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Bootleg Abba

Lynn Hawthorne ponders the popularity of tribute artists and the rise of nostalgia.

Recently, I went to see ABBA in concert.

It’s been a long while since a person has been able to say that. Well, actually, not the real deal but Bootleg ABBA and companion band Ballroom Glitz at The Robin2 in Bilston to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday.

The place was packed by showtime at 8.45pm and a good look round revealed that it was full of 40- and 50-somethings determined to party.

There were three hen parties, with brides-to-be traditionally attired in L-plates, fairy wings and garters, and several birthday groups like ours.

The range of outfits was interesting, from hotpants and thigh boots to full-on Seventies get-ups in homage to the era being played out on stage. Dressing up to go out is back!

I enjoyed Ballroom Glitz, though their act didn’t appear to differ from the last time I’d seen them. They rattled through hits by T-Rex, Sweet and Slade, got us dancing to Mud’s Tiger Feet and screeched through Hawkwind’s Silver Machine.

They opened the debate on David Cassidy versus The Osmonds and played Crazy Horses to prove a point. I always preferred David Essex.

During all of this, I was transported straight back into clear times in my life.

I remembered the Leavers’ Disco in the summer of 1974 as I prepared to move up to secondary school and one of my classmates being in floods of tears when they played Puppy Love.

I can recall heated debates between friends who followed Marc Bolan or Gary Glitter, with none of the grubbiness of later years.

I can hear my dad muttering the inevitable, “What the bloody hell does he look like?” when watching Top of the Pops and saving my pocket money to buy ex-jukebox singles to play endlessly in my bedroom.

I can remember the furtive delight of reading the Cathy & Claire problem page in Jackie magazine when there was nothing more troubling than how to attract a guy’s attention at school and being advised to practise kissing on the back of your hand.

This reverie, for me, crystallised the appeal of these nostalgia bands.

They hark back to a simpler time, when we were younger, thinner, prettier and life seemed full of infinite promise. Now we’re all older, not that much wiser, but battle scarred. The kids have left home, the husband has gone and we all wear make-up to take off the years, rather than add them on. For most of us, life hasn’t quite turned out as we’d daydreamed it would.

Once I’d clocked that, the evening saddened for me, as I watched adults dressed up as the teenagers they never were and danced like it was 1974 all over again. Perhaps I’m just a Grumpy Old Woman these days, but I couldn’t quite give myself over to the fun of it once I’d compared the past with the present.

Then ABBA came on stage, a band I’d never really been fond of, as by this point in the decade I’d progressed away from pop – especially this formulaic Euro-pop – and into black disco, soul and funk.

Even dressed in the gear, the band bore no resemblance to the real members of the group and the fake Swedish accents aroused hilarity in the crowd.

Had other audience members noticed the straying into Welsh, too, I wondered? Was Bjorn really from Pontypridd after all?

A lot of the hits were there and the crowd knew them all word-for-word, singing along at high volume. I surprised myself by how many I knew and immediately had a nightmarish vision of lugubrious Mel Smith during the truly-dreadful Super Trouper.

I can see why people pay good money to see these tribute artists. With groups disbanded, no longer touring or artists even dead, these bands offer the chance to re-visit the music in a live format which is no longer possible in ‘reality.’

I baulked at paying £50 per ticket to see Roger Waters, but you can see Pink Fraud for eight quid if you purchase tickets in advance. And with modern chart-toppers, it all seems to be about image rather than content and you know how much is tweaked on the mixing desk.

These tribute bands, with fabulous, humorous but respectful names like Definitely Might Be, Crowded Out and Fred Zeppelin, are dedicated fans who are keeping the music of their heroes alive and raw and offering the old way: gigging in a transit van, in small venues in different places every night.

No entourage for them, with unreasonable dressing room demands and diva-strops. Mariah Carey please note.

So is nostalgia as good as it used to be? The success of The Robin2 seems to say so, with a year-long programme of tribute artists and many back ‘by popular demand.’

All in all, it was fun to feel young again, if only for a few hours. But by half-past midnight, my feet could no longer take the high heels and I headed home. At one time, I’d have walked, but age and relative affluence now provides a taxi.

Gone are the days of a 12-hour sponsored disco at school, 8.30pm-8.30am then an hour’s kip and up to The Hawthorns for a local derby.

Gone is the girl and present is the woman. Would I wish her back? If I knew then what I know now, definitely maybe……


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