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International ABBA Day 2012

by Jason Swan

If the Mayan calendar is to be believed, every event this year may be the last, but this year's ABBA Weekend would be remembered as an excellent one to end on. This was my 12th time to attend in the last 13 years and while it has become more of an event at which to see very good friends, I still manage to learn more about ABBA every year I go.

My husband Barry accompanied me again this year, as he has almost every year since we met six years ago. He does not hate ABBA, and he loves me (Heaven help him), and so he comes along and joins the other members of the ABBA Widows club. One of my best friends from my time living in New York, Gil, also accompanied me, as he has since 2003. We always make a point to arrive in Roosendaal as early as we can on Friday. Gil had flown to London earlier in the week, though he stayed with friends on Thursday night, and we met him bright and early at St. Pancras Station to take the Eurostar to Brussels. Normally we try to fly either to Amsterdam or Brussels, as it tends to be cheaper from London, but this year we were early enough in our planning to make the train more viable. It is an infinitely less hassling way to travel.

We arrived in Brussels at lunchtime and had a great meal in the station before continuing on to Roosendaal. We again were forced to stay in the Best Western Goderie this year, which is right across from the train station, as the three-person rooms in our favourite hotel (The Central) were already booked. Learn from this: Always remember to book early for the ABBA Weekend. We were also in the same room at the Goderie as last year, and it still smelled of sewer gas. One would think they would have noticed the problem and fixed it over the past year... A quick trip to the grocery store for air-fresheners did the trick, but we made sure the hotel staff knew the problems we were having. We will see next year… We spent the afternoon relaxing from the journey and stocking up on snacks for the hotel room. I also got a haircut at a great place that served me wine and washed my hair before and after the cut. I was on holiday, so it was nice to splurge.

Anita had sent me an urgent email a couple days earlier, asking me to bring the music I had put together for the Friday buffet two years ago, so there would be music at the Friday event. I was not sure what the Friday event was supposed to be, so I simply grabbed those CDs and also put the specific songs on a playlist on my iPhone and hoped for the best. The Friday event turned out to be just the usual (but welcome) pub night with ABBA music that I have come to love every year. This always used to happen at a pub called Big Ben, but has floundered in past years after Big Ben went out of business. This year, Helga and Anita had found a new pub/restaurant called De Moriaan. They had set aside their pub room for an ABBA party and played whatever we wanted them to. Gary Collins had put together a fantastic (and difficult) quiz, and two local ABBA tribute singers performed, including some hilarious Dutch touches.

The main issue was that the music I had prepared for the buffet two years ago was meant to be in the background, and included a lot of ABBA-related music only fanatics love, and so we ended up having to repeat a few of the major hits a couple times to balance things out for the local 'casual' ABBA fans who were there. Now that we have such a fantastic venue again, I promise to do better next year, of course.

On Saturday, I got up and was on track to get to the ABBA Day venue De Rottier by the opening time of 11:00 am. However, my phone had not reset itself for the time change from London to Roosendaal, and so I overslept spectacularly, not getting there until noon. The special gift this year was a button with a photo of ABBA I had not seen before with Agnetha in ponytails.

I usually make a point to go around to each of the tables selling things, in the hope that I might find something that I do not yet have. I am still searching in vain for a good vinyl copy of the Hootenanny Singers' first album. No-one seems to have one… and no-one seems too fussed about releasing all their material on CD either. However, on a whim I bought a new album of ABBA covers by Anne Wood (Donna from Australia's Mamma Mia!), which was a very pleasant surprise. All the versions were low-key and jazzy, similar to Tanita Tikaram's takes on ABBA. The album includes a rare cover of Dance (While the Music Still Goes On), in which Phil Spector is nowhere to be found, and a surprising version of Björn and Benny's song for Barbara Dickson The Day the Wall Came Tumbling Down.

As the years have gone by, however, it has become far more important for me to meet up with the great ABBA-fan friends that I often manage to see only once a year. For the first time in several years, almost all of the people I had met at my very first ABBA Day in 2000 attended - still, there were a number of people that were sadly missed. One of them was Vaughan Davies who normally conducts the stage interviews during the day. Since he was not going to be able to attend this year, Helga had asked me to fill in. This time the interviews were to be with ABBA's art director Rune Söderqvist and their bassist Rutger Gunnarsson. Rob Beuving had put together a fantastic set of questions and demonstrations to have a sort of Master Class with Rutger Gunnarsson, but unfortunately Rutger was unable to travel on the day. Hopefully this can happen another year.

As a last minute replacement, Jean-Marie Potiez agreed to be interviewed. Many of you will know of Jean-Marie's excellent books on ABBA and related subjects in both French and English, but he is also the creative force behind the documentary from the early 1990s called Thank You ABBA (which I happen to own on video disc) and the EMI collection of Frida's early Swedish material. What I did not know was that Jean-Marie had undertaken and succeeded at ALL of these projects through the sheer determination of a fan. He does not work 'in the industry' as I had assumed, nor did he have a special relationship with the ABBA members or their organisations. After the interview, I had great respect for what he has managed to do. He told me we could have spent twice as long on the projects that he did NOT manage to get done. I guess we will have to give him time…

The video show during the day was excellent as ever, put together by Alex Jones, though he was not able to be there this year to oversee it. In honour of ABBA's 40th anniversary, he had put together every known televised song from California Here I Come (1970) to Tivedshambo (1986). Frida's Something's Going On (30th anniversary), Agnetha's I Stand Alone (25th anniversary), and ABBA's The Visitors (recently released anew) were each given the spotlight.

At 13:30, activity stopped at Rottier for the official play of ABBA's latest release From A Twinkling Star To A Passing Angel. I had only heard the poor-quality radio broadcast of it beforehand, and so it was glorious to hear it on such a big sound system among so many fans as excited as I was about it. At the end of the main day, the DVD show focused on the very last appearances of ABBA as a group in late 1982, 30 years ago now.

After a quick reset of the room, it was time to start the main event, the ABBA Disco. Billy Strachen again outdid himself with his kick-off video, which included dozens of performances by ABBA all morphed together in incredibly clever ways. The ABBA disco is one of those wonderfully odd things, and it is incredibly hard to describe its appeal to others. All of the songs are by ABBA or an ABBA related artist. Many times they are obscure songs, B-sides, or expanded clips from ABBA Undeleted, but they are always beloved by us fans. Some of the songs are the last thing you would expect to hear at a night club, even on an ABBA night, but then, that is why so many of us travel so far for those special four hours. This year in addition to all the great hits and near hits, we had a lot of fan favourites that are faithfully played every year (Frida's Syrtaki, Happy Hawaii, Kisses Of Fire) as well as some new additions (an expanded version of the 'dance' demo of Like An Angel Passing Through My Room as well as the Matt Mix of That's Me). There were some songs I do not enjoy (the Lemon Mix of Frida's Ögonen for one) that were played again, but some songs that I do like (yet other people do not) that were not played this year, namely Move On. So what if you cannot dance to it. I still like swaying to it every year.

Alex Jones was also missed during the annual playing of As Good As New when he does his best to keep us all from clapping at the wrong times, just like knowing the proper time to stick your finger in the air during Super Trouper (first clue, it is NOT at, "Feeling like a number one"), or when to point during Dancing Queen (second clue, it is NOT at, "You can dance, you can jive"). There is a rather grumpy picture of me on Facebook when I tried to fill Alex's shoes and failed miserably. Alex, please be there next year…

As always, the four hours came to a close far too quickly, and Helga and Anita took to the stage to thank everyone who helped make the day happen including all of us who attended. Then Benny's accordion introduced the Fan Club's theme song The Way Old Friends Do, and we all joined hands in a circle to bring the great day and night to a close. Most of us left the venue for the 'after party' at De Moriaan, going on into the wee hours of the morning. By the time I got back to the hotel at 3:00 am, I was wonderfully exhausted.

We spent Sunday morning touching base with everyone we could. It is always a day where many tired ABBA fans come down for their hotel breakfast to say goodbye to another, get in some last hugs, and go their separate ways back home. Gil, Barry and I caught our train at 13:00, and spent a couple days in Paris before returning to London. As always, the International ABBA Weekend was a wonderful event. On the years just after the big 5-year celebrations (such as last years' 25th anniversary), it can seem as if attendance is lower (which it actually was not according to Helga). However, these are always my favourite years as the really committed people are there, and it is all about catching up with good friends who all happen to share the same interest in a small group of Swedes who managed to touch all our lives in so many special ways.

See you next year!