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ABBA guitarist Mike Watson on why he has no regrets about turning down world tour

Sunday World

ABBA guitarist Mike Watson has no regrets about turning down touring with the band.

The legendary bassist is part of the Arrival tribute tour which is about to touch down in Belfast.

And Mike has the edge on most ABBA tributes because he was in the studio when massive hits like Mamma Mia, SOS, and Super Trouper were recorded, and appeared as Napoleon on their Waterloo album cover.

He also had the chance to tour the world with the band but said no because he was already booked as a session musician.

“I was asked to do their first world tour and I couldn’t because I had other engagements, but I don’t regret turning them down,” says Mike.

“I did their PR tours and gigs like Top of the Pops when they released Fernando.

“They only did two world tours and in the last ten years I’ve done Arrival with 120 symphony orchestras around the world so I’ve played more of their music now than I ever would have then.”

Mike, from Sheffield had already started playing with Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson before they formed ABBA with Agnetha Fältskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, and played on their first single as a foursome, People Need Love.

He was a studio regular three years before they won Eurovision in 1974, when they were dismissed in Sweden as bubble gum pop, and after they won the competition and became one of the biggest bands in the world.

In the studio with Bjorn and Benny the atmosphere was always the same regardless of their fame.

“I knew them before they were ABBA when they were in different bands and they were nice people. There were no divas,” says Mike.

Mike Watson

“In the recording studio Benny would sit at the piano with Bjorn on acoustics and play a song and write a few chords down freehand and we’d do what we liked.

“We might play a song for a whole day until they got it the way they wanted, just playing and listening, and we had a great time.

“It wasn’t like any ordinary session where you’d come in at 10am with charts, count in and run through a few times.

“Their engineer was a very funny guy and they welcomed feedback. I’m proud to have been on those tracks and they were the biggest thing in my career,” he says.

Despite his long record with the band Mike says memories of playing on The Winner Takes It All still make him emotional with its description of the breakdown of a marriage. Both couples in the group later divorced but their tension of their marriage breakdowns never intruded on their performances.

“I didn’t know their marriages were ending until it happened, but it still hits me every time when we play that song,” he says.

He always knew the band’s songs were good, but he had no idea that five decades later they’d still have a worldwide audience.

The 75-year-old also never imagined that he’d still be playing their music following those music sessions in Stockholm.

“At the time I thought it was good, although the media in Sweden thought they’d be gone in a couple of years.

“I think it works because it’s something completely different every time. You could go from a beautiful ballad to rock ‘n’ roll to country to music hall.

SSE Abba Arrival

“I absolutely didn’t think I’d still be performing their songs, and it’s fantastic when you see people in their twenties in the audience who know all their lyrics. We were in Belfast in February 2020 and there are a lot of fans there. We had a fantastic time.

“I never get tired of playing ABBA songs.”

He was also immortalised on the Waterloo album cover when the band needed a Napoleon stand-in.

“It was early ’74 before they did Waterloo at Eurovision and they phoned me one morning and said, ‘we need a little guy to stand in the background. Are you available?’

“It was a photoshoot in a castle outside Stockholm and they were taking pictures all over the place and they wanted me to stand looking like Napoleon looking out the window. I think they were my own boots because it was the middle of the winter.

“That was the beginning and end of my modelling career,” says Mike.

Arrival with the Ulster Orchestra will be at the SSE Arena in Belfast on January 7 and in the Mount Errigal Hotel in Letterkenny on January 8.

roisin.gorman@sundayworld.com

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