Bjorn Again are set to shine at the black-tie cultural extravaganza that is Henley Festival on the banks of the River Thames, between 10th & 14th July
One of this year’s headline act started out with a pub gig in Melbourne which had an audience of 350, from just a chalkboard outside the pub that day in 1988.
Scripted and choreographed as a tongue-in-cheek satirical parody of ABBA, the show rapidly achieved cult status. Having been acknowledged by Bjorn Ulvaeus as being the show which single-handedly initiated the ABBA revival in the late 1980s early 1990s, the Bjorn Again show is hailed as the most popular and successful show of its type. Now, just over 30 years later Rod Stephen, who founded the group brings Bjorn Again to the Henley Festival.
Growing up in Australia, who was the first band Rod remembers following and seeing live? “I was probably more into the rock scene than music like Abba,” he says. “The main group who I liked at the time started off as a New Zealand group Split Enz (you probably know them better as Crowded House); it was not just their musicality and vocals, but also, they opened my eyes to the theatricality of pop music. I remember seeing them once live and the entire stage looked like a front room, the keyboard player was playing with a standard lamp behind him.”
So, how did the idea of an ABBA parody band come about? “It was 1988, and none of the groups I had been in amounted to anything. I felt like doing something different and thought of a parody band. I had three choices, Queen, The Beatles or Abba, growing up in the 1970s I had the flared trousers so picked Abba. I got together a group of musicians and we spent months rehearsing and watching videos of Abba, then came our first gig. It was at a pub in Melbourne, and the only publicity was on the chalk board outside, “Abba tribute band here tonight”. We had 350 people in, they couldn’t hold any more! We were invited back the next month, and before we knew it, we were performing quite a few nights of the week in either Melbourne or Sydney and the media picked up on us.”
Is this your first time in the Thames Valley, or indeed floating! “I think it is the first time we have appeared at the Henley Festival, and we’ve performed on floating stages though I hope it doesn’t put us too far from the audience. We did make an appearance just up the Thames at the Reading Festival in 1992. I had this call from my agent to say we were needed to play the Reading Festival, and I said needed, why? Apparently, it was one of the late Kurt Cobain’s requests that we open for Nirvana. It was a great gig and that night we really rocked the Abba hits. To this day, I can still remember the cheers of the crowds.
What can the crowds at the Henley Festival look forward to? “All the great well-known Abba hits and some of the others they can sing along to. With Bjorn Again in authentic costumes, hopefully we can get everyone dancing in the aisles.”