CentralConcertLive Music/GigMusicReview

ABBA Classics – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Conductor: Pete Harrison

Reviewer:  James Garrington

It’s hard to believe that it’s now very nearly 35 years since ABBA broke up. Yet over the relatively brief period that they were performing together their songs and musical style struck a chord with fans around the world, and continue to reach new audiences each day. Formed in 1972, they shot to worldwide fame in 1974 with Waterloo, before relationship difficulties finally broke the group up in 1982, by which time they had produced a large number of instantly recognisable songs.

No surprise, then, that we see a regular stream of concerts celebrating their music, and ABBA Classics sees another quartet of vocalists donning their fluorescent flares and joining in the party. Annie Skates, Emma Kershaw, Dean Collison and David Combes, accompanied by the London Concert Orchestra, provide an evening of sing-along party hits and snippets of trivia.

This is not a tribute act, although there is much here to remind us of ABBA. The costumes are bright and shiny and reflect ABBA’s style without copying it identically, the routines and dance moves will look familiar to anyone who has ever seen ABBA perform, and there are some similarities in appearance. It’s when you hear the music, though, that you start to get a real ABBA feeling as one after another the well-known arrangements and harmonies take you back to the 1970s.

After a brief orchestral introduction to some of the music – almost an overture – the quartet takes the stage and launch into Waterloo, before a parade of well-loved ABBA classics. Honey, Honey leads to S.O.S and I do, I do, I do, I do, I do, and Money, Money, Money from the Arrival album in 1976, by which time, we hear, ABBA were a bigger Swedish export than Volvo. Knowing Me, Knowing You, The Name of the Game, the hits keep coming – including one that is sometimes overlooked, Angeleyes, which has been a little overshadowed by the more popular song it shared a double A-side with, Voulez Vous, which we also hear.

Conductor Pete Harrison is enthusiastic in both his occasional introductions and the way he leads the orchestra, as though keen to join the party himself – and the London Concert Orchestra are happy to respond too. This is a concert full of fun, of memories and of dancing, but one of the highlights – among many – has to be Skates leading the group in what must surely be ABBA’s most poignant number, The Winner Takes it All.

These being ABBA arrangements, it’s the girls who get most of the limelight and both Skates singing the Agnetha lines and Kershaw’s Anni-Frid sound good vocally, but it occasionally feels as though both Collison and Combes are straining a little when they have individual work to do. No such worries when they come together, though, as the familiar harmonies and the voices seem to be well-suited.

The music and the atmosphere are infectious, and the evening ends with almost everyone on their feet singing and dancing along to Dancing Queen before the encore – a beautiful unaccompanied Happy New Year. The concert comes to a final close with – what else – Thank You for the Music leaving a very happy audience thanking ABBA for the wonderful music that they all still love.

Reviewed on 28 December 2016 | Image: Contributed

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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