In the second part of our exclusive interview, Björn Ulvares talks to Gazette Entertainment Writer Steve Canavan about his life both in and out of ABBA.
When it comes to trying to hazard a guess at how much money Björn Ulvares has made over the years, there is a tiny clue when he describes where he lives.
“I own an island close to Stockholm,” says the man whose song-writing talents helped propel ABBA to fame.
“It’s quite handy because when I want a little time for myself, I press a button and a gate closes at the road leading on to the island. It’s all mine then.”
I hesitate to tell that soundbite because it gives the impression Björn, if I may be so bold as to call a music legend by his Christian name, is the big-headed, full-of-himself type. He isn’t, at least not if our half-hour chat on the phone is anything to go by.
Our interview comes as the news Mamma Mia!, the smash-hit musical featuring all of ABBA’s best songs, is coming to Blackpool Opera House for a summer season run in 2014.
It’s a huge coup for the resort.
Yesterday, we reported how Björn has been bowled over by the success of the show and how much he felt it was perfect for Blackpool – being, as he said, the fun-loving “Vegas of the North”.
Björn, is 68 now, and admits his main kicks in life are spending time with his family (five children, four grand-children) and running. But he still tries to write new songs whenever possible, for music is in his blood.
He had already achieved a fair amount of fame in his native Sweden before Abba formed.
Back in the late 1960s he performed in a folk band. Then he met Benny Andersson at a music festival and pair began writing material. Then they met two pretty girls – Agnetha Fältskog and Anita Lyngstad. On the off-chance you’ve lived under a stone for the last four decades the rest, as they say, is history.
Björn said: “We weren’t writing songs for ourselves, not commercial success. You write like we did Benny and I with a piano and a guitar and you grab something which you think is good ‘this is a good melody line’ and that is the criteria – and then what comes after is a different story.
“ABBA was such a positive period I’ve no problems with just being remembered for that. I am really proud of what we achieved and the phenomenal success makes you humble. I look back with fondness.
“Sometimes I get tired of answering the question of whether we will reunite or not, or what my favourite ABBA song is. So don’t ask me that!
“Benny and I were very lucky to meet each other and we were lucky to meet the girls as well.
“It was fantastic the way Benny and I met and then we met two girls, purely on a social basis, just boy falls in love with girl and they just happened to be wonderful signers who just happened to be beautiful, one blonde, one red head, it is almost too good to be true – but there you are, that is the story. It isn’t fate, just coincidence.”
Of course, all good – even great – things come to an end.
ABBA imploded after the The Visitors album in 1981?
Björn admits: “The divorces (Fältskog and Ulvaeus were a married couple, as were Lyngstad and Andersson) were difficult as any divorce is but we decided to work together after that and we actually did some of our best stuff after that. The Winner takes It All was recorded after we were divorced but the break up of the group came completely naturally.
“We had always known that eight or 10 years, most groups don’t have more time than that. If they stick together after that they go into a different phase, they just go on touring and people just want to hear their old songs. We didn’t want to do that. We felt the energy was running out and we didn’t have as much fun in the studio as we used to, so we decided to try something else for a while.
“So it wasn’t so much the marriage break-ups, it was just the natural lifespan of the band.
“Most bands really explode over eight or so years, they write their best stuff.
“Benny and I wrote Chess the musical with Tim Rice and the girls went their separate ways doing solo albums.
“We always thought we’d get back together in a couple of years time but of course that never happened. We are still on speaking terms with the girls, absolutely.”
Despite the break up, Bjorn and Benny are still doing what they have always done – writing songs together.
Björn (inset, above) added: “Benny and I have worked together since 1966.
“We’ve had our fall outs but never anything really serious and we don’t see each other every day. We still work together. We have written a song that will open the Eurovision Song Contest.
“I still write songs when I can. I don’t write every day but whenever Benny calls and says he has something he wants me to listen to.
“He will come up with a little tune, I’ll listen, we’ll talk and I’ll go home and write a lyric for it. He lives close by.”
As for the success both during ABBA and the longevity of Mamma Mia!, he added: “It does overwhelm and it makes you really humble.
“But I find it quite impossible to grasp emotionally because they tell you these figures they tell you 379 million records sold but how do you really grasp that? I don’t think you do. It is just a huge figure.”
So how long will the world’s love affair with ABBA continue?
Björn adds: “I hope for another 40 years... that would be great!”