ABBA: Case No 584938657 (B) The Imperial State of Newave vs Ulvaeus

Presided by Judge Joepublic
Counsel for the Prosecution: Anne R. Quay, QC
Counsel for the Defence: Joecon Sumer

THE ABBA TAPES Transcription by TIM LOTT

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: You, Bjorn Kristian Ulvaeus, stand accused of the following grave crimes:

PERPETRATING wallpaper music, calculated and homogenised for mass consumption, sickly sweet and bland as boiled rice;

INSULTING the intelligence of your audience by going on tour with a horribly twee act that was embarrassing to behold;

EXPLOITING the people on that tour by charging sickeningly high admission prices — £7.50 for the stalls at one gig!

TRANSFORMING music from an art form into a churning hit machine-cum-business, dehumanised, pivoting on profits; and

PRODUCING middle-class, middle-aged music, sterile but clever.

Bjorn Kristian Ulvaeus, take the stand.

A very pretty Scandinavian, blond hair and toothy grin, takes the stand. He wears glitter trousers, glitter shirt, glitter shoes. He looks like a reject from the Gary Glitter Show. Bjorn Kristian Ulvaeus — for it is he — takes the stand.

CLERK OF THE COURT: You are Bjorn Kristian Ulvaeus, a guitarist and composer by trade?

ULVAEUS: I am.

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: Mr Ulvaeus, you have heard the charges laid before you today?

ULVAEUS: I have.

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: What have you to say in respect of the first charge?

BKU: That sort of criticism doesn’t worry us — it’s just a bit sad. We make music exactly like we want it. Admittedly, our lyrics were once written in school-book English, but lately we’ve been putting more stress on the lyrics because people actually listen to them. Before they were just a… complement to the music. I’m reading English books, I’m a science-fiction fan myself.

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: Stick to answering the question please, Mr Ulvaeus. I submit that you are merely trying to avoid the point of the question — because I know you have a scheme for writing one of the most insulting art forms known to man… the… the… I can hardly bring myself to say it… the CONCEPT ALBUM! Can you deny it?

ULVAEUS: Well… there are no plans immediately.

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: SO! You admit there are plans!

ULVAEUS: Well… we’re constantly looking for a story. What we had onstage on the last tour…

JUDGE JOEPUBLIC: This is the one that took place in February of this year in Britain?

ULVAEUS: Yes… what we had onstage then was a very simple story. What we’re looking for now is a stronger story. This has been our dream for many years.

COUNSEL FOR THE DEFENCE: Be quiet you fool!

ULVAEUS:… we’re open to any ideas… probably some sort of fairy tale would be best. .

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: Ah Ha! (Counsel for the defence buries his head in his hands).

ULVAEUS: I know it would be very difficult not to be pretentious… what we could do is have 10 songs with specified lyrics that…

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: I think you had better stop there, Mr Ulvaeus. Case rests, M’lud.

COUNSEL FOR THE DEFENCE (resignedly): No questions.

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: What about this second charge, Mr Ulvaeus? Evidence from reliable sources during that period suggests your tour was nothing more than a tarted-up cabaret act. People, I suggest, found some of your onstage behaviour acutely embarrassing. There are reports of a ludicrous playlet with laughable Dracula-type figures leaping about all over the place. And indecently twee little songs about you and each one of your group (consults notes) The Abba.

ULVAEUS: Yes, we made some mistakes on that tour. I think if we did it again we’d concentrate more on the music than the cabaret, make it not so much of a show as a musical concert. It’s very difficult when you tour as little as we do compared to people who tour for eight months or more.

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: And why did you tour in the first place? I think I know. It was to make EVEN MORE MONEY than you already make, wasn’t it? SHEER GREED. My case rests.

COUNSEL FOR THE DEFENCE: Ulvaeus — Bjorn. May I call you Bjorn? Oh. Well, Mr Ulvaeus, is it is not true that far from undertaking that tour for profit you actually wanted only to bring live music to your audience?

ULVAEUS: We didn’t make any money at all from that tour, in fact we lost despite every concert being sold out. We didn’t enjoy it much anyway. It was boring — all that time confined to hotel rooms. We were just living a totally boring life — so it wasn’t that much different from our normal life. It’s healthy to stand on stage and perform, but I just can’t understand how some groups tour for eight, nine, even 10 months. It would kill me. It kills creativity. Of course it was worse for us because we have a very carefully planned, ordered show. It’s pretty difficult to improvise. It would be so much easier if we had only to play our own instruments. Much less boring too.

COUNSEL FOR THE DEFENCE (who has nodded off): Mmm? What? Yes, yes, quite. No more questions.

JUDGE JOEPUBLIC: Let’s get on to the crux of this case…

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: With pleasure your worshipful-ness. The third and possibly most serious allegation… exploitation (excited hubbub from courtroom).

ULVAEUS: Listen… I didn’t know anything about these £7.50 tickets at the concerts.

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: A likely story!

ULVAEUS: We told our promoters we didn’t want to be the most expensive band and we didn’t want to be the cheapest — we wanted to be in the middle. Someone must have gone wrong. We strictly told our agent that we didn’t want word getting around that we charged the kids a lot of money. I’m very unhappy about that.

COUNSEL FOR THE DEFENCE: Mr Ulvaeus, is it not true that this could have happened without your knowing it? Because you’re not so involved in the business side of things as is popularly believed, are you?

ULVAEUS: No, I am not involved too much with the business side of things. Music takes up all the time. I delegate pressures.

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: Which brings us to the next point. I suggest you are a hit machine, an industrial cogwheel, a business — not a songwriter. You and your cohorts are Sweden’s biggest exports. In one country — albeit a culturally backward one — Australia, one in three households owns an Abba album. Commercial success is aesthetic crime.

ULVAEUS (visibly shaken): I object to being called a ‘hit making machine’. There is no such thing… this idea that it’s all so easy. We spend more time on what we do than most groups. There’s no formula… the idea that we just put it out for money is very annoying. The creative side is more important. People hear too much about the money side of things.

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: You are by testimony of your wife a confirmed workaholic, aren’t you, Mr Ulvaeus?

ULVAEUS: No, actually I’m very lazy.

JUDGE JOEPUBLIC: I fail to see what this has to do with the case…

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: Just a whim, your grace. The fifth and final charge. That you are producing middle-class, middle-aged music in an age when only teenage music is allowed by statute.

ULVAEUS: Yes… it’s true. There was a survey in Australia and they found there was a gap in the market in the 15-20-23 group. We noticed it at our concert — there were a lot of families there.

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: So it’s music for families then…

ULVAEUS: Yes, it is. We have this family image though we never calculated that. It doesn’t bother us.

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: I also suggest that your music — I use the term loosely — has no aggression. While the accepted and decent musical form is hate, anarchy and high-speed rock and roll, you continue to have the gall to produce tuneful, quality pop that…

ULVAEUS: Yes, you’re right I suppose, we don’t have such aggression in our music. We don’t really adhere to any principle when we write songs.

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: When you say, ‘we’ you are referring to your stooge, one Goran Bror Benny Anderson?

ULVAEUS:…we just play around. We both look for something and we both know when we find it and that’s an incredible feeling, the best kick you can get. But I find a lot of it a big pain.

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: Would I be right in presuming that, however saleable your music there’s nothing new or innovatory about it whatsoever?

ULVAEUS: You’re right, we haven’t done anything new. The music comes from ourselves — it isn’t revolutionary. It’s just fun. We have influences from everywhere. But doesn’t everyone?

COUNSEL FOR THE PROSECUTION: Hrmph. No more questions.

JUDGE JOEPUBLIC: Ladies and gentlemen of the jury: you see before you a man who shamelessly admits to making hugely popular music, a man whose philosophies envelop no ideals like music from the streets, a man whose music appeals to all age groups except the late teens. A man who has made a mockery of this court by refusing to spit, swear or mouth slogans. A man who is incredibly rich and likes it. He is an affront to me. I think the only sane verdict you can return is one of GUILTY.

TWO HOURS later… CLERK OF THE COURT: Foreman of the Jury, what is your verdict?

FOREMAN OF THE JURY: We find the Swede guilty, your highness.

JUDGE JOEPUBLIC: Have you anything to say before I pronounce sentence?

ULVAEUS: Well, Anna has had to go into hospital because of the baby, so the new album is going to be delayed for a while. But it should be out by Christmas. The feature film of Abba on tour is nearly finished. Our new single ‘The Name Of The Game’ is out this week. We were a bit worried about releasing it because it’s nearly five minutes long. But it’s a progression, though we’re not sure in what direction…I’d like to do some film sound-tracking, it would be a great challenge, very interesting, but the right film hasn’t come along yet. But film people, there’s something very strange about them, they don’t realise the importance of music sometimes. And…

JUDGE JOEPUBLIC: That’s enough. I meant, have you anything to say about the trial.

ULVAEUS: Oh. Er, no.

JUDGE JOEPUBLIC (putting on black cap): Then it is my duty to impose upon you the most severe sentence possible for the safety of our new artistic and cultural society. To make the punishment fit the crime, I hereby sentence you to be taken from this place to a room where you will be confined until such time as a record player is brought into the room. You will then be subjected to one week’s continuous high-volume playing of the new wave chart in Sounds. That should sober you up (horrified gasps from court room audience).

ULVAEUS (as he is. escorted towards the door): But I like ‘punk’.

Punks are as honest about their music as we are about ours. I don’t think they are the antithesis of us. That… Johnny Rotten, Frida and Anna met him at Stockholm Airport and he came over and said he liked Abba. I liked that ‘God Save The Queen’ record as well. And…

Voice’ fades away, as ULVAEUS disappears through the thick oak doors that lead to the cells….

© Tim LottRecord Mirror, 15 October 1977

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