage but needed the loo, and it was too late to look for one. The only solution was a nearby sink, which she sat on. Well, we all know what happened next.
Ingmarie also mentioned the presence of a very special, long-term ABBA fan, Brian Harrifield from Canada. Brian is probably the most frequent ABBA concert-goer ever in the world, on the same tour at least. He went on his own fan tour and followed ABBA for all of their 18 consecutive concerts in North America in 1979. It must be some kind of unofficial world record.
Brian received a special mention for his donations of unique personal ABBA memorabilia to the museum, which had recently been displayed as part of its collection. A few items were even exclusively designed for him. Perhaps the most unique item in his collection is an exclusive gift from Frida. At one of the concerts, she saw his familiar face at the front of the crowd, which she recognised from previous concerts, so she put two and two together and threw her towel towards Brian. He caught it in the air, and he has kept it ever since. I doubt it has ever been washed either! Next time you visit the museum you can have a look at it yourself, together with many more unique items from Brian’s impressive collection.
Prior to and between the speakers, the ABBA The Museum Choir showed their professionalism entertaining the guests by performing a few ABBA numbers from their extensive repertoire. The choir has achieved international success and appreciation, while touring the world to put ABBA The Museum and Stockholm on the map for both music lovers and future visitors.
Also new at the museum is the Wall of Fans which contains a short text about the Official ABBA Fan Club and an on-screen photo slide of various photos taken on ABBA Days over the years in Roosendaal and Stockholm. A lot of fans were happy to see themselves in the photos.
The night continued with karaoke. Singers chose their own songs from a selection of ABBA’s new lyric videos. I was really impressed by the enthusiasm and talent many fans showed while performing.
As a singer myself, I know there’s nothing better than singing an ABBA song. It does wonders to your wellbeing. It triggers a million endorphins and sends a warm sensation of joy and happiness through your body and mind.
As guests arrived, each one was offered a welcome drink and a welcome kit, in the form of a guest badge to wear around your neck. Included were tickets for the buffet and drinks. I was overwhelmed by the warm, welcoming atmosphere, which both guests and the staff at the museum showed all night.
During the course of the evening, fans were able to view the Museum's brand-new exhibition, further details of which can be found below.
As the evening went on, a few unexpected guests ‘crashed’ the party: Svana Gisla and Ludvig Andersson, the two producers of the Voyage show in London, together with its artistic director Baillie Walsh. They were in town and decided to pop in to greet the fans, much to the delight of all of us.
Another familiar face who has played a major role with ABBA, Görel Hanser, also made a much-appreciated appearance. Görel started out as Stikkan Andersson’s secretary and later became ABBA’s manager. Ingmarie Halling mingled and posed patiently for selfies and a friendly chat with as many fans as she could. So did another special person, Owe Sandström, ABBA’s chief costume designer, who played a crucial role in creating ABBA’s unique image and unforgettable looks over the years. He created some of the most extraordinary and spectacular stage outfits in the history of pop. Almost all of the classics and most famous ones are on display at ABBA The Museum.
Finally, I have to mention what a pleasure it was to be part of the joy and party spirit of every person who stayed late and enjoyed themselves on the dance floor. Nowhere else can you experience the massive source of energy that comes from an entire dance floor filled with the world’s biggest ABBA fans. All, I really mean all of us, were singing the lyrics by heart to each and every ABBA song at the top of our lungs for hours. That can only happen amongst friends at the most special event of the year to any true ABBA fan: The Official Fan Club’s Annual ABBA Weekend.
As I was walking home that night after the party and the music had faded in my ears, I caught myself with a big smile on my face. I can tell you, it has not disappeared yet. That is the effect ABBA have on all their fans.
The highlight of Friday’s ABBA Day for many was the World Premiere of ABBA The Museum’s new temporary exhibition ABBA Voyage, to which three hundred Fan Club members had an exclusive preview. On 6th May the Museum’s anniversary party guests had their preview before the formal public opening on 7th May, the actual tenth anniversary. All the Friday guests were provided with a timeslot of 30 minutes in which to view the exhibition, which broke down the numbers viewing it at any one time into manageable group sizes.
The exhibition focuses on the ABBA Voyage project, from hints by Björn and Benny leading up to the 2018 press release revealing two new ABBA songs had been recorded, to the gala premiere of ABBA Voyage at the ABBA Arena in London on May 26th, 2022.
The Exhibition covers the technical aspects of creating such an advanced, ambitious and high-tech project; the architectural details of the arena including a scale model; the gold record marking the sale of 2,500,000 copies of Voyage; new videos; and original designs, patterns and drawings of the stage costumes.
There is previously unreleased video footage of Björn and Benny edited by Lauren Aadland, as well as clips we have seen of ABBA working together in the studio and performing the show’s setlist, and Benny hailing a cab in London to take them all to the gala premiere.
The exhibition covers the entire process: the music (the recording sessions, album, songs) and the five weeks in the motion capture suits with Industrial Light & Magic.
For me the exhibition’s main attraction is the stage costumes worn by the ABBAtars in the show. Swedish stylist and costume designer Bea Åkerlund had the brief to develop a common theme capturing the eye-catching imagery and essence of ABBA’s early looks while transferring that into a contemporary look – a very challenging mission. I can only say that she exceeded my expectations.
All costumes are beautifully displayed behind velvet ropes with spectacular lighting, enhancing the colours, materials, design details and unique forms of the costumes. All costumes worn by the ABBAtars can be seen in the exhibition except the black neon outfits and the phoenix costumes. The latter are currently on display in Liverpool as part of the British Music Experience’s celebration of the Eurovision Song Contest but hopefully will be moved to ABBA The Museum later.
Bea Åkerlund herself designed these phoenix costumes, infusing the ‘animal’ theme of classic ABBA costumes with a contemporary feel and representing the group’s return. They are designed in the shape of meticulously embroidered, crystal-filled, sparkling bird-like capes and make an extravagant impression on stage, as they feature in the show’s opening number The Visitors.
The Dolce and Gabbana designed costumes show the men in a baroque waistcoat and jacket with golden paisley pattern and trousers – extravagant Italian chic. Agnetha’s ABBAtar wears a long dress, which is almost angel-like and of a tulle-like texture, perhaps reflecting her more reserved nature and minimalistic expression, while Frida wears a fierce, tight catsuit which looks like it was exclusively made in a material of golden sequins, radiating style and sex appeal. It also reflects her more extrovert personality and the expressive intensity she used to show when on-stage. The designer has thus tried to capture the womens’ different personalities and ways of artistic expression.
The velvet jumpsuits worn during Mamma Mia are one of my favourites. They have a slick 70s retro-style, which works very well for the 21st Century – a fantastic combination of elegance as well as casual party gear.
The final set of costumes are the metallic sequin outfits created by American wardrobe designer Michael Schmidt and worn by the ABBAtars the very first time they were shown to the public and in subsequent promo video clips. These have miniskirts and matching tops for ladies and similar tops together with black trousers for men. The first time I recall seeing them was at the press conference when the Voyage project was announced.
Photos of the weekend can be found here.