ABBA: Super Troupers exhibition
Muddy Sussex’s highly-cultured editor Debbie visited the Southbank’s exhibition, narrated by superfan Jarvis Cocker….
Last week I stood in a room at Brighton’s Grand Hotel in 1974. I didn’t need a time machine, it was a retro recreation – part of the excellent immersive ABBA: Super Troupers exhibition/tour at London’s Southbank Centre, which lets you explore artefacts related to the band in a series of fun themed spaces.
The show opened over the winter but has just been extended till July 29, and with the recent news that ABBA are to release two new tracks this December after a 35 year gap, and with Mamma Mia 2 hitting the big screen this summer, there’s never been a better time to wallow in some super-group nostalgia.
Before we went in, my friend and I compared ABBA stories.
“I sang Knowing Me, Knowing You into my skipping rope in the school playground,” I said.
“I learned to play Super Trouper” on electronic organ, she countered.
“Well I went to a 40th anniversary ‘historical re-enactment’ of them winning Eurovision at Brighton Dome with the Brighton Gay Men’s Chorus…”
In the dark chamber at the entrance to the exhibition we stood listening to a quick fire medley of intros “a kind of ABBA Mastermind,” said our guide and I named every one.
I grew up with ABBA; in fact they were one of the few pop groups my classical-loving Dad would play. Others taking the tour will have come to them later, perhaps through Erasure covers, Madonna’s sampling of Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! for Hung Up, the film Muriel’s Wedding, or Mamma Mia on stage or screen. Their appeal endures.
The nostalgia hit me immediately when we entered the first of nine themed spaces – a mock-up of a Seventies sitting room. It looked nothing like my own from my childhood yet at the same time like every house I’d known at that time. I felt a little teary already. Perhaps it was the wine I’d downed before (not Blue Nun thankfully).
A maximum of 16 people at a time are taken through the exhibition and you can sit where you like (I perched on a pouffee to watch clips of the news) or wander round looking at artefacts sunk into walls, table tops and other props. Costumes – replica and real, handwritten sheet music with doodles, programmes, newspaper reports, family photographs and instruments all feature.
There are no labels, instead sound effects and Jarvis Coker’s honey-voiced commentary set the scene at each stage and a guide gives more information on the artefacts, cracks jokes and generally whips up the giggles.
I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you all the fun ways you pass between rooms, or all the themes but there’s a lot of humour involved as befits a band who once told their costumer designer “nothing is too much”.
I will tell you that besides the Napoleon Suite from The Grand (yes, it really was called that even before ABBA stayed there when they won Eurovision with Waterloo), there’s a forest evoking the musicians’ folk festival days, a retro aeroplane and a room that caused me to shriek with delight when I immediately recognised the video it recreated.
There is also a mock up of the Swedish recording studio you see in Money, Money, Money, Gimme, Gimme, Gimme and other videos and there’s some have-a-go fun here with a karaoke opportunity should you want it (we did!)
I learned the famous side on faces in ABBA’s videos were actually inspired by an Ingmar Bergman film technique and got a little giddy when I came face to face with the famous blue crocheted skullcap Agnetha wore for Eurovision.
This isn’t a fact-crammed exhibition (my friend and I agreed we’d have liked to learn a little more about the crafting of what we agreed is ‘perfect pop’) but it is a wonderfully fun and immersive wallow in nostalgia.
ABBA: Super Troupers runs at the Southbank Centre (aka the Festival Hall), London until July 29. You need to book a timed slot and tours last about an hour. The money, money, money? Tickets are £15 -25.