Thank you for the music - after 25 years it's still money, money, money for Abba

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The Independent Online
ARRIVAL MAY have been the name of their 1976 hit album, but revival is now "The Name of the Game".

The 25th anniversary of Abba winning the Eurovision Song Contest is to be marked with a flurry of musical nostalgia.

By 6 April, a quarter of a century to the day since Sweden's most flamboyant export beat all comers with the song "Waterloo", a new generation will find it hard to avoid its relentlessly catchy beat.

In the West End, Mamma Mia!, a new romantic comedy featuring 27 Abba songs, opens at the Prince Edward Theatre.

And on the same day, Polydor Records is releasing the Singles Collection, featuring all 28 original A and B sides including "Waterloo" in German, French and Swedish. Each comes in a unique numbered silver tin in a limited edition of 20,000.

The buzz has already started. At the Brits award ceremony earlier this month, band member Bjorn Ulvaeus presented an award to The Corrs and, in deference to the "Waterloo" anni-versary, Billie and B*witched were among a gathering of teen pop stars to perform an Abba medley which proved so popular it is to be issued as a single.

Sales of Abba Gold, the 1992 compilation of the group's hits, rose to number 13 in the charts in the wake of the Brits ceremony. It has already sold 13 million worldwide, a phenomenal number for songs which have already enjoyed one period of phenomenal success. In expectation of further interest, Polydor also intends to re-release this album in a digitally remastered version in an embossed jewel case, available only at the end of the anniversary year.

Bjorn Ulvaeus, 53, said the continuing popularity seemed "incredible" to him. "When we split up in 1981, I thought that was that, it was something in the past. I thought that was the end of Abba, that we would never be remembered or anything.

"But when I hear the songs today, I think they still sound very good, even though it's the Nineties. We were very careful with what we released. Apart from a couple of songs on the early albums, there's nothing that I'm not thoroughly proud of."

He and Benny Andersson continued to work together; they wrote the musical Chess with Sir Tim Rice and are now collaborating on Mamma Mia! which is not the story of Abba but a new play by the award-winning playwright Catherine Johnson, using the group's songs. It is directed by Phyllida Lloyd, who has previously worked at the Royal Court and the Royal National Theatre.

Another musical is planned for the future and Bjorn is also translating one currently playing in Sweden about Swedish emigration to America in the 1950s.

He still occasionally sees Agnetha, his ex-wife (the blonde one), and Anni-Frid, known as Frida, who was married to Benny. All four appear in a documentary being prepared for ITV this spring.

But he said he did not think they would re-form. "If there was a motivation out of the extraordinary, who knows. But I cannot see that happening."

Mike Murray, 54, a fan since first seeing the band win the Eurovision contest, will be disappointed. He never managed to get a ticket for a live Abba concert although he has seen most of the tribute bands - Bjorn Again, Voulez-Vous, Platinum Abba - which formed in Abba's wake and have enjoyed lucractive careers on the back of the band's music.

"All of us in our fifties know all the words," Mr Murray said. "If you listen to the words of the songs, like `The Winner Takes It All', they're lovely words."

He has bought his tickets for Mamma Mia! already and will buy the new CD collections when they come out. Mr Murray, a sales manager from Ruislip, said: "My wife goes mad. She says, you've got all this already. But it's one of those things you've got to do."

Helga, 32, who runs the official international fan club from the Netherlands, would obviously agree. Replying to the Independent on Sunday's queries by e-mail, she said she had discovered Abba as a child and grown up with the band. "I do like the music very much," she said. "All kinds of people" are among the fan club's 1,600 members, who are "mostly aged around 32. We have members all over the world."

George McManus, a Polydor marketing executive, was in Brighton on the night Abba won Eurovision. Although the contest then, as now, was renowned for one-hit wonders, he can remember the buzz about the group.

The next day, he returned to the office demanding to know why they were signed to Polydor in the rest of Europe but not, at that time, in the UK.

Their long-term success comes down to the quality of the songs. "I think it's comparable to the Beatles and people like that," he said. "Everybody from 15 to 55 can sing `Dancing Queen' or `Knowing Me, Knowing You'. They are instantly catchy and memorable. They are probably some of the best pop songs ever written."

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