Innocents abroad dept: ABBA meet the Australian press

By Mike Guthrie - RAM 9 April 1976

Suddenly you realise there’s a difference between this press conference and most other press conferences with top name overseas groups.

Quite simply ABBA are a little scared. They are on most polite behaviour ‘cos they are trying, and hoping to make a good impression.

Most overseas artists of any stature when faced with the Australian Press in toto usually act with suitably unimpressed demeanour, and it’s only when you get them for a close-in one-to-one chat over a lengthy piece of tape that their defensiveness at being confronted by a pack of baying imbeciles (only a few of whom know the first thing about which they’re asking) disappears.

And the said in toto Australian press either reacts by harassing the said big name overseas group ‘till they fall over and make a blunder (eg. John Denver’s “confession“, he used pot was an admission that raised outraged shrieks from no daily paper in the world except Australian afternoon dailies). Or else it gets into an angry insult swap (eg. any Australian press conference with Lou Reed or Status Quo). Or else the Oz press just curls up and takes a whole load of bland codswallop from people like Paul McCartney or Neil Diamond and never raises a polite belch, far less an outraged scream 

But ABBA wasn’t like any of these prototypes at all. ABBA was where the press took over and everyone had a chummy bland time.

About five minutes before ABBA made their appearance I wandered outside the Hilton Ballroom (where the conference was being held) onto what looks like a ledge for a fire escape. I went out to look at the TV cables spiralling over that exposed ledge down to Outside Broadcast vans five or six floors below. And yes, also on the ledge was ABBA, nervously exchanging combs, patting down windswept clothes and talking nervously amongst themselves in Swedish.

It just about summed it up actually. Inside the Ballroom, the press and TV reporters were swapping camaraderie and the TV technicians were testing transmission – and outside was ABBA, nervous and windswept. It didn’t take long to work out who was going to lay down and take this particular load of bland codswallop.

At least ABBA did it grinning bravely. In between answering the same set of geewhiz questions (Why do you call yourself ABBA?) for the TV networks (each network made a separate take for their respective news services. Only the interviewers differed, practically the same set of questions were used each time. Ye gods, and they’ve each got the chupputza to advertise their news services as being something special and different. Bah…ABBA got in a few oneliners; eg., Where do you get the inspiration for your songs?…”West Germany” – Björn.

In near desperation your reporter got up, cleared his throat and spoke: Sweden is known as a country of sexual freedom. Is this national characteristics reflected in your stage act at all? (Yeah well it wasn’t the most devastating opening I know, but the follow-up’s cute).

Benny, Björn, Anni-Frid and Agnetha giggled and said no, no, they didn’t do anything outrageous on stage.

Is there any reason why on one side of some of the ABBA albums, Anni-Frid is always with Björn and Benny is always with Agnetha (as they truly are in real life, Björn and Agnetha are married, Anni-Frid and Benny share that modernistic state of togetherness, an engagement) but on the reverse it’s always swap-around. There’s Benny cuddling Anni-Frid and Agnetha is looking at Björn with wide-eyed rapt attention…I mean, that’s what got me interested in the group in the first place…just the thought of a mainstream, publicly sexually liberated pop group is enough to make you think the whole Top 30 wilderness might have some sort of relevance, to something…after all.

“We did not know this has even happened,” said Benny.

Oh well, at least a few fax came out of the blandness. Without further ado, here they are.

To ABBA, making it in Australia is indeed big news. A reporter from a major Swedish daily is traveling with them to report on the promotional tour. That’s how much the group’s success in Australia means in Sweden.

Their single Mamma Mia recently hit the top of English Top 30 charts and it was released in England primarily because it had been a hit in Australia.

ABBA will tour Australia in November. Tour promoter Paul Dainty stood at the back and watched how his future money earners handled themselves.

ABBA will tour with a group of 13 musicians. Which means 17 people on stage…jeeze, I know some parts of their music have a lot of clever studio overdubs…but do they need 13 extra people to reproduce it live?

The group don’t tour all that much actually. For the past few years they’ve locked themselves away, concentrating on recording. Mostly, ‘cos all those musicians on stage cost a lotta money. But now that ABBA’s records are earning mucho moolah they can afford it.

The group is hardly prolific (2 albums over the last 3 years).

Björn explained that the group builds up each song over months of rehearsal and change – a lengthy process. The group has made some inroads into America (a top 10 single with Waterloo) but they’ve never toured there and won’t ‘till they’re more prepared. After receiving a collection of gold records and plaques (28 in all for sales exceeding 400,000), the Australian press (In Toto) adjourned to a nearby room for drinks and savouries. ABBA were hustled out of sight by their guardians on this promotional tour, Channel 9. Probably out onto the windy ledge again

© 1976 RAM. Thanks to Samuel Inglles