Abba: Super Troupers The Exhibition opens at London’s O2

Simon Calder
Winner takes it all: the recreated Abba room of Andrew Boardman: Simon Calder

“If all the judges were men, I’m sure they’d get a lot of votes” – so predicted David Vine, the BBC commentator at the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest in Brighton, ahead of Abba’s winning performance of Waterloo.

The film (which is cut short, because the BBC’s tape ran out) is one of the key exhibits at Abba: Super Troupers The Exhibition, the latest addition to the tourist industry surrounding Sweden’s biggest contribution to popular culture.

Filling a substantial arc of the Dome, the new visitor attraction tells the story of the group from their chance beginnings on the Swedish “folk park” circuit to the slow-motion disintegration of the dreams and relationships of Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid in the early 1980s.

Much of the memorabilia, such as the BBC’s Eurovision commentary, is absurdly dated. Yet it is rooted firmly in a British context, and in particular the year 1974 – when, amid the turmoil of the miners’ strike, the Three-Day Week, squabbles over Europe and two general elections, Abba popped up to win Eurovision (despite the British jury notoriously awarding them nul points).

Visitors may wish to wear shades, given the amount of glitter and sparkle that abounds: costumes, gold discs and the “star guitar” from the Eurovision performance.

Against a backdrop of vivid reminders of a nation riven by division, the curator Jude Kelly told The Independent why she was attracted to the project: “I‘m looking at the progress of a band that worked together from 74 to 84 and produced a body of music that has endured across the world.

“What is it when artists get together and something very special happens? The circumstances of the time, the place and the people. The context of culture has always fascinated me.”

Winner takes it all: the recreated Abba room of Andrew Boardman (Simon Calder)

It has also fascinated Andrew Boardman, a superfan whose Manchester “Abba room” of memorabilia began 40 years ago when, aged 16, he saw Abba. His Scandi-crush has been transplanted intact to London’s Docklands.

The raw numbers of the music business are on show, too: for the 1980 tour of Japan, the four flew first class for over $5,000 each, while “nine musicians, four Swedish crew, five British crew” were evidently down the back at a quarter of the fare.

The exhibition, like Abba themselves, has very high production standards and comes at a premium price: £27 for an experience that will typically last 90 minutes. It is directly opposite another existing branch of the Abba franchise – Mamma Mia The Party – in which part of the Dome has been impressively converted to the biggest Greek taverna you ever did see, complete with singing waiters.

When I went along (at a premium cost of £150, including an excellent meal), I shared a table with a couple who were not even born when Abba folded.

“What’s so extraordinary about Abba is that they are inter-generational,” says Jude Kelly.

“This is an exhibition of a scale that you rarely see of everything that Abba have ever done. So if you’re at all interested in popular culture, or you love Abba a lot, it’s worth the journey.”

(Also worth the journey, at least if you find yourself in Stockholm, is Abba The Museum.)

The final room of the London extravaganza show is an invitation to strut your stuff, with a long loop of Abba favourites on screen and speakers.

Timeless, says Jude Kelly. “The 70s were an amazing era. We’re living in another amazing era.”

“Thank goodness we’ve got art, thank goodness we’ve got music, thank goodness we’ve got things that carry us through with energy and optimism.”

The history book on the shelf is always repeating itself.

‘Abba: Super Troupers The Exhibition’ runs daily (except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day) from 6 December 2019 to 31 August 2020 at the O2, London

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