Photo collage

ABBA Weekend 2024: Waterloo Celebration

Here is a report by Helena Buckinx from Belgium

Some might say that it was the first proper Fan Club Day in five years. The last time all ABBA fans from all over the world celebrated their favourite pop group in the Netherlands and around Easter – as had become a tradition since 1987 - dated from 2019. True; in the meantime, there had been a wonderful gathering in October 2022 and a festive one in Stockholm to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Museum (2023). Still, this event was a return to tradition and very much awaited by all. One of the things that makes a Fan Club Day so special is the catching up of old friends, connecting with new ones and meeting some only previously known through social media for the first time in real life. Fans were lining up at the front door of the Dance Studio Rottier in Roosendaal well before the opening of the doors at 11am. Collectors want to arrive early to find gems to complete their collection, some seeking particular items, others seduced on the spot and some just looking at everything on display. Luckily, most of the attendants had bought their ticket in advance, as for the first time the event was sold out with five hundred people attending. Initially, some people without a ticket had to be refused but luckily it all worked out in the end. In the run-up to the day, ‘habitués’ always wonder about two things: what will be the welcome gift and with which song will the disco end? The gift – totally in line with this year’s fiftieth anniversary of ABBA’s Eurovision victory – was a lovely set of four small Waterloo-related badges.

All through the day, clips and documentaries were shown, starting with the entire 1974 Eurovision Song Contest. The Waterloo exhibition displayed rare items solely from 1974, including the Waterloo single as released in different countries such as Austria, Australia, Portugal, Yugoslavia, Mexico, Japan, Spain, Greece, Denmark and Italy … and even a customised Waterloo single given to customers of the Volvo car dealer, Bilia Haga Norra.

This was followed by a welcome from Helga and Anita who introduced Janne Schaffer. Janne talked of his own career which is of course totally interwoven with ABBA’s. He played guitar on seven of their nine studio albums, his career starting in the 1960s as part of the band, the Sleepstones. He told us how he then met the individual ABBA members on the road when each was already a star in their own right in Sweden, with – according to Janne – Agnetha being the biggest of the four. In the 1970s he worked as a session musician with Johnny Nash and Bob Marley, the latter giving him the advice to play the guitar in a laid-back style (“Take it laid back”). You can clearly hear, for instance, Bob Marley’s influence on Janne’s guitar playing on ABBA’s reggaeish track Sitting In The Palmtree. After meeting Stig Anderson, Janne started working extensively as a session musician for Polar artists who were produced by Björn, Benny and Michael B. Tretow, the most famous ones being Harpo and Ted Gärdestad. The latter would become a very close friend and Janne describes his music as fantastic, which goes right to the heart. It was while collaborating with Ted that Janne worked with Agnetha and Frida for the first time as they did the backing vocals on Ted’s first album. Janne refers to that period as the beginning of ABBA. Other session musicians he met there and with whom he would work closely included Ola Brunkert and Mike Watson. Did you know – and Janne is proud to mention this amazing anecdote – that his first solo album, released in 1973, reached Number One in the Swedish hit parade? So, he hit the top there before ABBA did and that year, he sold more records than them: “Something that will never happen again,” Janne smiled. He has had an impressive career of his own, which is the reason he never toured with ABBA. He played, for instance, with the group Toto, who were inspired by ABBA for their name (two letters repeated that can be remembered by everyone). Janne’s talk was very interactive with lots of music and many anecdotes. One funny one is about the recording of So Long at the swimming pool of the Glenmark Studio, during which the mother of the owner thought there had been an earthquake! He played on 46 ABBA songs and among his own favourites he mentioned SOS, If It Wasn’t For The Nights and his absolute favourite, Eagle, which he still plays live. Janne clearly enjoyed being there and said he was proud to have played his part in ABBA’s success.

In between Janne’s two-part lecture, Anita interviewed Harry Knipschild. The now 80-year-old Harry worked for Polydor Holland and before that, a small record company, Iramac, where he was involved with the release of the single Sunny Girl by the Hep Stars, a Top 5 Dutch hit. It was Benny’s first success as a writer outside Sweden. Harry has a basket full of anecdotes: it was his brother who translated a Hep Stars song into Dutch which became Aldus Mijn Horoscoop [According To My Horoscope]. In 1973 our favourite foursome came to the Netherlands for the release of the catchy Ring Ring and performed it on television. Afterwards they went to a Chinese restaurant together with Harry. Chinese food, but not to go! By the end of 1973, Stig came to Harry’s house to let him listen to Waterloo and Harry was immediately keen that it should have a Dutch release. According to Harry, the name change from Björn & Benny, Agnetha & Frida to ABBA was inspired by the fact that people in Japan had difficulty in pronouncing the name. I think the entire world is happy about this now. Did you know that the Netherlands was the first foreign country ABBA visited after their Eurovision victory? The power of television was later proven when ABBA appeared on the show Eén Van De Acht [One Of The Eight] with Mies Bouwman. Up to that point, ABBA had sold about 50,000 albums in the Netherlands, but after the show they sold, within a few months, 1.5 million albums (Arrival and The Best Of ABBA combined). Harry proved to be a very trustworthy person whose opinion counted. When in 1975 Stig and ABBA were not certain which song to release as the next single, Harry suggested to Stig, after hearing Frida’s Swedish version of Fernando on Frida Ensam, that ABBA should make an English recording of it, which of course later became a Number One hit all over the world. Harry’s fondest memory is about Agnetha, who due to her fear of flying, travelled to the Netherlands by ship and train while the other three flew, with Harry collecting her by car. He remembered she was very down to earth, wearing no make-up and travelling ordinarily without anybody recognising her. He had a particularly good relationship with Stig and is absolutely convinced that, without Stig, ABBA would not have been as big as they were. In a private chat later, he told me that he felt sorry for the way Stig lived his final days and the fact that certain relationships deteriorated somewhat. He will always remember Stig as a positive, friendly and encouraging man who understood the music business like no other.

No ABBA Fan Day is complete without a quiz and some amazing prizes. The Voulez-Vous poster signed by all four members was definitely the most envied one. Congratulations to all the winners. Then, during a short break, the entire room was tidied and changed into a disco. Everybody was invited to dance their pain away, be a dancing queen or a pretty ballerina. The atmosphere was great and everyone had a blast. To keep up with tradition, the disco ended with everyone standing in a circle (or a double circle given the high number of people), arm in arm and singing along to The Way Old Friends Do. It moves participants every time and shows how music, especially ABBA’s, can bond and create true everlasting friendships. Thank you, ABBA. Thank you, Helga, Anita, Roeland and all involved in this wonderful day.

Photos of the weekend can be found here.