I am thinking out loud, trying make sense of a block. A block that emerged years ago I think but did not become apparent until late last year.
Abba released a new album on November 5th 2021. I started to write about it, then I stopped. I listened to it, then I pressed pause. I have tried countless times to start this copy again, each time finding something else to occupy me. I have been wondering why that is. Perhaps I was not as big a fan as I purported to be? Maybe it’s because music doesn’t play the part that it used to in my days. Not like when I would sit and listen to lots of songs. It used to be a process- an event even; I would read or hear about an album and then either go to Woolworths or travel on the 88 to Colchester. I would buy and then go home ,sit and play the album, from start to finish without interruption.
CDs emerged and with it the power of skipping forwards and backwards easily and then of course along came the streaming services; Apple, Spotify, Deezer etc. All fabulous but for someone with a naturally busy and very distractable mind, they are a nightmare sometimes. When you are a fan though, these services enable you to pick up new music in the home, especially exciting when a old band takes a new path. Like Abba.
For me, It is not like when Take That reformed, or when news came to me via The One Show that STEPS were taking to the stage again. I am not a huge fan of either; I like them, OK I really like Take That, but I do remember the reactions of people that I know; the excitement in them recalling just how significant they were in their lives. The music, the posters, the concerts; how they spoke to only you in a sea of thousands of faces- even I was smiled and waved at by Danny New Kids on the Block when I was 12.
I remember being taken to Wembley Arena by my sister to see NKOTB. The excitement when she did the big reveal in the tunnel on the way out of the tube station. I remember thinking how nice it was what she had done. Of course I am sure she had a good time, despite not being an fan, NKOTB the allure of the concert, particularly from visiting band can be incredible and music, well it has the capacity to reach across generations. My favourite band is The Jam and I was a babe when they were formed. Half the songs on eldest’s and middlests Spotify are from artist’s famous prior to her arrival.
Music is timeless and sometimes something more.
My sister loved ABBA and subsequently so did I. Still nestled in my Vinyl collection is her battered copy of the Album Super Trouper and ABBA Greatest Hits Volume 2.
At some point her love turned into our love and a second copy of Greatest Hits Vol 2 emerged, one of these remains, again in my stack of vinyl. I has always puzzled me when I requested this as I would have been 2 or three when these were released making me wonder whether this was purchased not for me but because the first had been played beyond recognition. It would not surprise me.
She loved singing and she loved all their songs;
She loved Super Trouper, I loved Chiquitta
She loved Does Your Mumma, I loved Money Money Money.
We both loved Gimme Gimme Gimme
WE would play the vinyl on an old 1970s multi record player. Not a portable affair but a proper set , housed in a teak casing, with a drop bar upon which we could line up the next record to be played. It had two speakers positioned in the room to transmit best the best of what was a predominantly abba playlist. They played one after the other although I remember the holding bar on the record player didn’t work quite as well with LPs and you would sometimes have to manually override the catch to let the record drop fully.
Every weekend at our Dads, on went the ABBA,
Chiquitta turned to Kick your teeth out,
Thank you for the Music- with a heavy emphasis on the Uh-Huh
The air guitaring to Does your Mumma
The attempt to keep up with he speed of angel eyes leaving us breathless and ready for something a bit more down tempo,
Which was usually
The winner takes it all.
All sang with much generosity on our behalf, me taking the low note and my sister the higher range performed with gusto into the obligatory plastic hairbrushes. And of course there was a bit of mirror watching on both our behalf.
Over time our tastes and lives evolved, she moved out I moved in and we would see each other less and less but the affinity through Abba remained, we would always ,always put on Abba, in the car, in the kitchen. A track for every occasion and with age our favourites altered.
She moved towards songs like Mamma Mia and Voulez Vous, songs which she played with her Nanny charge and her fellow Nannies; I started to hear more closely slower tracks like Winner takes it all, and then of course was Dancing Queen. Nights out and parties with her friendship group saw her gain a reputation for being the one who loved ABBA and she was nick named the Dancing Queen.
It was played at her wedding and as the first bars rang out it housed the only moment, the only time my Mum , Dad sister and I have danced together. Or shared any happy moment together.
And as with any good song the happiness it can facilitate is just as easily superseded by the sorrow.
At her funeral I remember looking at a wreath , the card scribed with “you will always be our dancing queen” and it was the first time I was exposed to the realisation that other people felt the same too, they associated her with Abba.
Then two months ago I was driving home, listening to BBC Radio 2 and Ken Bruce was playing. I wasn’t really paying attention until he said
And here is the new one from Abba
The first bars opened and I felt overwhelmed.
I cried. I stopped the car and I cried. Abba had reformed and she would never get to hear them,
I didn’t examine the song for imperfections – because it was perfect. The voices that came from the radio was my sisters and mine, voices from round the corner a long time ago, in the bedroom, the kitchen – definitely in the car – on the dancefloor and ……….from that flipping tape!!!
Years before, I must have been about 17, she was nannying in London and another nanny friend moved back to NZ. She really missed her and the first Christmas she was gone my sister decided, for some reason -and I never really asked her why- that we should make a tape of us (notice how I was dragged into this ),singing abba to send to her. AS a gift. Bizarre.
At home I dug the tape out , but like the new album I couldn’t bring myself to listen to it all straight away. When I did I cried. Throughout most of the tracks. I chose carefully when I would listen to it as I knew it was something I would find hard. I don’t usually cry about her anymore. But I knew this would be something I would find sorrowful.
‘Listening is bittersweet, each song plays, strums upon the memories we share, except those memories are now only mine and with every year that passes, I find reminding myself of who we were back then more exacting. Until that is I play Voyage and then you are there in the moment because when I hear them , when I listen to the lyrics I hear your voice. Listening to I still have faith in you and don’t shut me down I hear myself in conversation with you now but not ever and in return, I hear your voice in reply. And it is your voice that I hear every time I play abba and perhaps it is the reason that I know I will only play the album a few times- because it is strangely echoic of conversations we will never have, a Christmas song you have never heard from a band that you never thought would get back together – even though you have never sang those songs, I hear your voice in single one of them . To me, when I hear Abba I hear you’.
So I play back our Abba Tape. It was an odd idea of yours to make a mix tape of songs in this format, however given life’s trajectory, I am glad that you did because actually it is the only recording of your voice we have. Other than ABBA of course.
I wonder if the person in New Zealand had the same thoughts about this reunion and she was prompted to dig out her cassette of the two strange pommies singing Abba, into a battered twin cassette player mike.
“I have learned to cope to love and hope
And although I may not have done everything right
I have done it in the best way I could at the time.
I still have faith in you” (Abba,2021).