There’s a certain quality to the music of ABBA that has sustained a loyal fan base long after they disbanded in January 1983. There’s a lot of information in ABBA: Super Troupers – The Exhibition, which people like me found rather fascinating. An example – the United Kingdom, although its radio stations give airtime to ABBA’s songs to this day, and the jukebox musical Mamma Mia! continues to be a commercial success in the West End after twenty years, awarded Sweden ‘nul points’ for its entry to the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, ‘Waterloo’.
On the other hand, this is the sort of detail that ABBA’s most ardent fans will know like they know their own names (and the names of every track on every album ABBA ever released). I suspect they’ll still enjoy the exhibition, though, which does very well to use a variety of techniques to present information – this is very far removed indeed from visiting a gallery and looking at wall after wall of static images.
The audio guide alone has a decent amount of multimedia on it, though I didn’t even attempt to plough through all of it, not least because all of the songs from ABBA’s eight studio albums are available to listen to. Each album is given its own ‘room’, and each has a distinct identity – some are quiet whilst one or two others are so loud that I found myself cranking the volume right up on the audio guide just to hear what was being said. In one room, banks of telephones are set up, with visitors invited to pick up as many or as few as they wish and listen in on a variety of songs, interviews and news reports from the era. In another is a dancefloor where those who are inclined to do so can quite literally be a ‘dancing queen’. Another has a seating area where a performance of ‘Waterloo’ is shown on a large screen. And so on, and so forth.
This isn’t the first time an exhibition of this nature and magnitude has been done. ABBAWorld came to the now demolished Earls Court Exhibition Centre in 2010, and that exhibition also had a replica of the helicopter used on the cover of the album ‘Arrival’ (1976) as well as numerous costumes of the kind that were worn by the band on stage and in their music videos. But that was then, and this is now, and there’s more than enough material here that will appeal in some way to visitors. I was impressed by the actual well-worn suitcase of ABBA’s doctor, a Dr Olsson, who travelled with them on tours and loved doing so because it was so different from being what we in Britain would call a GP. Others may be more fascinated by the costume design or may find great pleasure in reliving some of ABBA’s finest moments on various screens dotted throughout the exhibition.
Not every song one hears is from the ABBA back catalogue, because the exhibition attempts to put the band’s success in the context of the social and political climate of the time. It is not exactly unbiased, and it comes across as though the 1970s were so relentlessly gloomy and depressing that ABBA’s music proved so popular because it was pure escapism. But this was not universally so – the melancholy in ‘The Winner Takes It All’ being a case in point. These are, ultimately, relatively minor quibbles in what is, essentially, a pleasurable and educational experience.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Entertainment Exhibitions International (UK) Ltd (EEI), in association with ABBA The Museum in Stockholm, are delighted to announce ABBA: Super Troupers The Exhibition in a 14,000 square foot space within London’s home of music, The O2. Running from 6th December 2019 to 31st August 2020, the immersive exhibition brings to life the world of chart-topping Swedish pop sensation ABBA (Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid (“Frida”) Lyngstad) in a visitor experience that charts their music, lyrics, creative process and influence as one of the most iconic pop bands of the modern age.
The exhibition has been conceptualised and curated by Jude Kelly CBE, former artistic director at The Southbank Centre, and approved by ABBA.
ABBA burst onto the UK music scene with a dazzling win on 6 th April 1974 at the Eurovision Song Contest at the Brighton Dome, introducing the irresistible song that would become their first UK chart-topper, “Waterloo”. ABBA: Super Troupers The Exhibition examines ABBA’s rise to global superstardom through a series of atmospheric rooms, exploring each of ABBA’s 8 multi-million selling albums, alongside the band’s personal and public journey.
Throughout, a specially created audio guide (included in the price of admission) will give context to the developments of the decade, highlighting the global news events and musical soundtrack that defined the era. The experience will contain objects from ABBA The Museum and other archives, some of which have not previously been on display in the UK.
Transforming the traditional exhibition experience, this deeply unique take on the ABBA story takes visitors to the heart of the journey of each band member. Incorporating lyrics, costumes, instruments, experiential backdrops of the key events and locations that defined and shaped the band, album artwork, photography, film and more, ABBA: Super Troupers The Exhibition examines the band’s universal popularity. From their multi-layered sound to their iconic look, the exhibition goes behind-the-scenes to examine the heavy-weight influence of one of the most enduring acts of all time.
ABBA FACT FILE
- ABBA is also the name of a Swedish fish-canner company called Abba. The group were given permission to use the name by the company on the understanding that they “didn’t do anything that reflected badly on their fish industry.” (Björn Ulvæus to Peter Paphides, Guardian, June 2002)
- SOS by ABBA is the only palindromic hit by a palindromic artist.
- The first television broadcast by ABBA was in December 1970 with the song California Here I Come on the Swedish quiz show Vi I femman – they were known as Bjorn & Benny, Agnetha & Anni-Frid
- At the Grand Hotel on the eve of Eurovision, quite by accident, ABBA discovered that the organisers had booked them into the Napoleon suite. They took it as a good omen.
- Least glamorous fact – in 1979, ABBA fronted a poster for British Rail and Keep Britain Tidy
- In 1973, ABBA competed in Melodifestivalen (the Swedish qualifying competition for the Eurovision Song contest) with “Ring Ring” but only came third.
- When ABBA won Eurovision in Brighton with Waterloo, the UK gave them ‘nul points’.
- 3.5 million people applied for tickets to their 1977 London tour dates.
- Lasse Hallström, who directed ABBA: The Movie and most of the band’s videos was nominated for Oscars for his direction on My Life as a Dog and The Cider House Rules. He also directed What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and Chocolat.
- ABBA scored their first number one album in the US in 2008. It was the film soundtrack to Mamma Mia.
- By the age of 19 Agnetha was already one of the most popular singer in Sweden.
- ABBA Gold is one of the best-selling albums of all time in the UK, outselling Sgt Pepper’s. Lonely Hearts Club Band and second only to Queen’s Greatest Hits
- ‘Dancing Queen’ was played at the wedding of Sweden’s Queen Silvia – ABBA performed the song after the ceremony for her in lavish period costume.
- For the Sex Pistols’ 20th anniversary shows, John Lydon (an ABBA fan since early Seventies) wanted to walk onstage to ‘Dancing Queen’ in a bid to highlight how bad music was before punk – but, despite Lydon’s intentions, the crowd roared their approval and started dancing as soon as the ABBA hit kicked in.
- Agnetha Faltskog wrote her first song at the age of five: ‘Två små troll’ (‘Two Small Trolls’)
- Bjorn released his first solo single in April 1968. It was called ‘Raring’ (Darling)
- Before taking on the name ABBA, the foursome called themselves ‘Festfolket’, (which means both ‘party people’ and ‘engaged people’) to do a show in Gothenburg at the Restaurant Trägårn
- Their first hit, ‘People Need Love’, was released in 1972.
- When ABBA’s erstwhile manager and mentor Stig Andersson died of a heart attack in 1997, his funeral was broadcast on Swedish national TV, an honour usually reserved for royalty.
- Already a household name, Agnetha played Mary Magdalene in the 1971 Swedish production of Jesus Christ Superstar.
- Björn’s first group was the folk-inspired West Bay Singers, later to become the Hootenanny Singers, who enjoyed success live and in the charts thanks to his exemplary songwriting. He still took an introductory course in law, when he wasn’t on the road and wasn’t convinced, he could make a living from music, but never finished it.
- Benny, meanwhile, found considerable success pre-ABBA with wild rock ‘n’ roll group the Hep Stars – by far the most popular group in Sixties Sweden.
- Benny and Björn started writing together in 1966, providing material for other artists and also recording as a duo.
- Anni-Frid made her first stage debut at the age of ten at a gala organized by the Red Cross. She wore Norwegian traditional dress and sang a song entitled ‘I Believe I was Fourteen Years Old’.
- One of Bjorn’s principal influence was the British skiffle group from the Fifties called The Vipers Skiffle Group. They became The Vipers in the late Seventies.
- Anni-Frid Lyngstad might have gone on to be one of the world’s most successful popstars with ABBA, but the erstwhile jazz songstress was originally so dismissive of pop that she refused to listen to the Beatles, somehow managing to ignore the ubiquitous Liverpudlians during their heyday. “I listened only to jazz”
- Björn got his first guitar on his eleventh birthday and soon started playing jazz and folk.
- The first time Benny and Bjorn played music in the basement of the Ulvaeus house, they work Bjorn’s father up. He suggested that instead they go and play in the evening at the family owned Paper Mill (and where he himself worked) where they would not disturb anyone.
- Benny was given a piano at the age of ten. It was a revelation.
- Benny wrote his first hit “Sunny Girl” in 1966.
- Arrival was ABBA’s fourth LP but was their first studio release to hit the Number One spot in the UK (ABBA’s Greatest Hits went to No. 1 first)
- In 1976 Abba paid their first visit to Australia. The welcome they received took them by surprise, moving Anni-Frid and Agnetha to tears.
- Anni-Frid is a mezzo and Agnetha is a soprano.
- ABBA never officially broke up. In 1982 they decided to have a rest. It just went on a while.
- Both Led Zeppelin and Genesis recorded at Abba’s POLAR Studios
- Under Attack, released in December 1982 in the UK and early in 1983 in the rest of the world, was the final ABBA single.
- When Benny and Anni-Frid got married they wanted a quiet ceremony. In fact, there were only three other people there: the priest, a church employee and the couple’s housekeeper.
- After finally deciding on the name ABBA Benny flipped his “B” horizontally during a photo shoot. This inspired their official logo, though it was later given a proper design by Rune Soderqvist.
- In 1973 after she had given birth to their daughter, Linda, Agnetha was replaced on their German tour by a lookalike. She was a local singer and friend of Anni-Frid called Inger Brundin.
- A 1976 ABBA TV special, filmed in Australia, got more views than the 1969 moon landing in that country.
- ABBA were the very first group from a non-English-speaking country to achieve top spots in charts in all English-speaking countries including Canada, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the United States.
- ABBA made an impact on new wave – The Clash’s Spanish Bombs was said to be influenced by them, while Elvis Costello’s Oliver’s Army is an affectionate homage to Dancing Queen.
- Monty Python’s John Cleese was a fan and was spotted in the audience of their 1979 Wembley shows.
- The backing track of Voulez Vous was recorded at Criteria Studios, Miami, where the Bee Gees had ‘gone disco’. TK Records outfit Foxy played on the recording.
- ABBA THE SOAP was made by J. Grossmith, Winsford Cheshire. They also made ABBA Spray Cologne.
- Except for a snare drum overdub by Ake Sundqvist, the only instruments on the backing track of the penultimate Abba single, The Day Before You Came, is Benny’s synthesiser and drum machine.
- In 1983, Sweden issued an Abba stamp, as part of its Musik I Sverige series.