Southbank Centre and Entertainment Exhibitions International AB, in association with ABBA The Museum in Stockholm bring to life the world of chart-topping Swedish pop sensation ABBA in a brand new, immersive exhibition that charts their music, lyrics, creative process, and irrefutable influence as one of the most iconic pop bands of the modern age.
ABBA: Super Troupers recreates the extraordinary rise to worldwide fame and lasting legacy of ABBA (Agnetha Fältskog, Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson, and Anni-Frid Lyngstad), set against the shifting socio-economic and political conditions of the time.
Transforming a traditional exhibition experience, immersive guided tours include an audio narrative voiced by Jarvis Cocker and written by journalist and documentary maker Jude Rogers. Visitors (in groups of no more than 16) are transported on a journey through nine rooms recreating significant moments from ABBA’s heyday and containing over 120 archive objects from ABBA The Museum and private archives, many being shown for the first time in the UK.
ABBA’s original costumes, handwritten notes and sketches, personal photographs, music and instruments, memorabilia and film are embedded into theatrical “sets” charting the success of the global pop sensation from their individual careers to their Eurovision Song Contest win and subsequent international stardom, as they topped the music charts worldwide from 1974 to 1982. Recreations of the Brighton hotel suite where ABBA celebrated their Eurovision win, the Polar music recording studio, a Swedish forest folk park, caravans backstage at the Sydney Showgrounds during their 1977 Australian tour, a 1970s disco – and more – provide context to the evolution of their creative process and their enduring appeal, from the Mamma Mia! phenomenon to their multi-million record sales worldwide.
Against the backdrop of 1970s Britain – a financial crisis, a wave of strikes and a three day working week – and a vastly changing world, ABBA infiltrated the popular consciousness with their optimism and dominated the airwaves with their seemingly carefree pop. ABBA: Super Troupers goes beyond the surface to examine the serious stories behind the unforgettable lyrics and tunes, the band’s innovative multi-layered sound, their pioneering approach to the music video and the influence of their unique styling on successive generations.
ABBA’s relationship with the UK forms the basis for the narrative throughout the exhibition. Beginning in an early 1970s British living room typical of the era, the exhibition features examples of their UK success, from Eurovision memorabilia and fan club merchandise to hand-notated music manuscripts used by BBC musicians for ABBA’s Top of the Pops performances and puppets of the band members created by London’s Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Despite the band’s global success, London’s Met Police declined their request to shoot the video for ‘Super Trouper’ in Piccadilly Circus, and some of the correspondence will be on show for the first time in the exhibition.
Other materials shown for the first time in the UK include personal memorabilia of the individual band members pre-ABBA: photographs of Frida taking singing lessons and a 13-year old Agnetha at the piano; doodles by Benny on show-notes from their early folk and cabaret days; and candid shots of them taken during their international tours. A school report of a then seven-year old Bjorn shows a B-minus grade for singing, inspiration to any visitor who then sees the gold discs also on display marking record single sales for ABBA hits ‘Ring, Ring’ and ‘Super Trouper’. Hand-painted white cowboy boots worn by Benny demonstrate the inventive nature of ABBA’s costuming, and feature alongside some of the most iconic outfits worn by the band, designed by their long-time collaborator Owe Sandstrom.
In a ten year career, ABBA only toured for 3 months in total, and the exhibition explores the importance of their styling, promotional shoots and music videos to connect with their international fan base. Handwritten letters from Frida and Agnetha to their fans are included, as are news clippings, tour itineraries, and scrapbooks. On a shoestring budget, the Swedish director Lasse Hallstrom used a variety of directorial techniques to maintain the band’s international popularity without having to leave Stockholm, demonstrated in the exhibition by an original video reel of ‘Money, Money, Money’. Highlights from their tour archive include a gold and white cape from ABBA’s 1977 Australian tour still bearing the marks of rain-stains from the torrential downpour that caused Frida to slip on stage.
Visitors will also be able to interact with musical tracks in a recreation of the engine room of the ABBA sound – Polar Studios recording studio, formed in 1978 by Bjorn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and ABBA’s manager Stig Anderson. Original archive includes Agnetha and Frida’s brown leather headphones (as seen in the video for ‘Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!’), Bjorn’s acoustic guitar, and mixing desks and recording equipment, giving visitors the opportunity to learn about the techniques used to create ABBA’s famous multi-layered sound.
ABBA: Super Troupers builds on Southbank Centre’s curated exhibition successes The Wondercrump World of Roald Dahl (2015-16) and Adventures in Moominland (2016-17). The exhibition will launch as part of Southbank Centre’s Wintertime and the final month of Nordic Matters – a year-long programme of Nordic arts and culture at Southbank Centre throughout 2017.
A pop-up ABBA shop, courtesy of ABBA The Museum, Stockholm, is located on Level 2 of the Royal Festival Hall.
Opening the exhibition, ABBA’s Bjorn Ulvaeus said, “The UK holds such a special place in our hearts so we’re thrilled that this new exhibition ABBA: Super Troupers offers friends old and new the chance to journey back in time and experience a fascinating new perspective on ABBA's career and the context in which the UK came to know our music. And what better place for the exhibition to take place than at London's Southbank Centre, a few steps away from Waterloo - a connection that holds very happy memories for us of the song that launched our success in Britain! It gives me great pleasure to return to London for such a happy occasion."
Jude Kelly CBE, Southbank Centre’s Artistic Director, said: “ABBA’s music, image and personal stories have the remarkable ability to transcend time, place and generations, and still continue to reach millions of people worldwide. We're very pleased to take this opportunity to shed new light on these cultural icons, and explore why they remain so enduring in their appeal across the globe. We’re delighted to be joining forces with EEI in association with ABBA The Museum to bring unexplored archives to life, and to pay respect to ABBA and their extraordinary place in pop culture history.”
Jarvis Cocker, long-term performer and creative contributor at Southbank Centre including Meltdown festival in 2007, said: “I love Abba. You love Abba. My love began when my sister bought “Arrival” in 1976 and played it non-stop for the next 6 months. What’s your story? Why don’t we meet down at the Southbank Centre to compare notes? I would love that….”
Jude Rogers, said: “My first memory is me standing on a stool in my grandma’s kitchen, helping her wash the dishes, to the sound of a beautiful song gleaming out of her rickety radio. Super Trouper had just got to number 1, and my connection to it was instant: there I was, shining like the sun. Over the years, my love of ABBA has kept brightening and deepening, so I’m delighted to be working on this new exhibition. After all, from the moment my mind was truly alive, ABBA took me in their arms and held me tight – so yes, it means so much to me tonight.”