Encounter with ABBA members in Sweden

My article in Rolling Stone.

Rolling Stone, February 1996.

MAMMA MIA! HERE WE GO AGAIN (Rolling Stone)

By Cotton Ward

I’ve been putting on blue eyeshadow and blonde wigs since Mamma Mia hit No.1 in 1975. The only time I’d seen the group was as distant, pre-giant-video-screen miniatures onstage during their 1977 Australian tour. And now Benny (the One with the Beard) and Bjorn (the Frog-Faced One) were premiering their new musical, Kristina Fran Duvemala, in a Swedish country town, Malmo. I was hoping for a glimpse of my idols, but all the tickets had been booked out six months earlier.

Friday: Left Stockholm and did the seven-hour train trip to Malmo with another Aussie fan, Sandra. We loitered outside the theatre and asked about tickets. A glacial blonde told us Benny and Bjorn would not be making a grand entrance.

Saturday: Went back to the theatre at 3:30pm. The show was due to start at 6pm. There were about 50 European fans there and also TV reporters, who interviewed us. A feather-boa-draped Swedish journalist hauled us over to the press desk and outlined our dilemma. We were given two tickets to the premiere.

The evening’s highlight was when the rarely-seen Agnetha arrived at 5:30pm. I asked for her autograph, but she brushed me away.  I ran after her, but the media pack encircled, squealing, and I was trampled. Sandra was sobbing in a corner somewhere. Frida never turned up – she was in Washington gallivanting with Queen Silvia of Sweden.

The show was sung in Swedish, so I can’t tell you what happened, but there were hundreds of peasants, marriages, deaths, births, and Kristina often looking concerned and clutching a quilt. Anyway, we were mainly trying to look at Bjorn and Benny’s reactions. Agnetha was sitting upstairs in an ivory tower.

During the interval, Bjorn and Benny vanished. On a whim, I walked back into the theatre alone, and bumped into Agnetha. I asked for her autograph, but she said, “I can’t – I have to go to the loo!” I was stunned. After 20 years of adoration, listening to her obscure Swedish solo albums. And that was it. “I have to go to the loo.” Just before she walked away (surrounded by several women friends), she turned and paused so I could take a photo.

When the show finished, after the standing ovation, Sandra and I rushed to the backstage doors, but we missed Bjorn and Benny’s departure. After a quick meal at McDonald’s, we went to the after-show party, but Bjorn had left.

We could see Benny playing Swedish folk music on an accordion. A couple of the show’s stars performed songs from the musical. Then endless Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra hits were played. Bundles of early-edition newspapers headlined “Agnetha steals the show” arrived, but remained unopened.

I chatted to Benny as he was leaving and signing autographs at 1:15am. Then the other fans left, but Sandra and I stayed, numb and frozen. Sandra wanted to leave, as it was raining, but I reminded her we’d waited backstage in Australia until 3am for Bjorn Again! At 2:45am, Benny returned. “Hey, the girls from Perth and Sydney,” he said, correctly remembering our details. As Sandra took photos, she asked: “Do you think we’re crazy?” He smiled but wouldn’t be drawn. It was 3am and we were freezing in a remote town in the middle of nowhere and we’d travelled so far just for that night, without tickets. I realised that out of the 150,000 fans who’d seen ABBA perform at the Perth Entertainment Centre in 1977, I was the only one who’d tracked them down that night in Malmo.

Sandra asked again, nervously: “Do you think we’re mad?” He paused. “No,” he said, shaking his head, and as he headed for the performers’ mini-bus, he called out: “Have a safe trip home!”

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