When Gary Barlow met Agnetha Fältskog

When singer/songwriter Gary Barlow met Agnetha Fältskog, it tempted her back into the recording studio after a 25-year absence.

Barlow, 50, achieved global superstardom as part of the British boy band, Take That, between 1989 and 1996. He has since forged a career as a solo artist and respected record producer and songwriter for other artists including Shirley Bassey, Russell Watson, Atomic Kitten, Donny Osmond and Charlotte Church.

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Born in Frodsham in 1971, he was still a child when Fältskog and bandmates Benny Andersson, Björn Ulvaeus and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, aka ABBA, won the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974 with their legendary song, Waterloo, which propelled them to worldwide stardom overnight.

Popstar aspirations

At the time, Barlow was an 11-year-old pupil at Frodsham High School, with aspirations to become a pop star.

His dream began at ten years old, when he watched electro-pop band Depeche Mode perform their single, Just Can’t Get Enough, on Top of the Pops. He said their performance was “mesmerising” and asked his parents for a keyboard for Christmas.

After teaching himself to play his favourite hits of the day, Barlow reached the semi-finals of a Christmas song competition run by the TV show, Pebble Mill at One, with Let’s Pray for Christmas in 1986. This inspired him to perform his own songs and cover songs on the northern club circuit in the late 1980s.

After meeting casting agent Nigel Martin-Smith, who was interested in starting a boy band; Martin-Smith was so impressed by Barlow’s own material that he became an integral part of Take That.

Career similarities

Fältskog was born in Jönköping, Sweden, in 1950. After meeting Ulvaeus (who was then a member of the Hootenanny Singers) in 1968, this led to the formation of ABBA. The couple married in 1971 but divorced in 1980, although they decided not to let their personal life interfere with the band.

Although their respective careers were around two decades apart, ABBA and Take That had their similarities, as both bands were famous all over the world and filled arenas many times over on their live tours.

ABBA released eight studio albums, five of which topped the UK chart. Take That have released six albums and five of them reached number one in the UK. ABBA released an incredible 73 singles, of which nine were UK number ones. Take That have so far released 30 singles and had 11 number one hits.

Each band has sold millions of records, with the album, ABBA Gold: Greatest Hits having sold 5.1 million copies to date since its first release in 1992. It has become the UK’s second best-selling album in history.

The album, Take That: Progress, released in 2010, had sold 2.8 million copies by 2011. On the first day of its release, it sold 235,000 copies in the UK, becoming the fastest-selling record of the 21st century at the time.

Both bands completed gruelling tours at the peak of their fame. Abba played 112 concert dates around the world, with the final two performances of their 1977 European tour at the Albert Hall receiving 3.5 million requests for tickets. This was enough fans to fill the arena 580 times!

Take That have completed 289 concert dates worldwide. Their most lucrative was the 2011 Progress Tour at Wembley Stadium after the band’s reunion, when they achieved the highest-grossing residency of £38 million.

Exciting meeting

Barlow had always admired Fältskog as a singer and couldn’t believe his good fortune when he was invited to Sweden in 2013 to help write a song for her. After years of living a reclusive lifestyle in her native Sweden, making only the odd public appearance, she was contemplating coming out of recording retirement with a new album.

Barlow’s reputation as a songwriter for other artists led to his arrival in Sweden, as Fältskog reportedly wanted the best songwriters money could buy for her planned album, simply called A. However, when Barlow first arrived in Sweden early in 2013, he was disappointed to find Fältskog was on holiday.

Barlow tried to arrange a second meeting, but she was ill and couldn’t make it. However, never one to give up, it was third time lucky for the Take That frontman and former X Factor mentor, when he finally met the elusive star to discuss their musical collaboration.

It was to be Fältskog’s first album of solo material in a quarter of a century – the result of being approached by Swedish songwriters and producers who had written songs for her and sent them on spec. The project inspired her enthusiasm and she decided to return to the recording studio.

Reclusive lifestyle

The star played down her reclusive lifestyle, denying that she was “very mysterious” and adding, “I’m not Garbo! I’m just a normal Swedish woman.”

Prior to recording the album, her only public appearances in recent years had been a cameo at London’s G-A-Y nightclub, when she stood on stage to audience applause as the DJ played Dancing Queen. She had also recorded voice-over contributions for the ABBA Museum in Stockholm.

She said in an interview she didn’t want to do live shows because she was older now and didn’t want to “disappoint” people.

As a result of their meeting, Barlow helped her to create songs for her solo career, which turned into a huge success. He also met her in London during the filming of the BBC1 documentary, Agnetha: ABBA and After, describing the star as a “total joy, gracious and lovely”.

Charity concert

Barlow wrote a song, I Should’ve Followed You Home, to sing as a duet with Fältskog. It was released as a single from the album A and charted at number four in Sweden. It also charted in the UK singles and UK download charts.

Fältskog was also persuaded by Barlow to conquer her aversion against live performances by singing the hit song with him at the BBC’s Children In Need Rocks fundraising concert in November 2013. The song was greeted with rapturous applause from the adoring audience. After the performance, Fältskog told the crowd, “I’m so glad to be here tonight. Thank you, Gary.”

Fältskog’s album was a huge success all over the world, making the top ten in many countries including Australia, the UK, Belgium, Germany, New Zealand, Holland and more. It peaked at number two in Sweden.

Today, the two artists have great mutual respect for each other.

Future plans

Fältskog joined her former ABBA bandmates to release a new album, Voyage, on 5th November 2021, featuring ten new songs. It topped the charts all over the world, achieving platinum status. Next year, ABBA will be taking part in a groundbreaking virtual tour for Voyage, with digital “ABBAtars” performing at arenas.

We would like to thank Agnetha and Gary for the wonderful music!

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