There is one thing about Abba that’s different, ventured one Brother Rue. “You either love them or like them but rarely would you loathe them.” For once there was no disagreement.
Promoters of the photogenic Swedish group hit the jackpot with a fortuitous sense of timing. The early 1970s was a tumultuous period when the world seemed to need some cheering up. Of course, there were more talented bands either emerging or established on both sides of the Atlantic and Stockholm did not figure prominently on the pop music map back then. And it hasn’t since.
Brighton hosted the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 and Abba’s contribution was “Waterloo”. The glamorous group romped to 24 points, possibly helped by the late withdrawal of France due to the death of President Georges Pompidou. “A song to celebrate Napoleon’s defeat at a time of national mourning would have been distasteful,” said one Brother Rue with a certain glint.
Olivia Newton-John was the hope of Britain with “Long Live Love” but there was to be no home victory. At least she secured 14 points, which would be unthinkable today given the tedious tactical voting that both determines and undermines modern Eurovision outcomes.
So, Abba became a jolly musical force for some time, enhanced no doubt by the advent of colour TV, music video experimentation and a series of “singalongs” expertly crafted of reverberant rhythms to encourage a little disco dancing as well.
A simple formula for phenomenal worldwide success that has lingered . . . and lingered to the point that the Radisson Blu Hotel on a warm October night in 2017 was a sell-out. The leading Abba tribute band had arrived from the UK and the audience mostly of a certain age duly embraced the occasion.
Ray McRobbie, the enterprising head of hotel entertainment, had told us to expect “Rock Abba” rather than “Pop Abba” but from the opening notes of – yes, “Waterloo” – the distinction was barely noticeable as the packed dance floor left only toe-treading room.
We had a brief chat with the band while the 550 guests were tucking in to the excellent buffet, which few hotels in Doha can match on such busy evenings of entertainment. The group had been together just three years and clearly enjoyed the thrill of the chase – next stop was the Midlands market town of Chesterfield the following day.
In 2015 they had performed six shows in Sweden and were apparently extremely well received. “Bit like Kenneth Branagh playing Hamlet in Elsinore,” whispered one Brother Rue incongruously. They were here to please and to improvise, particularly with some likeable lead guitar interventions that added different dimensions to the prolific compositions.
However, they were quick to acknowledge that the Abba “holy trinity” of “Waterloo”, “Dancing Queen” and “Mamma Mia” continue to elicit most enthusiasm wherever they perform, and Doha was no exception. The two dancing ladies in stylish retro attire appearing to impersonate Patsy and Edina from Absolutely Fabulous apparently agreed.
One Brother Rue, who shall remain nameless, was particularly impressed by the rendition of “Fernando” with favourable mentions going to “Chiquitita” and “The Winner Takes It All”. This Abba incarnation entertained all evening with consummate ease and instilled rigour and vitality that was not always apparent back in the 1970s. The appreciative Doha chapter of Abba aficionados left the Radisson Blu in high spirits as strains of “Thank You For The Music” could still be heard. Thank you, indeed.
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