ABBA: Voyage The ABBA arena London 1 September 2022

abba 1Apologies for the break in transmission which I felt appropriate during the time of mourning for our Queen and the transition to King Charles.

How do you explain the inexplicable? Did I really see what I thought I did a couple of weeks ago in London? This was an experience like no other and one that has to be seen to be believed.

“Blending cutting-edge technology, spectacular lighting, and some of the most beloved songs ever written, ABBA take to the stage in a whole new way. In a stunning, purpose-built arena, one of the most popular groups in history appear as digital avatars in a ‘ground-breaking’ (Metro) concert that really ‘needs to be seen to be believed” (BBC).

I saw ABBA in concert, once only, in 1979 at Stafford Bingley Hall which was an old cattle market. It smelt of cattle and sheep and I swear that I saw bits of straw on the floor. I went there twice, once to see The Who (the first concert there as I recall), and once to see ABBA. For The Who concert it was standing everywhere; for ABBA it was set out with plastic chairs across the floor. My friend Davey and I were seated quite close to the front and ABBA were, as you would expect, sensational. They were at the height of their success and sang all the hits. I have reviewed the concert on my blog elsewhere (enter ABBA in the search box).

abba 2Now going to a concert these days takes some organisation. There are quite a lot of logistics involved including booking assistance on the train to make sure that a friendly guy appears with a ramp to get me on and off the train. On this occasion three carers accompanied me, all of us excited at the experience. We travelled direct from Sunderland to London via the lovely Grand Central service. The guy with the ramp appeared like magic both there and back on the journey. Once at King’s Cross we checked in to a Premier Inn which is directly opposite the station. After a quick rest we were off to the ABBA arena via a fast train from St Pancras to Stratford International and then a Docklands Light Railway (DLR) to Pudding Mill Lane station. Again, this all worked well with passenger assistance helping me out with a ramp without any pre-warning on the fast train. The DLR is similar to a tube train and I can easily navigate my wheelchair straight on. All no problem. Excellent! The ABBA arena is then a short walk over the road.

abba progOnce we got inside I bought some merchandise including a couple of programmes for my friend John and I, and some badges for my daughter. We picked up our drinks and then took our seats in the arena. What happened next was a revelation. Somehow, using magical technology, the ABBA people have managed, using avatars, to recreate the four members of the group just as they were in 1979. All four are there in front of us singing the hits. You can get a feel for the show from the link contained in this review in the Guardian. Lights and mirrors appear from the ceiling, rotating, and moving screens display the group while they lead the songs from the back of the stage. An excellent band accompanies them. Each member speaks to us, their faces appearing exactly as they looked “back in the day”. Unbelievable.

The set list is everything you could wish for. After a couple of songs I didn’t recognise we are into the hits: “SOS”, “Knowing Me, Knowing You”, “Fernando” and so it goes on. One of my favourites “Eagle” is accompanied by a computer-generated video of a young boy marvelling at an eagle flying “high in the sky”. The hits just keep coming. For “Waterloo” they choose to show footage of the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest which they won and took place in the UK, in Brighton. I don’t mind admitting I had tears in my eyes at this point. Everything was perfectly recreated. They close with “Thank You for the Music” and “Dancing Queen”. By this point I am melting down; I find the whole experience highly emotional. It takes me back to a time when things were very different and when ABBA were wonderful. And tonight they are abba 3wonderful again. By now the girls are clapping and dancing, as is the entire arena. Finally we are treated to an encore of “The Winner Takes It All”. Then another piece of magic happens. The avatars become the group as they are now. They come to the front of the stage and thank us for coming along to the show.

Then we are out into the dark night and the journey back to the hotel via DLR and the fast train all work smoothly. We stop off for some supper of burgers/hot dogs and chips in Five Guys at King’s Cross. Then I am soon back in bed, the whole experience swirling round in my head, not believing what I have just experienced.

So is this the future of rock concerts? Will this technology enable us to see The Beatles in concert? It opens up all sorts of possibilities. Will my grandchildren be treated to avatars recreating the Rolling Stones, The Who, Fleetwood Mac, Eagles, Bob Dylan; the list goes on as do the possibilities. Will arena shows based on virtual reality replace tribute bands in the future? The technology is there now and proven to work. After its very significant run of shows in London the ABBA arena will grace major cities around the world. This show could go on for ever, treating fans to a glimpse of the past and bringing history back to life.

The next morning we have some breakfast, and then we are up and back on our train to Sunderland. All works well. And “a good time was had by all”, to coin a well-known phrase! My trip back to 1979 was pure magic and if you get the chance please go and see the show. It is as good as everything you read about it. Happy days!

Setlist: The Visitors; Hole In Your Soul; SOS; Knowing Me, Knowing You; Chiquitita; Fernando; Mamma Mia; Does Your Mother Know?; Eagle; Lay All Your Love On Me; Summer Night City; Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight); Voulez-Vous; When All Is Said And Done; Don’t Shut Me Down; I Still Have Faith In You; Waterloo; Thank You For The Music; Dancing Queen.

Encore: The Winner Takes It All

4 responses to this post.

  1. Thanks again for sharing your journey Peter. You describe things so well and I can relate to almost everything you say.
    Missed out on 70s Abba because they were considered rubbish by my so called friends at the time…how wrong they were!
    Hope to see this show sometime after enjoying your wonderful experience.

    Reply

    • Posted by vintagerock on September 20, 2022 at 9:44 am

      Thank you Les you have to see the show to believe it! If you get the chance do go and see it. You won’t regret it! Best wishes Peter

      Reply

  2. Posted by John on September 21, 2022 at 8:24 am

    Superb write up Peter Waterloo was a revelation to me in the 70s and SOS is still the most amazing pop song ever. (And I wasn’t a pop fan at all until ABBA arrived). John

    Reply

    • Posted by vintagerock on September 21, 2022 at 11:40 am

      Hi John many thanks. I remember being scoffed by my friends for going to see Abba in 1979! I am so glad I took no notice of them!

      Best wishes Peter

      Reply

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