PC: Could you tell me about your experiences with CHESS?
EP: It was pretty amazing. You know, Tim Rice had wanted to write a musical for me for some time. First came BLONDEL about King Richard the Lionheart and British history… but I didn’t become particularly involved in that. Then he came up with the idea for CHESS and started having meetings and talks with Benny and Bjorn of ABBA. I heard some of the original demos for some of the tunes that they were putting forward to write lyrics for and I was just blown away by the melodies. I remember thinking what an amazing show this was going to be and how much I wanted to be a part of it. So, very early on in the process of writing the show, I accompanied Tim Rice to Stockholm in those early days – long before it became the wonderful show that is – and we would go there and work in the studio with Benny and Bjorn and Tommy Korberg who played the Russian originally on the album.
We would bat around different ideas in terms of Tim’s lyrics and Benny and Bjorn’s music and we would just try out different keys and play around with lyrics and see which character might be singing what lyrics and whether songs would be solos or duets and so on. So it evolved. At least, you know, to see this work in progress from its very beginnings. It was one of the most exciting times ever, really, for me in musical theatre because I had never ever watched or been involved in that process ever before in musical theatre.
It was very, very exciting indeed, as you can imagine. Indeed, some of the early music was for a song called "When the Waves Roll Out To Sea". That was just – when I heard that tune I just knew I had to be involved with the production. In fact, it was one of the tunes that eventually got dumped from the original production – it never made it! It always amazes me how fantastic that tune is and it never made it. Such a brilliant song never got to be in the show.
PC: Are there any other ABBA songs you’d like to do? I’d love to hear you do "You Have To Be There" from KRISTINA.
EP: That’s a fantastic song, isn’t it? It is something I’d like to do. But, at the moment, I’m just about to embark on a new album – which has nothing to do with musical theatre – so, I might have to put it on the back burner for awhile. I might want to do it in concert, but, certainly, in terms of recording, I don’t think I’ll be able to do it this time around. Indeed, it’s a brilliant song. What I love about their work is that it is so emotionally charged, their melodies. You know, Benny, the music just sort of tumbles out of him, these dramatic ballads. There’s something rather operatic about them in their intensity, in the means of, from the bottom end of the register to the top. A bit like in Andrew Lloyd Webber in some ways – but, slightly more modern. That’s what I love about their work, it’s like modern opera really.
PC: What did Andrew Lloyd Webber think of CHESS?
EP: I don’t know. I don’t know what he was doing at the time, PHANTOM or something. Also, LES MISERABLES was another show I was asked to do during that time and I had to turn that down because I had already committed to CHESS. For me, CHESS was the score the 80s. I think it’s the most amazing score in modern musical theatre. It’s one of the great musical theatre albums.
PC: Did you enjoy the success of the concept album? "One Night In Bangkok" was even a hit in the US and, of course, your duet with Barbara Dickson – "I Know Him So Well" – still holds the record for the number one female duet.
EP: "Bangkok" is fantastic but "I Know Him So Well" never made it in America, but it made it everywhere else in Europe and everything, really. Barbara Dickson enjoyed the success of being #1 here and in Scandinavia but it never translated to American audiences in the same way. But, it’s still in the Guinness Book of World Records for being the longest running female duet – it was sixteen weeks at #1 here.