Journalist John Evans caught up with Abbie Osmon ahead of ABBAphonic, a celebration of the Swedish pop group's timeless classics at the Royal Albert Hall on Wednesday 10 May.
Money, Money, Money, Waterloo and, of course, Dancing Queen – I’ll bet you’re humming them already, visions of Agnetha, Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid swirling in your mind’s eye. Whisper it, but it’s been 43 years since Abba won the Eurovision Song Contest (pub question: what was the song?) but while the group may have disbanded in 1982 (there’s talk of an exciting project later this year) their music lives on in the hearts and minds of millions.
“It’s a guilty pleasure for so many people,” laughs Abbie Osman who, with fellow vocalist Emma Kershaw, the ArtsEd Ensemble and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by Matthew Freeman, will perform ABBAphonic, a concert of the group’s greatest songs at the Royal Albert Hall. “Abba was never allowed to be cool but everyone loves them. I’ve got high-flying friends in the City who are even coming along!”
But, two female vocalists… Where are the men? “The student singers of the ArtsEd Ensemble will provide the male voices,” says Abbie. “The Abba sound is so rich and multi-layered. It doesn't need more than two female vocalists. The students and, of course, the Orchestra will provide the depth and richness Abba were famous for.”
So recognisable is the Abba sound, it must be hard to avoid the concert being a tribute act, I suggest. “True, people will come expecting to hear the Abba sound and I’ve found myself leaning towards Agnetha’s vocal style, but above all, we want to do the group justice. We know true Abba fans are purists – they’d expect nothing less.”
She’s especially pleased the RPO will be performing – “they’re the best!” – and says the arrangements are stunning. “They’re faithful to the beautiful melodies and harmonies the group composed. The Orchestra really enriches this music.”
The concert will feature many of Abba’s greatest hits plus a few lesser-known ones, at least to Abbie. “I didn't know Lovers Live A Little Longer but it’s got a great rocky beat and is brilliant to sing. Summer Night City is another that blows me away.”
I suggest that with their sheer musicality, work ethic and universal appeal, Abba is a group that people in Abbie’s profession must aspire to. “Absolutely. They lived a full life and had it all but they weren’t hungry for fame. In fact, Agnetha was scared of the fans and rejected all of that. Benny says he loved it but Agnetha certainly didn't.“ “Abba just had so much music to give – they wanted to get it out there. It infiltrated people’s lives naturally, without all the promotion and celebrity that gets in the way of artists and their music today.”
Not that Abbie plans to be a shrinking violet on 10 May. Along with the RPO, co-star Emma Kershaw and the singers of the ArtsEd Ensemble, she’ll be making sure Abbaphonic is a night the audience will remember. “It’s a celebration of Abba. Their music is pop at its best: upbeat even when it’s about breaking up! We want everyone to enjoy themselves. If they want to clap, laugh or dance in the aisles, that’s fine!”
For Abbie, the evening will have a very personal significance, too. In September 1978, her mother sang in the BBC Symphony Chorus at the Last Night of the Proms when pregnant with her. “I feel have a close connection with the Hall – it’s my favourite venue,” she says. “Following in mum’s footsteps, singing these great songs which, following my marriage last year, I can so relate to… It’s going to be a fabulous night for me and, I guarantee, for fans of the world’s greatest pop group.”
Written by John Evans