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The story of ABBA, part three: How could we resist a ‘reunion’ to keep music legend alive?

Abba in 1977
Abba in 1977

SUPERGROUP Abba were an unhappy coalition when they finally decided to take a break back in 1982.

The days of belting out their golden hits to packed stadia were behind them. The love between the two married couples had crumbled to divorce and acrimony.

Only Björn and Benny’s friendship survived.

And what a good job that it did. It would provide the power to the Abba engine that, with the help of Hollywood A listers, has kept their songs in the public hearts to the present day.

And now, after 36 years apart the unthinkable has happened. Abba have reunited in an exciting and groundbreaking new project.

How different things seemed when the group took that infamous break.

Benny Andersson and Bjorn Ulvaeus earlier this year at the premiere of Mamma Mia! 2 (Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images for Universal Pictures )

They packed away the Lycra jumpsuits, the colourful dungarees and feathered capes to pursue their different projects.

Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Agnetha Fältskog each resumed the solo recording careers they’d given up for Abba.

They worked hard on solo albums with success in Sweden and moderate results in Europe.

Meanwhile Björn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson combined forces with lyricist Tim Rice to produce the concept album Chess.

It told the story of a Cold War era chess tournament with two protagonists battling for the love of a single woman. This unpromising premise produced the fabulous Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson duet, I Know Him So Well.

The stage musical followed. It opened in London’s West End in 1986 but could not compete with the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Phantom Of The Opera and closed after three years.

In this period Benny was making a return to his folk music roots. He had found fame in his teens with Swedish rock and pop group The Hepstars but folk music was his earliest influence.

He released his first solo album, Klinga Mina Klockor (Ring My Bell) of his own compositions played on accordion and fiddle.

It was a hit in Sweden, if nowhere else!

Likewise Kristina, a stage musical set in the 19th Century, written and produced with Björn, enjoyed a three-year run but just in Sweden.

The years were passing and with each one hopes faded that Abba would ever return from their break. They were never even seen together.

Agnetha remarried but was divorced two years later.

Agnetha Faltskog, 2013

Anni-Frid also remarried and in quite some style. In Switzerland in 1992, she tied the knot with Heinrich Ruzzo, Prince Reuss of Plauen. Anni-Frid became a princess.

In the same year Benny and Björn produced what was to be Abba’s most successful album: Abba Gold – Greatest Hits. But these were difficult times for Agnetha. She had suffered from anxiety and depression.

Her dread of flying and an accident in which the coach she was in overturned, made her increasingly reluctant to travel to promote her work.

Instead she stepped right back from the music scene and tried to live a quiet life.

Many labelled her a hermit and mocked her Garbo-like isolation. But there were other sorrows that kept Agnetha from the spotlight. In 1994 she was understandably traumatised by the suicide of her mother who suffered from depression. Her father died just two years later.

She found some solace in a two-year relationship with a forklift driver, Gert van der Graaf but events took a dark turn when they broke up.

Her former lover turned stalker. Eventually a restraining order was issued against him. It was broken and the stalker was deported back to the Netherlands.

Anni-Frid Lyngstad

Anni-Frid however continued to make music and her 1996 Swedish album was a success. But she too had traumas to face. Her daughter Ann, from her first marriage before her Abba fame, was in a road accident and died from her injuries.

Still grieving, Anni-Frid’s world was rocked again the following year. Her husband, aged 49, died of lymphoma. Anni-Frid became the Dowager Princess Reuss of Plauen.

In comparison the lives of Benny and Björn, were considerably less ill-fated. They continued to write hits, though mainly for other people.

Björn was also involved in a new project. In 1996, with support from Benny, he formed the Littlestar company with co-producers Judy Craymer and Richard East to work on a new stage musical.

On Judy’s suggestion it would weave together 26 Abba songs around a fictional story.

From this germ of an idea was born the global hit musical Mamma Mia!. A young woman on a Greek island shocks her mum by inviting the three men who could be her father to her wedding.

It opened at the Prince Edward Theatre in the West End on April 6, 1999. It was 25 years to the day since Waterloo smashed Eurovision.

Press reviews were good; ticket sales absolutely phenomenal.

Benny with Elaine Paige and Tim Rice

The public were hungry for feelgood songs they could (and did) sing along to. With so many Abba hits in that back catalogue, every song was a belter.

New productions of the musical opened up in cities right across the world. It has now been seen by over 60 million people.

On the fifth anniversary of the London production, Benny and Björn were joined by Anni-Frid on stage for a curtain call and speech.

Agnetha was noticeable for her absence. Pleased with the show’s success she nonetheless remained reluctant to step back on to the Abba publicity machine. She did attend the Stockholm premiere, as did they all, but the quartet sat far apart and were not photographed together.

Of course the Mamma Mia! phenomenon didn’t stop there. A film was mooted and Hollywood big hitters were quickly on board. Tom Hanks could see the project’s potential and became an executive producer.

Meryl Streep loved the stage version and was delighted to take up the central role of the mum, Donna. With Hanks and Streep on board it was a sure-fire winner.

Hanks even wanted a role in the film himself but his singing was so bad he failed the audition!

The same fate befell Dawn French who auditioned for the role finally won by Julie Walters. Pierce Brosnan must have made the cut on the strength of his Bond charisma. What pangs Abba must have endured hearing his rendition of their hit SOS.

Björn and Benny delighted everyone with their cameo roles in the film, Benny as a piano player and Björn as a Greek god!

But the biggest treat for fans took place at the Swedish premiere in Stockholm in 2008. Björn, Benny and Anni-Frid were there and this time they were joined by Agnetha.

It was the first time in 26 years the four had been seen and photographed together in public.

That one appearance was fuel enough to power the rumour mill for a reunion. The former bandmates were having none of it.

Agnetha was the most reluctant but there was also a combined will to preserve the image of Abba in their youthful heyday.

They turned down an offer of an astonishing $1billion to reform. The prospect of a worldwide tour had zero appeal.

The frost may have thawed but they each returned to their separate lives. Anni-Frid is in a long-term relationship with Henry Smith, 5th Viscount Hambleden and lives in Switzerland.

Agnetha at last took up recording again and her album, My Colouring Book, made the top 20 in several countries including the UK. She also sang on stage with our very own Gary Barlow in the 2013 BBC Children In Need Rocks concert in London.

Benny, who had formed the Benny Andersson Orchestra in 2001, continued to go on mini-tours and to release successful albums in Sweden. Problems with alcohol are now behind him.

He is still married to Mona, the woman he left Anni-Frid for back in 1982.

Likewise Björn is still wed to his first post-Agnetha girlfriend, Lena.

For Abba fans there has been another sumptuous feast this year with Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again.

This second film focuses on Donna’s joyously misspent youth. What it lacks in Streep (Meryl appears just once) it makes up for with Cher.

It is another fun-filled riot with Björn and Benny scene-stealing again in cameos. It is of course, a box-office smash.

But Abba had an even bigger treat in store for their fans. They amazed everyone by finally bringing their 36-year “break” to an end.

All four returned to the studio together and recorded two new songs.

Those tracks are to feature in an ambitious new project in which the band will go on tour again – virtually.

Using digital technology, avatars of their 1970s selves are being created and it is these that will appear at the performances.

All bar Agnetha, 68, are now in their 70s. Perhaps it is wise to keep the days of actually performing Dancing Queen in the past, unsullied by time.

Those new tracks are planned to be unveiled next year and fans are more than ready.

There is every chance we will see a 10th UK No 1 for Scandi-gold supergroup Abba, 45 years after Waterloo.

History: it’s always repeating itself.