Music

As ABBA Voyage sails on – who’s still bringing in the money, money, money?

ABBA Voyage has been playing at its purpose-built arena in London since May. How are they still packing in crowds seven times a week?

ABBA Voyage promo photo

The ABBA-tars are on stage seven times a week. Photo: PR

ABBA’s Voyage show has unquestionably revolutionised what a live music show could be. The band’s digital ‘ABBA-tars’, created by George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic, have been playing to packed houses in London since May 2022.

Not keen to drag their 70-something bodies around on tour, the four members of the group – Björn Ulvaeus, Agnetha Fälkskog, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson – dressed up in motion-capture suits to pre-record the performance. As has been well documented elsewhere, their voices and movements are real, but the performers onstage at the purpose-built 3,000-capacity venue in Stratford are digital recreations, depicting ABBA in their 1970s/early ’80s heyday, when they majestically ruled the pop world. They’re also aided by a 10-piece band, giant screens and eye-popping visuals.

A seemingly inexhaustible supply of punters of all ages have been streaming into the arena since then, showcasing the Swedish four-piece’s enduring cross-generational appeal. This was inevitable – you only have to look at how many people have bought the ABBA Gold compilation since its 1992 release (30 million and counting) or gone to see the Mamma Mia! films and stage shows. This is one popular band/brand. You could argue they’re even more popular now than they were in the era the avatars do their best to recreate.

But who’s still going? ABBA Voyage is on five days a week, twice a day on weekends. Surely the well has to run dry at some point? But it’s showing until at least November next year in London, and then has the potential be seen around the world. So ‘no’ would appear to be the answer to these pertinent questions. On the night we attended, we decided to find out who – apart from us first-timers – was in attendance. You can definitely see a theme emerge.

a mother and daughter wearing bright patterns with daisies in their hair
Mother and daughter Lesley Ward and Rachel Wade are both huge ABBA fans

Lesley Ward, 60 and Rachel Wade, 36 from Norwich are mother and daughter. Lesley has already been and now wants to bring her daughter to see the show. There are loads of people around who have had exactly the same thought. Like Lesley and Rachel, many of them are dressed up in suitably colourful ’70s garb. 

Lesley says: “My daughter’s just qualified as a doctor so I’ve brought her to London for a few days as a little treat and this is the pinnacle.

“I think ABBA have just grown through all the generations. I grew up with them, my children grew up with them, our grandchildren love them. They’re a timeless band and because I’ve been before I know what to expect. It’s magical and very clever and amazing. The first time I came I felt really emotional.”

Rachel adds: “We do love ABBA, and it has been handed down to our children like my mum said. When my children ask for honey on toast I end up singing ‘Honey, honey…’”

Lesley steps in: “We do have an affinity with ABBA, we went to all the Mamma Mia! films and the musical in Norwich and London.”

Laura Smith, 28, from Northallerton is here with a bunch of mates. Yet again, they’re all in fancy dress. She says, “I’ve been brought by my parents. They’re from the ABBA age! But I’m looking forward to seeing them. I know all the songs from Mamma Mia!

A smiling blonde lady in a 70s outfit at ABBA Voyage
Laura Smith at ABBA Voyage

There’s another very simple reason it’s so popular – it’s an absolutely magnificent and unique, if slightly discombobulating, experience. There is mass hysteria at the end of every song, but it’s difficult to know who you’re clapping for. I mean, they’re there and they also aren’t there. But the technology is good enough to feel that you’re getting the experience of seeing ABBA live. Personally, it’s always something I’ve wanted to see, and it’s the nearest I’ll get. So the illusion (or half-illusion) is fine. Like Ulvaeus said, better to do this while they’re still alive. 

It’s been widely reported that the group need to make at the very least £140 million to cover costs. Benny’s son Ludvig Andersson, who is serving as the concert producer’s, told The Telegraph last year that no band had tried a virtual performance before because “it’s so bloody expensive”.

“We also need lots of people to come and see it for a very long time,” he added.

A group of seven men and women in flower power outfits outside ABBA Voyage
Laura (centre) was joined by a host of dressed-up friends at family, including her parents, at the show

There has been talk of the ABBA Voyage setlist changing – with the band reported to have recorded more songs to be used at a later date. The current set leaves out three UK number one singles in The Name of the Game, Take a Chance on Me and Super Trouper. Then there’s Money, Money, Money; Ring, Ring; I Have a Dream; One of Us; Head Over Heels; Slipping Through My Fingers and Angeleyes (which Lesley Ward told us was her favourite song). For a band who’ve had 27 UK top 40 hits there are plenty of crowd pleasers to choose from.

Speaking to Retro Pop magazine last year, Ludvig confirmed there are plans to shake things up. He said: “We did more songs than we knew we were going to use. So there is more material. If this keeps running and people keep wanting to come and see it, we are intending to change a song out or update the show, because that’s also fun to do.”

So no matter what happens in the future, wherever in the world it’s going, it’s fair to say this one’s going to run and run. It’s certainly worth taking a chance on.

ABBA digital recreations on stage in front of a big moon at ABBA Voyage
The ABBA-tars play Chiquitita at ABBA Arena, London. Photo: Johan Persson

ABBA Voyage 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
  • The Winner Takes It All

ABBA Voyage is booking until 25 November 2024, information and tickets from abbavoyage.com.

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