Gazette Entertainment Writer STEVE CANAVAN talks exclusively to ABBA legend Björn Ulvares about Mamma Mia! coming to Blackpool.
Björn Ulvares knows a thing or too about creating a hit.
As part of the song-writing hit machine that were ABBA he rode on a 1970s wave of spandex, catchy tunes and worldwide fame.
But even he admits the success of his music’s offshoot Mama Mia! took him and songwriting partner Benny Andersson by surprise.
Björn said:”It’s astonishing the success of the show – it’s incredible. It’s difficult to understand that more than 50 million have seen it around the globe.
“I could have never have guessed the phenomenal success... never.
“(When we started) we were looking for a small theatre in London, not even in the West End, but never thinking it would run more than a year if we were lucky.
“I never anticipated anything close to this.”
Björn is delighted the show is heading to Blackpool next summer – a place he regrets ABBA never played – although countless tributes acts have tried to make amends over the years.
In an exclusive interview, Björn told The Gazette: “I know it’s a big summer resort, I’ve read about it in the papers.
“We never played in Blackpool – but I wish we had. It sounds a good place!
“I think the music will be perfect for the resort because I know it is dubbed the Las Vegas of the North so it sounds great.
“People should get up and dance, that’s what Mamma Mia! does with you.”
The show’s arrival is a huge coup for the resort.
Not since Cats 10 years ago has the town staged a West End hit and what a hit it is.
They do say that on any given day there will be at least seven showings of Mamma Mia! somewhere on the planet.
It’s performed in Russia, Venezuela, Brazil, pretty much everywhere you can think of.
It wouldn’t be a surprise if the closest NASA satellite to Mars picked up images of a performance there too!
Björn, and his songwriting partner Benny, were closely involved at every stage with the creation of the musical, to ensure the ABBA songs they so loving and prolifically crafted over an 11-year period in the 1970s and early 80s were not tarnished by being linked with anything sub-standard.
So was Björn against it?
“That’s not quite right,” he said.
“I was hesitant in the beginning because it was going to be a television show ages ago, towards the end of the 1980s.
“It was Judy Craymer, who is the producer of Mamma Mia! She was a TV producer and she came to me with an idea to have TV show loosely based on ABBA songs, a little story around them.
“I said if you can show me a good script, fine. But there was never a good script and that was the problem.
“I turned down one or two. there was talk of it becoming a panto at one point but it was only when Judy introduced Catherine Johnson to me that we talked about a fully-fledged musical.
“Then when I met Catherine I thought if anyone can do it, she can.
“I thought to me it was an interesting experiment in the beginning. She had these songs, she couldn’t change the lyrics or the melodies and she would have to weave a story around it, a story that was strong enough to stand by itself because I always told her that I thought the story is more important than the song.
“She started working on it and I don’t know how many drafts later we were suddenly rehearsing at the Prince Edward in London.
“I was completely aware of our reputation being tarnished and during the whole process I was ready to pull the plug.
“If I had felt at any point that ‘no this isn’t good, this will tarnish the catalogue of songs, it isn’t good for the group’ then I would have pulled the plug. But that never happened.”
As the years go on, and as the phenomenal success of Mamma Mia! proves, ABBA’s popularity shows no signs of diminishing.
So what makes the music of Agnetha, Benny, Björn, Anni-Frid just so timeless with millions around the globe?
He added: “I have no idea why our songs are so popular – I’d be very interested to know.
“It is 40 years now since we won the Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton and I still don’t know.
“I just know we wrote those songs from our heart and we recorded them as best we could. That’s what we did and all the rest is luck.
“How many millions around the globe liked what we were doing? That’s something you can never put your finger on why that is.”
THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC
In Friday’s Gazette, the 2nd part of our exclusive interview with ABBA legend and Mamma Mia! kingpin Björn Ulvares he talks about songwriting relationships, the break-up of ABBA and his hopes for the future.