The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra / Voulez Vous Abba
Meyrick Park, Bournemouth
9th August 2009
Cruise Ship Cabaret
The Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra’s summer concerts in parks around the south are an obligatory August evening out, with music at the rousing end of the classical spectrum and a good firework display at the end, during something appropriate like the 1812 Overture or Land of Hope & Glory.
This year’s ABBA symphonic spectacular concert in Meyrick Park, in Bournemouth, promised a symphony orchestra treating us to the works of Benny & Bjorg, but what we got was Pop Idol Night at the Hawaiian Ballroom at Maplins Holiday Camp. Hi-de-hi. Or to be more generous, a polished and professional cruise ship cabaret.
The Abba selection overture was inviting, with plucked violins and lots of trumpets and so on. Then they introduced the four performers, and we realized we were actually paying £20 to watch an Abba Tribute Band. As the concert was labelled Voulez Vous Abba, I assume that was the name of the band. They tried their best to look-alike. The tall healthy-looking blonde had the sequins, split skirt to the thigh, silver boots and little blue cap. The curly headed Sarah Brightman lookalike (wrong show, I thought) wore the frock. They had two male singers either side, and in spite of the frilly purple nylon trousers, the Afro-Caribbean one had a job looking alike (and joked about it).
We left at half time. The bass guitar dominated the sound (it was a poor live mix with some distortion on vocal mics), and the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra in the far background could just easily have been replaced by a synthesizer. That’s what they sounded like anyway, a distant second in the proceedings. If a bit of care had been taken on arranging and mingling the two parts, they could have segued into orchestral instrumental passages, or interspersed the tribute band and orchestral readings.
The thing about a real rock or pop or jazz concert, by almost any performer who’s survived twenty years, is that there’s charisma and presence. When you get the tribute band doing the lookalike / soundalike thing, they can hit every note perfectly, they can imitate the stage moves, and given a decent band, they can replicate the instrumentation … but the magic is never there. This tribute band did all the positive things just listed, and the blonde had one hell of a voice, but you think, ‘Why don’t you do something of your own with your instrument? Not your own compositions, because not every one’s a songwriter, but at least a personalized setlists of songs in your own choice of clothing’.
Knowing Me, Knowing You summed it up. On the ABBA recording, the voices on the chorus soar and vibrate with a spine-tingling effect. These guys could hit every note, but the soaring and vibrating were totally absent. The stage moves were replicated, but there was no ‘snap!’
At the time of their success, ABBA were never “cool.” They became cool in retrospect, as people looked back fondly at the songs and singing. The film Mama Mia with its special singalong performances (follow the dancing dot) sealed it. Watching their stuff done by a tribute band made you realize that you needed the originals to make it effective. An ABBA Tribute Band with a symphony orchestra dutifully providing backing roles was definitely neither cool nor effective. Like most attempts to put a symphony orchestra behind a rock band it failed. They’re “doing” Queen this summer as well. I’d go to watch the BSO anytime. I’ll go to watch a rock concert anytime. I’d rather keep the two separate.