Thank You For The Music: The Music of ABBA, Hyde Park

We pick our way through the sea of tartan blankets, picnic baskets, foldable chairs, sensible anoraks and fidgeting eight-year-olds who have each been given a bag of fizzy cola bottles and a glowstick as a treat. “Prize for the first person to spot someone in a bacofoil costume!” says Kirsty. Her younger sister Cathy is preoccupied trying to remember how the first verse of ‘I Know Him So Well’ starts: “It’s not ‘looking back I could have played it differently‘ is it? That’s the next line!” Cathy’s friend Lucy-Ann is hungover and is more interested in getting a good close-up with her camera. “I can’t see, is that Chris Evans’ real hair?”

The Radio 2 DJ in question is indeed wearing a ginger wig (yes, really), accompanied by silver lamé flared jumpsuit with flamenco ruffles. He babbles excitedly to the crowd about the forthcoming show: a series of mum-friendly acts will each perform a song (or two) written by Benny Anderson and Bjorn Ulvaeus. The men in question are bemusedly sat within the comforting ranks of the BBC Concert Orchestra for most of the night. The star turns are somewhat varied in their fame levels: Lulu and The Feeling give proceedings a jump start with ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ and ‘Knowing Me Knowing You’, but ‘Name Of The Game’ and ‘SOS’ are tackled by Nerina ‘oh you mean her‘ Pallot (Sharleen Spiteri had to cancel), and two ladies from the house band take on ‘Money Money Money’ and ‘Take A Chance On Me’. VV Brown puts in a good effort with ‘Ring Ring’ but I suspect about 10 people in the crowd could hum one of her songs.

Cathy, 25, has only been to three gigs before (Kylie, Take That, and Jason Donovan) and is surprised by the number of apparently straight men present here tonight. She’s here as a big fan of former lovebirds Kylie and Jason, but is under no illusions regarding the ever-increasing gap between the competency of the two. “Jason looks more hungover than Lucy-Ann does! He’d have looked better if he’d brought his technicolour dreamcoat along.” Donovan does look like he could do with a bacon sandwich and some strong coffee, but it could be worse – Chaka Khan appears to be on a different planet altogether during ‘The Winner Takes It All’. Kirsty and Cathy are outraged: “She got the verses the wrong way round! You can’t do that with ABBA!”

The strangest part of the evening comes halfway through, when Benny approaches the front of the stage with an accordion and half a dozen fiddle players wearing traditional leather aprons. “You Brits… You’re all mad. Anyway, I’m going to play some folk music now, because that’s where ABBA came from. It won’t take long.” Twenty minutes later everyone’s gone a bit chilly from the lack of dancing – Cathy, Lucy-Ann and most of the crowd have got bored and have buggered off in search of some warming booze and/or a nice cup of tea. Benny looks as happy as can be, but is it too much fiddling around for these mums and their thermos flasks full of sauv blanc?

Although ABBA’s folk roots might be lost on the crowd (and myself, to be frank), it seems that their progression onto stage musicals is much more in tune with the atmosphere in Hyde Park tonight – Jodie ‘I’d Do Anything‘ Prenger gets a massive cheer for her lung-bursting rendition of ‘One Of Us’, and Wicked star Kerry Ellis gets a similar reception for ‘You Have To Be There’. Maybe mums are more into musicals than folk music because they’re guaranteed a seat and a tub of Haagen Dazs in the interval? Or perhaps it’s because the musicals are now easily available from their front rooms? My knowledge of folk music is admittedly very limited but I can’t remember any recent reality tv programmes called Trad. Arr. Idol.

ABBA is probably the closest thing to folk music that I’d normally listen to – except that I never really listen to ABBA – there’s no need. I wouldn’t count ABBA as one of my favourite bands and there are no ABBA songs on my mp3 player. Unlike everyone else in the crowd (confirmed by squeals of delight when Stellan Skarsgård appears on stage), I haven’t felt compelled to see the Mamma Mia! movie. I guess I’m here because I want to see Kylie Minogue perched on the edge of Benny’s piano whilst she sweetly croons ‘When All Is Said And Done’ into his ear. I want to see Elaine Page taking time to understand The Man. In a strange masochistic way I even want to see a rake-thin Marti Pellow sneering his way through ‘One Night In Bangkok’ (but obviously now I never want to see that again). What I want, is to see something interesting wrought out of the overfamiliar melodies and lyrics, and if Lovely Dan From The Feeling is the one to do that, then that’s fine by me. Kirsty, on the other hand, is here because Bjorn Again just aren’t the real deal – Benny and Bjorn’s mere presence here is one step better.

To be fair, not everyone is happy with this celeb-studded karaoke party – during mine and Cathy’s rather ragged singalong to ‘I Know Him So Well’ the man in front of us storms off in a huff at our ‘disrespect’ for the song. I wonder what he makes of the final encore, where the words to an ABBA mega-medley flash up on the big screens, and fireworks leftover from the previous night’s Prom In The Park fill the sky. For a split second the Mum instinct within me pipes up, wondering whether I should leave early to avoid the queues at Marble Arch – until I look across and see Lucy-Ann happily singing along to ‘Chiquitita’. Perhaps we can all embrace folk music as a hangover cure?