An interview with Görel Hanser

Görel Hanser
Görel Hanser

We recently caught up with Görel Hanser and had the opportunity to chat about her incredible career and her approach to work and business.

Görel started working at the offices of Stikkan (Stig) Anderson’s publishing company Sweden Music and the record company Polar Music in September 1969. She worked her way from being Stig’s secretary to Vice President of Polar Music.

During the ABBA years she handled the contacts with the many labels around the world who released the group’s records. She also became ABBA’s personal manager, dealing with the press and accompanying them on their tours and promotional trips. In the process, she became a personal friend of the individual members as well.

When ABBA ceased working as a group, Görel continued working for Sweden Music and Polar but in 1987 she started her own company Music & Artist Service Görel Hanser.

She continues to work with Benny to this day, including handling the practicalities of Benny’s solo work, his work with Benny Anderssons Orkester and the Benny Andersson/Björn Ulvaeus musicals.

Can you tell us about how your office at Södra Brobänken 41 has changed over the years?

We originally moved into this building in 1992 as a base for Benny’s Mono Music label and had about 5 people here then, Benny, me and some finance and publishing staff.

We gradually grew in size, particularly when Benny and Björn’s musical Kristina från Duvemåla came along. The show brought with it a lot of work, not only for the run in Malmö, where Kristina had its world premiere but also later on in Stockholm, where the Cirkus theatre had to undergo a major refit in order to host the show.

When you are putting up a production that features 45 orchestra members, 50 to 60 people in the cast and a large number of people working backstage, there is a lot of organising involved and a lot of people to look after. It was hard work both for me and the office. Looking back on those days maybe I am glad that I didn’t know quite how tough it was going to be. It’s sometimes better not to know these things beforehand!

At the same time as we were putting on Kristina, we were also still running Mono Music, Benny had started Benny Anderssons Orkester and I had started my own company managing artists like Tommy Körberg and Helen Sjöholm.

Over time, we gathered good, competent, experienced people around us, and that helped us not only with Kristina through its Malmö, Gothenburg and Stockholm runs, but subsequently Chess på Svenska which ran at Cirkus for three seasons and Mamma Mia! for four.

During my time working with Stikkan Anderson, he instilled in me a sense that I could manage things and manage them well. He was like an encouraging school teacher, he would say “You can do this.” and “I trust you.” The faith he showed has given me a sense of self-belief which has been very valuable.

And while the set up here has changed considerably over the years, one thing most definitely hasn’t and that is that there has honestly never been a single boring day in this job.

Can you describe your typical daily work routine?

I cycle into the office every day, and of course the first thing I do is open my emails. That is if I haven’t already done that from home.

Recently there have been a lot of dealings with Deutsche Grammophon…they are requesting more promotion with Benny for his Piano album. In addition, ABBA as a group may be no more but ABBA’s legacy is still very much alive and takes up a lot of time. I speak to Mia Segolsson who runs Polar Music many times a week. Mia is responsible for the ABBA releases etc.

There are frequent big requests along the lines of ‘Can we do this with an ABBA song?’ down to very small requests. But whatever the demand might be, whether big or small, I try and give it my very best attention.

‘ABBA The Museum’ here in Stockholm and ‘The ABBA Exhibition’ on the South Bank in London have also required a lot of input.

It is important that I follow up on every single matter that crosses my desk, making sure everybody and everything is taken care of in a professional way.

Can you describe how your work differs now from what you were doing when ABBA were at their peak?

My work, when I started in this business, was mostly concentrated around ABBA. They released roughly one album a year and with those releases came a lot of work. Without technology to support us it was very different back then too.

Record company people would fly in from all over the world to collect the master tapes, and we would need to ensure that each individual territory got the correct versions of the covers, the tapes, the lyrics, the release details and so on.

We would also co-ordinate the schedule for the group regarding TV appearances, photo sessions, interviews etc. This was the big stuff but we would also be involved right down to the small things too and that was how we wanted it and how it worked best for us.

Back then, it was a world of telexes, fax machines, of magnetic punched cards (used on our very early computers), telegrams – I recall having to read out many messages on the phone to the telegram company – and of course piles and piles of letters.

Stikkan’s wife Gudrun was very good with new technology and helped push us forward back then, she was the one who introduced me to my very first fax machine.

I have enjoyed watching how technology has advanced over the years but in all honesty, I still think of myself as being essentially ‘analogue in a digital world’.

On 7 February 2018, Görel was awarded a Swedish Grammy in honour of her journey with music. (Photo: Mia Segolsson)

What would you say are particular standout moments from your career?

Dancing Queen hitting the number one spot on the Billboard Chart, the opening of Kristina från Duvemåla in Malmö, the release of Klinga mina klockor (Benny’s first solo album and the first Mono Music release) and recently a special highlight was winning my Swedish Grammy.

Benny and Björn’s diverse musical output has ensured that your career has encompassed so many different worlds (Broadway, West End, film, classical music, pop etc.) – do you find that dealing in these different circles requires a different approach from you?

I am the person that I am, which means that I hope to treat everyone I meet with respect regardless of whatever world or professional background they may come from. I am driven to do my best and whether I am arranging a concert, a theatre show, a tour or a record release, I hope that if you are working with me that you feel like you are being treated well.

Some people are very easy to deal with and some people are more challenging, of course. Sometimes it’s a matter of really listening to someone and working out what adjustments may be possible to move forward to everyone’s satisfaction.

How would you describe Benny?

Devoted, musical genius, warm-hearted.

How would you describe Björn?

Curious, masterful lyricist, entrepreneur.

And finally, what are you most looking forward to working on or seeing come to fruition in 2018?

The virtual ABBA project and the opening of Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again are two big things coming up but whatever comes my way, I look forward to maintaining a good working atmosphere around us all which encourages people to do their best work and to love it at the same time.

Görel Hanser
Görel Hanser – “ABBA’s legacy is still very much alive and takes up a lot of time.”

Many thanks to Görel for chatting with us and also to Carl Magnus Palm for the bio at the start of this article.

2018 proving popular for major CHESS productions

This year sees a host of new professional productions of the Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Tim Rice musical CHESS on both sides of the Atlantic.

Ramin Karimloo and Ensemble in Chess. Photo by Teresa Wood.

Washington D.C.

In February, the Tony Award winning producer, Michael Meyer, presented a new semi-staged concert version of CHESS at the Kennedy Centre in Washington D.C., to open the theatre’s ‘Broadway Center Stage’ season of short-run shows.

The five night only production which featured a revised book by Emmy Award winning writer, Danny Strong and a re-ordering of the musical’s songs, was staged with the full support of Benny, Björn and Tim Rice.

“We have all been behind this production from the outset,” Benny told us. “Björn, Tim and my son Ludvig went over to meet with the producers last year and I met the musical director in London,” he said.

The all-star cast including, Ramin Karimloo (Anatoly), Raul Esparza (Freddie), Ruthie Ann Miles (Svetlana) and Karen Olivo (Florence), were backed by a stellar team of decorated choreographers, lighting, sound, costume and set designers.

Simply staged, the cast sat on chairs for a large part of the performance, while the 19 strong Opera House Orchestra played behind them, elevated on platforms of scaffolding adorned with oversized Chess pieces. The set consisted mainly of two giant projection screens showing period news clips from the Carter/Reagan Cold War era.

However, despite unanimous praise for CHESS’ musical score along with the cast’s vocal performances and Danny Strong’s new book being described as sharp and funny, the reviews from the press have been somewhat mixed. With a running time of 2 hours 50 minutes the show was generally considered to be too long and the story has been criticised as contrived and convoluted. On the other hand, “Come for the sublime Broadway performances. Stay for the fresh book and the rock ’n roll.” said another.

According to Benny, their initial aim had been to take the show back to Broadway, however the final decision as to whether it will go further has yet to be made.

“It is still very much on the cards,” he said. “But we shall see…”

The Danish touring production has been very well received by fans and critics alike
The Danish touring production has been very well received by fans and critics alike

Danish tour

Running from mid-January until the end of March, this first professional Danish language version of CHESS is scheduled to play at 5 venues across Denmark:

19 January – 17 February : Tivoli Concert Hall, Copenhagen
20 February – 3 March : Musikhuset, Aarhus
6 March – 10 March : Odeon
13 March – 17 March : Musikteater, Vejle
21 March – 24 March : Musikteatret, Holstebro

The touring company, directed by Mark Clements, stars Stig Rossen as the Russian, Anatoly Sergievski, Bjarne Langhoff as the American, Freddie Trumper, Pernille Peterson in the role of Svetlana and Xenia Lach-Nielsen as Florence, while Jakob Zethner plays Molokov and Kristian Vetter, The Arbiter.

The cast are backed by an orchestra consisting of just seventeen musicians with music specifically re-arranged for their small number by Anders Eljas.

The tour has received a host of five star reviews from the Danish press and although neither Benny nor Björn have had any involvement with or yet seen the production, their personal representative, Görel Hanser, did travel to Copenhagen to watch a performance and has given the show her approval.

A collection of images and video footage from the production along with all the performance details and ticket information can be found on the tour’s official website.

Limited to five weeks, CHESS will be staged in London by the English National Opera

London

On 26 April the English National Opera (ENO) will present the first West End production of CHESS for over thirty years at The London Coliseum.

The ENO’s award winning orchestra and chorus will be joined by Michael Ball as Anatoly, Alexandra Burke as Svetlana, Tim Howar as Freddie and Cassidy Janson as Florence.

Murray Head, who played Freddie Trumper in the original London production and scored an international hit in 1984 with the single, One Night In Bangkok, from the CHESS concept album, returns to the musical in the role of The Arbiter.

Benny has told us that although the precise format of the ENO production has not yet been agreed, it will be predominantly based on the Swedish concert version with a little from the 1986 London production added in.

“Maybe there will be costumes and some sets,” he said, “I’m not entirely sure, but probably not a full staging,” he concluded.

All the musical arrangements and orchestration, which Benny hopes will include the song He’s A Man, He’s A Child, written for Chess på Svenska in 2002 and therefore not previously performed in the West End, is being undertaken by Anders Eljas.

Tickets for the production, which will run for a limited five week period until 2 June 2018, are available now on the ENO’s official website.

Helsinki’s Svenska Teatern is staging CHESS this Autumn.

Helsinki

Following the enormous success of their previously staged Benny and Björn musicals, Kristina från Duvemåla and Mamma Mia!, Svenska Teatern are, this Autumn, launching a production of Chess på Svenska.

The show will feature both a newly edited script from Lars Rudolfsson and fresh orchestrations by Anders Eljas.

Although the full cast has not yet been announced, we do know that it will be produced by Maria Sid and star Maria Ylipää as Florence with Alexander Lycke in the role of Anatoly.

Benny has confirmed that he will be actively involved with the production which premieres in Helsinki on 8 September. Tickets for performances up to 31 January 2019 are currently available via Svenska Teatern’s official website.

Future productions?

With all the current interest in CHESS, we asked Benny if there was more to come?
“The corpse is moving!” he joked.

There’s more…

An interview with ‘Piano’ engineer Linn Fijal

Linn Fijal
Linn Fijal, Studio Manager at Riksmixningsverket and the engineer on Benny Andersson’s ‘Piano’ album

If you have picked up a copy of the Piano album by Benny Andersson, then you will see that the credits for engineering the recording lay with Linn Fijal, as well as a co-credit for recording and mixing alongside Benny.

Linn works at Benny’s Riksmixningsverket (RMV) Studio in Stockholm and icethesite caught up with her recently to find out more about her work.

How and when did you first start working at RMV Studios?

It was actually through a chance meeting with Benny’s son Ludvig at a mastering studio that I got in touch with the studio regarding a position. This was back in 2010. I applied, was interviewed and got the gig.

My early days were spent buying and constructing stuff, getting the mixing desk working, assisting more experienced engineers. These days, seven years later, I’m doing a whole lot more, far more responsible, managerial type work and scheduling duties as well as being a recording engineer, mixing engineer and sometimes producer as well.

One thing I don’t touch though is the budgets and invoicing, that’s definitely not my thing!

Are you having fun?

I love it here. I think it’s really nice. And now I have a lot more help, because if you have more than ten people in on a session, like an orchestra, that would mean a lot of running around unless you have some assistance.

Have you ever recorded just piano before?

Not a complete full length record, just the odd ballad here and there. I don’t do that much classical music and if I do it’s mostly about setting up strings.

RMV produces a lot of different kinds of music, from classical piano, through folk to rock, do you have to swap your mentality for each genre?

I can’t lose my rock head, that is always there but I have studied classical music too, so that is in my background. Ultimately though, a good song is a good song, a good melody is a good melody, and a good sound is a good sound, regardless of genre.

That in some ways is why Benny’s Piano album has been so enjoyable. I think if an engineer steeped in classical music had been at the desk, it would have been a different sounding record. Piano is very much a straight-up pop type recording technically. We didn’t try and replicate the sound of a concert hall, which is a more typical way to do this type of album.

Benny likes the sound to be quite wide and I like an open sound and we have produced something that is very true and real, whereas a lot of classical music can tend to sound a bit muddy and blurred to my ears.

We tried out lots of mics in order to hit on a sound that was right. Benny is ultimately in charge of the recording and he made the final call, which was to use really accurate microphones, the CM 402s by Jörgen Thuresson, and record in the brightest way possible. We didn’t want to muddy the sound in any way or have to modify the sound later by messing too much with EQ and compression.

The tuning is also really important for the sound and sustain of the piano, Jussi Karjalainen did a really good job making it sound clear, not all through ‘perfect tuning’, which makes it all sound more real.

The only tweaks we made affected the digital reverb and as a result it’s a really honest sound recording. You can actually hear on this recording what’s going on within the piano.

I’m getting lots of good feedback from the classical community about the recording, so that makes me happy.

Scenes from inside Benny Andersson's Rixmixningsverket (RMV) studio
Scenes from inside Benny Andersson’s Riksmixningsverket (RMV) studio

What was the first you heard of with regards to Benny wanting to do a new solo album?

I had picked up some corridor chatter really, that perhaps Benny wanted to do something for himself. The first task I was involved in was trying out some pianos, so we visited the Royal College of Music here and listened to and recorded maybe six or seven different grand pianos. We also tried out Benny’s Yamaha in his office and the Steinway here before he settled on the Fazioli.

Once the decision was made about which instrument was the one, there wasn’t really a lot of planning for the recording, at least not on my behalf. He would call me up and say “I want to record…when can we do it?” and then it was a matter of fitting in the recordings between projects we were already committed to.

Setting up to record was a pretty simple affair, just Benny, me and a piano required.

There are 21 tracks on the album, did you get the impression that Benny had practised them all and knew which ones would make the cut before recording started?

I don’t think he practised that many. Very rarely he would say “I have actually practised this.” Mostly he would say, “I haven’t played this for 20 years!”

The selection was made on variety, the ones he liked most and also on how long the tracks were. I don’t think he knew when he started the project how long the record would be, that was decided later.

You have worked with Benny for some time now, on a variety of different musical styles, what’s that like?

Benny is a mastermind! He is in control of everything and has always been like that. He knows what he wants and there’s no compromising. He will say: “I want it this way,” and then I will do my best to make sure he gets what he wants. That’s nice for me because he is never shy of taking the important decisions.

RMV studio is a state of the art setup and I don’t imagine there are many compromises in terms of the gear you have to work with?

You’re right! And I’ve been lucky and thoroughly spoiled in this set up. That also means that the only thing that can create a bad recording here is me, it’s not like I can ever blame the gear or the budget. It’s a lot of pressure but I’m not complaining…it means that when I get a great sounding recording that I am really proud of, like the Piano album or Benny’s choir album Kärlekens tid, that I treated all this great gear right.

What’s next up for you?

I have a really exciting hardcore project mixing ‘Riot Girls’. They take band members playing rock and hardcore style music from the 1980s punk groups through to bands from today and assemble a group. They were here for a weekend recently and wrote and recorded music like it was nothing. All in a weekend, twelve songs were written and recorded. They were long days of course, twelve hour shifts and I was here with two assistants and two runners and it was so much work but also so much fun.

Then I have a jazz album to mix and a pop album too. A lot of mixing coming up.

Thanks for talking with icethesite Linn, it has been a real pleasure catching up with you.

Thank you for giving my work notice.

There’s more…

Benny Andersson says that the fans helped bring his ‘Piano’ CD about

In an interview just before ‘Piano’ was released, Benny says that he knew there was an audience for a stripped back piano only version of his music, thanks to feedback that he had read on icethesite. Enjoy!

The video appears on icethesite’s Facebook page and if you’re not following already, do give us a look!

Göran Arnberg talks about his work on Benny Andersson’s ‘Piano’ album

Göran Arnberg - Benny's long time collaborator transcribed 'Piano'
Göran Arnberg – Benny’s long time collaborator transcribed ‘Piano’

How and when did the idea of producing a sheet music book to accompany the album come about?

Benny called me in the beginning of April 2017 and asked if I could transcribe some piano music for him. I did not know then that it would be a real piano book of the entire album.

What made it extra interesting was that he wanted everything written as he played it, with no chord symbols to make it “easier” to read. In this case he wanted an exact reproduction of what his hands were doing. Real ‘Beethoven-scores’, so to say, playable even if you have never heard the piece before.

How did you receive the tracks from Benny?

He sent them to me by mail and ftp.

Can you describe the transcription process, i.e. your method?

Firstly, I put the piece in my sequencer for easy access and for the possibility to loop sections. And then I started listening and test playing. Over and over repeatedly. When I began to understand what Benny was doing, I input the notes in my scoring software, hopefully as correctly and readable as possible.

Did the project differ from anything you have done before? If so, how?

I have never transcribed classical solo piano with this level of accuracy before. As it is a rather time-consuming process you don’t get the opportunity to do it very often.

How long did the transcriptions take to complete?

All in all, with editing, proofreading and layout, around three months. I got great help from Naomi Cook at Music Sales as it is very hard – close to impossible – to proofread your own work. Luckily there weren’t that many errors in the material, but there is an old saying that when you open a new book, fresh from the printers, the first thing your eyes are drawn to are any errors, so…touch wood!

Which track(s) proved most challenging and why?

I would say some of the Chess pieces (Ice: we see what you did there Göran!), like Mountain Duet and You and I primarily because they are rather complex musical pieces to begin with.

Did you enjoy the process? You told us at the studio that it was an almost “psychedelic” experience at points?

Haha, I was referring to the fact that the work process sharpened my ears to a level I did not think was possible. For example, I had to very carefully remember not to put my mobile phone near my work space, because if it rang, I would jump three metres in the air (and almost have a heart attack!). Seriously – a very scary experience!

And what I mean by “psychedelic” is that when I closed my eyes I could mentally zoom in on the different frequencies and envision a gigantic keyboard on which I could clearly see what Benny’s fingers were doing there at any given moment.

This may sound like total mumbo jumbo, but it is very hard to explain it any other way.

Towards the end of the work period I sometimes could be uncertain if plain, ordinary major triads were not actually major seventh chords (until I realised that my ears had become so sharp that I started to hear overtones as chord notes). Luckily this has gone away now!

All in all, I must say that I enjoyed the work very much and that I learned an enormous amount from it. Also, it has been a great opportunity to really immerse in these beautiful melodies.

In addition, it gave me an even greater respect for Benny as a piano player – his pieces are quite a challenge for any pianist in both the technical and musical sense but also very rewarding. Well worth a try!

Göran, thanks so much for this interview, and as we say in English, it’s in the bag!

The sheet music to ‘Piano’ is available now from musicsales.com

There’s more…

  • UK link to the ‘Piano’ album songbook – available now: MusicSales.com

Benny Andersson’s ‘Piano’ album tracklist

Benny Andersson's new solo album 'Piano' is released on 29 September
Benny Andersson’s new solo album ‘Piano’ is released on 29 September

The tracklist to Benny Andersson’s new album Piano released on 29 September on Deutsche Grammophon/Universal is now revealed on icethesite in its entirety.

To accompany the release of the album, which will be available on CD, vinyl and digital download formats, a book of sheet music will also be released.

Benny Andersson – Piano

1. I Let The Music Speak
2. You And I
3. Aldrig
4. Thank You For The Music
5. Stockholm By Night
6. Chess
7. The Day Before You Came
8. Someone Else’s Story
9. Midnattsdans
10. Målarskolan
11. I Wonder (Departure)
12. Embassy Lament
13. Anthem
14. My Love, My Life
15. Mountain Duet
16. Flickornas rum
17. Efter regnet
18. Tröstevisa
19. En skrift i snön
20. Happy New Year
21. I gott bevar