At home on ABBA’s island of love: There are lots more of those zingy ABBA songs on the way

By Ted Leane - Pix/People 9 September 1976

“Give our love to the people of Australia. We owe them so much. And please say we’ll be back, hopefully next year. 

That’s the word from ABBA, brought back first-hand by Reg Grundy executive Barry Weston.

“We really do like your country,” the millionaire pop-stars told Barry Weston. “We’re sorry we can’t make it in November. The new LP must come first. But we’ll make it up to you – that’s a promise!”

The Sydney businessman is just back from Sweden, where he conducted tour negotiations with ABBA on the group’s island hideaway in the Baltic.

Reg Grundy Productions represents ABBA in Australia.

“It was quite an experience,” Barry Weston told Pix/People. “Benny, Bjorn and manager Stig Anderson all have houses on the island. We had lunch in Stig’s cottage.

“What is the place like? Well, it’s better than an Australian weekender, obviously. It even has a couple of guest bungalows in the grounds.

“There are about 22,000 of these islands off the coast of Sweden, most of them privately owned. Some are tiny – big though for only one house – whereas others have room for as many as 20.

“ABBA’s island (that’s not its real name) has about 10 houses on it. They’re built of wood, of course, and are usually sparsely furnished in the Scandinavian style.

“It’s a 90-minute ride by speedboat to the mainland one way, 10 minutes in the boat and a car-ride the other. The boys and girls have all got cars, but nothing fancy.

“Mercedes, BMW, Volvo – things like that. They could afford Rolls-Royces or Cadillacs, but that’s not the ABBA way.

“They’re the nicest, easiest people to get along with I have ever met. Really tremendous.

“And they’re not ‘hungry’. They deliberately dropped out after cutting their last record in order to maintain their image and the quality of their product. They could release a record a week, and sell millions, but they’d be history in three months. They know it, you and I know it.”

Barry Weston spent many hours chatting with the ABBA foursome and their manager. They all speak perfect English, though the glamorous Frida has a slight accent.

On the island, everyone dresses to suit themselves. No sequins, no glitter, no heavy make-up. Jeans, T-shirts, shorts, bikinis – or maybe nothing at all.

Most of the island-dwellers live a free-wheeling existence during the Summer months, swimming and sun-bathing nude if they feel like it. In Winter, when much of the Baltic freezes, the sylvan hideaways are virtually deserted.

The handful of people who stay on fortify themselves with schnapps and saunas. “Even the bungalows in Stig’s garden were equipped with saunas.

“The island is covered in wind-swept pines. Gets pretty bleak there in Winter, but I was there in Summer, and the place was stiff with pleasure boats – many of them owned by wealthy Russians,” says Barry.

Bjorn Ulvaeus, who is married to blonde Agnetha Faltskog, and Benny Andersson, who lives with dark-haired Anni-Frid Lyngstad, join the skinny-dippers whenever they can.

Each of the ABBA people’s houses is equipped with the latest hi-fi equipment. Bjorn has a big collection of Dixieland music – including a few discs he cut himself.

“It’s fascinating to watch these people at work,” says Barry Weston. “They compose when and where the mood takes them. We were having a meal in a restaurant one day, when Bjorn suddenly pulled out a pen and started writing on the table-cloth.

“It was just like a scene out of one of those old Hollywood movies. 

Barry was allowed to share one of the world’s best-kept secrets. He heard five of the songs on the new ABBA LP, which is scheduled for release towards the end of the year.

Barry won’t identify the songs, nor the name of the album, ‘but it’s a winner, an instant gold,” he says.

After they concluded their talks (among other decisions, a Swedish TV channel will make a special for screening in Australia early next year), Barry Weston accompanied Benny Andersson and Frida Lyngstad on a night on the town in Stockholm.

They dropped in to a concert by the pop star Bjorn Skiff, and were promptly ushered into the royal box.

“The theatre must have held 8000 people,” says Barry. “When Benny and Frida made their appearance, the entire audience stood up and applauded. It was an extraordinary sensation.”

After the show, the ABBA duo were besieged by autograph hunters. When it started to get a bit hectic, all three sprinted to Benny’s car and made good their escape.

Some of Barry Weston’s top-level negotiations were conducted in ABBA’s city office – “it’s in a beautiful part of Stockholm, and seemed to be surrounded by embassies.”

During one of these sessions, Stig Anderson (who helps write ABBA’s songs as well as manage the group) introduced Barry to the man who designs the costumes.

“Are you a full-time designer?” inquired Barry.

“Oh, no,” smiled the man. “It’s just a hobby.”

It wasn’t until later that Barry Weston discovered the “designer” was professor of archaeology at Stockholm University.

“What makes this story interesting is the way it illustrates the pride these people have in their country and themselves. They’re so proud of their own, it almost amounts to devotion,” says Barry.

“They do things like fly their national flag outside their homes. Tremendously loyal! Can you imagine the mass of the population doing that here? 

Barry asked Benny, Anni-Frid, Bjorn and Agnetha to describe their finest moment. It wasn’t their first gold disk, or even their first million. It was singing Dancing Queen at a Royal Command performance the night before King Gustav’s wedding to Silvia Sommerlath.

And when the marriage did take place, guess who figured prominently among the official guests? That’s right – the boys and girls of ABBA and their manager Stig Anderson with his wife Gudren 

The knockers who were saying ABBA is washed up, in fact, have come a monumental cropper. “ABBA finished?” says Barry Weston, shooting his eyebrows in mock amazement. “Don’t you believe it. The boom hasn’t even started yet!”

Photos: (1) Ring, Ring! ABBA make the airwaves ring everywhere with their own special sound of joy and good living. (2) Frida Lyngstad was no showbiz novice – she used to have her own band! (3) Since ABBA started, Benny Andersson’s main interest has been writing songs. (4) Blonde Agnetha Faltskog topped charts with her first song, I Was So In Love. (5) Bjorn Ulvaeus is married to Agnetha and he’s crazy about Dixieland music.

© 1976 Pix/People. Thanks to Samuel Inglles