JUST FOR that night “ABBA – World Tour 1979” nestled next to Motorhead and the Heartbreakers on my pet leather’s lapel. Talk about extremes – life’s full of ’em lately. A Saturday in Le Mans, plunged in the atomic holocaust of Motorhead at their loudest in an echoey hall, followed Monday by Abba, the ultimate crossover pop group.
Stuck between enraptured rows of pre-teens and nice couples I was the only black leather in Wembley Arena.
Abba have never graced the pages of Zigzag. Not within good reason, you might say, and I agree. They really have nothing in common with the usual content. They’re pure showbiz, obscenely rich ‘cos the masses love, or think they love, their easy tunes, lilting disco Euro-beat, the girls, the spectacle, the glamour, the fact they sing about heart-struck daygo Romeos.
They’re so easy to dismiss but certain facts cannot be denied: Abba have turned out some of the best pop singles of the ’70s (‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’, ‘SOS’, ‘Dancing Queen’, to name three), epic chandelier productions showing care and flair for what’ll stick in the ear. The girls have got the presence and are just the icing for this cold, sweet cake. These are all things you could never attribute to the Eagles, Boston, F. Mac and the other American MOR heavy-sellers. Of late you couldn’t say it about Elton, Wings or other UK intravenous drip-feed merchants either.
Nah, around about ’75-’76-’77 no-one could touch Abba on the pop front. Disco’s taken its toll of their individuality recently and they obviously don’t mean it like I used to think, what with all that Sub-Brotherhood of Man rubbish, but still I trotted along to Wembley Arena for the opening night clutching an £8 ticket (they’ll take your pocket money, kids) and feeling quite excited ’bout the prospect of ‘SOS’ in the flesh.
Inside the place it was like a vast Sunday School outing, ‘cept first bloke I saw was John Cleese and Polly. Poor geezer, he must know that every other head is craning for any hint of mania.
As I suspected it was simple to get a drink ‘cos everyone was seatbound and expectant, waiting for the Abba-rition which would make ’79 complete.
The lights dim and the cheers grow at ten past eight, as close to ticket-time as any gig I’ve seen. The curtains part, the stage is blue, dry ice swamps rows A to G and there they are! Bronzed Bjorn all grins and stomping, broad Benny bouncing by the mountain peak backdrop in white tails, and the two girls stage centre looking for all the world like a pair of wigwams in their Roussos-robes and crucifixion poses.
They charge into faultless repros of tracks from the last album. I settle back with vodka and await the first classic. It comes fourth song and ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ (melt!). It’s given a massive treatment with the first sign of real emotion issuing from that pale, shiny stage. Even the bouncers played imaginary guitars.
By now the girls have shed their tents to reveal skintight leotards. When Agnetha – that’s the blonde one ‘cept she’s had it chopped – pans her rear round the auditorium the name Hugh Jarse moves into new areas. Whooo, what a seat!
Old Bjorn strikes a weird note when he introduces Ag as “my former wife”! Crossroads-style real life infiltrates the snow-white Abba frigid-air! S’weird how they uphold this grinning picture of health, efficiency and cleanliness yet the outfits are Legs and Co. and the movements provocative-chic. The little girls don’t know but the men understand – ask most of those benign baldies in white polo-necks after a few gins and they’ll confess along with any other honest geezer that one of the main reasons they’re here is ‘cos they’d like to give Ag or Anni-Frid a portion. Meanwhile the wife can get off on the Fernando-fantasies.
Now I’d planned it so I’d run out to the bar for a swift when the Abbas did one of the numbers I didn’t like (when they stray too far into Eurovision Brotherhood of Dooleys ground I switch off). So soon, after ‘Rock Me’, ‘Fernando’, ‘Chickenheater’ and an awful bit where the backup band get to shake it about, I was quite pissed! I nearly flee the hall when they wheeled on a gang of London schoolgirls to sing ‘I Believe In Angels’, causing mass tapping of leisurewear-clad knees and ecstatic smiles – aaah! Suddenly I longed for the joy of Motorhead and the thought “Why am I here?” whizzed ’round.
“And now for something completely different!” japed Bjorn, possibly a subtle address to Mr Cleese or maybe a coincidence. They launched into ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! A Man After Midnight’ and from here on it was non-stop hits – a majestic ‘SOS’, ‘Take A Chance’ and ‘Name Of The Game’ – and I was happy – specially as I was in the bog during Benny’s keyboard extravaganza. I thought, what an apt name is Benny, but Mr. Hill and the Crossroads hero have more stage presence in their double chins. When the Abba man stepped out first time I thought it was a janitor who’d taken a wrong door.
After some rousing “rock ‘n’ roll”, which finally got the hall going a bit, Abba ran off… and back on again for a new song – another slow sing-along – and ‘Dancing Queen’. A huge neon ABBA flashed and white searchlights (obviously nicked from the Clash) swept the hordes. It was great!
Another encore, ‘Waterloo’, put the cap on it. Agnetha and Anni-Frid shook out-stretched hands and threw their towels, Benny threw his y-fronts and two fans went home in a hammock.
THERE YA GO, we witness and attempt to explain the Abba phenomenon and I’m stuck. In lots of ways the image is not what it seems. I’ll stick to the old records.
This article is dedicated to the Northampton punks in the seats behind me on the train home. Their ten-strong word-perfect ‘Clash City Rockers’ gave me the biggest grin all night.
© Kris Needs, ZigZag, December 1979