ABBA In Concert – ABBA – The Movie – Glam-O-Rama – tape 1996

We’re back to Channel 4’s Glam season, but this time with slightly less problematic material.

First, ABBA In Concert. A film which follows the band during their 1978 (I think) concert tour.

It was quite a disappointment to me that none of the ABBa concert shows that were made ever showed the very opening of the concert. I went to see them in Wembley Arena, with my older sister Frances. She was the huge ABBA fan, and really wanted to see them, but I don’t think my parents were happy with her going on her own, so I got to go with her. I was only a year or so younger, but it was my first concert. I was probably 14 at the time. And I also liked ABBA. I wasn’t the huge fan my sister was, but I didn’t have to be, because I could still listen to the records, and read the fan club magazines that she got. To this day, I remember some of the details – their recording engineer was called Michael B Tretow, and their drummer was Ola Brunkert. I’ve no idea why certain facts stick in the mind, but they do.

So, we got to go to Wembley Arena for a concert, probably 1979, and I have a vivid memory of the opening of the concert. I remember the stage was surrounded by a huge blue curtain, and when the concert started, it wasn’t with the intro of one of their hits, it was with something that sounded more traditional, being played on a synth or organ. I didn’t really remember the tune very well, but I do vividly remember the point during the music where the organ swells, it plays two rising chords, and at that moment the curtains opened (maybe they rose, but I remember them opening, like theatre curtains) and there were the band, including all their musicians, all dressed in blue costumes, and as the opening music ended, it then went into their hits.

Ever since then, I’ve been hoping to see that opening, but no concert footage has ever included it. Then, the band released their Live at Wembley album, and it opened with a track called Gammal Fabodpsalm. I bought the album almost as soon as it was released, and played that track, wondering if it was the piece I remembered.

It sounded… familiar. But as I didn’t really remember the actual tune (I’d only ever heard it once) I couldn’t tell if it was the same opening I’d remembered.

Then, at 1:10, there were those two swollen rising chords, and the audience starts cheering and clapping. It’s precisely how I remembered the concert opening, almost 40 years ago.

As I said before, it’s strange how the oddest things stay in your memory. I talked about this to me sister, and she told me she had no recollection at all of the opening. I think I must have been in that state where you’re just trying to absorb everything that’s happening.

So, back to this programme. It starts with them in the US, and there’s plenty of backstage scenes of the band doing publicity, or just hanging out.

A short section in the US, it moves to London and Wembley Arena, probably the same set of concerts I saw. But the concert footage frustratingly starts on the stage just as the first song, Voulez Vous, starts, missing out that intro.

One memory my sister definitely had about the concert, as she told me recently, was when the children’s choir came on to sing I Have A Dream, and she really wanted to be able to go on stage and sing with the group.

I really like the version of Summer Night City in the concert, particularly the intro. This has always been one of my favourite ABBA songs, but it’s not as well known, I think because it was only a single, and wasn’t on one of the original albums.

And now, watching this again, I find that the end credits run over the opening music, that piece I wanted to hear, albeit with lots of audience applause and cheering, but the reason I didn’t properly recognise it is that it stops right before those two chords, the only part of it that I remembered, and so I didn’t properly recognise it. Frustrating.

Following this, more ABBA goodness, with ABBA The Movie. This is a movie I first saw one Saturday afternoon in 1978 in Watford, and we were only going to see it because Star Wars, which we had gone there to see, was sold out. So by rights I should have hated it, having been cheated of my chance to finally see Star Wars, and film I’d been obsessed with for months.

But how could I dislike this film? After all, it’s ABBA, for one, and for another, it has one of the coolest opening sequences in movies. The film opens with a bucolic montage of scenes from the outback in Australia (where the film was shot), conplete with kangaroos, with some country music on the soundtrack, as we meet an australian disc jockey, Ashley Wallace, who will become the narrative glue of what is otherwise a concert movie. He even gives a shoutout to all the truck drivers out there.

It’s all shot in 1.85 aspect ratio, as his boss at the radio station tells him he wants him to go and get an exclusive radio interview with ABBA, to be broadcast on the night of their last concert in Australia. And at the and of the scene, when Ashley asks him if he really wants him to do ‘this documentary’ he replies “Don’t use that word. It’s not a documentary it’s an event. This is gonna be worldwide.”

And as he says that, he flings his arms wide, and the 1.85 screen opens up into a much wider Panavision aspect ratio, as the music kicks in.

I appreciate the fact that this presentation has attempted to maintain this effect, except that it’s slightly undercut because going from a 1.85 letterbox to a 2.35 letterbox on a 4:3 TV screen actually ends up with a smaller area picture – not really the same effect as it had in the cinema.

I love Agnetha’s expressions singing Tiger.

Some of Ashley Wallace’s Vox Pops are a bit Mary Whitehouse Experience. “It’s got a good beat.”

He’s not that good a journalist, failing miserably to get anywhere near the band. He arranges an interview on their last day, then oversleeps and misses it. Then, wouldn’t you know it, as he’s going up to his hotel room, who does he meet in the lift but ABBA? Amazing!

Of course, the jeopardy is not over, because he’s still got to edit the programme together, which he does by hand.

I still like this movie. I got to see Star Wars a couple of months later anyway, so that was OK.

After this,there’s another programme, Jack Dee’s Glam-O-Rama. Featuring guests Annie Nightingale

Lily Savage

Jo Brand

and Alvin Stardust.

Here’s the whole thing. Enjoy.

The tape ends right after this programme as the next programme is The Token King which we saw previously.

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3 comments

  1. I had a similar movie-going experience to that. The Globe – https://www.barbadospocketguide.com/barbados-attractions/cinemas/globe-cinema.html – was going to be showing “The Black Hole” on my birthday and I was hoping to see that, but the cinema decided to hold over its double bill of “Herbie Goes Bananas” and “The Gnome-mobile” one more day so I would up watching those. Dodged a bullet in retrospect.

    “ABBA The Movie” seems to have been the only thing Reg Grundy Productions ever did for the big screen.

  2. Gosh, Glam-O-Rama looks exceptionally cheap, filmed in that tiny studio. All this glam stuff was terribly exciting at the time, I look forward to you getting to the Glam Top Ten which was a brilliant show, and led on to the full series of Top Tens which were exceptionally entertaining, probably the best archive shows we’ve ever had on telly.

    The “plot” of ABBA The Movie has always irritated me, his boss demanding he does the interview with ABBA and threatening to sack him if he doesn’t, while providing him with no resources to do this whatsoever. I know the plot is just to hang the songs around, but honestly. It makes no sense at all.

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