Abba spends up big but gives very little away

Janet Hawley - The Australian 1 March 1977

Abba, the most stupefyingly successful commercial pop group manipulating the world market, yesterday crowned their style with the Abba Press Conference Performance.

A whole stage was set up in a Sydney hotel function room with huge blue sofas, blue and yellow Swedish cushions and Swedish flags.

And there was a bowl of blue and yellow flowers, a blue and yellow circular (money?) motif curtain and a Master of Ceremonies from RCA.

'TV' was first, so the writers mingled in the next room among tables of oysters and prawns and browsed their press kits, which were crammed with ads for National, Chokito, Coke, Qantas. Another Abba Dabba stroke.

It's the first time I've seen press kits with ads.

A Qantas PR man was being pinned down and asked how much it cost them to have Abba arrive in Qantas jackets. The rumor was 50 free seats, but he just kept on smiling.

Cameras rolling, in comes Abba. And the RCA man makes a speech and presents platinum records, and the curtains swoosh back to reveal a wall of gold records.

"Questions please," says the MC. Horror, horror. Haven't Abba heard that pop group press conferences in Australia are mysteriously always crammed with non-press?

"My name is Jodie and this is my sister and we're from X magazine and we want to know, do you take drugs or alcohol or anything like that?"

The four coped to formula with the Abba Dabba blend of sincerity and light humor.

Bjorn looked relieved when actress Kate Fitzpatrick asked what he pronounced to be: "Ah - a new question!"
"Most groups are single and pursued by groupies. You're two couples, so who pursues you? Other couples?"
It got a laugh and a no-answer.

"Did Abba really need an entourage of 105? Were there any hangers-on?"

"I definitely hope we need them all - we pay for them," laughed Bjorn.

Benny added that they usually have 50 when they tour Europe but they needed more because Abba is making a film of this tour - a documentary with a vaguish storyline.

"Agnetha, is steak and black bean sauce really your favourite dish?"

"No, but I read today it is," she chuckles sweetly.

"Do Frida and Benny have any plans to marry?"

"No, we've been engaged seven years and we've no plans to change it."

Round one over. Then, a 30 minute interlude for the stage to revolve to the 'writers' room, and Abba to hold a post-mortem on the 'TV' round.

Before round two starts, the RCA MC comes out and delivers the results of the post-mortem.

"Would we please ask the girls questions, otherwise all of Abba don't get fairly represented. Would we please not interrupt answers with new questions, and would we please speak up........Now I'm not trying to tell you your business, ha ha ha."

Then he chides the photographers for making too much noise.

It's on again, the entrance, the platinum record presentation and curtain parting to reveal the wall-of-gold records, and "questions please" with the MC pointing who gets a go.

"Why do Abba use short titles?"

"It's an advantage non-English speaking people don't think of."

"Are you worried about making money faster than you can spend it?"

"No. We pay 85% tax in Sweden."

"Why not move?"

"Money isn't everything. We'd rather be poorer and happy in Sweden than richer and unhappy somewhere else." It sounds like a new song.

"What's it going to be like to perform in front of 30 000 people in Sydney?"

"Very exciting - the most we've performed to is 8000 - but I'd hate to hear the sound of 30 000 people booing," quipped Bjorn.

"Agnetha, we hear you've won an award for having the sexiest bottom in Europe."

She chuckles sweetly. "I don't know. I haven't seen it." And the room roars with laughter.

It breaks up on a happy note. Then on come the drinks and oysters, and everyone clutches press kits, with ads and a free Abba record inside.

Outside, a crowd of seven pre-puberty children beg for bits of press kits for souvenirs.

© 1977 The Australia. Thanks to Sharon Callis