The original ABBA
A LARGE section of the audience may not have recognised the opening instrumental passage, which was the title theme from the ‘Arrival’ album. But the moment ‘Dancing queen’ came on, everyone was on their feet. For nearly two hours after that, they had a perfect party.
The concert by ABBA Gold, a tribute band, drew a packed crowd at the Willingdon Catholic Gymkhana in Santa Cruz on Saturday night. It was a good mix of various age groups, and obviously a large chunk of them had grown up on the original Swedish pop supergroup.
Interestingly, this was the first of two ABBA tributes scheduled for this month. On November 8, a tribute band called ABBA Mania will play at the Bandra Gymkhana. Though the set list may be very similar to last week’s gig, this should be another treat for fans.
Back in the 1970s, ABBA had been a rage. Comprising Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Agnetha Faltskog, Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus, they had stormed charts and hearts with a string of hit albums. Many teenagers of that time had got into western music through ABBA, Boney M or the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, which had songs by the Bee Gees. And though the same people later called ABBA old-fashioned because their own tastes had drifted towards rock or jazz, they eventually came back to revisiting their songs.
ABBA was special in many ways. The compositions were filled with melody and the lyrics were simple enough to be appreciated and remembered. The arrangements were unique too, whether they did simple pop songs, ballads or the faster, disco-influenced stuff, Benny and Bjorn were considered among the world’s greatest songwriters.
Most important, the songs had a Scandinavian charm which made them unique. Agnetha and Anni-Frid, who sang most tunes, had a distinct Swedish accent and yet were so perfect with the technicalities, displaying pure voice structure and incredible range, besides excelling in the harmonies. Sadly, the members began to have differences, and though they never officially announced a split, they stopped performing together after December 1982.
During those days, most people would have possessed ABBA’s music on vinyl records or cassette. The band was regularly played on the radio, and that was where many teenagers got their regular dose. With original albums and various compilations like ‘Gold’, ‘More Gold’ and ‘Number Ones’ being released later on CD, the fans bought them once again, and the next generation of listeners was exposed too. Even today, their music is played in parties.
Not surprisingly, one could spot so many people humming along at Saturday’s gig. After Bashir Sheikh did an opening set that included covers of Elvis Presley, Cliff Richard and Frank Sinatra, ABBA Gold came along. ‘Dancing queen’ was followed by ‘Super trouper’, ‘Angel eyes’ and ‘SOS’. ‘The winner takes it all’ was adapted to suit the singer’s voice, and one missed the high notes of the original. ‘Voulez vous’ had the audience on their feet and dancing.
Other hits from the first half were ‘Name of the game’, ‘I do, I do, I do, I do, I do’, ‘Ring ring’ and ‘Money money money’. On some songs like ‘Angel eyes’ and ‘Ring ring’, one clearly missed the Swedish accents that made the originals so unique. But the more the group played, the more nostalgic the crowd became.
ABBA Gold began their second set with ‘Lay all your love on me’, and followed it with ‘Knowing me knowing you’ and ‘Honey honey’. ‘Does your mother know’ was repeated in the encore. ‘Gimme gimme gimme’ and ‘Take a chance on me’ attracted the hardcore fans, whereas ‘Chiquitita’, ‘Fernando’, ‘Thank you for the music’ and ‘Waterloo’ impressed with their soulfulness. On ‘Mamma mia’, the group invited everyone to dance, and played the song in a more uptempo manner. A highlight was the drum solo, which lent variety.
While the show was extremely enjoyable, one missed certain songs. ‘I have a dream’ was probably not done because the original has a children’s chorus. Other omissions included ‘Nina pretty ballerina’, ‘Hasta manana’, ‘Eagle’ and ‘As good as new’. Also, the attempts at humour between songs fell a bit flat.
But for all ABBA fans, this would have been a treat. The songs are ageless, and even today, they sound as charming as they did in the 1970s. Only a few people might have seen the original group abroad during their hey day, and this was the closest one could experience.
Over the years, Mumbai has had a good taste of tribute bands. In the mid-1990s, an Eagles tribute band thrilled the audience at the Sophia Bhabha Hall. The famous Bootleg Beatles, who sing and look like the Fab Four, had a fantastic show at what was then the Juhu Centaur hotel.
In 2009, the group After Midnight did the show ‘Classic Clapton’, with Mike Hall playing the role of Eric Clapton. The same year, at the Shanmukhananda Hall, the all-girl group Lez Zeppelin did songs of… you guessed it… Led Zeppelin. A group called Higher On Maiden had visited other cities like Bangalore and Imphal in the past.
As far as ABBA goes, this isn’t the first tribute band to have visited India. Some 10 years ago, a group called Bjorn Again had come for an event which featured other artistes too. ABBA Gold too were earlier scheduled to perform in May but didn’t get visas as the elections were taking place that time. But every thing comes at the right time, we guess. Those who got to see them were simply lucky. If you missed that, you can catch the other gig at Bandra Gym.