On Thursday 3rd March 1977, ABBA performed the first of their 11 concerts in Australia. It was held at the Showground in Sydney. This concert was featured in ABBA The Movie and was most memorable for the rain, the sea of umbrellas and Frida slipping and falling on her hands and knees.
In 1977, Australia’s population was 14.1 million people – 160,000 of those people saw ABBA perform Live – and 30,000 of those people were at the first Sydney show. Tickets for the concerts had gone on sale the previous October on a first in first served basis – tickets sold out very quickly.
There had never been a concert tour undertaking such as this in Australia before ABBA. A tour party of 117 people including a 17 piece Australian orchestra and a movie crew – 28 tonnes of sound equipment, 30 tonnes of lighting and a custom built hydraulic stage used to raise and lower the orchestra – a unique feature. All being carted around the country in IPEC semi-trailers. It took 40 crew to set up and dismantle this equipment.
On this day in 1977 the weather was not good and there was uncertainty as to whether this concert would go ahead. But the crew continued to work on the equipment, finalising the set up. There was lightning during the setup, and one of the tall metal towers used for lighting equipment was struck by lightning, which led to one of the crew being flung to the floor.
This was the beginning of what would prove to be a very eventful concert.
The roller doors to the showground were due to open at 5pm. By that time there were already thousands of people waiting patiently outside. Many had camped overnight or arrived early in the morning to get a good place in line. Just before 5pm bus loads of people arrived and were let out right at the roller doors, at the front of the line, which led to a crush and a stampede with people rushing in to get the best seats.
Just before ABBA were due to hit the stage, the rain and wind started in full force. It did not deflate the excitement of the audience however – and soon they would all be chanting “We Want ABBA”.
There had been discussion about whether or not they could actually go on and perform in those conditions. However, the decision had been that if 30,000 people were willing to stand in the rain waiting to see them, they couldn’t let us down.
So, ABBA took to the stage on time at 8.30pm and went into full flight even with rain pouring in on the stage. During Waterloo, Frida’s enthusiasm would see her feet slip out from under her and fall almost flat on the stage, face down. She stayed down for quite a few seconds, but eventually she lifted herself up on to one knee, threw her arms out wide to show she was ok, stood up and went on with the show apparently having sprained a finger and bruising her hip. After this, the crew were seen on the stage mopping up the water with white towels.
ABBA performed every song from their set list that night apart from So Long. I think that due to the physical nature of the choreography, it was decided that it was not safe to perform this song after Frida’s earlier experience.
On Friday 4th March 1977 ABBA performed their second concert in Sydney. This concert was not part of the original schedule and was added due to the overwhelming demand for tickets. In reality, they could have held at least 5 concerts in Sydney and still all shows would have been sold out. Just as with the UK, demand far exceeded what was available.
There were no issues at all on the Friday night, and ABBA performed the complete set list, including So Long, to another 30,000 people chanting ‘We want ABBA’.
There was more emphasis on crowd control on the 4th – with more security to ensure no one was crushed or trampled in the initial rush for seats. The previous evening’s events had shocked everyone – who would expect ABBA fans to behave hysterically?
But the organisers learned fast, and it all went more smoothly, right up to the fireworks display at the end of the show.
When the concert finished on Friday night, the crew had to immediately breakdown the sound, lighting and stage equipment and get it on its way to Melbourne for setup for the following day's show.
Equipment was sent by road in IPEC trucks and by airfreight – with film equipment being sent with the crew on a following charter flight – which left Sydney at 4am. Film equipment consisted of 40 pieces weighing in at about 900 kilos.