- 25 Oct 2023
- 4 minute read
Mike Watson - the man dressed as Napoleon on the cover of ABBA's Waterloo album - performed on such notable songs as SOS, Mamma Mia, The Winner Takes It All and Super Trouper.
Little Mike, as he is often called, saw the light of day on 31 December 1946 in Sheffield, UK as the son of a mother in show business. She worked for the US forces across Europe. Barely 11, 12 years old, mum placed her son in the show where he played guitar and imitated Elvis. From a British guitarist to a bass player in Sweden, doesn't seem obvious. And yet...
Bass player in Sweden
In 1964, Mike arrived in Sweden as part of the Hi-Grades, the backing group of American singer Larry Finnegan who were touring there. As the group was in need of a bass player, he played bass on his guitar until he finally had budget for a real bass. For the sake of love, he stuck around Sweden. A year later, Mike married Dutch-born singer Suzie there, who was stationed in Stockholm. The marriage did not last long, the love for Sweden remained. He was a member of some local bands until he started working as a session musician. A session musician is a virtuoso musician, skilled in various genres and able to participate in jam sessions with professional artists to compose new material through improvisation. Mike himself remains humble among them.
Mike: I was in the right place at the right time. There was a switch from stand-up bass to electric bass in Sweden and there weren't many electric bass players playing pop music. And then I learned to read notes and became a session musician. I don't think it's something you train for, it's just that you have the contacts and just play.
During the period when Mike played with some Swedish pop bands, he met Björn and Benny. Artists used to run into each other on tour, at festivals, where all the bands played. 'Maybe', Mike muses, 'that's why they used me later, because they already knew me.'
Anyway, his career got a boost in 1971 when he started working with the future members of Swedish group ABBA and played bass for Frida. This was followed by the song People in Love, which was attributed to Bjorn & Benny, Agnetha & Anna-Frid. He continued his collaboration with the group, playing there as backup to regular bassist Rutger Gunnarsson during the latter part of the 1970s and early 1980s.
‘The Winner Takes it All’ is my favourite song. The lyrics are great. And I loved playing it when we played with Abba. That song’s absolutely my favourite, or, I should say, Abba-solutely. – Mike Watson
The birth of a song A recording session with ABBA was an experimental process, according to Mike. Benny sat at the piano, Björn strummed his acoustic guitar and sang. Often the lyrics hadn't really been written yet. Some chords were jotted down and jammed for hours, sometimes for days at a stretch. And that just to get the bass and drums right because they worked from there. This is how Mike remembers how it went down with his famous bass line on I do I do I do.
Mike: All the sessions started at 10 am in the morning. I remember the first thing I did was the bass line for 'I do I do I do'. But they told me to do something else. We tried a lot of things and at four o'clock in the afternoon, I did the same thing I did at the beginning and they said,'Yes, that's what we want. But it was a lot of fun. We had a lot of fun, we were all young and enthusiastic.
ARRIVAL from Sweden
These days, you can find Mike at work at ARRIVAL from Sweden: The Music of ABBA. From their sound to the aesthetic, the group replicates ABBA so well that it's like travelling back in time to see the original supergroup. The glittering costumes, extremely talented musicians and breathtaking singers have already charmed millions of people.