First published in 2014
Radio Times raises a glass to Abba and their millions of fans around the world. This weekend marks the 40th anniversary of the Swedish supergroup’s Eurovision win. On Saturday 6 April 1974, at the Dome in Brighton, Abba saw off all other competition with their catchy number Waterloo scoring 24 points or, as Katie Boyle translated, vingt-quatre points. The scoring and venues may have been small-scale in those days but Abba’s success on the night catapulted them to stardom.
To celebrate, we’ve delved into the Radio Times Archive and discovered a rare photoshoot with Abba, not from 1974 but from five years later when they were at the height of their fame. Most of the pictures have never been published before.
Carl Magnus Palm, a Swedish writer and international authority on Abba, believes that fans will be very excited to see these rare images. He says: “They were taken during Abba’s tenure at Wembley Arena, 5–10 November 1979, when they played six sell-out shows before an audience of 45,000 people. They could probably even have played a few more shows at Wembley, had they been so inclined. At the time, few other artists would even have been close to selling out Wembley six nights in a row.”
Palm notes: “The backstage pictures were obviously taken before the show rather than after, since the girls are wearing the capes they use in the opening number, Voulez-Vous. They’re drinking champagne, which they liked to do before the concerts to calm their nerves.”
But those bubbles came courtesy of Radio Times – and the dogged efforts of our legendary photographer, Don Smith. Now retired, Don chuckles at the memory: “It was one of the worst assignments of my whole life!”
He explains: “A young researcher, who didn’t have the faintest idea what she was talking about, said: would I go to a Soho hotel in the morning and photograph Abba as they were going round, doing a whole series of interviews? But I knew, with my experience of such things, you wouldn’t be able to photograph Abba at 9am in the morning because the two girls would not be made up. They’d probably have their hair in curlers.”
But Don was obliged to stick to the arrangement. “Of course when I turned up at this hotel, they appeared, all four of them, looking absolutely awful. The girls were completely unphotographable. Completely! I wouldn’t have done it anyway, even if they’d let me. And that went on all day. And the next.”
Don followed them around for three days until finally on the evening of Wednesday 7 November he accompanied them to Wembley Arena. It was the third of their six concerts. “Eventually, as they were about to leave their dressing rooms on the way to the stage, I got them to pause for a few seconds. All that time I’d been carrying around a bag with a bottle of champagne and some glasses inside it, and I took a handful of photographs. It took me three days to get those shots!” he laughs.
Minutes later, Don was lucky enough to photograph Abba from the side of the stage. Casting his expert eye at the shots, Carl Magnus Palm says it’s hard to tell which song they’re performing: “I’m not sure but – as it seems to be an Agnetha number and it’s in the first half of the concert – it could be As Good as New or Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man after Midnight).”
There were very few chances left to see Abba live. After the Wembley concerts, the UK tour went to Stafford (two nights), Glasgow and finished in Dublin. “Except for a couple a weeks in Japan in the spring of 1980,” says Carl Magnus Palm, “they would never perform live in front of a paying audience again.”
The marriage of Agnetha Faltskog and Bjorn Ulvaeus was already over at this point; Anni-Frid “Frida” Lyngstad and Benny Andersson separated soon after; and within a few years Abba quietly disbanded. But of course their music lives on – their greatest hits album, Gold, has sold more than 29 million copies worldwide.
And the Wembley shows are especially topical during this 40th-anniversary year. In response to fan demand, a full recording of one of the Wembley nights (probably the final concert from 10 November 1979) will be released on CD in 2014 – the first time a complete live Abba show has been commercially released.
In a recent interview, Benny Andersson said it would be presented “exactly as it was, with everything in it, no fixing, just solid live. I’ve been listening to some of it… It’s not too bad!”
All photos copyright Radio Times Archive