I don’t think it’s necessary to explain who ABBA were or what they did. Their songs have been around us for quite a lot of time now. Unfortunately, the group disbanded in the early 80s leaving fans heartbroken. Thank God for people with ideas and especially for those who came up with the idea of tribute shows.
The ABBA REUNION Tribute Show is a show which meticulously recreates the real ABBA (if you couldn’t tell by the name). It has been running for 12 years now and all the hard work has paid off for the people behind it because it’s currently the most requested recreation of ABBA. And what’s even better, these guys are coming to York on 21st July at York Barbican and it’s not a show to be missed! Ahead of this exciting date, I had a chat with the lovely Vikki Holland-Bowyer who not only plays Frida in the show but she’s also one of the producers. She talked about the show, her character, Frida, and how she got into this business, so it was a very interesting interview. But, before you start reading, here’s a montage of shots from the actual show.
I will start with the same question I ask every artist who comes to York to perform. Have you been to York before?
I don’t think we’ve played in York before. I’ve been there on holiday, but I’ve never played in York. So, this is the first time which is brilliant. I really look forward to it!
What did you like the most about the city when you visited it?
Now, I liked the town centre. It’s lovely with the “oldy woldy” tons of cobbled streets. It has a really nice vibe!
So, I read that The ABBA REUNION Tribute Show has been running for 12 years now and you’ve been a part of it from the beginning. Doesn’t it get boring sometimes to play the same character and sing the same songs for 12 years?
No. Do you know why? The fact is I was an ABBA fan since I was a child. So, growing up listening to ABBA was a passion of mine. I just absolutely loved the band. I never thought I would be in a situation years later performing as Frida in a tribute show. I didn’t think that would happen, so every time I go on stage, I just enjoy the music, still to this day, and I love paying tribute to such a wonderful band. Frida is a great character to play. It gives me the chance to become somebody else. And I just love the way the audience reacts. The smiling faces. It’s not like a job. It’s like a hobby. It doesn’t matter how many times I’ve sung a song, I always have the same amount of enthusiasm.
That sounds wonderful! And talking about going on stage, after so many years performing and touring, do you still have moments when you get nervous before a show?
I don’t get nervous before a show. I get excited! I think that’s the right word. When I first started performing as Frida, obviously, I had a lot of nerves but, like you said, after 12 years along the line, I just get excited. I think “Oh, I’m going on stage in a minute!” and that’s just nice. So, no, I don’t get nervous. Luckily, I don’t suffer from bad nerves (laughs).
Is there a place where you’ve never been before but you’d love to have a show there?
I’d love to take the show to Australia. We’ve been to a lot of places in Europe, we’ve been to South Africa, India, Mongolia. But I’d just love to go to Australia, because ABBA toured in Australia and they became very famous there. I just think it would be amazing to follow the same path as they did.
Great! Hopefully, it will happen in the future! So, as you said, you loved ABBA very much from a young age. Why did you choose to recreate this group instead of using them as an inspiration to make your own music?
That’s a very good question! I think the music industry is a very tough and competitive place. I’ve been singing since I was 15 and I joined several bands and projects. I actually went for an audition when I was younger for this girl band. At the time, I didn’t know what that girl band was and the advert just said “up and coming girl band for a major record contract” and I went for an audition. At the audition, when I came out, the people said to me “we really loved it, but we’re looking for a black girl now”. Well, two years ago, I received an email saying “I understand you went for an audition for the Spice Girls” and I said “from my memory I don’t remember auditioning for the Spice Girls”. But then the email came back and it said “you wouldn’t have known it was the Spice Girls back then, because they didn’t broadcast the name”. And after that, it kind of hit me: “I must’ve auditioned for the Spice Girls!”. The reason why I got that email was because they were doing a documentary on wannabes and they were trying to track people who auditioned for the Spice Girls to see what they were doing now in their lives and they said my name was on their list. I was like “Wow! How it could’ve been different, my life!”. But, you don’t live in the past. I never regret anything and the 12 years of playing Frida in the show were fantastic, so I’m happy where I am. So, that’s how secretive the industry can be. Going back to your question, I did try these things, but, I think, once you get past a certain age in the music industry, you just think “You know what, I want to stay in this industry so I make money doing what I love doing!”. I was in cover bands as well, so after that, it was in the early 90s when the ABBA Tribute market came about and I thought “Oh, I’d like to have a go with this!”. And that’s how it started. I was actually in another ABBA tribute band and then, after a few years doing that one, I just decided to become a band leader with my partner, Greg, who plays Benny. We decided to make a more authentic show. And, at the end of the day, it’s a hobby and it keeps us financially secure, which is what everybody needs. So, I would’ve loved to have made it as a star, but it never occurred to me that I would write songs and use ABBA as an influence, if that makes sense, because I wasn’t really into songwriting.
How difficult was it to become Frida?
In order to become someone else you have to do your research! You have to look how they are on stage, you have to look at the way they dress, how they’re wearing their hair, their make-up. But, because I was a fan, I think that made it easier for me. The first ABBA tribute I was ever in I actually played Agnetha. The only reason why I played Agnetha is because the band I was working with at the time asked for an Agnetha. And after some time with that band I thought “You know what, I’ve got more vocal range as Frida!”. Although I can sing Agnetha’s songs and hit the notes, I sounded more as a Frida so that’s when I decided I would become a Frida.
What is the fondest memory that you have with the cast of the show?
There are so many memories! Mongolia was an experience! When we went to India it was also an experience! Every country, the further away you go from the UK, reacts differently. Because the tribute market in the UK is known, people know we’re not the real ABBA. And a lot of people know that ABBA disbanded and they’re not together. When we went to India, it was very strange because of the lack of TV and media out there. A lot of people, although we say we are a tribute show, thought we are the real ABBA. To the point of, we had a day off and we all went to the sea. While we were in the sea, we looked back at the shore and people were coming into the sea with their clothes on taking photographs. It is a memory that sticks in my mind and I guess it’s fond because it’s quite funny. Mongolia, they loved it as well! The thing about Mongolia was, their health and safety policies are totally different from ours. For example, in theatres here, you have to have a very strict fire regulation. We had pyrotechnics in the show sometimes and in Mongolia, what we saw on stage was quite scary. Their pyrotechnics, they made them themselves! They put Coca Cola cans taped on to the stage with an average firework and the fireworks were designed to go off at the same time through an electric wire. That was a scary moment (laughs). We didn’t know what would happen with those Coca Cola cans when the fireworks shoot up. These two memories stand out as being bizarre. But the people we met were just fantastic!
When you started working on this project I know there were already many other people recreating ABBA. Today your show is the most requested one. How does it feel to know that your hard work is not only appreciated but also the best in the field?
Well, we’re very proud! It’s a great feeling. Everybody in the show plays their part to make it the best because we all have a passion! I wouldn’t employ anybody who didn’t like ABBA, for a start. They need to feel and enjoy the music as much as Greg and I do. We try to be as authentic as we can in a respectful way to this group that everybody still loves. So, our key, I would say, to make it the most requested show, is being authentic. We give a recreation of how ABBA really were. There are a lot of ABBA tribute shows out there and yes, they’re great, but what they don’t do, I think, is recreate everything from the hair to the costumes, the mannerism to the accents, the sound. With our show, we also try to interact as ABBA did on stage. At one point, there must’ve been 115 ABBA tribute bands in the UK. So, you have to work hard to be the best you can all the time. I was a beauty therapist, makeup artist and a hair dresser as well when I was younger, so I do all the wigs and I style all the hair. If you don’t know what you’re doing with the wig, or you get the wrong colour or the wrong style, it’s little things like this that stand out. I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved and I’m really proud of everyone who works with us. It’s not just a person. It’s everybody!
As one of the producers of the show, is there something you’d like to change about the way the show currently is?
We have to change every now and again, because ABBA had such a huge catalogue of songs. You can’t perform them all. Our show is a two hour show. Now, you can’t perform all these songs in that time. And also, you have to cater for people who don’t know ABBA inside out and you also have to cater for avid ABBA fans that would want to hear some album tracks. So, it’s a very difficult show to produce to make sure that everyone’s happy. So, every couple of years we do take out songs and change them around so we can put a couple of album tracks in. What I’d love to do, it doesn’t happen very often because theatre budgets and things like that, I would love to recreate ABBA with an orchestra that they used to have on stage. When ABBA were live on stage they had 3 backing singers, 2 percussionists and on a lot of their shows they had an orchestra to back them. As a producer, I’d love to do more of that type of thing, a spectacular recreation with an orchestra, but it’s a competitive market and I dream too much. Greg always says that I dream too much and my dreams cost money (laughs). And at the end of the day, yes, we do love ABBA, but we have to keep grounded on what we can afford for venues we play.
So, you said the costumes are exactly as ABBA’s were back in the 70s. What do you think of the way people used to dress back then?
ABBA were renowned for their outrageous costumes and I don’t think you’d see a lot of people on the street in the 70s wearing ABBA’s costumes. I loved the flares. I think on a woman they’re very flattering. Not so much on a man (laughs). The platform boots, everyone likes a bit of height and it’s very comfortable to walk in platforms. It’s a lot easier than in stilettoes. Now, looking at the costumes that we wear in the show, obviously, we have to show a lot of ABBA’s very iconic looks, so we do about six or seven costume changes in the show at the moment. I don’t like Frida’s outfit from the Eurovision Song Contest. It’s like an orange and white gypsy style skirt, right down to the floor, with this little bolero white jacket which didn’t fit. I think her image at the Eurovision was bizarre. You’ve got Agnetha in this lovely figure-hugging blue silky number with knee high boots and then you’ve got Frida with this dress on. These costumes, they don’t match. I do apologise Frida, but I don’t like that costume (laughs). And also her hair… I mean, I absolutely love Frida, she’s a beautiful person inside and out, but the hairstyle she had at Eurovision, I don’t like it. It’s an old-fashioned perm! (laughs). Not flattering at all! I much prefer my hair during the show, because I died my hair and it’s the same kind of cut as Frida’s. I used to wear wigs, but wearing a wig makes me even hotter. So, I just thought “you know what, I’m doing so many of these shows now, I may as well dye my hair and cut it the same”. Yeah, so, if we’re talking about ABBA costumes, I don’t like the outfit that Frida had to wear for ‘Waterloo’, unfortunately.
I know you said in an interview that your favourite ABBA song changes every day so which is your favourite one today?
I’ve got like a top 10 and today’s going to be ‘Chiquitita’. I love the harmonies. Agnetha starts it off and then Frida comes in and they really complement each other. I love singing the harmonies of this song!
Which other group or band would you like to recreate?
Funny you said that, because I’m in the middle of producing a new show now and I play the part of Karen Carpenter (member of The Carpenters). It’s due for release in November and we’re creating a tribute show of The Carpenters. I just love the music of the Carpenters! Karen Carpenter, she went too soon and she had a fantastic voice. I’ve always been told I could sing a bit like her and now we’re in pre-production of that show. And we’ve also got another show which has been going for nine year now called 80’s Mania which is a recreation of both ABBA and The Carpenters among others. It’s a big show!
Finally, since this is a magazine mainly for students, why do you think students should come and see the show?
Well, ABBA’s music has never died. It’s still around now. It’s the type of music that everyone can hum a tune to because their parents and their grandparents had grown up with it. It’s never left the radio and also with Mamma Mia!, the film and the musical, they reinvented ABBA’s music. A lot of people come along, a lot of families. We do get a lot of students as well. They like to dress up and have a good party night out. Even if they’re not fans of ABBA, they love the music. So, for the students, I think it’s a night out for you to sing and dance and wear some fancy dress and just let your hair down.