An Interview with Greg Stevenson from ABBA Reunion Tour
By Rebecca Hitchon
Look out for a splash of colour, iconic pop hits and, of course, some eccentric flares this July as ABBA is brought to Yorkshire. Ahead of the ABBA Reunion Tribute Show in York, cast member Greg Stevenson talks about recreating one of the world’s most famous groups, its changing audience and becoming part of the tribute world.
So, the ABBA Tribute Show in which you’re playing Benny – how excited are you to be a part of it?
Well, it’s very exciting. I’m a keyboard player by trade so it’s great to be able to go on stage as Benny. He’s a fantastic keyboard player, so it’s great to go on and perform as him and try and play some of the lines that he played during those famous songs. It’s really good, but you not only have to play, obviously you’ve got to try and do the characteristics of him. On stage he’s got a very big persona and he moves around a lot when he’s playing, which is quite unusual for a keyboard player. It’s difficult to do and play at the same time but he manages it fantastically, probably better than me but I try my best.
Have you always been a fan of ABBA?
I remember my mum and dad buying the album Super Trouper and I was fascinated by the front cover. It’s them all in white and loads of people all around: circus performers and all kinds of weird people. I remember at about 12-years-old looking at that cover thinking ‘wow, this is absolutely amazing’. Vikki (his partner and other cast member) is more of the die-hard ABBA fan. She was with the hairbrush in the mirror singing along to ABBA songs. I was more of an eighties boy. But now we’ve turned our attention to performing as Abba, you have to pull apart the songs and find out how good they actually are. I think that’s why ABBA’s still around and still standing the test of time because their songs are such fantastic pop.
You founded the reunion group with your partner Vikki. What made you choose to create this show?
When I met Vikki, she’d just finished in a band that she co-directed and co-produced called Abba Mania. The show went to the Strand Theatre in the West End, so she was a very accomplished ABBA performer. Then we got together and thought ‘let’s make a super authentic Abba tribute show’ because some of them out there aren’t as authentic as they could be. We’ve had a few people that have come to us that saw ABBA live, because Abba toured in ’77 nd ’79. In ’79 they did some concerts in London and we’ve had quite a few very nice compliments that if you stand halfway back in the theatre and you look at it, it is ABBA. People have said ‘I’ve seen it and that is it’. I think it’s very nice – you can’t get better than that really so we are getting the returns for our work.
Abba are iconic for their fashion styles. How do you find the costumes?
All the costumes have to be individually made. Not many people know this but the reason that their costumes were so ridiculous and so fantastic is because they had a great designer but also there’s a very weird tax thing in Sweden. Costumes could only be tax-deductible if they were something that you wouldn’t normally walk down the street in.
That’s interesting! What about the dance moves – do you like doing that?
Well, I sit down all the way through it so I don’t do any dance moves, although I jump around and swing my hair. But what’s very weird about the girls is that they move completely differently to each other and that’s one of the things that bands don’t portray that much. The girls are doing exactly the same moves and look exactly the same and that wasn’t how ABBA were and yet it was much more demure and lady-like. Frida was very out-there and mad, quite jerky in her movements sometimes. The girls don’t do things exactly the same because in ABBA they didn’t. A lot of people pick up on that and like that we do that.
“It’s given us a really big resurgence”
It’s showing their individual personalities, isn’t it?
Yes, very much so. They just were different people so we try and put that across and also, even on stage or when they’re interviewed, Frida talks quite a lot more than Agnetha. Agnetha really didn’t like interviews. She didn’t talk very much. So again, on stage it’s more Frida than it is Agnetha.
I’m from a younger generation and I do like ABBA although I don’t listen to the group’s songs religiously. Would the show still appeal to me?
I’ll tell you another funny story: With the advent of Mamma Mia: with the film coming out and the stage show, there’s a whole new army of fans. We went to this show once and people came up to say how good it was. This young lad came up, he was about six. He thought we were fantastic but we were wearing the wrong clothes because obviously he’d seen the film: the dungarees, and that’s what he expected ABBA to look like. Armies of young people: If they saw a picture of ABBA, they wouldn’t know who they were but they can sing all of the songs because of the film. So it’s given us a really big resurgence. It puts ABBA back in the forefront of everyone’s minds.
Are you more of a solo performer or do you prefer working with the rest of the group?
Primarily I’m a musician, so musicians like to play with musicians. On my own is not so good. I don’t enjoy it so much. Music is a very ‘together thing’– it’s a very sociable thing, so it’s great to get out there with our band and perform.
“You can’t get a big head over it”
I see that you’ve worked in the industry for a long time with many famous faces, such as Alvin Stardust. What is your career highlight?
Oh my words, career highlight… That is every day. Playing in front of 35 thousand people down the south of France, that was great.
Wow, what was that for?
That was ABBA again: open air on the beach. We have such a good time every time we go out – they’re all highlights. Just to see the crowd reaction because we try and put a lot of effort into what we do and we definitely try and get it across to the audience. Sometimes when you go see a show or tribute band, they seem a little bit detached from where they are. It seems like they’re going through the motions maybe. Definitely involve the crowd and that makes it special every time.
Did you ever think you’d be doing what you do now?
Not really. When you go down a career path you take certain roads. You come to crossroads; you pick left or right and off you go. When I started out I was just a keyboard player – a backing musician as well. You don’t envisage that you’re going to end up in the tribute world. But it’s just the way that the path meanders. Obviously it’s great when we go out and people are clapping and applauding. But we don’t think they’re applauding us: they’re applauding ABBA. It’s a difficult one to explain but we’re very much grounded because they’re not our fans, they’re ABBA fans and they’ve come to see a little glimpse of what may have happened back in the day.
Which shows have you always wanted to be in?
Well, we’re starting a new show in November and it’s the music of The Carpenters. I love their songs and Richard Carpenter was such a good arranger and musician. Again, I’ve got my work cut out as I’m supposed to be him as well. He’s just fantastic: he’s at concert pianist standard so I’m going to struggle, but I’ll do my best.