But somewhere in the gloom there was ABBA. The four luscious-haired Swedes were a beacon of hope with irrepressibly happy soundtrack and glitter galore.
In return, we definitely thanked them for the music, with sales of more than 500 million records worldwide, an eight-year streak of chart-topping singles, a blockbuster hit show, Mamma Mia, and a guaranteed slot in on pretty much all party playlists.
Now the Southbank Centre pay homage to ABBA with an nine-room immersive journey, created in collaboration with Child of Entertainment Exhibitions International AB and Stockholm’s ABBA Museum.
Taking over the labyrinthine space used by the summer’s Moomins adventure and completing the Nordic Matters season, ABBA: Super Troupers celebrates the context, conception and lasting legacy of a decade of hit songs.
Björn Ulvaeus, Anni-Frid Lyngstad, Agnetha Fältskog and Benny Andersson: ABBA won the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest with song 'Waterloo'
The journey starts with a giant record. You climb through to discover a disco ball, a super trouper stage light and the dulcet tones of popstar, radio host and former Pulp front man Jarvis Cocker. His audio narrative, written by journalist Jude Rogers, brings together lyrics, reports and accounts to capture the essence of an era.
Small groups and set time slots ensure you can explore each space without jostling or squashing, while an expert tour guide adds extra snippets of stories and lots of enthusiasm.
120 archive objects, from hand-written notes to gold lame capes, are slotted into theatrical sets like props in a play. There’s a 1970s sitting-room somewhere in middle England, with a clashing melange of oranges and browns, shaggy rugs and copies of Beano and Bunty among the ABBA fanclub memorabilia.
The Brighton Grand Hotel room where the foursome celebrated their 1974 Eurovision win is recreated with loving detail: lipstick-stained champagne glasses surround a sparkly star-shaped guitar and replicas of the flares and bomber jacket worn on stage. Then, in a wood-paneled Stockholm recording studio, you don headphones to layer your own track or take over backing vocals for 'Dancing Queen'.
The exhibition will include pieces such as ABBA’s 1974 Eurovision medal. Credit: Caroline Fagerlind
Over the course of an hour, you slip between curtains, travel through wardrobes and lurk in the graffited loos of a nightclub. The story is told in snippets rather than exhaustive detail: scribbled edits on hand-written score sheets reveal the creative process, a doodled love heart reminds of the band members' double romance and a few minutes’ pained interview footage give a glimpse into the dual divorce.
You learn a little about the band, but this exhibition doesn't dwell on who wrote what chord and when. It's about the spirit of the songs, the irresistible urge to 'be that girl', to dance, to jive and to have the time of your life.
This irreverence is what makes the exhibition so enjoyable: it's not about being a die-hard ABBA fan or preoccupied with 70s nostalgia; you’ll be sucked into the narrative and seduced by the soundtrack regardless of age or musical preference. And, yes, you'll have ABBA's greatest hits stuck in your head the rest of the day.
|What||ABBA: Super Troupers exhibition review|
|Where||Royal Festival Hall, Southbank Centre, Belvedere Road, London, SE1 8XX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Waterloo (underground)|
14 Dec 17 – 29 Jul 18, 10:00 AM – 6:00 PM
|Price||£15 - £30|
|Website||Click here for more information|