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