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| 27 September 2021 | Reply

By Shane Pinnegar

ABBA are the global pop sensation from Sweden who had countless mega-hits and have sold an estimated 400 million-plus records. They released eight studio albums between 1973 and 1981, and remain household names around the world.

Björn Again, meanwhile, are the Australian ABBA tribute band formed by John Tyrrell and Rod Stephen in Melbourne in 1988, and played an integral part in the massive ABBA revival of the early ‘90s. Having played thousands of shows since their 1989 live debut, they have performed in every continent and over 100 countries, with many fans lauding praise upon them and citing them as even better than the real thing.

With the real ABBA on the cusp of releasing their first new album in forty years, Björn Again are about to launch an extensive Australian tour – tour dates at the bottom of this page.

Co-founder and manager, John Tyrrell, is hunkered down in hotel quarantine in Perth, Western Australia with the rest of the band, and took time out to shed some light on the inner workings of what is perhaps the world’s most popular tribute band, and certainly the finest ABBA tribute ever.

Bjorn Again founder & manager John Tyrrell

Hello John, you’re currently isolating in Perth ahead of your extensive Western Australian tour. I’m sure the shows will make it worth it, but is the solitude driving you crazy yet?

We’ve had so many highlights and events over the band’s 32 year history since that first Melbourne gig in 1989, but us all having to isolate in a city for two weeks would have to be one of the most bizarre things we have undertaken – and a very costly exercise!

But given that we have only done a handful of gigs since March 2020 – yes, in 18 long months – and WA is one the only places we can go to, then the effort is worth it. It was a difficult process applying for a permit – and all of our band members had to be fully vaccinated. It really was touch and go there for a while but when we were granted the permit we were ecstatic.

Iso hasn’t driven us crazy – and we never needed to send out an SOS (lol!!) – as we have been busy doing various tour promo, and also excitedly learning the new ABBA songs which we hope to perform at the WA shows. We’ve been zooming between the rooms every day and keeping in touch by RING RING-ing each other to check on each other. And what a great place to isolate in – we love looking out over the Swan River and your beautiful city.

John is referring, of course, to the brand new brace of ABBA singles I Still Have Faith In You and Don’t Shut Me Down, which were released on 2nd September. The ninth ABBA album, Voyage, is due for release on 5th November, exactly 25 days shy of forty years since the Swedish sensation’s last album The Visitors hit record stores.

In their decade together ABBA preferred the studio to touring life, especially as the two couples in the band – Benny and Anna-Frid, and Bjorn and Agnetha – had young children. Björn Again have well and truly eclipsed the total concerts performed by the band who inspired them.

We have actually performed over 7000 shows since 1989 and the years immediately pre-Covid have been our biggest ever. In contrast ABBA only performed for a total of 10 months in their 10-year career.

We still have many countries we haven’t played yet and have many other show and themed ideas in the pipeline. We want to do our own ABBATAR show – stay tuned…

Amongst a stellar career as Björn Again, one of the obvious highlights was to meet the original Benny & Bjorn in Sweden. Given that the nature of this tribute act is to present a parody of what they did so successfully, was that in any way awkward?

Yes, we met them in Stockholm in November 1992. It was a tad awkward at first due to the lookalike factor, but things quickly settled and we had a really good chat about we are about and what they were working on at the time.

Benny said his favourite songs were The Winner Takes It All, The Day Before You Came and, of course, Dancing Queen. They were very curious why we go to the effort of doing a band that copied them. ‘Why don’t you write your own songs?’ they asked. We said, ‘Because ours are nowhere as good as yours!’ Bjorn said that an ABBA revival was inevitable but Bjorn Again certainly started it.

The original Benny famously said in 1999 that “BJÖRN AGAIN are the closest you can get to seeing ABBA. ABBA will never reform!” I’m hoping he hasn’t retracted that now that they have reformed for an album and a virtual tour?

He’s still correct – they won’t ever perform live together as a band. They never liked touring in the 70’s anyway – they preferred writing and recording.

Would you ever consider doing a virtual tour, just like your heroes?

Well, as a parody act we are certainly working on ideas along those lines – but you’ll have to wait and see!

Cast your mind back to your first show as Björn Again in 1989 – did you have the slightest inkling that it might last this long and be as amazingly successful as it has been?

We never had any inkling that the band would last this long or tour globally and be this successful. In the beginning it was all about getting a few muso friends together, doing a bunch of small gigs, having a laugh and seeing what happened. But then it completely snowballed beyond our wildest imagination.

We seemed to have struck a chord, hit a nerve – that sort of thing – and people ABBAsolutely loved us and the parody style of the show. The word spread like wildfire, gigs got bigger and more frequent, and by the end of 1989 we all quit our day jobs!

Is this the first time you have toured to regional areas such as Kalgoorlie?

This is the first time the band has ever played in Kalgoorlie – so we can’t wait. But as you know the band, being Swedish, have not mastered the English accent and are calling it ‘COWGIRLY.’

With such an incredible catalogue of hits and fan favourites to choose from, where do you even begin in writing a set list of ABBA songs to please everybody?

We place a lot of importance on the set list, and it has evolved over many years to get it right. But we tweak it now and again, and chop and change songs as there are so many ABBA hits. We basically open hard, then get into the ballads. In the second set we turn up the volume to 11 and rock out as hard and loud as we can. As you know, we have played at Glastonbury and Reading so we are NOT a sissy band! Other famous artists who have watched us side stage [which include Nirvana, Dave Grohl, Robert Plant, Tom Jones, Metallica, U2, Paul Kelly and many more – Editor’s note] watch in awe as our show progresses.

ABBA’s songs were perfectly simple pop, but as musicians are they simple to recreate?

Well, we don’t think ABBA’s music is pure simple pop. When we were first working up the show in 1988 we found it far more challenging than we thought – not only the musical parts but working out vocal parts and layers. And they’re a really challenging sing for the lead female parts – ranging from very low in Money Money Money to very high in Ring Ring and Dancing Queen. As band members have changed over the years each new person says, ‘Jeepers, I didn’t think these songs would be so hard to get right!’

What’s the best way to describe a Bjorn Again show?

Our show is basically a parody-tribute with lots of theatrical components and audience participation thrown in. The audiences love to sing and dance along with us so sometimes we give them that chance.

Our number one priority is to get the music and singing as high quality and professional as we can – out of respect for ABBA – but also add our touch to it. We also have very high production standards – sound, lighting, video and staging – and engage the best crew we can, many of whom have toured with some of the biggest acts in the world. We were thrilled when a few years back Time Out New York stated we were ‘the most entertaining rock show in the world’. WOW!

There was a lot of sadness in ABBA after (the original) Benny & AnnaFrid, and Bjorn & Agnetha separated. How do you negotiate the tragedy in the band’s story without losing the party atmosphere of a Bjorn Again show?

Now this is a good question. Audiences will see the engagement between Björn Again’s two couples unfold as the show progresses. Benny is still trying to woo Frida but she sternly rejects his advances. Lovebirds Agnetha and Bjorn are totally in love with each other but there is no intimacy.

In fact during this isolation we put the two girls together and the two boys together instead of mixing it up just so there wouldn’t be any trouble. You know what they say – absence makes the heart grow fonder!! And it’s worked well – so far.

Thanks so much for your time, John

It was a real pleasure… for you, Shane!

Wed September 29th BUNBURY, WA, Bunbury Entertainment Centre
Thu September 30th KALGOORLIE, WA, Goldfields Arts Centre
Fri October 1st PERTH, WA, Crown Theatre
Sat October 2nd PERTH, WA, Crown Theatre 2pm Matinee
Sat October 2nd PERTH, WA, Crown Theatre
Fri October 8th ADELAIDE, SA, Her Majesty’s Theatre
Sat October 9th ADELAIDE, SA, Her Majesty’s Theatre
Thu October 21st WAGGA WAGGA, NSW, Civic Theatre
Thu October 28th CANBERRA, ACT, Canberra Theatre
Fri October 29th WARRAGUL, VIC, West Gippsland Arts Centre
Fri November 5th SWAN HILL, VIC, Swan Hill Town Hall PACC
Sat November 6th GEELONG, VIC, Costa Hall
Sun November 7th BAIRNSDALE, VIC, Forge Theatre
Sat November 13th BRISBANE, QLD, QPAC
Sat November 13th BRISBANE, QLD, QPAC
Fri November 26th LISMORE, NSW, Lismore Workers Club
Thu December 9th IPSWICH, QLD, Ipswich Civic Centre
Fri December 10th GOLD COAST, QLD, Twin Towns
Sat December 11th TOOWOOMBA, QLD, Empire Theatre

Category: Interviews

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Editor, 100% ROCK MAGAZINE

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