Cheryl Livingstone speaks to Steven Galert – keyboard player and musical director with Abbamania – as they prepare to return to the Granite City
Police escorting them through an airport, using back entrances to shopping centres, sold-out 6,000-seater concert halls and appearing on TV shows and playing to 15million viewers.
You probably wouldn’t be surprised if I said this is what life in Abba was like, but would you be surprised if I said members of the band’s tribute act also experience this kind of reaction?
This was exactly what happened when the band – which has been going longer than Abba themselves – visited the Philippines for the first time.
“Nobody expected it there; nobody expected it to be so mad,” said Steven Galert, keyboard player and musical director with Abbamania.
“I think they thought it was really Abba. We had police escorts; we couldn’t go through the airport; we had to be taken through back ways everywhere. I can’t even describe how mad it was.
“The crowds there were massive. It was 6,000-seaters all the time and they were full. It was just an experience for everyone. It was a glimpse of what it must have been like for Abba.
“We had to make appearances in shopping centres and just wave for a few minutes and say ‘see you at the gig’ and disappear off again and people had been waiting hours to see you. That was a shock to everybody’s system. It was phenomenal and we’ve been back a few times now, but I definitely didn’t expect them to know much about Abba. We were very lucky to be involved in something like that and to be able to do that.”
First performed in 1999, the show has gone from strength to strength and is currently on a 50-date tour including a stop-over at Aberdeen’s Music Hall next month.
Steve, who has been in the band from the beginning, said the idea came from the group of friends wanting to try something different. And as Abba fans, they thought they’d give the tribute band a go.
“Everybody was involved in music, whether it was through teaching or studying at the time,” he said.
“At the time, I was playing piano in different places in hotels and things and it moved on from there to playing in bands and I think everybody had played in different kinds of bands and shows and then we got together to do this. It was so well received that we took to the ground running and it just kept going.
“As we started to learn more about Abba, it just went from strength to strength. I realised just how good the music is.”
Now recreating the sound made famous by Agnetha, Bjorn, Benny and Anni-Frid are Ewa Scott, Sharon Fehlberg, Adam Robertson, Bryan Smith, Gareth Whitehead, Lee Brady and Steve himself.
While the band has always had a blonde and brunette – plus the odd beard – Steve said it was the music Abbamania recreated that was important, and not the look of the individual band members.
He said: “Over the years, we haven’t gone down the route of putting on wigs or beards. It’s a tribute to the music. I think it becomes farcical when you try to put on an accent or whatever. I wouldn’t like to see it become a joke, because the music is so good. It is a celebration of the music that Abba wrote. And, from day one, it has been like that. I think if you go too far with wigs and things like that it’s not the right thing. But that’s a personal opinion.
“We’ve always been lucky in the sense that there has always been a dark-haired and blonde girl in the group, anyway, so there’s never been an issue with that. I’ve seen other tribute groups where they look nothing like the people, but it doesn’t matter, they’ve been great. You can dress up and you can have authentic costumes and do the style of music Abba does in an authentic way and make it a good reproduction but I don’t think you need to stick on a wig or a beard, I don’t think that’s the right way to do it. I’ve seen too many try that; it looks too cheesy for me.”
Making up their Abba sets is all the classics everyone loves to sing along to – including Waterloo, Money, Money, Money and Dancing Queen – as well as some less-known songs. For diehard fans, it is a great way to hear the music of one of your favourite bands live. And for others, it is just a great night out.
Abbamania play Aberdeen Music Hall on December 10, from 7.30pm.