Vladimir Putin denies penchant for Abba
No private Bjorn Again gig, Russia insists
Russia has written a mildy-worded letter of protest to the Times denying that Abba tribute band Bjorn Again performed a private gig for Vladimir Putin at a cost of £20,000.
The paper last week ran a shock report in which the band insisted they'd jetted to Moscow, been whisked 200 miles by bus to "a remote location near Lake Valdai where they were kept at a military barracks" pending the intimate musical soirée on 22 January.
Agnetha Fältskog - aka Aileen McLaughlin - reported that Putin and a female "companion" enjoyed hits such as Dancing Queen, Gimme Gimme Gimme and Waterloo from the safety of a sofa "veiled by a lace curtain". They were joined by just six other guests, prompting McLaughlin to note: “It was the smallest audience we have ever performed to but Mr Putin was really enjoying it, shouting ‘bravo’ and clapping with the others."
She sensationally added: “He was dancing along in his seat to Super Trouper and raised his hands in the air during Mamma Mia when we asked the audience to.”
If true, Bjorn Again's allegation is a serious blow to Putin's image as the Jean-Claude Van Damme of the steppes, founded on press images of him dynamite fishing in Lake Baikal, jumping manfully from military choppers with semi-automatic firearms between his teeth and wrestling tigers with his bare hands.
However, the Kremlin protested that their man was nowhere near the europop extravanganza. Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov wrote to the Times: "I don't know who their audience consisted of, but Vladimir Putin was not one of them. He was actually working in his office that Thursday evening, meeting members of the Cabinet."
Peskov further defended: "Mr Putin is more of a Beatles fan than an Abba one, as you can see if you read an interview by Andrew Lloyd Webber with Mr Putin on our website."
For those of you who may have missed it, Lloyd Webber and Putin did indeed chew the fat recently - a frank exchange of musical views which ended in humiliation for the British composer when Putin refused to order Russian citizens to vote for Blighty in the Eurovision song contest.
In an attempt to counter the partisan block voting which has for years shamed the contest and finally caused Sir Terry Wogan to quit his post as wry Irish observer of the gala, Lloyd Webber begged: “Can I ask you please ... Can Russia vote for Britain?”
Putin replied: “Well, speaking for myself I am prepared to do so, but I believe you should better address this question to the Russian audience.”
The Times notes that last year's Russian victor - Believe by Dima Bilan - "received a maximum 12 points from six neighbouring countries: Armenia, Belarus, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Ukraine". It's not certain what exactly is the penalty for failing to stump douze points, but we suspect it might involve an inconvenient loss of gas supply in mid winter.
Finally, regarding the Fab Four, Putin did indeed confirm: “Of course many generations in Russia have been raised by and still have a strong love of the creative works of the Beatles. I had the pleasure to meet, several years ago, Mr McCartney and of course their songs and the pieces that they have granted to this world are still on top.” ®
Putin really put the boot into Lloyd Webber with this obervation: “I myself believe that in your great musical, Jesus Christ Superstar, one can easily trace some melodies which resemble Prokofiev and this can he heard.”
Lloyed Webber, who has in the past been accused of musical plagiarism, wisely chose not to protest, surrendering: “Yes, it’s true. Very true.”