News recently surfaced of a sequel to the movie smash Mamma Mia!. And yes, ABBA’s Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus have given the project their seal of approval and will also serve as executive producers.
The sequel Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again will be set once more on the Greek island of Kalokairi, and reunites the producers from the original film, Judy Craymer (who created and produced the stage show) and Gary Goetzman.
New this time around is Ol Parker, who has written the new movie and will also direct.
Ol is best known for The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015), The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2011) and Now Is Good (2012).
The new Universal Pictures movie will feature ABBA songs that weren’t included in the first film and also reprises some of the most popular.
Mamma Mia! The Movie, which was released in 2008, was a huge worldwide hit, making $609.8M in global box office sales. Until this year’s Beauty And The Beast, Mamma Mia! was the biggest grossing live-action musical ever.
The original cast, including Meryl Streep, Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan, Colin Firth, Amanda Seyfried and Dominic Cooper are all expected to return for the second outing of the musical.
The news of the new movie has divided ABBA fans, much like the original stage show and movie did. One thing that no-one can deny is how phenomenally successful those two showcases of ABBA’s music went on to become.
Look out for much more news about the new film which is set to hit the silver screen in July 2018, ten years after the original was released.
‘Writing The Tunes’ is an essay from the eagerly awaited, revised and expanded book ‘ABBA – The Complete Recording Sessions’ by ABBA historian and acclaimed author Carl Magnus Palm. It is a fascinating account of the roles and responsibilities that Benny Andersson and Björn Ulvaeus take on during the songwriting process. Here is an exclusive sneak peak…
The start of a songwriting period was always the hardest for the team: getting over the initial threshold. “After we release an album we don’t write for two or three months,” Björn explained at one point, “so when we start again it’s really hard and nothing helps but hard work.” The discipline of working day after day, hour after hour, Monday through Friday during office hours, was crucial for these particular writers; it was their method for getting the creative juices flowing. Björn was very firm about it in a 1982 interview. “There is nothing bohemian about [writing songs]. It’s a job that requires good character and discipline, like every other profession. That thing about writing when inspiration hits you, and usually in the middle of the night: both Benny and I quickly realised that it’s just a myth.” Like most songwriters, then, Andersson and Ulvaeus had concluded that if they would just wait for “inspiration”, they would never get any work done: the magic feeling of being possessed by something of an almost spiritual nature would emerge only through the work itself. “Inspiration comes at the exact moment when you hear that you’re on to something that’s good,” as Benny once phrased it.
So what would happen during these songwriting sessions? It was quite a simple set-up: Benny would be at the piano, or whatever keyboard instrument was handy, with Björn sitting beside him, armed with an acoustic or electric guitar. Then they’d start playing chords, humming ideas for melodies, throwing riffs and fragments of songs at each other, grabbing hold of the other person’s idea and take it to the next level. “All of a sudden,” Benny explained in a 1974 interview, “one of us will sing something that turns you on and then you play that thing, trying to develop it.”
The melody lines they’d be working on didn’t necessarily originate during the songwriting session: they would bring ideas to the room where they both were sitting, but those ideas would more often than not have emerged when they were alone. Rarely, however, would those melodies pop up while they were out walking or shopping, or were simply busy doing nothing; it was when actively playing music that the ideas would come. “You don’t write a good song in an hour,” explained Benny many years later. “You need to have two months [of] trying out ideas, before writing the good song in that hour. … If you don’t sit there and if you don’t work on it really hard, trying to achieve something and trying to make something good, it’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen sitting in the car, thinking, ‘Oh I have this good idea’, nothing like that. I have to sit at a piano or a keyboard and play through the rubbish, and get rid of that, and sometimes things will pop out and I can say, ‘This is good.’”
As many have witnessed and he himself admits, Benny always found it hard to resist playing a piano wherever there was one available and it was through sitting at the keyboards hour after hour, just playing away, that all the music he’d ever heard in his life, combined with his own tastes, temperament, inclinations and feelings, would suddenly result in brand new melody lines travelling from his brain and out to his fingers. “I actually think that this is what ‘composing’ is really about, that the music has to exist before you play it,” he says today. “It’s not about sitting there improvising, as it were, it’s about sitting at the piano and wait for this thing that already exists to arrive. You want to watch your hands play something that you haven’t heard before, but which really is structured, in some way. And that takes time – usually you have to wait a very long time.”
Coming up with melody lines that felt right, that were worth developing, was a completely intuitive process. “I don’t know what it is that makes you choose like you do,” Benny says. “If I’m playing for four hours straight, trying to arrive at something that might be used for something, which I believe that I’ve invented, then I can’t really say why this melody line or these four bars in particular are what I decide to keep instead of all the other ideas that have come up. I just don’t know. The only thing I can say is that it feels right.”
What Björn and Benny would be doing once they got together, was to piece all those ideas together into a coherent song. “We don’t really adhere to any principle when we write songs; we just play around,” said Björn in a 1977 interview. “We both look for something and we both know when we find it and that’s an incredible feeling, the best kick you can get.” Rarely would they try to write a specific kind of tune: whatever came up during the writing, that they liked, they would go with. “Of course,” Benny admitted at the time, “if we’ve written eight songs for an album and we need two more, and all those eight songs are ballads, you don’t aim for writing two more ballads. But they may turn out to be anyway.”
If they were lucky, the process of coming up with a cohesive tune could in itself be relatively quick. The normal course of events, however, was that it took a lot of time, since their quest for the strongest possible melody ensured that at least 90 percent of their ideas for melody lines and song fragments would be discarded. “Sometimes it takes you a week and there is no song at all – or two weeks,” Benny explained in a 1980 interview, “and sometimes it takes four hours and there is almost a complete song there”.
They would be ruthless against themselves: just a catchy chorus wasn’t enough, they wanted the entire song to be solid, in all its parts, from start to finish, “never leaving a song until we feel it’s the best thing we’ve done,” as they once put it. But there wasn’t a fixed pattern as to the order in which the song would be put together: for example, they didn’t necessarily start with the chorus and then build the rest of the song around it. Says Benny, “You start at one end, with whatever you’ve come up with – four bars, or eight, or just a phrase you like – and then you use that as the starting point. And that could be any part of the song.”
Although Benny has always been, in Björn’s vernacular, “the musical motor” in the Andersson/Ulvaeus partnership, supplying most of the ideas for their songs, this does not mean that Björn never contributed anything. By the time his and Benny’s collaboration truly kicked off, towards the end of the 1960s, Björn had already proved himself as a tunesmith, having had a dozen of his songs recorded, several of which were strong, catchy tunes. Clearly, such an ambitious songwriter wouldn’t just sit and wait for Benny to come up with ideas. It is true, however, that as the nature of their collaboration evolved, Björn would take on the role of “editor” of the ideas that flowed from his colleague, essentially being Benny’s sparring partner. Parallel with this development, his interest in lyric-writing grew, and today’s Andersson/Ulvaeus songs are strictly music by the former, lyrics by the latter.
While Benny remembers several melody lines for ABBA songs coming to him, today Björn can’t remember any specific parts of tunes that he himself contributed. “Benny provided most of the music even in the early days,” he admits, “but it’s awfully difficult to say exactly where things start and end during the songwriting process.” And, as Benny points out, the Andersson/Ulvaeus partnership has never been about that type of issue. “It’s an interesting question, to pinpoint who does what in a song. It might be that one of us brings along a song that is complete: both of us feel that it’s complete, so that’s what it is. But let’s say that the song is complete, and then one of us says, ‘Wait a minute, what if we do it like this at that point in the song?’ and then we both agree, ‘Yeah, that’s really great!’ Who has written the song then? Is it the work of one person or of two persons? In other words, if we agree on a thing together, then both of us have been equally involved. In that respect there’s a tremendous difference between being alone and being together.”
On Thursday 26 January, Stockholm’s Royal College of Music, celebrated the opening of its new campus with an inauguration ceremony which featured a specially penned piece of music by Benny Andersson with lyrics by Björn Ulvaeus, Vi äger drömmarna (We Own The Dreams).
Benny, who has helped raise the money needed to fit out the new state-of-the-art building through his involvement with the ‘Music For Millions’ fundraising campaign, attended the prestigious event accompanied by his wife Mona.
Görel Hanser was also among the invited guests along with Göran Arnberg from Benny’s band who is an alumni of Kungliga Musikhögskolan (KMH) and wrote the choral arrangements for Benny and Björn’s new composition.
The gala ceremony, attended by luminaries and royalty including His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia, began with a champagne reception in the futuristic, atrium style foyer that connects the original brick stables with the glass and steel structure of the new building.
Following the unveiling of a large brass plaque engraved with the names of the project’s most significant donors, KMH students performed a contemporary piece from platforms around and above the room before guests were invited to take their seats in the Royal Hall.
Once inside, the concert continued with a mixture of modern, folk and traditional works by acclaimed Swedish composers including Karin Rehnquist and Jesper Nordin.
The students performed the choral Vi äger drömmarna, towards the end of the performance. Benny took the stage briefly afterwards to acknowledge the applause and thank the conductor and musicians.
Interspersing the evening’s musical programme were a number of inaugural speeches and presentations, one of which included bestowing Benny with an Honorary Fellowship of Kungliga Musikhögskolan.
According to the music school, the title is only awarded to “particularly deserving persons of great artistic and educational inspiration and integrity”.
The inscription on Benny’s certificate translates as: ‘For rich and multi-faceted achievements as a composer, musical arranger, band leader and instrumentalist, a great commitment to younger fellow musicians and the support of KMH and its students.’
Benny is only the 9th person in the school’s history to have received the honour and he joins the likes of opera singer Birgit Nilsson, violinist Isaac Stern, record producer Sir George Martin and choral conductor Eric Ericson.
Speaking to icethesite after the ceremony Benny said in his usual humble manner:
“I have no idea why they think I deserve to receive the Fellowship, but I am extremely honoured and happy that they do. I think it is a very nice collection of names to be a part of.”
Benny also told us that he does hope to record Vi äger drömmarna one day, however, he doesn’t know who will perform it, or when or where it will eventually appear.
Thursday’s concert is scheduled to be broadcast on Swedish radio on 9 February and film from the ceremony will be included on a TV documentary about KMH to be shown later this year.
KMH’s housewarming party continues into this weekend with a packed programme of free concerts, workshops and events open to the public.
When the musicians left the stage at the end of the performance the audience stomped their feet for an encore.
The group obliged with a lively finale of the folk classic, Polska efter Bysskalle, which Benny often performs with his own band BAO.
Afterwards Benny and the members of Systerpolskan remained in the room for some time, chatting with family, friends and fans alike.
Systerpolskan’s new album Randig kjortel, featuring Benny on piano, keyboard and accordion, is available now on CD and digital formats. The release features 10 new compositions plus traditionalsongsfromUppland andDalarna.
Benny Andersson will contribute a piece of music for the next production by acclaimed Swedish artist, playwright and director, Marie-Louise Ekman, Försökskaninerna.
The play, which is the third in a trilogy of stagings which highlight issues relating to a mother’s progressive ageing, will open at ‘Dramaten’, Stockholm’s Royal Dramatic Theatre, in March 2017.
Benny has worked extensively with Marie-Louise since she designed the artwork for his solo album November 1989. The pair havecollaborated on a wide variety of TV, film and theatrical projects, including both previous instalments of the Försökskaninerna trilogy.
“I always say yes if she asks me,” Benny told us. “She has a lot of artistic soul and her work is very, very original,” he explained.
For the forthcoming production Benny will write a song with lyrics by Marie-Louise.
The last play featured purely instrumental music.
Benny said: “The piece I wrote for the second play is a tune that I have never used again anywhere else. It is actually one of the tracks that I am considering including on my piano album.”
Tickets for all performances of Försökskaninerna, including previews and opening night, are on sale now via the link below.
On Saturday 29 October, Benny Andersson, together with fiddlers from Orsa Spelmän and BAO members Göran Arnberg (keyboard) and Pär Grebacken (clarinet), joined the acclaimed organist Gunnar Idenstam and nyckelharpa player Johan Hedin, for a one-off concert at the 11th century Nidarosdomen, in Trondheim, Norway.
The performance got underway at 8pm as Benny, playing accordion, led his fellow musicians in a processional up the candlelit aisle of the cathedral to take their place on ‘stage’ beneath the pipes of the magnificent Steinmeier organ.
Although the 2 hour event ran without an interval, it was split into three distinct sections:
The first five pieces performed were all Swedish folk tunes, including a beautiful and moving composition by ‘Perra’ Moraeus, Koppången and Benny’s Machopolska.
Benny and the fiddlers left the stage while Gunnar – who performed with Benny in Piteå back in 2012 – and Johan played a varied selection of traditional and self-penned pieces for organ and nyckelharpa accompanied by Göran Arnberg.
The final third of the evening was dedicated to some of Benny’s most famous choral music, Vilar glad. I din famn, Kärlekens tid, O klang och jubeltid, Anthem and En skrift i snön. All vocals, including solo sections, were sensitively performed by the Nidarosdomen choir.
To the surprise of the cathedral’s 1000 capacity congregation, the evening concluded with an un-programmed finale which was in marked contrast to the, until then, classical tone – a loud and rousing rendition of Dancing Queen.
The previously sedate audience erupted with whoops of delight and were instantly on their feet, singing, clapping and even dancing in the aisle. When the musicians eventually left the stage, they did so to a standing ovation.
Afterwards Benny told icethesite that he had enjoyed the occasion immensely. “It is always fun to try new things and wonderful to have the opportunity to work with such talented musicians as Gunnar and Johan again,” he said.
There are no plans to repeat the concert and no official recording was made.
All four members of ABBA, entertainment entrepreneur Simon Fuller, and Universal Music are partnering together in a groundbreaking venture that will utilise the very latest in digital and virtual reality technology.
Fuller came to prominence through managing pop group the Spice Girls.
He went on to create the Idol franchise and has managed the careers of some of entertainment and sports biggest stars, including Victoria and David Beckham, Annie Lennox and Lewis Hamilton.
In 2008, he was certified as the most successful British music manager of all time by Billboard magazine and even has a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
The aim of the link up between Fuller and the ABBA members is to create an original entertainment experience, which will enable a new generation of fans to see, hear, and feel ABBA in a way previously unimagined.
Simon Fuller has been quietly invested in virtual reality technologies, developing hyper-realistic digital humans in the field of entertainment, for several years.
About the project, Frida said: “Our fans around the world are always asking us to reform and so I hope this new ABBA creation will excite them as much as it excites me!”
The collaboration with ABBA will fully realise the possibilities of virtual reality ‘ahead of the curve’ – and in the process hopes to transform the face of popular entertainment.
The members of ABBA will be involved throughout the creative process maintaining the authenticity and integrity of the band’s original vision within this exciting new realm of possibilities.
Simon Fuller: “Having seen over the past few months the creativity and ideas flowing from the members of ABBA, it fills me with great excitement.
“This new technological world we are exploring, with Virtual Reality and Artificial Intelligence at the forefront, allows us to create entertainment and new content in ways that could never previously have been imagined.”
Sir Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group said: “I’m thrilled to be involved in this innovative new project that will introduce the band who are responsible for some of the greatest songs and melodies in pop music to a new generation of fans.”
A press release to herald the new project states: Nearly 35 years after their last public performance together, the members of ABBA are preparing to give their fans around the world what millions of them have long dreamed of but considered impossible: A new entertainment experience.
Benny said: “We’re inspired by the limitless possibilities of what the future holds and are loving being a part of creating something new and dramatic here.”
icethesite hopes to be able to share a few more details of this exciting and pioneering collaboration, with the full backing of Agnetha, Frida, Benny and Björn, soon – but the full details of the project and where and when you can see it will be announced in 2017.
In an interview with icethesite Benny announced that he has decided to mark his upcoming 70th birthday with the release of a solo piano album.
“I’ve actually been thinking about it for a while but haven’t had the time. Now I do and it kind of feels right,” Benny said. “I think it’s going to be fun!”
Although he has not chosen exactly which tracks to record yet, they will all be his own melodies and he says that he intends to include pieces from every phase of his musical career from 1965 through to 2016.
“Some pieces, such as Mountain Duet from CHESS, are really suitable as piano solos whereas others, Waterloo for example, just don’t work,” he said. “It will depend on what feels good in my hands when I play.”
Benny hopes to start work on the project next week, but as he wants to record the album on the piano that is currently in his office rather than the one in the studio, he needs to get it moved first.
“My office piano has electro-magnetic sensors which makes editing easier,” he explained. “I fear that I am getting rather particular, but I don’t want to hear myself playing sounds that are too perfect,” he said.
Benny doesn’t plan to feature any other musicians or an orchestra on the release, making it the solo recording that many people have hoped he would make for a long time.
The album will be released on vinyl as well as CD and digital file formats. In addition, a book of sheet music will also be made available.
“I like the idea that anyone who can play a little, young or old, talented musicians or otherwise, can take it home and give it a go themselves,” Benny told us.
Benny is not sure if he will get the album completed before his actual birthday on 16 December due to the pressure of other commitments.
“Probably not, but we’ll see,” he said. “It would be nice if I could, but Spring 2017 is more likely,” he concluded.
Occasionally, Benny has played around on the piano, just for fun, as part of being filmed for this site and below is an example of Benny’s wonderful playing on the ABBA song Happy New Year.