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.