It’s 40 years since Björn Ulvaeus acquired drunk and penned Abba’s most enduring heartbreaker in his songwriting hideaway. Malcolm Jack took a visit there to pay homage

This summer time most of us can journey solely in reminiscences so right here’s certainly one of mine. A yr in the past on a muggy July early morning I sat aboard a Stockholm commuter ferry with my spouse and my one-year-old son because it pushed eastwards into the archipelago, the town fading into the space because the boat started its each day hop round a few of the lots of of small inhabited islands, dotted with vibrant timber summer time homes, that lie between the Baltic Sea and the Swedish capital. Vacation spot: Viggsö. Or because it’s additionally recognized: Abba island.

A few hours later we had been following a footpath via an eerily quiet forest after we had been met by a healthy-looking, athleisurewear attired couple in possibly their late 50s (it’s all the time laborious to inform with Swedes). Johan and Annika are the unintentional proprietors of a chunk of bona fide pop legend – a summer time cottage beforehand owned by Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus and Agnetha Fältskog, together with an outbuilding that was the band’s writing retreat, birthplace to important a part of a 400-million promoting oeuvre. It’s storied in books and documentaries and there’s a duplicate of it in Stockholm’s Abba museum, however I wished to see the actual factor. My spouse is Swedish, we had been within the nation for a vacation. I managed to look Johan and Annika up – a pair of well-to-do Stockholm property builders – and contacted them to ask in the event that they wouldn’t object to a nosey journalist paying them a brief go to. They agreed as long as I didn’t share something too particular as to the place to seek out the home. You possibly can’t blame a pair who summer time on a secluded island for coming to anticipate just a little privateness.

And there it was on the high of a rocky hill: a boxy purple wooden sub-dwelling of no more than 15 sq. metres. Area sufficient in its entrance room, home windows going through out to sea, for a guitar and a piano and little else. From Dancing Queen to Fernando, Abba created numerous future classics up there among the many pines and ferns, Ulvaeus and his songwriting associate Benny Andersson preserving workmanlike common hours. At one time all 4 members of Abba and their supervisor Stig Anderson owned properties on Viggsö – it was their non-public world away from the world, their sanctuary and their inspiration. Like most Swedish summer time homes, Björn and Agnetha’s was humble. Again then it in all probability didn’t actually have a correct rest room.

Its lyrics about loss, ache, jealousy and lovers as playthings on the whim of the gods had been penned by Ulvaeus throughout a protracted darkish night time of the soul

When he purchased the cottage from Ulvaeus a decade in the past, Johan solely discovered who the vendor was after conveyancing started. Seems he’s not even an Abba fan – though he did proudly present me a framed textual content and {photograph} that Ulvaeus had gifted them to authenticate the writing cottage’s historical past. He left us awhile to soak up the scene. Treetops obscured what would as soon as have been a transparent view out throughout the water previous a rusting flagpole. I performed Dancing Queen on my telephone – tacky however crucial – and my spouse danced with our son in his sling. As we made to go away Johan provided us a elevate on his speedboat to a bigger close by island the place we may catch a return ferry, and far quicker than it had become visible, Abba island disappeared.

I’d made that journey with one explicit track in thoughts. Composed on Viggsö following the breakdown of Björn and Agnetha’s marriage, and launched 40 years in the past this month, The Winner Takes It All is Abba’s crowning achievement – a chanson-inspired heartbreaker hitched to a glittering disco beat that has been mercilessly pricking eyes for 4 many years, the unique and supreme Scandi unhappy banger. Written within the shadow of divorce, its lyrics about loss, ache, jealousy and lovers as playthings on the whim of the gods had been penned by Ulvaeus throughout a protracted darkish night time of the soul, draining a bottle of whisky.

Famously, The Winner Takes It All was exquisitely sung by Fältskog – a very highly effective act of understanding and détente between quarrelling ex-spouses. It was the start of the tip for Abba in some methods – certainly one of their final hits earlier than a gradual decline in the direction of splitting three years later.

I’ve thought of that journey and that island rather a lot throughout lockdown and isolation over the previous couple of months – within the Covid world, it appears surreal to think about that such a factor was ever even potential.

I’ve thought of Björn, hammered drunk, mourning his previous life and attempting to make sense of the brand new. Over latest years, Abba have fortunately patched issues up and new materials is claimed to be on the best way later in 2020. However none of it written in that island cottage, after all. Slowly disappearing into the forest, now it’s historical past.

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