Abba were the hottest ticket in town when they played the RDS in Dublin on November 15, 1979. It was their only ever gig in Ireland, the final leg of a three-month tour of North America and Europe. Traffic came to a standstill outside the Gresham Hotel where they were staying, as thousands of fans clogged up O’Connell St. trying to catch a glimpse of the super troupers.
A public appeal went out to source a ticket for President Patrick Hillery’s daughter Vivienne (who died in 1987 after a long illness). Ticket prices started at £5.50 compared, for example, to the £1.80 it cost to see Carole King perform around the same period.
Ticket touts who got their hands on 700 tickets drove up black-market prices tenfold, according to press reports at the time. There were also bogus ticket-sellers on the go. “They were the best forgeries I ever saw,” said one of the RDS doorman after the gig.
Only about 3,000 to 4,000 lucky fans got to see the concert, among them 200 ticketless fans who the promoter Jim Aiken allowed in as the show was starting. “It was a bit cold outside for them to be all standing around,” said Aiken (the late father of current promoter Peter Aiken) afterwards. Obviously, event regulations and practices were a bit looser than nowadays.
“It was a novelty when they rocked into town,” says photographer Cyril Byrne, who covered the concert for the Irish Press newspaper. “There were a lot of ‘suits’ at it. It was an older crowd than normal for a pop concert. It was the social event of the week for them. The group were unusual looking so there was a bit of spectacle about them with the kind of sarongs they were dressed in.”
Abba, of course, were famous for their costumes – from figure-hugging disco outfits with platform boots to Victorian-era dresses and bonnets. They did a costume change towards the end of their RDS gig, switching up before they performed Summer Night City. It was part of their charm, along with the intrigue surrounding the state of their marriages.
The band’s photogenic blonde singer Agnetha Fältskog, who divorced fellow band member Björn Ulvaeus in 1980 after nine years of marriage, arrived in Dublin from Glasgow a day before the RDS gig; her three bandmates arrived on the day of the concert by helicopter. The other couple in the band, Anni-Frid Lyngstad and Benny Andersson, divorced in 1981
“Essentially, their act on stage was very dry,” says Des Nix, who saw Abba perform at London’s Albert Hall in 1977, as well as reviewing the RDS gig for the Evening Press newspaper. “They didn’t flirt with each other on stage. The boys did their bit with their musical instruments in the background and the girls did the vocals in the foreground.
“There was never any interaction on stage between them. They wouldn’t circle each other, smile or make eyes at each other. It wasn’t part of their programme. We weren’t prying into their private lives although it was known that a gap was developing between them.
“They didn’t have a personally intimate relationship with their audiences. Sometimes you’d be hoping a female superstar would look down and catch your eye, but with them they didn’t have that sort of personality. The girls certainly didn’t. Whether that was due to their Scandinavian reserve or because their stage act was so choreographed, it’s hard to know.”
Abba’s lyrics were low on social consciousness and pressing political issues of the day like, say, nuclear disarmament, but high on love and loss. They did, however, attract contemporary admirers from unexpected quarters, including The Clash, the Sex Pistols and Elvis Costello.
The light show provided a bit of a wow factor on the night. According to press reports, their lighting-and-sound equipment cost £250,000. Abba superfan Chris Rawcliffe, who lives in Dublin nowadays, saw them on that 1979 tour a week beforehand at Wembley Arena. He vividly recalls the lighting aspect of the show: “The staging was impressive, especially the back lighting – the way they got the Abba lighting with the two ‘Bs’ reversed.”
Abba surprised their Irish audience with some local flavour to kick off the concert. The lights suddenly died in the RDS arena, leaving the crowd in darkness momentarily before a spotlight fell on Andersson on the organ playing the opening bars of Danny Boy. They picked up tempo then with Voulez-Vous, the title track of their sixth album, which they were promoting on the tour, before running down through numerous hits from their back catalogue, including Knowing Me, Knowing You; Chiquita; and SOS.
Lyngstad did a solo dance routine for the band’s rendition of “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Man After Midnight) during which co-singer Fältskog turned her back on the audience, allowing them a chance to see why she earned the nickname “the blonde bummer”, according to Nix’s report for the Evening Press.
Midway through their set, a local choir group joined them on stage for I Have A Dream. Before Abba came to Dublin, a competition was held for youth singers to win the chance to sing with the band. About a dozen girls from the Rising Stars youth choir in Dubli