ABBA: Thank You for the Music – Symphony Hall, Birmingham

Reviewer: James Garrington

Music & Lyrics: Benny Andersson & Björn Ulvaeus

Arranger: Steve Sidwell

Conductor: Stephen Bell

Eurovision 1974 was never going to be unremarkable. The UK stepped in after Luxembourg had declined to host the event. France withdrew out of respect for the late President Pompidou, Greece had replaced their entry after the heats following a scandal, and the Portuguese entry was used a couple of weeks later to start a revolution.

Hardly anybody expected anything special from Sweden though. Then a quartet in disco gear took the stage, the conductor dressed as Napoleon struck up the band in a driving pop rhythm and the rest, as they say, is history.

During the eight years that ABBA were initially together after their Eurovision victory, they took the world by storm and created the soundtrack for a generation – and the popularity of their music has never died, thanks in no small part to the hugely popular movie and stage show Mamma Mia! In fact, they remain so popular that when they released their first new album in four decades shortly before Christmas last year it sold more than a million copies worldwide in its first week.

So there’s a sense of anticipation in Symphony Hall as conductor Stephen Bell takes the podium and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra explodes into ABBA: Overture, a symphonic arrangement of some of ABBA’s best-known songs. It’s heady stuff, and the audience excitement grows as the four vocalists for the evening Annie Skates, Emma Kershaw, David Combes and Stephen Weller join the orchestra and we move straight into Waterloo. Symphony Hall is a great venue for any sort of concert, and the orchestra sounds fabulous.

What follows is a tour of classic ABBA hits from their second single Honey, Honey onwards. Most of the big numbers are here – The Name of the Game, Fernando, The Winner Takes It All, Super Trouper and many more. Although these vocalists aren’t an established tribute band, they have been familiar faces at ABBA concerts for a number of years and are clearly very comfortable performing with each other. They sound reasonably authentic too when singing together especially in the up-tempo pieces, though individually they are obviously not ABBA. The same goes for some of the arrangements,and there are times when certain bits of melody that you expect to hear from the orchestra get a little overwhelmed by other instruments, particularly in a few of the introductions. The concert is, of course, not meant to be an ABBA sound-alike but a celebration of ABBA’s music and in that respect, it hits the mark well.

By the time we get towards the final section of the concert, we are well into party mode. Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!, Mamma Mia, Dancing Queen follow one after another and pretty much everyone in the audience is on their feet dancing – and even those who aren’t are swaying along to the music. This is a real crowd-pleaser of a concert, and it’s attracted audience members of all ages. It’s colourful, it’s exuberant and it’s enormous fun. We wrap up with Thank You for the Music and a final Waterloo, and a lot of very happy people heading home.

Reviewed on 28 January 2022

Colourful, exuberant and enormous fun

The Reviews Hub Score

Colourful, exuberant and enormous fun

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The Reviews Hub - Central

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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