“ABBA is part of the DNA set up of Pop” – Benny Andersson

By Chris Hastings, Arts and Media Editor

ABBA have vowed never to perform together again despite the enormous success of Mamma Mia, the show and film based on their hits.

In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson, who wrote most of the group’s hits, said there was nothing that could entice them back on stage.

"We will never appear on stage again," says Ulvaeus. "There is simply no motivation to re-group. Money is not a factor and we would like people to remember us as we were."Young, exuburent, full of energy and ambition. I remember Robert Plant saying Led Zeppelin were a cover band now because they cover all their own stuff.

"I think that hit the nail on the head."

ABBA shot to international stardom after winning the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo and are the second most successful act in pop history after the Beatles.

They had nine number one hit singles in the UK including Dancing Queen, Knowing Me Knowing You and The Name of the Game and despite splitting up in 1982 continue to sell millions of records.

Their work has been covered or sampled by some of the biggest stars in the world including Madonna and the Fugees. It has also been used in the soundtrack to a string of hit movies including Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla Queen of The Desert.

Throughout most of the band’s life Ulvaeus and Andersson were married to the band’s two singers Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, better known as Frida.

Both couples divorced before the band split but Ulvaeus insists that the marital breakdowns were not the brought about by the pressures of fame.

"I don’t think the pressures of being in the band caused the splits. On the contrary. If Benny and I had been in a band with two other girls and had wives at home the marriages would have split up much earlier. They were not acrimonious divorces. We all sat down and said hang on we have so much more to give. We are not going to let it end are we? We are civilized people. So we carried on and some of our best work came after the divorces. The Winner Takes It All, for instance."

Both Ulvaues and Andersson are amazed and delighted that ABBA continue to sell millions of records every year.

"We didn’t think the music would live on this long," says Anderssson proudly. "You know what pop music is. It is there for the time it actually happens. You are on the charts for sixteen weeks or four weeks than it goes and then something else comes up. Another band comes in. Another trend comes in. You think that’s the way it should be. We were absolutely dead sure that it would be the same for us."

Of course no matter how many records they sell the band will always been synonymous with the Eurovision Song Contest.

Both men hardly tune in any more but they are confident a Western European nation can win again despite all the fears that the former Eastern bloc countries now dominate the event.

"Of course The West can win again," laughs Andersson. "It is just a question of getting the right stuff in there. I am proud of what we did in Eurovision, but I am not proud of Eurovision itself anymore. It is not producing good music of the kind it was in the 1960s. I think after us nothing good has come out of it. Really! Has anything good come out of it? Celine Dion maybe and Johnny Logan produced one or two things."

"As for the bias in the voting," adds Ulvaeus, "people have always voted for each other. The Irish have voted for the British and vice versa. It is nothing new."

Both men are delighted that their songs have had such an influence on the contemporary music scene.

"We have influenced other writers obviously," says Ulvaeus. "With such a string of hits you are bound to influence other people."

Madonna is a huge fan and in 2005 asked Benny and Bjorn if she could sample their hit Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man after Midnight) in the song Hung Up.

"Madonna wrote a very, very nice letter saying please please we have had a wonderful idea which involves Gimme Gimme," says Ulvaeus.

"We said we would have to listen to it first but after half a minute I knew it was brilliant. That is one of the few we have allowed. Five years earlier we said yes to the Fugees. But to everyone else we said No. I think the Madonna record shows that ABBA is part of the DNA set up of Pop."

Ulvaeus believes that part of the reason why the band’s work endures is that they hardly ever toured and they concentrated solely on songwriting.

"We toured very little. Almost nothing. That is why the songs are still out there. They are carefully crafted. It was the very best we could achieve."

"Touring we thought was a waste of time. It was much more productive and much more creative to write and record. I am glad today that we didn’t tour. We knew it begins and ends with a song. Back then the entire business revolved around the song."

Both Ulvaeus and Andersson are thrilled by the global success of the musical Mamma Mia which features more than 20 of their hits and can’t wait for the release of the film version this week starring Meryl Streep, Pierce Brosnan, Julie Walters and Colin Firth.

"When we were first approached about the idea for a show more than ten years ago we said I don’t think so," says Anderson. "We were very protective at the time of the work we had done. We were proud of it.

Andersson said: "You don’t just give songs away to anyone to do with what they want. It could have been a disaster. But we did have the power of veto which meant we could have stopped it anytime."

"But the first preview was absolutely wonderful. I remember in Knowing Me Knowing You they took out the ah ah bits. But the audience wasn’t having it and just put them back in. They just filled in the gaps."

Both Anderson and Ulvaeus insisted that the trio of women who had created the stage show should be responsible for the film. They say there was no question of handing it over to a Hollywood director.

"We didn’t want to lose the British Swedish touch which you could easily lose in Hollywood." says Ulvaeus.

"We would never have given it away to a stranger. We wanted to keep it in the family We also wanted to keep full control of the sound."

The film’s biggest draw is without a doubt Meryl Streep, who belts out a string of ABBA classics on screen including Dancing Queen, Money Money, Mama Mia and The Winner Takes It All.

"Meryl Streep is a goddess," smiles Ulvaeus, "And at first we couldn’t believe that she wanted to do it. I was completely taken by surprise when I saw her performance in the movie. To hear her delivering the songs with all the emotion we put in the lyrics is more than we could have dreamed of."

ABBA’s Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson – We will never reform

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