Sunday 5 June 2016 marked the 50th anniversary of the first meeting of Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson. A chance meeting that became a firm friendship and songwriting partnership that endures to this day.
In a room filled with 300 or so invited family, friends and associates at Berns Salonger in central Stockholm, Björn and Benny celebrated the anniversary with a night filled with music, memories, and fun, arranged in secret by Benny’s son Ludvig Andersson, Görel Hanser, stage director and BAO member Lars Rudolfsson, and Master of Ceremonies Claes af Geijerstam.
The night featured an audio-visual presentation of Björn and Benny’s career. Interrupting the presentation were musical performances by guest singers, backed primarily by Benny Anderssons Orkester (without Benny), revisiting Björn and Benny’s vast catalogue.
Hep Stars lead singer Sven Hedlund sang Björn and Benny’s first song ‘Isn’t It Easy To Say’, apparently the first time he has ever performed the song live; Peter Jöback and Lill-Babs duetted on the Björn & Benny single ‘Det kan ingen doktor hjälpa’; Ludvig sang ‘Rock Me’ while his half-brother Peter Grönvall joined the band on keyboards; Pernilla Wahlgren and Lena Philipsson sang ‘Hole In Your Soul’; Helen Sjöholm sang ‘Where I Want To Be’ from Chess while Tommy Körberg sang BAO’s ‘Du är min man’, a reversal of their usual songs. Apparently there were other performances, but details haven’t been made public.
Paul McCartney sent a video greeting congratulating the pair on their long relationship and continued success. Björn and Benny have often professed that they were inspired to write songs, separately and together, by the example of Lennon and McCartney and The Beatles in the mid-1960s.
The night climaxed when Björn and Benny took to the stage to perform ‘Does Your Mother Know’, Björn handling lead vocals while Benny joined in on keyboards. After they returned to their seats, much to everyone’s surprise Frida and Agnetha were introduced to sing ‘The Way Old Friends Do’, dedicated to their old partners. Just as they did in 1979, Frida sang the first lines, Agnetha sang the next lines, then the two joined together in harmony. After the song, Björn and Benny returned to the stage for a brief emotional reunion.
With the formal events of the evening over, BAO took over with dance music until late in the evening.
Immediately the news of a so-called ABBA reunion flashed around the world. Unfortunately, as the story spread, it became more and more wrong about the events of the evening.
Due to an unfortunate misunderstanding of the song title, thanks to the way it had been introduced, it was reported in Expressen, quoting guitarist Janne Schaffer, that Frida and Agnetha had sung a song called ‘You And I’. Those are the first three words of ‘The Way Old Friends Do’, but are also the title of a song from Chess. So the story spread that they actually sang the song from Chess, perhaps not the best choice of song for a tribute. Then when other media outlets picked up the story and didn’t recognise that song title, but found that ABBA had a song called ‘Me And I’, they started reporting that the two women sang that song, an even less appropriate tribute than ‘You And I’
It was also widely reported that Björn and Benny joined the women on stage to sing, for an “ABBA reunion”, but that didn’t happen. The two men only returned to the stage after the song had finished. All the photos of the four together on stage on social media and elsewhere were taken in the minute or so after ‘The Way Old Friends Do’.
Pretty much every story stated that this was ABBA’s first public performance in 30 years. It was neither. The last (known) time the four sang together was 17 years ago, in June 1999 at Görel Hanser’s 50th birthday party. Prior to that they had also sung at Claes af Geijerstam’s 40th birthday party in 1986. Neither of these were public events, but like Sunday’s gathering, private parties for invited guests only.
The so-called last public performance by ABBA referred to in the media was not in public either, but to a small gathering of probably four or five with film crew and Görel and Anders Hanser, when they taped the performance of ‘Tivedshambo’ for Här är ditt liv (This Is Your Life) for Stig Anderson in January 1986. Hardly a public performance, but it was the last time “ABBA” were seen by the public, albeit on television
After three decades of avoiding appearing as a group, this marked the second occasion that the four had been seen together this year. In January the four appeared on stage briefly at the opening of opening of Mamma Mia! The Party. Does this mean that a formal ABBA reunion is in the works? Of course not. On every occasion they’ve been together since 1982, it has been some private celebration, without media and fans present.
(Photo: Instagram @poptonten)