ABBA bassist recalls the glory days with the Swedish supergroup

It’s the perfect celebration of ABBA’s Eurovision song contest triumph in Brighton exactly 50 years ago.
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ABBA were the winners at the Brighton Dome on April 6 1974 with the song Waterloo; now, just one day short of half a century later, on Friday, April 5 2024, ARRIVAL From Sweden, plays the Brighton Centre, joined by the Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra.

Key to the show will be bass player Mike Watson, who performed with ABBA throughout their years of success. In fact, look at the figure of Napoleon lurking in the background on the cover of ABBA’s Waterloo album. That figure is Mike.

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“That was my modelling career!” laughs Mike. “Napoleon was very short and I am not very tall! They wanted a little guy to stand in the background and that's why they telephoned me. It was in an old castle just outside Stockholm and they took pictures all day and that was the one they chose. It was just a nice change to go and do something else and to be with them. It was good fun and they were always so nice to be with.”

Mike Watson (contributed pic)Mike Watson (contributed pic)
Mike Watson (contributed pic)

Mike played on such notable tracks such as SOS, Mamma Mia and the Winner Takes It All, the latter a particular favourite with all its poignancy: “I was with them until they split. When the couples split up then maybe they couldn't work together anymore. I don't really know what happened but when you listen to the lyrics of The Winner Takes It All, it really sums it up. Every time I play that song, I get a little tear. The lyrics were so special.”

As for their phenomenal success, well, there were so many factors: “They looked very good and their clothes did a lot. But the songs were just fantastic in terms of the sound and the production. It was a unique sound and they just never sound old when you hear the songs on the radio. I'm just amazed. I'm just incredibly fortunate still to be part of ABBA. I've been doing this show since 2010 and I have done it all over the world.”

Sadly it wasn't Mike on the stage with them on that famous night in Brighton: “I was probably out somewhere playing a gig somewhere in Sweden. They used the bass player that they had used on the song Waterloo. But I look back and it's just amazing. They were such nice people. There was never any problem. It was always very respectful on all sides but then again we'd known each other since the 60s.”

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Mike had gone out to Sweden in 1964 as part of the Hi-Grades, American singer Larry Finnegan’s backing group – and stayed. It was there that he got to know the members of ABBA, formed in Stockholm in 1972 by Agnetha Fältskog, Björn Ulvaeus, Benny Andersson and Anni-Frid Lyngstad.

“I ended up staying,” Mike says.

“The band I was in was based in London and we were doing all the usual pub gigs. I met all the Stones and everyone else but I got offered the chance to go to Sweden and it sounded very exotic. I stayed because I got work here and when the band split up, I joined a Swedish band and we had some hits in the top 20. When that split up I got into recording in 1969 as a so-called studio musician. By then I had already met Björn and Benny. They were both in bands and in the charts.”