It took them three years to sell ersatz Abba to the Swedes by doing mock nordic accents on Swedish TV. Stephen Chester pulls on his sequined satin and watches Bjorn Again re-birth.

t started off as a bad joke down under, when bass player Rod Wooley ‘wanted to try something different, and thought “what is the most outrageous thing we can do?” The answer. recounts a replicant Frida Longstokin, was ‘Abba’.

So it was that four brave Aussies became Bjorn Again and set out to replicate the nordic supertroupers in every song, word and gesture, right down to the last garishly blue shadowed eye. As just one of the 90 tribute bands bred in that country of kitsch and cultural necromancy, mass Abba-adoration was not immediate for the flare-flapping funsters. who once played to an audience of six in Bundaberg. outback Queensland. But whatever the venue (and they’vejust played the Albert Hall) the crowd’s reactions have stayed the same. and it wasn’t long before they’d cracked the Antipodes’ large live music scene and were taking a chance on a worldwide suspension of aesthetic judgement with eleven-month tours. And so it was that the bad joke from Melbourne went global.

The audience for their lame-clad capers is an eclectic one. from freshly unclosetcd gay people to, surprisingly enough, a number of heavy rock bands. Such is post-modernism and such is their popularity: since May 1989 they’ve done 900 live shows in over twenty countries (pretty scary) and played to over 75,000 people in Denmark. You simply can’t argue with figures like that.

The last country to succumb was Sweden. home of the original demi-gods. They knew they’d cracked it when the real Bjorn Ulvaeus sent a good luck telegram and in November 199] Stig Andersson. Abba’s manager, went on Swedish national television to proclaim ‘Abba will not get back together it is impossible. You will have to see Bjorn Again.’ The mantle had been officially passed from Bjorn, Agnetha. Frida and Benny to, well. Bjorn, Agnetha, Frida and Benny.

But things are changing. For the first time the band members are doing interviews ‘out of character’ the dud Swedish accents are dropped and they’ve just released their first album which, shockingly enough. contains no Abba songs. ‘It took a while to get used to speaking as myself. We’ve been doing the accents for four and a half years,’ explains Frida. Who knows what psychic toll is taken by having to remember to say ‘ney’ and ‘Vulvoo’? The ‘in character’ interviews were apparently very funny, but unfortunately hacks got hacked off at not being able to get a word of sense out ofthem, which was one reason for this publicity policy change. The other was that, as Frida points out: ‘There’s no point in re-recording

Abba songs when you buy them anyway. so we chose to do something different mainly covers. And we didn’t think it was right to do interviews as Abba characters because it’s not the sort of thing they would have donef

‘Yes Sir. l Can Boogie’ and ‘Black is Black’ are among the sixteen tracks on the new album Flashback. which also includes the two Erasure songs they did last year (fundamentalists might say that was when the rot set in) and two original songs. It would be easy to make accusations of betrayal. particularly against ‘Andrew’ of Melbourne, who has seen their show 145 times. ‘Yes. we have new costumes.’ concedes Frida. ’they’re as wild . . . just more modern. But we’re not departing from the Abba section. We’ll always do that live.’

But is it possible to detect discontent within this tribute band which is no longer completely chained to its raison d’etre‘? As a little girl Frida loved Abba, but now she speaks with more circumspection: ‘I very much appreciate what

‘Yes, we have new costumes. They’re as wild . . . just more modern. But we’re not

departing from the Abba section. We’ll always do that live.’

Bjiirn Again: The ersatz Abba - but for how much longer?

they do, they’re just extremely talented song writers.’

But note. she doesn’t re-affirm her love for them. ls this the rebelliousness of a band reaching maturity or the signs of deeper malaise? Or is it just preperation for a band about to pay the ultimate tribute to their demi-gods by ending their career in a similar manner? What happens to a tribute band when they‘ve tributed all that they can and want to move on? And are Frida’s assertions that “We’re well in control of it’ when referring to their Northern Baltic method acting a desperate cry for help from a band riven by schizophrenic desires for Supertroupedom?

Probably not. As Frida says: ‘Open your ears and be prepared for what we’re offering. We’re just out there to give people a good time.’ D Bjorn Again play Glasgow Barrow/and on Friday 3] Dec, and appear at the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms Hogmanay hash the same night.

The List l7 December l993—l3 January l994 21