Ambassadors for ABBA
January 14, 2010
BY Richard Duckett, TELEGRAM & GAZETTE
What was it like to go to a live ABBA show?
That question may be age-defining, but, perhaps surprisingly, not too many people would actually know anyway. Although a good many of us know the ABBA hit songs that hit the charts in the late 1970s and early ’80s (“Mama Mia,” “S.O.S.,” “Knowing Me Knowing You”), the super-pop group from Sweden only actually toured for about 10 weeks over a 10-year heyday, said Victoria Norback.
“I think there is a need to see a proper ABBA show,” said Norback, the founder of the ABBA tribute group Arrival from Sweden and Frida (ABBA’s sultry brunette female co-lead singer) in Arrival’s ABBA lineup.
So Arrival will be arriving at The Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts Friday night to help set, so to speak, the records straight for young and not-so-young alike with their show “The Music of ABBA.”
ABBA was making videos before there were VCRs. The brilliantly shot pieces complemented the perfectly produced recording studio product and perhaps precluded the need for too many live performances. But when ABBA did perform live, it exuded excitement, exuberance and energy, Norback said.
Which makes performing in an ABBA show an exercise in happiness. “People say ‘you’re always happy on stage,’ ” Norback said. “People ask, ‘Don’t you ever get bored?’ I say, ‘No.’ It’s a new venue every night. A new city every night (in fact, on Saturday night Arrival will be at the Providence Performing Arts Center). To make people happy — it really means a lot to people to be happy.”
What’s the reason for the joie de vivre (to use a non-Swedish phrase)? “ABBA is great music,” Norback said. “ABBA is the world’s biggest pop group.”
Technically, ABBA never broke up — but time passes. Frida will be 65 this year. Comprised of Anni-Frid Lyngstad (Frida), Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Agnetha Fältskog (Anna), the band’s breakthrough year was 1974, when it stormed to victory at the usually staid but always heavily watched “Eurovision Song Contest” with the rollicking “Waterloo.” They were on the way superstardom. ABBA’s fourth album was titled “Arrival” and contained such mega-hits as “Dancing Queen” (reaching top of the pops in the U.S.) and “Money, Money, Money.” ABBA made a lot of money, but part of the drama of the group was whether it could buy happiness. Frida and Benny were married, as were Bjorn and Anna. Both couples divorced.
ABBA’s popularity, however, has endured —as evidenced by the success of the movie “Mama Mia!” in 2008.
Arrival was formed in 1995. “I thought, ‘Oh, we’ll see how long we do this show.’ That’s 15 years ago,” Norback said of her group’s longevity during a telephone interview from Sweden just before Arrival was about to depart for its latest Stateside tour.
Norback was a fan of ABBA as a child and started spreading the word early. She staged her first ABBA show in the main hall of her school in Västra Frölunda outside Göteborg. She went on to pursue a career in music, but the ABBA fates kept ringing in. For one thing, she bore a striking resemblance to Frida. “People said, ‘Why don’t you put up your own ABBA show? You look like Frida.’ ”
So she did.
Arrival does not lip-sync. “I’m only me. I look like Frida. I don’t have a wig. That’s my hair. This is my own voice,” Norback said. On the other hand, “We practice a lot to get the right ABBA sound.”
There are a number of other ABBA tribute groups out there in the world — and the rivalry can sometimes be contentious. Norback is obviously savvy and pointed out that her group is actually Swedish, not “fake Swedish.” Arrival has collaborated with original ABBA musicians, including drummer Roger Palm, and is the only group to be given exclusive permission to copy the original clothes. Norback has met and stayed in touch with Benny Andersson. His blessing counts for a lot in the ABBA universe. “He’s very into the show,” Norback said.
“The Music of ABBA” tells the story of the group while replicating its live show, she said. People can expect to hear the big smash songs, as well as some they may not be so familiar with. There is a catalog of more 100 ABBA songs to draw on. “They not only did ‘Mama Mia’ and ‘Dancing Queen,’ but so many other great songs,” Norback said.
There is such a phenomenon in America as people who regard the success of ABBA with the same sniffy and snooty disbelief as the fact that the World Cup is going to be the most watched sports event in the world this year. We know such people.
Norback knows something else.
“We have been in over 35 countries,” she said. “This is our 14th tour of the States. There’s a lot of fans, and the audiences are absolutely fantastic in the States. It’s the best audience in the world. It’s almost like our second home country.”
The group is also happy to talk to people after shows. “They want to know about Sweden. We are both ambassadors for Sweden and ABBA,” Norback said.