Anglo/Celtic/American progressive rock band Zebras Don’t Smoke have beaten back the lockdown blues this summer by recording an album of ABBA covers.
‘Don’t Mention The Swedes’ (Singsong Music;SINGSONG115) is a roller-coaster ride through ABBA’s hit singles and album tracks, including a live mainstay never recorded by the group in ‘Get on The Carousel’.
The line-up responsible for this treat of an album usually records as Zorbonauts (‘serious rock’) and Deckchair Poets (‘anything-goes musically with dollops of humour’).
“As this doesn’t fall into either category we had to come up with a new name, which turned out to be Zebras Don’t Smoke,” explains band mainstay Lynden Williams.
With Lynden on vocals, the line-up includes Geoff Downes (Yes) on keyboards; Ollie Hannifan (Mister Kanish), guitars; Nick D’Virgilio (Big Big Train), drums & percussion; Dave Meros (Spock’s Beard) on bass; and Rachael Hawnt (The Beautiful Secret) also on vocals.
So, what are their credentials for covering ABBA’s songs?
“Ollie spent two years playing guitar with Mamma Mia’s International Touring Company, Geoff co-wrote a song for an Agnetha Fältskog album, and recorded it with her in Stockholm, Rachael sometimes sings “Dancing Queen” in her cabaret act’, and Nick and Dave being Americans needed educating,” replies Lynden promptly.
“But seriously, we love ABBA – who doesn’t?” he continues. “Given that fact and that nobody had recorded their songs in a progressive idiom, we took it upon ourselves to do the deed!”
The Songs on ‘Don’t Mention The Swedes’:
- Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! (A Gal After Midnight) – single A side
- Under Attack – single A side
- Elaine – single B side (of “The Winner Takes It All”)
- Summer Night City – single A side
- I’m A Marionette – single B side (of “Take A Chance On Me”, also album track)
- The Name Of The Game – single A side
- Lay All Your Love On Me – single A side
- Two For The Price Of One – album track
- Hole In Your Soul – album track
- Tiger – album track
- When All Is Said And Done – album track
- Get On The Carousel – unrecorded by Abba
So, how did the album come about?
Says Lynden: “I watched the 1974 Eurovision Song Contest, which Abba won.
“They seemed to be a perky bunch, and I particularly liked Björn’s star-shaped guitar. Also the orchestra conductor, Sven-Olaf Walldoff, had the good sense to dress up as Napoleon.
“While their song “Waterloo” didn’t do anything for me, “S.O.S.” woke me up to their pop fabness eighteen months later.
“Following a cascade of hits and videos I visited the cinema to see, ‘Abba: The Movie’ – an incredible insight into hoofing it around Australia, and a bloody good film to boot.
“Years down the line I bought “Thank You For The Music”, a four-CD collection of released, unreleased, early mixes, alternative takes, rarities which was the first Abba music I owned and inspired me to purchase their entire remastered album releases with bonus tracks.
“I’d had the urge to record some of their songs for ages. Maybe it was the challenge, as I knew it would be difficult. Rachael, who sometimes performs solo cabaret gigs with pre-recorded backing, mentioned how difficult it was to sing “Dancing Queen”.
“When I mentioned the covers idea to Ollie he initially passed. He’d only just finished playing with the show, and obviously needed a respite from it for a while.
“Two years later I asked him if he’d like to do an Abba EP, and to my surprise he said, yes.
“I presented Ollie with five Abba songs, none of which he’d heard before. He seemed puzzled by “I’m A Marionette” until I mentioned that it had been covered by Ghost, with Dave Grohl. He was also intrigued by “Get On The Carousel”, and also by the fact that no-one had recorded it, including Abba themselves.
“He pieced it together from the chopped up version, seen and heard, on Abba: The Movie.
“During that EP session Ollie suggested we record “Lay All Your Love On Me”. Geoff later remarked what a lovely song it was and went on to rate Benny and Björn’s writing to be right up there with that of Lennon and McCartney. I think he spoke for all of us there.
“A few weeks down the line I again broached the subject, with Ollie, of making an Abba album. This time he gave it the thumbs up. And so the noise-making began!
“This is the album where Rachael really comes into her own. She was the ace we always had hidden up our common sleeve.
“I knew we’d never be able to record this album without her.”
‘Don’t Mention The Swedes’ is released digitally on November 20th 2020 by Singsong Music.
More on this album via this link