It’s 41 years since the Swedish band won Eurovision with ’Waterloo’, but, at 68, co-writer Andersson is still diversifying. The composer of musicals Chess and Mamma Mia has just produced a teen horro with his son, writes Helen Barlow
BENNY Andersson is known internationally as one of the creative geniuses behind ABBA, the other being Björn Ulvaeus. But in his native Sweden, he has long been revered for a range of projects. The 68-year-old started out in The Hep Stars, a band known as the ‘Swedish Beatles’, before he achieved worldwide recognition with ABBA’s 1974 Eurovision win. Since then, he has drawn on Swedish musical traditions with his own band, Benny Andersson’s Orkester (BAO!), and has produced the theatrical musicals, Christina, Chess and Mamma Mia! In 2008, the latter, built around 24 ABBA songs, became the most successful movie musical of all time. A cinema lover, Andersson wanted a new challenge and, with his son, Ludvig, and seasoned filmmaker, Cecilia Norman Mardell, has produced a Swedish-language, high-school fantasy thriller, The Circle, starring six young Swedish actresses, three of whom had never acted before.
“One of the reasons I’m sitting here is because Mamma Mia! was such a joyful experience,” Andersson says at the Berlin Film Festival. “I was involved in getting the music together and I’d written music for a couple of films — but The Circle was different. It was the first time we’d had the full responsibility. We knew we could do this, because we could pay for it. But once it came to filming, out in a forest in the middle of Sweden and building a dance floor and getting all the logistics together, we knew that was Cecilia’s job. We could never have done that. It’s nice to know your limits, I think.”
The cast of The Circle
Norman Mardell says she didn’t view Benny and Ludvig, who is also a musician, as father and son. “They’re so used to working together,” she says. “They have a really professional relationship at work.”
As is typical in a high school coming-of-age story, the girls face their demons, here in the form of evil black smoke. Andersson was pleased the film tackled social issues. “The dysfunctional mother, eating disorders and bullying are really common problems,” he says. Was he bullied at school? “No, I wasn’t. I was a nice bloke,” he says.
Andersson composed the film’s music. “I didn’t want to write the score, because it’s time-consuming, but somebody twisted my arm. So I just did how I felt it should sound like and tried to make it work. Then, Ludvig put together all the other music.”
Ludvig, 33, is Andersson’s son with his second wife, Swedish television presenter, Mona Nörklit, whom he married in 1981, following his divorce from fellow ABBA member, Anni-Frid Lyngstad. Last year, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of ABBA’s Eurovision win, Ludvig compiled a Wembley concert DVD culled from six of ABBA’s 1979 Wembley shows.
Andersson and Ulvaeus have also have kept the memory of Eurovision alive by composing ‘We Write the Story’, which Swedish DJ and recording artist, Avicii, adapted as the anthem for the 2013 Eurovision Song Contest in Malmö, Sweden.
Andersson says ABBA’s Eurovision win was a mixed blessing. “We thought we were good and we entered the Eurovision Song Contest because that’s the only way to get anywhere when you’re a Swedish band nobody cares about,” he says dryly. “If you win that, people might pay attention, which they did. But then they think that’s what you are. So it was really not doing us a favour, in a way.”
Afterwards, the super troupers enjoyed a big international hit with the album, Waterloo. “Then, nothing happened, like often is the way with Eurovision contenders. We worked in England and they said, ‘Well, not to worry’. So from sending us big limousines in the Waterloo period, the cars got smaller and smaller and we had a Volkswagen bus by the end.” ABBA’s comeback started when Swedish director, Lasse Hallström (My Life as a Dog), pre-empted the rise of music videos and created three videos, for ‘I Do, I Do, I Do’, ‘SOS’ and ‘Mamma Mia’.
Andersson says: “Lasse made them for 25,000 Swedish krona [€2,700], which is not much for three videos, and they were sent around the world, so we weren’t having to travel that much.” This was welcome, as blonde ABBA singer, Agnetha Fältskog, had a fear of flying and had young children with Ulvaeus, then her husband. The 1994 success of the Australian movies, Muriel’s Wedding and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, which used ABBA’s music, cemented the comeback. As did the success of British duo, Erasure, who recorded a compilation of ABBA songs, Abba-esque, which was followed by the stage version of Mamma Mia!. “So, it’s been working all around our music,” Andersson says. “And we haven’t done anything. We just sit back and enjoy it. It’s quite fantastic, really.” ABBA ran from 1972 till 1982, and was reportedly offered $1bn to reform, but declined. Still, I ask Andersson if they will get back together. “No we’re not going to, if you ask me,” he says, mischievously.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved