Thursday 24 July 2014

Thank You for the Music: Stockholm Memories of ABBA

Dancing queens, as seen on on the ABBA City Walk
conducted by Stockholm City Museum
In June 2012 I met up with Micke Bayart in Stockholm, Sweden. In his youth, Micke had been a member of the German ABBA fan club and had met all four band members.

He later moved to Sweden, and in 2011 published the book ABBA by Micke, recounting his experiences as a fan.

Over some very strong Norwegian beer at a bar in the hip Södermalm district, we talked about ABBA…

TR: Tell me what ABBA means to you? Why were they special?

MB: ABBA made the best music there ever was. When I was a boy, it would give me joy, listening to them.

Benny and Björn were such good writers, and music makers, and they really reinvented themselves all the time.

I still remember when I listened to my very first ABBA record, it was Arrival in 1976. It was just by coincidence that I discovered them because as a little boy I used to have braces and my grandfather said “I need to take you to the neighbouring town to have some special treatment on your teeth.”

I said no way. Then I made a deal with him. Every time we went to see the specialist I wanted to have a small present as a kind of compensation. He said “It’s a deal.”

On one of the trips back home, we passed by a big window of a record store and I saw the album cover, of four people in a helicopter. I loved everything about flying. So I said, I want that record.

TR: That’s an interesting way into it. People talk about the costumes, but I seem to remember the music much more vividly than the video clips.

MB: You have to bear in mind that it wasn’t the age of MTV. So what they did from a very early point was to make those videos. It was a good way of being present in countries they never could travel to in person.

Also bear in mind it was the '70s and every other group had those outrageous costumes, like the Bay City Rollers, like KISS. Compared to them it was nothing special.

TR: How do Swedes remember ABBA now?

MB: Today Swedes are very proud of ABBA. Yesterday when I flew home from Barcelona, in the inflight magazine there was an article about great moments in Swedish history. Among them was 1974 when they won Eurovision with Waterloo.

That celebration would have never occurred in the 1970s because there was a strong left wing movement in Swedish society that felt artists should be singing about critical issues and problems in society, and singing live and not too commercial.

ABBA stood for everything that Swedish music at that time wasn’t.

TR: They were seen as too frivolous? Too trivial?

MB: Yes, and because they were making loads of money. Now all those people that really hated ABBA back in the 1970s praise them.

That’s a shame I think, because you should really stand up for your opinions. You can say "I was wrong", now I really appreciate them, but don’t pretend that you liked them all the way.

It was a cultural elite that had that idea. The average person really liked ABBA. They weren’t played that often on Swedish radio, so people had to buy the records.

TR: You’ve personally met all the members of the group. Do you have a favourite memory?

MB: There’s one meeting I’d like to mention with Frida. By the time we met her in '86 she had turned blonde. It was in Austria. She was there privately on a skiing holiday, and we approached her as the fan club.

She said, come up to my hotel, and then we spent almost three quarters of an hour talking very privately. She told us during the course of the interview that she had stopped singing and recording. We thought afterwards that we shouldn’t write about that in our fanzine.

It was so cool to be part of that, because I mean, hey, we were talking to one of the members of ABBA and at the same time she was so down to earth. And that’s of course the fact of being Swedish, I think you don’t look at yourself as being high up there and having the diva attitude.

A funny thing about Sweden is that with the long dark winter nights we’ve still been able to create such joyful music. That’s really an interesting combination, I think.

Find out more about ABBA by Micke at the book's Facebook page.

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