My first ABBA fan event

Twenty five years ago today I attended my first ever ABBA fan event.

In 1983 I was an lonely ABBA fan in Canberra (Australia’s national capital). In the late 70s at high school I had friends who shared the love of ABBA, but as the years went by and we left school we grew apart. ABBA had come to an end, and the general public had seemed to forgotten them.

Through the last edition of the Australian ABBA Fan Club newsletter I met another local ABBA fan, who it turned out moved in the same social circles as I did. With him I travelled to Sydney for the Sydney ABBA Disco, the first organised ABBA fan event held in Sydney, run by a group of friends known as the Sydney ABBA Clique.

It was a revelation to me to be in a room full of people who felt the same as I did about ABBA. Many of them were “legendary” ABBA fans that I’d read about in the pages of the fan club newsletters. I knew almost no one before entering the room, but by the end of the night I’d met people who would become my lifelong friends.

That night also inspired me to move to Sydney and start a new life. I was accepted into the Sydney ABBA Clique, and over the next few years we would gather almost every weekend to share those occasional new records from the ABBA members, news, and videos from overseas, and enjoy each other’s company.

These days we might not see each other as often as we once did, but whenever we get together again it’s as if we haven’t been apart for more than a few weeks. Others friends have moved on, and sadly a few others are no longer with us.

If you ever get the chance to meet up with other ABBA fans, whether it’s a large event or a small informal gathering, I suggest you do it. You never know who you might meet or what friendships you might forge.

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6 Responses to “My first ABBA fan event”

  1. Graeme Says:

    I couldn’t agree more, Ian. When I moved here (Canada) from the UK many years ago, I felt isolated, both as an ex-pat and as an ABBA fan. I eventually met some nice fans here and there before the advent of the Internet and we shared some of that ABBA love, but predominantly my contact with ABBA fans was via penpals overseas. All that changed when I got an e-mail from another ABBA disciple, Glenn, in Vancouver about 6 years ago. He too was from the UK, and of course we hit it off as friends immediately. Every couple of months, we get together and have what we call an ABBA feast. We literally spend hours and hours analysing every video, watching rare footage, attending Mamma Mia! premieres, swapping ABBA goodies and treats, and generally sharing our passion for this band. We are still both madly in love with Frida, and always have been, but interestingly, Glenn has allowed me to fully appreciate how each one of the F.A.B.B. four brought something magical to the group. It is wonderful to be able to phone each other anytime there is news, or one of the girls releases something new. We are united in our friendship because of our love for ABBA. And your lovely story has brought my own feelings to the surface. We are all connected.

    Graeme,
    Vancouver, Canada

  2. Al Says:

    For UK Abba fans, did you know you can now down load from Amazon UK, legal and cheaper than iTunes. It hasn’t been publicised much. Go through my link to find Abba Gold

  3. Dave Graham Says:

    i love ABBA SO MUCH HOW ANYONE COULD FORGET THEM I;LL NEVER BLOODY WELL KNOW ‘
    Dave

  4. Dave Graham Says:

    they were very un happy towards the after there divorces allDave of them going thir seprate ways i wasnt happy about that

  5. Samuel Inglles Says:

    Hi Ian

    Here’s a story on ABBA Fans get together.

    Kind Regards
    Samuel Inglles

    The Times Magazine: Weekender (London) – Saturday, 8 November 1997 (Pages 23, 24 & 26)

    Thank you for the music: Today nearly 1,000 die-hard fans will gather in Bristol for ABBA Day 1997. Anna Blundy meets the super troupers celebrating 25 years of Sweden’s fab four. Portrait by James Cant.

    It only seems a moment ago that their sunny faces beamed out at us from every screen, reminding us that there was more to life than punk and glam rock. That there were fields, mountains, babbling streams and a wholesome existence where people sang with sparkling clarity and wore ludicrous clothes unashamedly – there was Sweden.

    Yes, today, is the silver anniversary of ABBA’s formation and time to pay homage to the charming foursome who touched all our lives. It is time to give thanks to Benny, Frida, Björn and Agnetha for the music and the songs they brought us. It is useless to pretend Dancing Queen, Waterloo or Take A Chance On Me didn’t send you hurting on to the dance floor, or you didn’t know the words to Super Trouper (“…but I won’t feel bluuuuuuue, like I always doooooooo, ‘cos somewhere in the crowd there’s you…”). However much you may hate ABBA in theory, their timeless kitsch and unmistakable sound became lodged in the depths of our souls in the late Seventies and there’s no getting rid of them now.

    To show one’s full appreciation to the first people, who put Sweden on the mental map of most Britons, it is necessary to go to Bristol for the weekend. For here lies the shrine to all things ABBA in the guise of Kathryn Courtney O’Neil’s ABBA fan club, and it is here at the Victoria Rooms on Queens Road that ABBA Day is being held today.

    The burgeoning club has swollen to a membership of around 6,000, and members from as many as 25 countries participate in the ‘S.O.S.’ swapping of ABBA memorabilia. No, seriously, they do.

    It all began in 1992 when the ABBA revival got going and Courtney O’Neil spotted a gap in the hero-worship market. However, this wasn’t just a business venture – Kathryn has been a fan since the age of nine when she watched them win the Eurovision Song Contest with their spectacular performance of Waterloo, tricorn hats and all. Her collection of ABBA-related trinkets fills several rooms.

    “I think their popularity lies mainly in the music,” she explains. “But also they had this wholesome image. Of course they had their problems and showed they were human like the rest of us, but there were never any scandals.”

    She talks about the band with incredible reverence; there can be no doubting the depth of her fervour for them. “Benny and Björn have just written an extremely successful musical called Kristina From Duvemåla, but I like to call it Kristina,” she says. Although it has not yet opened in Stockholm, Kathryn is confident it will be a smash hit in Britain, America and the whole world. “The critics called it a classic,” she says.

    ABBA sold 250 million records worldwide and are still counting, so Kathryn is not alone in her appreciation for the foursome, and she is hoping that as many as 900 ABBA sympathisers will be joining her in Bristol for the festivities. One man who will most certainly be there is 28-year-old Sean Robertson, an ABBA-fanatic Scot who lives in London.

    “Waterloo was the first one I loved,” he says. “I was a fan right from the start.” Although he won’t be dressing up as his favourite ABBA member (which is just as well since it’s Agnetha), he will be wearing the ABBA sweatshirt in which he came last in Channel 5’s quiz show, 100%. Although he managed a pretty impressive 72 out of a hundred, the other ABBA swots knew more.

    As a lecturer in taxation for trainee accountants this is a man who needs to escape in his time off, and you might expect him to be the very bloke to put on his flares and trim his Björn beard for the occasion. But Sean is a bit of an ABBA purist with little time for the types who jumped on the band wagon after Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert. “The dressing up is all a bit silly,” he says.

    ABBA DAY kicks off with videos of the band, the interviews they have been doing over the past year, some of the old stuff not shown in this country and then the real nostalgia. “They all had massive solo careers in the Eighties and Nineties so it’s good to see that,” says Robertson. There are also stalls selling key-rings, mugs, records, books, clothes, posters and even perfume relating to the band. “You get quite rare things now – The Gold and More Gold promo albums released to radio stations and things from Sweden that you can’t get in England. There’s a couple that always come over from Sweden with a stall.”

    Sean will be going up to Bristol with six mates this year and he insists that you get a “full range” of people at the event. “You’ve got your train spotters who don’t talk to anybody and just watch the videos, and also your lager louts. I’m more at the lager lout end, I suppose, I think the first five hours is really for die-hard fans with the stalls and everything, but the disco and fashion show are more for everyone.”

    But even Sean, who seems at times to have the whole event reasonably well in perspective, is keen to protect the good name of his favourite Swedes. “In Sweden people didn’t take them as seriously as they did here. Because here we like good singing and maybe because they’re so squeaky clean as well. But of course it didn’t really pan out like that,” he says, eager to point out that they weren’t boring or hyper-virtuous. “The later stuff was much more serious. I mean, The Winner Takes It All is about divorce and The Day Before You Came is about, just picking someone up on the street. But I think they got their image from their first few songs and it stuck.”

    Sean veers between having a sense of humour about it and sounding worryingly earnest. “The fans don’t really see ABBA as a camp thing – they mostly love the music, which as soon as you hear it makes you feel you’ve known it all your life because it’s so well written. It’s Björn Again that have made it camp and kitsch.”

    Björn Again is an ABBA cover band of which some real fans disapprove. “I don’t hate them. I’ve seen them quite a lot since they started in 1991,” says Sean, “but it grates because they don’t change at all. If ABBA had been going for the past six years they would have developed their act. On the other hand, seeing Björn Again is about as close as you’d ever get to seeing ABBA live, which will unfortunately never happen. They are quite accurate but they’re over the edge of taking the mickey.”

    Sean’s favourite ABBA member was Agnetha and he won’t hear a bad word said about her. “She didn’t like people saying she had a sexy bum. She was a massive star before ABBA and then when she joined the group all anyone could say was that she had a sexy bum. She’s quite private, not insecure…it was all a bit Princess Diana. The press really chased her.”

    Because she was the prettiest one? “Yes! Don’t say that, though, because there’s a big Frida/Agnetha thing among the fans. Frida’s always been there talking to fans and everything so you’re supposed to like her more, but if Agnetha walked in I think everyone would be gob smacked. She radiates being a star.”

    She is also the only one of the four multi-millionaires, now in her fifties, who is single. Both ABBA marriages, Agnetha’s to Björn and Frida’s to Benny collapsed, but they all, except Agnetha, managed to settle down more securely later in life. Sara Marchant, a 15-yar-old ABBA fan and frequenter of Kathryn Courtney O’Neil’s ABBA DAYS (inclusive of Thank You For The Music buffet) is also protective of Agnetha.

    “The Swedish press were really horrible to her. She is living her own life now,” she says quietly. Although lots of people Sarah’s age have never even heard of ABBA, she is unashamed of her passion. “I don’t know anyone who actually hates them once they have heard the music, and all my family have to like ABBA or they get shot. But mostly people are interested in them. I had to speak in my English lesson the other day and I spoke about ABBA and nobody was like, ‘Oh no, she’s talking about ABBA again.’ They all listened.”

    Sarah goes to ABBA DAY as Frida “because I’ve got brown hair,” and the first years she went all in gold as a tribute to the ABBA Gold album. Then the second year she went in Frida’s Waterloo outfit. Her mum makes the clothes and goes with her but doesn’t dress up herself. “Last year a bloke in white jeans and a white jacket won the fancy dress competition. He had painted the faces of the group all over it with fabric paints and put glitter everywhere.” Kathryn agreed with the judge, author of a number of books about the band, that Ian Jackson’s costume was indeed “a work of art.”

    Some men, perhaps deterred by the ghastly beards and tight trousers option, dress as Frida and Agnetha too. “There was a man last year who looked really impressive in his high-heels,” says Kathryn. “I asked him if he could walk in them and he said: ‘The more I have to drink the easier it gets.’ So he did have a sense of humour about it which was good.”

    But ABBA DAY is not only a chance for people to show off their moves and their fashion masterpieces, it is also an opportunity for them to meet like-minded fans. Sarah writes to a 35-year-old man whom she met at an ABBA DAY and, she says, he looks just like Benny. “He’s a really cool bloke. He’s not working at the moment though because he’s got a bad back.” She also writes to an ABBA fan in Germany. The 15-yer-old sees nothing odd in worshipping people three times her age. “I don’t picture them now. The images you see of them are all from the Seventies and I see them like that.”

    And it is undeniable that their youthful, smiling, white cat-suited guises is the image that they will live in all our hearts and minds forever. “It’s hard work, but as long as people keep coming and keep enjoying themselves, I’m going to keep on doing it,” says Kathryn.

    And whether or not ABBA DAY continues for decades to come, those songs we know so well will always send British people into the middle of the room, waving their arms in the air, wiggling heir bums, embarrassing themselves in a way Brits rarely do and singing along to every last word. “Couldn’t escape if I wanted tooooooooooo…”

    Photos: (1) Accountancy lecturer Sean Robertson, 28, with his collection of ABBA memorabilia. (2) Sarah Marchant in the outfit she wore to last year’s ABBA Day. (3) Many of the fans at the 1994 ABBA Convention weren’t even born when the group formed. (3) Kathryn Courtney O’Neil, ABBA Day organizer, with her collection; some of Sarah’s favourite ABBA trinkets and her Frida outfit.

  6. Yana Says:

    Any of u who lives in Sydney? Lets arrange a party and sing ABBA songs! 🙂

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