The studio concert 1981
Dick Cavett Meets ABBA
TV special co-produced by the TV stations SVT (Sweden) and ZDF (Germany), filmed by SVT (studio 2):
- April 27 – interview part
- April 28 – concert
- April 29 – additional recordings
Rehearsals were done at Europa Film Studios. First broadcast was on Swedish TV on September 12, 1981. Originally intended to be a “10 years of ABBA” retrospective the show features an interview with ABBA by US host Dick Cavett, including an a capella performance of Don’t Fence Me In, followed by a live concert. In a break Benny played Lotties Schottis on akkordeon, but this wasn’t filmed.
According to Carl Magnus Palm ”no mixes exist in the Polar Music archives, so they must have been submitted to the producers and never returned.” (The Complete Recording Sessions 2017, p. 384) However, ABBA had access in 1986 and 1994 when Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!, Super Trouper, Two For The Price Of One, On And On And On, Slipping Through My Fingers and Me And I were included as remixed versions in ABBA Live respectively in the Thank You For The Music box set.
In February 1981 Swedish TV began preparations for the programme Dick Cavett meets ABBA. ABBA had long been talking about doing a programme with both talk and music and we thought it would be great to work together with them. After all the contracts were signed, there was an endless series of meetings with lighting and sound engineers, stage designers, cameraman and ABBA. I didn’t want it to feel like two programmes, one with talk and one with music. We solved the change-over by letting the group be interviewed in the same place where they would later sing, hanging a curtain in front of the instruments.
One weekend at the end of April, we hauled all the instruments and equipment into a a large studio and began to build the sets. By Monday when everyone involved arrived, we were ready to record.
Most people think that this is a simple kind of programme to do – five people sit and talk and then four of them stand up and sing. but there are thousands of details to keep track of and hundreds of problems to solve.
When the recording was finished, we began editing and mixing the sound. We had twenty hours of material for a one hour programme. It takes time to find a line and the tone you want the programme to have. With the aid of the best crew and both Micke Tretow and Claes af Geijerstam, ABBA’s recording engineers, the job was done. We really had a lot of fun making this programme, most of all because the four members of ABBA were so
co-operative. They gave one hundred percent of themselves and inspired everyone involved to give that little bit extra.
Gunnar Nilars (Producer) in International ABBA Magazine #8, July 1982
What the public sees and hears is just a tiny fraction of all the time and effort we put into it. We rehearse each song endlessly and take the harder parts home for more practice. When we began rehearsing for this show, we had just been in the studio finishing a couple of songs for the new album. Rehearsals were held in the same place we had used on the eve of our 1979 world tour [at Europafilm] with the same musicians. Suddenly, it felt as if there hadn’t been any pause at all, that it was yesterday we last stood together on stage. It felt wonderful.
Three days later we moved to the studio, tested the lights and sound and did all the songs over and over again. Naturally you’re tired after singing all day and perhaps you’ve sung the same song twenty times, but we set very high standards for ourselves. There’s always something than can be a little better. The results make it all worthwhile.
Frida in International ABBA Magazine #8, July 1982
We wanted to do something really special, a TV show with both an interview and a live performance. We’ve been together for more than ten years and yet a proper interview with all four of us at the same time where people had a chance to get to know us in depth had never been done. A very superficial picture of ABBA is most often spread.
Someone suggested Dick Cavett, one of the world’s most famous and skilfull interviewers. He accepted and came to Sweden one day at the end of April. We didn’t talk much beforehand, but went almost directly into the studio and recorded the interview. I think we were much more nervous than he was, but his composure made us relax and open up. He had a way of tossing a question and then talking around it. It was more a pleasant conversation than an interview. We never regretted that we chose Dick Cavett.
Björn in International ABBA Magazine #8, July 1982
Anders Hanser was present in the studio, documentating the work on the TV special from start to finish. There were tentative plans to publish a book based on his pictures, but this ultimately never happened.
From ABBA to Mamma Mia!, p. 125
An official release of the full show is long overdue, the concert part definately is. The only partial release of some songs on the box set The Complete Studio Recordings (2005!) rather appears as a bad joke. More than a full decade later it still seems nobody wants to invest any money in the restoration of this show and the creation of a proper concert with all songs and without any voiceovers although it’s an important part of ABBA’s catalogue. A shame.
The interview has some entertaining parts but certainly isn’t the best. Hiring a US host obviously was a mistake. Though he was famous overseas he was a strange choice for a mainly European audience and not very familiar with ABBA anyway. A Swedish host or someone like Noel Edmonds (BBC) probably would have been a better choice ensuring a more relaxed, more natural atmosphere.
Despite all this the concert part in my opinion is excellent and features great performances. So let’s hope that there will be a proper release in the very near future, best together with a book(let) finally featuring Anders Hanser’s many great photos of this show.
TV hero in ABBA package
We from the press dilute Dick Cavett's eyes.
– You ask well about the divorces, huh?
Then Dick Cavett struck down the TV world’s highest paid turret eyes, smiled in a prevalent manner, and spoke and said.
– Divorces? ... now, I forgot to ask them By the way: would people be interested to hear ABBA tell about their divorces??
The TV’s highest paid cannon had been fired. A polite spit flavors that tasted vanilla and rejected cocacola went over the press conference.
– How are you as a human? said someone in a liberating straight way.
Dick Cavett reluctantly loaded.
He is here a few hours to interview ABBA.
It was so that Abborna sat and suddenly felt that an international show that one can sell all over the world so that even little TV1 Sweden can afford to be on a corner ... that would be the taste.
– Dick Cavett! so we tell Björn Ulvaeus.
After all, it’s not really wrong with Lasse HoImqvist, but Dick Cavett speaks equally good English.
– So now we have Dick here and today, we have recorded the talk that is more of a “conversation” than any harder volcanic question, said Benny Andersson.
Fine in the hair
It is supposed to be flames and glam and giggles and the bullet and everyone is sitting there and storming in the TV studio. Dick Cavett’s hair is fine. Annifrid has a boathouse that matches the leatherboxes. Björn looks like a front soldier from World War I or a traveler in ABU spinners. Agnetha looks like Agnetha and Benny reminding Benny.
All the host’s TV audience must not be worried.
They will recognize ABBA.
And it is just as good that the TV audience does it because all the world’s TV companies hopefully buy in this.
Dick Cavett demanded double gage plus gold add-ons to come here on a quick ride and not ask for divorces.
– It is, of course, a more expensive entertainment project than normal, but with both Cavett and ABBA in the main roles, it will still be a profitable program for Swedish TV, states once for all TV 1 manager (“fiction”) lngemar Leijonborg in a news release the day to honor and spins as a satisfied bean cat.
In the same paper it says that Germany’s TV 2 is also emptying its piggy bank so that we can all afford it here.
– If it is in the Swedish Radio’s paper that I get double gage, it is of course true, says Dick Cavett, but emphasizes that money is of course not all in life.
He agrees with us about everything: then it doesn’t take much time.
– But probably my programs have a slight tendency to become too polished, too benign? he bells against when we say that Dick Cavett is famous, he is amazingly popular this year.
– There is an increasing frenzy towards the TV medium. The world is cruel, but TV’s talk shows are soft. When suddenly a president is shot in front of open cameras, people lean forward in the TV corners and find it refreshing with live spontaneous TV shows.
With that, Dick Cavett pulled out with the famous ironic grumble that keeps him dry-shaven through all the rushing in the channels.
– But on the other hand, TV is a trivializing medium. I see no reason why TV would not be there...
Thus, Dick Cavett pulled out with the grumble for which all the world’s TV companies are happy to pay double wages.
He came yesterday and goes home today.
Oscar Hedlund, Dagens Nyheter (?) – April 28, 1981
Dick Cavett – the talk of the talk shows – “Quietly ask ABBA about their marriage”
– No, ABBA’s marriage we are not talking about, it did not really matter to me to address the question – what would they answer? “Yes, we are divorced”. Partly there are more interesting things to ventilate, and I do not want to appear silly in my questions, says Dick Cavett, in Stockholm for one of his famous TV talk shows. Guests are the four in ABBA.
Dick Cavett is thus he who is not David Frost, to eliminate all misunderstandings from the beginning. Frost is the tall, somewhat arrogant Englishman, one of the two world champions in talk shows, or talk shows as it is called in original language.
The other master, without mutual ranking, is thus Dick Cavett. American. Small in size but with decent heels on the boot to improve on centimeters. Extremely well-pressed. On guard. He mastered every situation to perfection. Confident and very much charming. Unlike Frost, Cavett’s appearance is always very friendly. Are you a friendly person?
– When necessary, he responds rapping.
Can be teased
But he can also tease, ask questions he himself would not want to answer... With badly hidden delight he tells about a program that could have become a nightmare: Georgia’s governor was interviewed, escaped disguised and left the chair, Cavett and TV box.
– What a fight, but it was a nice show. Of course it was shipped!
Why do you come from the USA to meet ABBA?
- A good job. An interesting show. Gives me a chance to travel. I think I get paid too, I have to check that...
He gets it and he knows everything about that. TV1 has been forced to pay Dick Cavett twice as much as he gets for such a show in the US to attract him.
But it pays off, TV1 sells the program further and both the United States and Japan have already reported interest in buying it.
Here at home, the program will start the upcoming TV autumn.
Dick Cavett makes about 200 talk shows a year and when one asks who he will meet after ABBA he answers:
– Don’t ask me, I hardly know who I interviewed last... Well, three - four weeks ago it was Birgit Nilsson!
A staff of eleven people help him to "pick up" material of the people he is going to meet in the box. Yet, it seems that every question is born in the moment. It is often the case, he says, but one must be well-read on the person or persons in the chair next to the TV studio.
What did you know about ABBA?
– I’ve heard all their music. But can’t claim to belong to their audience...
– He had read about everything about us but his technique is not like that. He throws out his questions and then talks about them, says Björn Ulvaeus.
After two days of recording Dick Cavett is now back to the US and new “victims”.
Would you like to sit in the chair yourself and be interviewed?
– Yes indeed! It is actually a dream I have, he answers delightfully.
Gaby Wigardt – April 28, 1981