ABBA biographies, musical examinations and pictorial surveys
published March 31, 2010
This interview was broadcast on BBC Radio Suffolk on September 16, 2000, in conjunction with the UK publication of From ABBA To Mamma Mia!
In recent years their music has enjoyed an unparalleled revival with the best selling compilation ABBA Gold and the huge success of the musical Mamma Mia. Despite their global fame and the continuing fascination with all things ABBA, since their split the group has never given their blessing to an official book - until now that is. From ABBA To Mamma Mia, which has just been released, features more than 500 photographs taken by Anders Hanser, a close friend of the band. The text is by Carl Magnus Palm, recognised as one of the worlds foremost ABBA historians who's worked closely with the group and interviewed many of their entourage.
Interviewer Luke Deal (Int): How did it all come about?
Carl Magnus Palm (CMP): Well, it all started when Anders Hanser and I got together. I met him a couple of years ago when I was doing one of my earlier ABBA books. He had this large archive of pictures, and we were saying to each other that it's such a shame that all these pictures are just lying there gathering dust and we should do something about it, make a book or something. Then nothing really happened until a few years ago when he put together a slide show presentation for Benny and Frida when they turned 50, which was in the mid-90s - because he's a personal friend of theirs - and that's when he really felt, "I really do have a large archive of pictures here, something unique, and we should put together a book". Then we had a couple of meetings about it, and he was busy and I was busy. But then, eventually, I think at the end of 1998, we decided to go ahead with it.
Int: So how does it differ from the previous books you've written about the group, The Complete Recording Sessions and ABBA - The People And The Music, which is yet to be released in this country?
CMP: The Complete Recording Sessions was basically the story of how they made and wrote the songs, it was more specific to the music side of it. With this book the starting point was the pictures. So whatever occasions Anders had been present - when they were shooting a video, or working in the studio, or on tour - that was the starting point. So I was more limited to what he had in his archive.
Int: The book is not only about ABBA, it also traces Agnetha and Frida's first steps outside the group, as well as the musicals that Benny and Björn have written. Remind us of how your relationship with the group started.
CMP: Well, it was back in the days of The Complete Recording Sessions, about 7 years ago when I started writing that. I did a lot of research on their careers before I even approached them for an interview. So, when I finally did that I really really knew my stuff and I was able to convince them that I wouldn't ask them a lot of questions about divorces or what they did with their money and stuff like that, that I was interested in their careers mainly and the creative side of the group, and they were impressed by that. And so I was allowed to sit down, particularly with Björn and Benny, for several hours and just talk and talk and talk about everything.
Int: And listen to some very unusual tracks as well.
CMP: Oh definitely, yeah, that was the high point of my association with Björn and Benny. When I sat down with them and their sound engineer Michael Tretow, who recorded all the ABBA recordings for them, and was very important for their sound. We spent a day together listening to a lot of unreleased tracks, some of which were released on the box set Thank You For The Music, and some of which still languish in the archives.
Int: Back to your book, when you approached Anders Hanser with this idea, what was his reaction?
CMP: Well, he was positive about it, but he wasn't really ecstatic, he didn't really do anything about it to begin with. I think he, like most other people in Abba's inner circle... They couldn't really feel the excitement that still surrounds ABBA, because for them its everyday life. Back at the time when they were working on it, it was just work. I think he gradually realised that he had something unique, so the idea grew from both of us I would say.
Int: How long did it take you to sift through the photographs, because there are over 500 in this book.
CMP: I think it's somewhere between 500 and 600 pictures. To start with Anders did a preliminary selection, made copies of a lot of black and white stuff, and then I sat down with all those black and white pictures and the colour slides, and let's say that took a couple of weeks to go through.
Int: Well, we've mentioned their music and "I am your music I am your song", "Here is where the story ends, this is goodbye" and "Neither you nor I'm to blame", they're a few of the chapter titles. But Carl, haven't I heard those lines somewhere before?
CMP: Well, I should hope so, because they've been lifted from the lyrics of some of the more famous ABBA songs, and some of the more obscure ones as well.
Int: So was that your idea to do it like that, to name each chapter from a line from an ABBA song?
CMP: I wish I could say it was my idea, but I think it was the publisher who came up with that. Because we didn't really know what to do and he said, 'Well, couldn't you try that approach?' And that's what we did, and it turned out to work really well.
Int: One of the more interesting photos is on page 215 under the heading So Now We'll Go Separate Ways, when they made the tribute video for their late manager Stig Anderson. It was taken in 1986. Since that the group have actually performed together last year, didn't they? Tell us about that and why isn't there a picture in the book?
CMP: It was on the 50th birthday of Görel Hanser, who is Anders Hanser's wife, and who was his way into the ABBA circle. Because she was working at Polar, ABBA's record company, and she's known them for 30 years, and she was Stig Anderson's secretary. They sang a birthday song for her and there are pictures, I have even seen one actually. But I think they felt that it was too private, for some reason. I'm not really sure, it wasn't my decision not to include it. But I think that was the main reason, that it was too private.
Int: Do you think that their revival success, and the success of Mamma Mia has come as a bit of a shock to the individual four members of the group?
CMP: Certainly, I think they are continually surprised. Benny, especially, has said several times, "When is this going to end, when are people going to get tired of ABBA?" It's like they get surprised every time there is a revival of ABBA, or every time they get interviewed. I think Björn, because of his heavy involvement in Mamma Mia, I think he's more in tune with what is actually happening and the interest that actually is there. But I think the other three are like, "Well, isn't this supposed to be over?" Although they're proud of everything, they are surprised.
Int: So what's next on your agenda? Surely there can't be any more ABBA books to write, or are there?
CMP: I would think so, I would hope so anyway. I think there are around 400 books written about The Beatles and ABBA still have less than 20. So there are certain areas that could be interesting to explore, like the live concerts and everything they did on TV and stuff like that, it could be worthwhile to explore in more detail. I think there still isn't a really comprehensive biography out there, a text book where you get the whole story from the very early days, including their solo careers before and after the group. I think there is more work to be done.
Transcript by Emma Biggins
From ABBA To Mamma Mia! Current edition published by Premium Publishing, February 2010. English language. 264 pp. 29 x 24 cm. Hardback. ISBN: 9789189136625
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