Putin: Gimme gimme gimme a private concert

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The Independent Online

Vladimir Putin was declared a closet Abba fan today as a UK tribute band claimed they secretly performed for the hardman Russian prime minister.

Singers with British-based cult act Bjorn Again said he danced a jig and yelled "bravo" after they were flown to Moscow to perform hits including Dancing Queen and Waterloo.

But despite Kremlin assistants denying he attended, the cult cover group's founder Rod Stephen said Mr Putin "had a great time".

He added: "You can hardly have a machine gun in your arms with your top off one minute, then turn around and say you like Abba. I think that's why they've tried to keep it secret."

Mr Stephen, 50, said the band - which has played throughout the world since it was formed in 1988 - had been paid £20,000 for the gig.

He added: "We got the call to go out there about a year ago and I thought it was a prank.

"I remember someone on the line saying 'hello this is the Moscow Kremlin' - I told him to pull the other one."

Mr Putin, the former KGB spy who is known for his judo expertise and love of fishing, sat on a sofa veiled by a lace curtain with a "glamourous" woman, the band claimed.

During the show, on January 22, the group sang 15 Abba hits under strict instructions not to leave the stage.

Mr Stephen, who lives in Queen's Park, north west London, said the four-member band travelled 200 miles north of Moscow on the shores of Lake Valdai to a "tiny theatre" for the gig.

He added that Mr Putin particularly enjoyed renditions of Mamma Mia and Super Trouper.

A lace curtain separated the band from the select audience for the hour-long, high-security show.

Mr Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied Mr Putin attended any such concert.

Mr Putin made headlines across the world when he appeared in pictures fishing while topless.

His hard-man image was cemented by other photographs showing him in judo bouts, holding other firearms and apparently tranquillising a tiger.