Belfast Telegraph

Tuesday 29 July 2014

Why we still love ABBA

More than 35 years after they began, the world is still in thrall to a pop band from Sweden with very catchy tunes. Amy Ryan finds out why fans here still love them

Mamma Mia — Nryee Burt and Ewa Scott as Frida and Agnetha performing on stage
Laura Stranaghan and Heather Penrose
ABBA:Pop group

Governments come and go, sterling rises and falls and the human heart grows colder and more cynical. Thank goodness then for Abba.

Since the first bouncing strains of Waterloo won Eurovision in 1974, through the heartrending emotional mini operas of The Winner Takes it All and Knowing Me, Knowing You through to the mesmerising, hypnotic refrain of The Day Before You Came, the Swedish quartet have been a constant presence in our lives — and always for the good. So what if Thank You For The Music is a little cheesy and Does Your Mother Know? is, er, rather disturbing, it would be a strange life that didn’t have a little space for Bjorn, Benny, Anni-Frid and Agnetha. No wonder then the Ulster Hall in Belfast was packed on Saturday night when one of Europe’s top ABBA tribute bands played.

As soon as the opening bars of Voulez Vous rang out — ‘People everywhere, a sense of expectation in the air” — people took to the aisles and boogied like, well, it was 1977 all over again. The sheer number of ABBA tribute bands shows the strength of public demand for their music and the nostalgia that goes with it. The band has famously turned down offers of up to $1bn (£0.66bn) to reform, remaining adamant that they want fans to remember them in their heyday. However, in an interview with the Times last week Bjorn and Benny dropped a tantalising hint the band may yet reform.

When asked if they would consider regrouping for an intimate show that could be filmed and watched by fans across the world, Benny said: “Yeah, why not?” and Bjorn joked that they could tweak the lyrics of The Way Old Friends Do to become The Way Old Folks Do.

So, with this hint of a reunion in mind, we invited some of Saturday night’s best-dressed superfans to tell us why they think ABBA’s appeal has endured and if they should Take A Chance and reform or if they have had their Waterloo.

Lynzi Kinnear (31) and Clare McDowell (26) from Carryduff were flying the flag for the younger generation of ABBA lovers. Lynzi said: “I think ABBA appeals to all ages. My Mum loves them and I grew up with their music. But if they reformed I don’t think I would go. So many groups have jumped on that bandwagon, and then they can’t live up to how good they were first time round.”

Lynzi’s mum, Linda McKeown, disagreed. She said: “I would love it if ABBA reformed and I would go and see them over a tribute band any day. They just have such a universal appeal and their music is so much happier and cheerful than modern chart music.”

Martine O’Neill (soon to be Mulholland) was practising saying I Do I Do as she celebrated her hen night with family and friends. She said: “We all love cheesy music and we thought this would be the perfect night out for my hen party rather than just going to a bar or restaurant.

“I think ABBA appeals to all ages because their image and music is timeless but I don’t know what they would be like together now. Some bands like the Rolling Stones are still great in their sixties but an ABBA reunion might just ruin how people remember them.”

Front-rowers Laura Stranaghan (43) and Heather Penrose (43) from Carrickfergus are dedicated ABBA followers. Laura said: “I have seen tributes in the past and no matter how many times you go the music doesn’t get dated. If ABBA got back together I would love to see them — I would go anywhere in Europe and make a trip out of it.

“The fact that there are so many tribute bands shows that the interest is still there and that people are dying for the real thing!”

Laura and Heather wouldn’t be short of company. Ann McLouglin from Dunmurry said: “If I could go and see the real thing I would. I grew up with ABBA and have continued to love their music.”

Kelly Smylie (31) and Nadine Boyd (22) from Belfast were part of a 17-strong troupe who were enjoying the ultimate girls’ night out. Nadine said: “We’ve gotten into the spirit and gone all out on the costumes. A night like this is a better laugh than just going to the pub. I think if ABBA want to reform they should go for it — who knows, they might be even better this time around!”

The kaleidoscope of opinion (not to mention flares, headbands and tunics) suggests that an ABBA reunion might be great in theory but less so in practice. So, who better to ask than Frida and Agnetha themselves? (Or the next best thing – Abbamania’s leading ladies Nyree Burt and Ewa Scott.)

Ewa, a classically trained vocalist from Poland, said: “We started about 10 years ago and at first it was just another job. The only ABBA song I knew was Dancing Queen — I had to learn every song in two weeks! From then on I loved their music and our tribute show kept on growing and growing in popularity.

“The interest in ABBA has never gone away and it got a real boost with the Mamma Mia! film which exposed a younger generation to their music.

“If they reformed their popularity would definitely grow even more. I’m sure they would put on a great show but it’s just hard to know how they could live up to people’s expectations.”

While speculation remains as to whether or not ABBA can still wow their audiences nearly 40 years on, there was no such doubt as to Abbamania’s ability on Saturday night. The mood became more and more upbeat in the second half as the band performed hit after hit. The pièce de résistance had to be a very sexy rendition of Money, Money, Money as Frida and Agnetha, wearing black shiny stiletto boots, skin-tight leggings and raincoats, threw wads of Abbamania money into the crowd.

The show concluded with a medley (or should that be smorgasbord?) of ABBA’s greatest tunes. The audience swayed from side to side singing each and every word and, by the end of the two-hour extravaganza, they might have lost their voices but none of their enthusiasm.

The reluctance to let ABBA’s legacy fade is perhaps as much to do with what they represent as simply the music in its own right.

People associate them with a

certain time in their lives — be it living up the heady seventies or dancing around the living room with their mother.

Comebacks are a risky business. Second time round and Take That are arguably even more popular. Others, such as All Saints, East 17 and Bananarama, couldn’t recapture the magic.

If ABBA do take to the stage once more perhaps it should be just that — once. A one-off concert, a final goodbye if you like, might be enough to satisfy the diehard fans without compromising the golden image.

In our desperation to see Sweden’s most famous export back together we have latched on to a faint glimmer of hope provided by Benny and Björn’s quips. However, whether ABBA reunite one last time or remain in retirement millions of fans will still say Thank You For The Music.

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