I’m the greatest Beatles fan – Benny Andersson
Can you hear the sobs, Fernando? That is the sound of millions of Mamma Mia fans wailing as Benny Andersson, one quarter of Abba, the Swedish supergroup whose hits provided the soundtrack to the record-breaking movie musical, reveals that there will not be a sequel – at least not one featuring any of the band’s music.
Despite hopes for a follow-up, Andersson told the Sunday Telegraph: "No, it’s not going to happen. There will not be another, quote unquote, Abba musical.
The Swedish Buena Vista Rumours of a sequel were fuelled when the film’s Hollywood star Meryl Streep said that she wouldn’t mind returning in a "Grand Mamma Mia" if it reunited the cast, which included Julie Walters, Pierce Brosnan and Colin Firth. Last year, Mamma Mia overtook Titanic to become the UK’s highest grossing film, and is on its way to making more than £280million internationally.
Despite the potential rewards of a sequel, Andersson said that he will not be permitting his back catalogue to be used. However, he left open the prospect that the film’s producers might approach another artist to create a soundtrack.
"Catherine Johnson [Mamma Mia screenwriter] is keen on working on something that has to do with her characters in the Mamma Mia movie – but it will not be with Abba music," he said.
Andersson, 62, will give a rare performance at London’s Hyde Park on Sunday, as part of Thank You For The Music, a gala concert organised by the BBC in tribute to the music of Abba. Artists performing songs by Andersson and his former Abba bandmate Björn Ulvaeus, 64, include Lulu, Chaka Khan, Jamie Cullum, Elaine Paige and Wet Wet Wet’s Marti Pellow, as well as rising chart star VV Brown. The concert, which will be hosted by Chris Evans and broadcast live on Radio 2, will also include two songs by Kylie Minogue, and a performance by the entire West End cast of the Mamma Mia stage musical.
"Some of the artists [on the bill] I am not so familiar with," Andersson admitted. "I don’t really follow what’s going on in the pop scene since I quit Abba. But I think I’ll enjoy the evening immensely. I will play a song or two, some Swedish folk music, with my fiddler friends from Oresund." He will also perform "a little slice" of a choral suite that he recorded after Abba was wound down in 1982.
More tantalising is the prospect of Andersson accompanying headline act, Kylie Minogue, in her version of When All Is Said And Done, a lesser-known track from Abba’s final studio album, The Visitors.
"It’s going to be a little adventure," said Andersson, getting into the spirit of the evening. "As well as Kylie being there, I like the fact that Lulu’s in, I’m looking forward to meeting Elaine [Paige], who I know from Chess, and Chaka Khan was always a favourite in the 70s.
"This event is very flattering, because basically we’re foreigners here. The English have always treated us like we were from England, for some odd reason, I’m very grateful for that. It’s quite amazing, like we’re yours, which we in no way are."
This one-off gala, which will also be attended by Ulvaeus, could be as close as fans get to an Abba reunion. In 2000, the foursome turned down the offer of a billion dollars to reform.
Famously prickly about the question of Abba ever getting back together, Andersson said that he and Ulvaeus will never perform again with their respective ex-wives, singers Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog. "This is easy to talk about," he said, emphatically, "there’s not going to be a reunion."
He is far keener, however, to rekindle his writing partnership with Ulvaeus, which began in 1966 when both were performing in two separate Swedish groups. The following decade, they were spawning hit songs such as Waterloo, Dancing Queen and The Winner Takes It All, eventually shifting more than 350 million Abba albums worldwide.
As a mark of the band’s enduring appeal, a touring exhibition called Abbaworld will open in London later this year, offering a "multi-media experience" involving their famously gaudy costumes and other memorabilia.
But the work Andersson is most proud of emerged after the band’s gaudy costumes were put in storage. As well as having written and produced albums for numerous Swedish singers in the years after Abba’s demise, he and Ulvaeus also have a brace of highly regarded musicals under their belts, most notably Chess, the musical about the Cold War co-written with Tim Rice and featuring the classic ballad I Know Him So Well. Less well-known is the pair’s epic Swedish musical, Kristina från Duvemåla, which ran for five years in the capitals of Scandinavia in the mid-90s. But they have barely written a thing together since.
"Bjorn and I talk about ‘Do you think we should do anything else?’ It’s a matter of having the right thing to work on. We don’t have anything as it is now, but something might pop up."
Earlier this year, Andersson returned to the UK charts with Story of a Heart, a solo album recorded with his 16-piece Swedish folk band. It contained the first songs he had co-written with Ulvaeus since Kristina. "We hadn’t done anything substantial for 15 years," he said.
The pair have also been working together on an English-language version of Kristina, which premieres later this month in New York’s Carnegie Hall featuring British tenor Russell Watson. If successful, there is talk of a transfer to London.
"I am as proud of Kristina as I am of my work with Abba," admits Andersson, "because it’s so different. It’s symphonic – more of an opera, really. It took five years to write, and I’m very pleased with what we achieved."
Perhaps inevitably, after Abba fizzled out in the early 80s, Andersson’s achievements have been overshadowed by the musical behemoth that once rivalled Volvo as Sweden’s biggest export. Today, Abba’s greatest hits compilation is the UK’s fourth best-selling album of all time, with the band’s back catalogue exceeded in value only by that of the Beatles.
"I’m the greatest Beatles fan," said Andersson, "so I need to get my hands on that new box set. They had so many good songs. First there’s the Beatles, then there’s nothing."
With a personal fortune of an estimated £100m, Andersson can afford to be less modest about his role in Sweden’s Fab Four. Dspite not having recorded together for 27 years, the band’s back catalogue is reported to bring in more than £2.5m a year. Andersson also owns a successful boutique hotel in Stockholm, the Rival, where each guest room contains a copy of Abba Gold. But when it comes to serious investing, his money goes on breeding racehorses.
"It’s more than a hobby, really," he says. "I breed them, but on a comparatively small scale. It’s quite an absorbing business, you know. In a way, it’s similar being in the music business. The work you do writing music, you never know what’s going to happen until afterwards, and it’s the same with horses. You have high hopes, and then it can go any direction.
"I have a number of horses in Sweden, but the racing scene is not that exciting. We have maybe four racetracks in the whole of Scandinavia, so compared with England or Ireland there’s quite a difference, which is why I buy on both sides of the North Sea."
His most promising prospects are those kept on a farm in Arundel, Sussex. "I have three horses in training in England at the moment – one four-year-old whose name is Perks. He’s a good horse, with quite good form, and he’s won number of races. And I have two-year-olds, and they’ve been out there and look somewhat promising. We shall see. Horses are the perfect way to lose money," he says. "Breeding racehorses is not something you do to make profit. It’s like something for amusement and excitement. It’s an expensive thing to do, but you never know, one of these days maybe the horse comes up that pays for the rest of them."
As the money rolled in following the band’s overwhelming success at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, Andersson and his then fiancee Anni-Frid Lyngstad – better known as Frida – discussed leaving Sweden to avoid its famously punitive taxes.
"I’m not one who complains about Swedish taxes, they’re not so bad. We used to have some strange tax rules for artists. In the middle of the 70s Astrid Lindgren, who wrote all the Pippi Longstocking books, published an article describing how she paid 102 per cent tax – "which was actually true, if you had your own company and paid your own social security, all that stuff."
"We said we we’re going to be there as a band for maybe three years, and if we were going to make a lot of money, what is going to happen? We tried to figure out what we could do. But it ended up with all of us saying, no, no, we like it here, we want to stay here, and there’s no reason to move somewhere else just to save some money. It’s only money."
* Thank You For The Music is on BBC Radio 2 on Sunday, 6.30pm. Story Of A Heart by the Benny Andersson Band is out now (Polydor)