Years & Years star Olly Alexander: ‘The landscape has changed for queer artists’

Growing up in Blackpool, Olly Alexander lived next door to a church. As a young gay man, that presented him with a dilemma.

“I was always aware that, in the bible, homosexuality was viewed as sinful and that’s always stayed with me,” says the singer.

“But I really love religious iconography and religious language because it’s so powerful and so evocative… so now I love to play around with that and subvert it.”

He certainly achieves that goal on Years & Years’ recent single, Sanctify, which characterises being gay as a sacred act. (“Maybe it’s heavenly,” sings Alexander in the bridge.)

“I love a bit of drama,” laughs the singer, “and it doesn’t get more dramatic than sanctifying your sins when you pray.”

The 27-year-old was inspired to write the song after a brief relationship with a straight man.

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“He told me was straight and we became friends, and at a certain point the relationship tipped over into something more intimate – and it felt like we were becoming lovers,” explains the singer.

“And suddenly, there was just an explosion of pain and conflict.”

The lyrics acknowledge the central tension of the relationship – with Alexander playing both the devil who tempts his lover to “sinfulness” and the angel who “walks through the fire” to help him explore his sexuality.

“I’ve been out as a gay guy for nearly 10 years, and I know how that journey of coming to terms with your own identity can be really painful,” he says.

“I wanted to write something that spoke to that experience.”

The single – Years & Years’ first new material since 2016 – forms part of a larger, mainstream cultural movement addressing sexuality and gender fluidity; via films like Call Me By Your Name and Love, Simon, and the lyrics of gay and queer artists such as Frank Ocean, Christine & The Queens, Muna and Troye Sivan.

“The landscape has changed dramatically for queer artists,” says Alexander.

“In the past, we’ve all been familiar with pop stars coming out in the middle of their careers, or after they’ve become huge and that feels like a heavy narrative to queer people.

“Now it seems to be really changing that artists can be out from the start of their career; and it’s not some sort of sensationalised headline.

“Of course, there are people who still really struggle with being out, and I know some artists think it might damage their career – but I don’t think the tabloids making a splash about sexuality would still happen.

“I think – I think – we can call that progress.”

‘Barriers to overcome’

Alexander made headlines himself recently, after revealing he was advised to keep his sexuality hidden at the start of Years & Years’ career.

Was he surprised at how widely the comments were reported?

“I understand why it’s a story,” he says. “I think lots of people are shocked when they hear about homophobia, because they think, ‘Oh, it’s 2018, surely everything’s fine now?’ But queer people know that it’s not.

“There’s so much stigma still around being who you are, and there are still so many barriers to overcome.

“So it’s an exciting time – but we’ve got a long way to go, and I think we need to stay vigilant”.

Alexander has emerged as one of music’s leading voices on sexuality and mental health since Years & Years won the BBC’s Sound Of 2015.

“A lifeline to troubled young people,” is how the Observer described him in 2016; while Gay Times wrote he was “one of the most influential gay pop stars of this generation,” adding with a flourish: “All hail the King!”

The singer has spoken candidly about being bullied at school, and how he was burdened with anxiety and depression because “society taught me being gay was not normal”.

Even now, he says “romantic relationships [are] quite hard because there’s a lot of emotional trauma and emotional baggage that is kind of present”.

“I’m kind of a self-sabotager,” he says. “And there’s so many reasons for that – but I should save those for my therapist.”

Or for his lyrics…

Years & Years’ second album, Palo Santo – launched this morning with a short film featuring Dame Judi Dench – is an intoxicating brew of streamlined, kinetic electro-pop that’s haunted by bad relationships.

From the boyfriends Alexander dumped or was dumped by, to his estranged father and the “enemies” he battles on a song called Karma, it sounds like the star’s been put through the wringer over the last couple of years.

“Oh, does it?” he says, surprised.

“I always present a confident, optimistic front in my daily life, and I try not to let negativity come through. But in songs, that’s how I process those emotions and complex feelings. So I don’t know that I’ve been through the wringer, as much as this is just how I process my experiences.”

Still, there are quite a lot of break-ups on the record.

“Actually, you’re right. It’s quite a petty album,” he concedes. “When I listened to it all the way through, I was like, ‘Wow, I was so angry!’

“But it’s good to show that stuff, you know? I think it’s human.”

Not everyone agrees. Someone close to the band recently told Alexander his lyrics were “not accessible enough”.

He won’t say who – but they’re wrong. Alexander’s unvarnished account of his demons, desires and doubts is what makes fans clasp Years & Years to their hearts.

The best pop music, after all, is written by outsiders for outsiders.

“I think so,” he agrees. “Pop can be a Trojan Horse. You can dress it up as a dancehall banger but actually it can have a deep meaning inside of its shiny coating.”

That’s exemplified on Hallelujah, a frisky disco track about the joy of dancing with strangers that also looks at the loneliness of random hook-ups.

“I used to go clubbing a lot, and a lot of that time it was because I wanted to meet somebody,” explains Alexander.

“I just wanted to find a connection and it didn’t matter who it was, sometimes. There was a real, almost dark energy that was propelling me to keep going out. But there was also a redemptive quality to doing that.

“I think a lot about how clubs are almost like queer churches. You go and congregate and you dance. That’s always been a sacred experience for me, although it’s been both positive and negative. I wanted to write a song that flitted between those two things.”

Does he still go out clubbing, or has fame made it impossible?

“Not as much as I used to, for sure. There have been a couple of times where people just want to take pictures of you.

“And the last place I want to have my picture taken,” he says, a grin spreading across his face, “is when I’m embarrassing myself in a sweaty drunk mess in a club.”

As for relationships, Alexander says “all options are on the table” – but one in particular stands out.

“What I think would suit me was if I was in a thruple and the other two guys lived in a house nearby,” he laughs.

“I could visit them every now and then and they’d cook me dinner, and then I could just go home and watch TV by myself.”

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Years & Years release Palo Santo on 6 July, and play BBC Music’s Biggest Weekend in Swansea on 26 May.

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Ariana Grande’s comeback No Tears Left To Cry is number two in UK chart

Calvin Harris and Dua Lipa have held off competition from Ariana Grande to score a second week at number one.

The pair’s track One Kiss was played 8.7 million times across all streaming platforms in the UK this week.

Ariana Grande’s No Tears Left To Cry – the first single from her fourth album – debuted at number two with 7.3 million streams.

It’s her first new song since last year’s Manchester Arena attack, when 22 people died after one of her concerts.

No Tears Left To Cry alludes to the attack and channels the resilience and optimism of her One Love Manchester benefit concert, which was held just two weeks after the atrocity.

The track earns the singer her sixth UK top 10 single.

This week’s other new entries included 2002 by Anne-Marie, which entered at number eight, and Liam Payne and J Balvin’s Familiar, which debuted at number 34.

Two Avicii songs re-entered the top 40 following the Swedish DJ’s death last weekend.

Wake Me Up returned to the singles chart at 26, while his breakthrough hit Levels re-entered at 36.

UK top five singles

1.Calvin Harris & Dua LipaOne Kiss2.Ariana GrandeNo Tears Left To Cry3.DrakeNice For What4.Lil Dicky ft Chris BrownFreaky Friday5.George EzraParadise

On the albums chart, the soundtrack to The Greatest Showman spent a 14th week at number one.

It held off competition from J Cole and The Shires, whose new albums entered the chart at numbers two and three respectively.

London rapper Nines scored his second top 10 album with Crop Circle, which entered at five, while Black Stone Cherry’s Family Tree landed at number seven.

The somewhat unusual collaboration between Sting and Shaggy, 44/876, entered at nine.

UK top five albums

1.The Greatest ShowmanMotion picture cast recording2.J ColeKOD3.The ShiresAccidentally On Purpose4.George EzraStaying At Tamara’s5.NinesCrop Circles

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Halsey: Singer speaks about tour miscarriage trauma

US singer Halsey has spoken about the moment she realised she was having a miscarriage during a concert.

She was talking on a TV show in a segment about endometriosis, a condition she revealed she has in 2016.

“I was on tour, and I found out I was pregnant,” Halsey told The Doctors.

“Before I could really figure out what that meant to me and what that meant for my future… the next thing I knew I was on stage miscarrying in the middle of my concert.”

An estimated 1.5 million women in the UK live with endometriosis – where cells like those that line the womb develop in other parts of the body. It can cause painful and heavy periods, as well as infertility, fatigue and bowel and bladder problems.

Halsey continued: “The sensation of looking a couple hundred teenagers in the face while you’re bleeding through your clothes and still having to do the show, and realising in that moment… I never want to make that choice ever again of doing what I love or not being able to because of this disease.

“So I put my foot down and got really aggressive about seeking treatment and I had surgery about a year ago and I feel a lot better.”

During the interview, Halsey – real name Ashley Nicolette Frangipane – also revealed she plans to freeze her eggs so she can have children in the future.

“When I tell people that, they’re like, ‘You’re 23, why do you need to do that? Why do you need to freeze your eggs?'” she said.

“Doing an ovarian reserve is important to me because I’m fortunate enough to have that as an option, but I need to be aggressive about protecting my fertility, about protecting myself.”

She also discussed the “bittersweet” feeling when she was diagnosed with endometriosis – which she described in January 2016 as “excruciatingly painful”.

She told the CBS TV show: “My tour manager had to take me to a hospital. And the whole time I was there, no-one knew what to tell me. Dehydration, stress, anxiety.

“And I was saying, ‘What about my pain?’ A lot of the time they can make you think it’s in your head.”

Speaking about finally getting the diagnosis, she continued: “It was the relief of knowing that I wasn’t making it up, and I wasn’t being sensitive, and it wasn’t all in my head, but it also kind of sucked to know that I was going to be living with this forever.

“The thing with endometriosis is that it comes down to that doctors can tend to minimise the female experience when it comes to dealing with it,” she added.

“My whole life, my mother had always told me, ‘Women in our family just have really bad periods.’ It was just something she thought she was cursed to deal with and I was cursed to deal with, and that was just a part of my life.”

Halsey’s debut album Badlands reached number nine in the UK in 2015, while her most recent single Him & I – a collaboration with G-Eazy – peaked at number 22 earlier this year.

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Abba stars give first performance together in 30 years

The four members of Abba have appeared together in Sweden, and surprised fans with an impromptu singalong.

The stars gathered on Sunday at a private party to celebrate the 50-year partnership between songwriters Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson.

During the gala, Agnetha Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad performed the Abba song The Way Old Friends Do.

Ulvaeus and Andersson joined in at the end of the song, marking the band’s first public performance in 30 years.

Footage of the performance has yet to surface, but images of the quartet have appeared on social media.

Since winning the Eurovision Song Contest in 1974, Abba have sold almost 400 million singles and albums around the world. Mamma Mia!, the musical based on their hits and produced by Ulvaeus and Andersson, has been seen by more than 50 million people.

During their most successful period, the band survived marriage break-ups between Ulvaeus and Faltskog, and Lyngstad and Andersson, but they finally called it a day in 1983.

Their last public performance came three years later, on the Swedish version of TV show This Is Your Life, which was honouring their manager Stig Anderson.

Abba have resisted pressure to reunite ever since, including a reported $1bn (£689m) offer for the band to tour in 2000.

“They were talking about 120 gigs or something,” Andersson said of the deal. “It would have taken 10 years out of my life. Just the stress. And leaving people disappointed all the time.

“It was easy to say no to it. And we all felt the same.”

Speaking to the BBC in 2013, Faltskog said she preferred to leave the band in the past.

“It was such a long time ago, and we are getting older, and we have our different lives,” she explained.

However, the band have appeared together for promotional events – at the premiere of Mamma Mia! in 2005 and, more recently, at the opening of an Abba-themed restaurant in Sweden.

Speaking after Sunday’s celebration, Lyngstad told Swedish newspaper Expressen: “It was absolutely amazing. A lot of emotions.

“We’ve made this journey throughout our history. Benny and Bjorn in particular. Its been very nostalgic.”

An earlier version of this story mistakenly identified the song Abba performed as Me and I, based on Swedish media reports. The first line of The Way Old Friends Do is “You and I”.

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Kelis says she was abused by Nas during their marriage

Pop star Kelis has claimed she was mentally and physically abused during her five-year marriage to rapper Nas.

In an hour-long interview, Kelis said the couple frequently traded blows, with Nas sometimes drinking heavily before becoming violent.

“I’m not afraid to throw a punch, but I wouldn’t have started it,” she told Hollywood Unlocked. “I was never that angry. He was angry. He was dark and he’s always been that way.”

Nas hasn’t responded to her comments.

When Kelis and Nas married in 2005, they were hailed as hip-hop royalty – his debut Illmatic is considered one of hip-hop’s classic albums, while she scored era-defining, trend-setting hits with Milkshake, Trick Me and Caught Out There.

But behind the scenes, their relationship was “tumultuous and toxic”, Kelis said, with both sides becoming violent.

“I’ve never painted myself as a saint,” she said. “I never just sat there. Did he hit me? Mmm-hm. Did I hit him back? Mmm-hm.”

The star, now 44, said a pivotal point in their relationship came when details emerged of Rihanna’s abuse at the hands of Chris Brown in 2009.

“I remember so clearly when the pictures came out,” she said. “And the only way I can describe it was like double-dutch.

“I felt like, ‘Do I jump in? Do I say it?’ Cause I had bruises all over my body at that time.

“Seeing her, the way she looked, and then looking at myself. I was embarrassed.”

‘I stayed for years’

Ultimately, however, she decided not to reveal her own story.

“I wasn’t ready to walk. I just wasn’t,” she told Hollywood Unlocked’s Jason Lee.

“I’m not weak. I’m really private. I don’t want people in my business. I felt like, ‘This is my partner. I chose this. I’m going to make it work.’ I stayed for years after that.”

The decision to leave eventually came when she became pregnant with her first child, Knight.

“At seven months pregnant, I was terrified. I was like, ‘I can’t bring a person into this. This is a mess,'” she said.

“I probably would have stayed longer had I not been pregnant.”

The singer filed for divorce over “irreconcilable differences” in April 2009 and gave birth that July. In less than a year, their divorce was finalised.

‘My life is good’

The couple are currently in the middle of a protracted custody battle over Knight, focusing on visitation rights.

Kelis remarried in 2014 and has a two-year-old son, Shepherd, with estate agent Mike Mora.

“I moved on,” she said. “I’m married. I have another baby. My life is good.”

The star said she had decided to share her story in the hope it would help other women confront their own experiences of abuse.

“Women can’t be afraid to fight,” she said. “I have edited myself for nine years and I woke up this morning and said, ‘Not today.'”

Nas’s spokesperson has not responded to a request for a comment.

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Abba announce first new music since 1982

Pop group Abba have returned to the studio to record their first new music since the 1980s.

The Swedish quartet said the new material was an “unexpected consequence” of their recent decision to put together a “virtual reality” tour.

“We all four felt that, after some 35 years, it could be fun to join forces again and go into the studio,” the band said on Instagram.

“And it was like time stood still.”

No release date has been set for the new songs – but one of them, titled I Still Have Faith In You, will be performed in December on a TV special broadcast by the BBC and NBC.

The band have resisted pressure to reform since they stopped recording together in 1982, despite a reported $1bn (£689m) offer to tour in 2000.

In an interview with the BBC in 2013, Agnetha Faltskog said she preferred to leave the band in the past.

“It was such a long time ago, and we are getting older, and we have our different lives,” she explained.

News of the new material comes in a bumper year for Abba fans. An immersive exhibition based on the band’s career is running on London’s South Bank, while Chess, the musical Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson wrote with Sir Tim Rice, is being revived in the West End.

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    A sequel to the film version of Mamma Mia!, starring Amanda Seyfried, Lily James and Cher, will be released on 20 July.

    Speaking to BBC News, Rod Stephen, founder of Abba tribute act Bjorn Again, described the new material as “a whole new beginning”.

    “I heard about Abba releasing new songs and I was instantly, like everyone else in the Abba community, really excited to know what the songs were and how they’re going to sound. Will it have that 1970s sound or will it be up to date?

    “It’s brilliant really, because we love Abba’s music to death. I just hope they’re great songs, I hope they’re equivalent to Dancing Queen or Mamma Mia.”

    He added: “I know Benny and Bjorn wouldn’t release something in this way unless they were good songs.”

    Speaking to the BBC’s Adam Fleming last week, Ulvaeus had hinted that there could be new material. Here’s what he said:

    How did the Abba avatar idea come about?

    We were introduced to an idea by Simon Fuller who is, as you know, an entertainment entrepreneur – [creator of] the format of American Idol and manager of the Spice Girls and so forth.

    He came to Stockholm and he presented this idea to us that we could make identical digital copies of ourselves of a certain age and that those copies could then go on tour and they could sing our songs, you know, and lip sync. I’ve seen this project halfway through and it’s already mind-boggling.

    What does it actually look like? Does it look like a younger you?

    Yes. Real. And they say once it’s finished you’ll never see that it’s not a human being. And what attracted me personally to this is of course I’m always curious, scientifically-curious and this is new technology and we are pioneers. So I thought, ‘Yeah let’s go for it,’ and you know the other three went for it as well.

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    What is the actual format of the tribute show going to be? Is it going to be these Abba-tars all the way though?

    No, other people as well. And as for the format I’m not entirely sure what it’s going to look like but some sort of tribute show with these Abba-tars for want of a better word as the kind of centrepiece.

    Will you write new material for it?

    We don’t know what the Abba-tars will sing yet but there’s lots to choose from of the old stuff and yeah, I’m not ready to say that yet.

    So there could be new songs…

    I’m… it’s up in the air.

    Stay tuned…


    Why not reform and have a reunion? The real you, rather than the virtual ones.

    Yeah, why not? Well… it never seemed like a good idea. It’s not that we haven’t had offers over the years. But somehow we always thought that the Abba that people have in their minds are the once-young and energetic group from the ’70s. And we just never felt the urge to go on tour, I guess.

    On the whole we toured very little. We had like 10 years together and of those 10 years maybe we toured, like, seven months. Not more than that. So to go on tour as a geriatric, I don’t know!

    Formed in 1972, Abba were essentially a Swedish supergroup, consisting of songwriters Ulvaeus and Andersson from The Hep Stars and singers Faltskog and Anni-Frid Lyngstad, who had scored success as solo artists.

    But their joint project completely eclipsed their previous successes. After winning the Eurovision Song Contest with Waterloo in 1974, the band sold almost 400 million singles and albums around the world.

    Mamma Mia!, the musical based on their hits and produced by Ulvaeus and Andersson, has been seen by more than 50 million people.

    During their most successful period, the band survived marriage break-ups between Ulvaeus and Faltskog, and Lyngstad and Andersson, but they finally called it a day in 1983.

    Their final recording sessions, in 1982, produced the hits Under Attack and The Day Before You Came, which featured on the compilation album The Singles.

    Their last public performance came three years later, on the Swedish version of TV show This Is Your Life, which honoured their manager Stig Anderson.

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SOS! Will Abba’s new music live up to their legacy?

It’s hard to imagine now but, once upon a time, people hated Abba.

Those spangly satin jumpsuits, their Eurovision origins, the wedding disco ubiquity of Dancing Queen – they all conspired to consign Abba to the cheesy-smelling scrapheap of pop.

The band were frequently misunderstood as kitsch because they wrote soft, optimistic pop songs. And, to be fair, some of their lyrics were pretty banal. (Nina, Pretty Ballerina, a weak tea version of Dancing Queen, is particularly awful.)

But a critical reappraisal began in the 1990s, with the release of the bewilderingly-successful Abba Gold compilation (30 million units and counting) and the emergence of tribute acts like Bjorn Again.

Some people embraced Abba ironically. But those people were wrong.

Abba are one of the most straightforwardly brilliant pop bands of all time.

SOS? Amazing. Mamma Mia? Amazing. So Long? Amazing. The Name Of The Game? Amazing. Chiquitita? You get the picture.

Anyone with a passing acquaintance with melody loves what Agnetha, Benny, Bjorn and Anni-Frid achieved.

“Purely from a songwriting point of view they were up there with the best,” said Noel Gallagher in 2004.

“They enter Eurovision singing about the battle of Waterloo in platforms [and] they were all shagging each other? Does it get better than that?”

Last year, Michael Eavis pledged he would un-cancel Glastonbury if Abba reformed, while artists including Portishead, Kylie, Sinead O’Connor and The Carpenters have covered their music.

The group never officially split up, drifting into the dusk in 1983 after recording sessions for a planned ninth album didn’t work out.

Since then, they’ve resisted the temptation to reform, through thick, thin and offers of $1bn in cash.

Until Friday, that is, when the band announced they’d gone back into the studio and cut two new songs.

“I’m half-thrilled and half-terrified,” says Kitty Empire, pop critic for The Observer.

  • Abba record first new songs since 1982
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    “No matter what they produce, can it ever live up to this weight of expectation? But I’m cautiously optimistic.”

    And herein lies the problem. Can any band reform 35 years after their peak and recapture what fans loved about them?

    “I think a good parallel is when the surviving Beatles got back together to do Free As A Bird [in 1995],” says music writer Pete Paphides.

    “Some people were sniffy about it at the beginning, when they first heard it, and I was one of them.

    “I was in my early 20s and had that 20-something arrogance that you sometimes have. But, actually, I can barely get to the end of Free As A Bird now without my eyes watering.

    “I think it’s just a beautiful song and I’ve lived with it over the years. My youngest daughter plays it on the piano. And that feels as valid and important a part of their legacy as any other Beatles songs.”

    The Beatles aren’t the only ones who got it right, says Paphides, listing Blur, New Order and Take That as bands who bounced back from a break-up.

    “The Take That album was really clever because they weren’t trying to be the band that they were before,” he says. “It was like they’d stepped back and asked themselves, ‘Who are we as people, and how can we credibly do this?’

    “It was an album that honoured the fact that both their fans and they as people were older. So there was a bittersweet aspect to that record, which I think sort of touched people.”

    EDM banger?

    So what will Abba 2.0 sound like? Perhaps we can gather clues from the quartet’s recent solo material.

    Agnetha Faltskog made an accomplished return to the studio with 2013’s A, which included the single When You Really Loved Someone.

    Her sole writing credit, I Keep Them On The Floor Beside My Bed, found the singer scattering photos of an old lover across her bedroom floor, wondering what happened to their relationship.

    A pleading, age-appropriate ballad, it feels connected to the wistful melancholy of Abba’s swansong The Visitors – an obvious jumping-off point for new material.

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    Benny Andersson’s recent album of solo piano pieces, released on classical label Deutsche Grammophon, reinforced his profound gift for melody. However it seems unlikely to inform the Abba reunion.

    A better indicator is the Benny Andersson Orchestra (BAO), which combines his passion for pop, rock and the oompah rhythms of Swedish folk with surprisingly intoxicating effects.

    The band’s 2009 single Du Ar Min Man (You Are My Man) – which spent four years in the Swedish chart – wouldn’t sound out of place on one of the earlier Abba albums.

    Anni-Frid Lyngstad, meanwhile, has largely avoided the recording studio since the ’80s.

    However, her 2010 cover of Morning Has Broken, recorded with Swedish musician Georg Wadenius, shows how effective her voice would be over the sort of stripped-back acoustic arrangements Benny and Bjorn favoured in their 1990s musical Kristina.

    Thankfully, then, no-one seems inclined to give Abba an EDM makeover.

    The one song title they’ve revealed so far – I Still Have Faith In You – suggests a timeworn romance perfectly suited to Agnetha and Frida’s strong-but-vulnerable vocals.

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    Can we safely assume the crisis has been averted, then?

    “I think their filter is very good,” says Kitty Empire. “I think their quality control will be impeccable.

    “But my personal fear is that it will be the cheesy end of Abba rather than the kind of Abba songs that very gently twist a knife into your innards and make you cry.”

    Rod Stephen, founder member of Bjorn Again, agrees.

    “Yes, there is a risk to their legacy being undone [but] I know Benny and Bjorn wouldn’t release something in this way unless they were good songs.

    “Even if they do misfire, I don’t think anybody would blame them for trying.”

    For his cover-bandmate Agnetha (she doesn’t like using her real name), the chance to put new songs in the set list comes as something of a relief.

    “After doing Abba for 20 years every weekend, it would actually be quite nice to learn new material!” she laughs.

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    But for Paphides, the arrival of new music is less compelling than the story of how it came about.

    “I’m happy for them,” he says. “I’m happy they felt so relaxed in each other’s company, that it didn’t seem like an onerous thing for them to even countenance the idea of making music together.

    “It’s a lovely thing – not just in terms of the creative merit, but because making music with people you love is a joyful thing.

    “And they don’t owe us anything, they’ve given us more wonderful music than we could’ve reasonably asked for, and it’s sustained us over the decades.

    “And in a weird way I don’t care if it turns out not to be as good as some of my favourite Abba moments, because they’ve given us way more than we could’ve asked them for.”


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Kylie Minogue ‘thankful’ for first number one album since 2010

Actress turned singer Kylie Minogue has said she is “overwhelmed, happy, proud [and] emotional” to have her first UK number one album in eight years.

“I don’t know where to start,” said the Aussie star, who last held the top spot in 2010 with her album Aphrodite.

“Thank you to everybody who has been involved in getting Golden to number one,” the 49-year-old continued.

Golden, Kylie’s sixth UK chart-topper to date, finished 13,000 sales ahead of its nearest rival in the album chart.

Its success pushed the soundtrack to Hugh Jackman’s film The Greatest Showman down to second place.

Golden, Minogue’s first album since her Christmas disc in 2015, sees the pop star experiment with a new, country-influenced sound.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, the singer said she had “put everything into” an album which followed the break-up of her relationship with actor Joshua Sasse.

Golden is one of six new entries in this weeks’s Top 10, which also sees debuts from 30 Seconds to Mars, The Courteeners and Cardi B’s new albums.

Further down the chart, Arctic Monkeys’ former chart-topper AM made a return to the Top 40 at number 31 following the announcement of their new album.

In the singles chart, Drake has stormed to the top spot with Nice For What, which he surprise released last Saturday.

The track is the Canadian rapper’s fourth UK number one single and his second this year after February release God’s Plan.

One Kiss, Calvin Harris’s collaboration with New Rules singer Dua Lipa, makes its Top 10 debut in third place.

There’s a new entry too for Ruti, whose cover of The Cranberries’ Dreams enters the chart at 14 following her being crowned the winner of The Voice UK.

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Isaac Gracie: From choir boy to the charts

Isaac Gracie’s life changed forever the day his voice broke.

From the age of seven, the London-born singer had been a chorister, rehearsing and performing six times a week with the Ealing Abbey Choir.

“I was in the full cassocks and everything,” remembers the 23-year-old. “And by the end of it I had a big, fat chain because I was the [head chorister].

“I was the Flavor Flav of the choir. It was pretty cool.”

In his teens, Gracie could hit the notoriously difficult High C in Gregorio Allegri’s Miserere Mei.

“Then all of a sudden one Sunday, your voice doesn’t go there,” he grimaces.

“That’s a traumatic experience that no-one really talks about. I had to leave the choir.”

Gracie intended to wait until he was 18 and could re-join the group as a tenor… But then he discovered the guitar.

“And obviously playing guitar meant I went down that road of music. I rejected the choir – like, ‘All your structure is lame, I play the guitar now!'”

He taught himself the instrument, picking up Jeff Buckley, Radiohead and Bob Dylan songs by ear until, one day, he nervously entered a school music contest.

“Everyone else was singing Pie Jesu, but I brought my guitar and I was like, ‘I’m going to do [Bob Dylan’s] It Ain’t Me Babe,'” he recalls.

But halfway through his performance, the guest judge (“some famous cellist, I think”) interrupted.

“He puts his hand up and goes, ‘OK, that’s enough’.

“And there’s an audience with all my friends and peers – and I just went, ‘Yo! Don’t interrupt me and my flow, bro!‘ I slammed my guitar on the floor and stormed out.

Pivotal moment

“I don’t know what came over me, because I’m not that kind of guy, but in that moment I became enraged. I walked out of the school entirely and I was crying on the phone to my mum.

“But, long story short, the judge ended up saying the reason he cut me off was because I was going to win – and I ended up going to the final and winning the whole competition.”

It was a pivotal moment for the young singer. One that made him double-down on his ambition to pursue music.

He retreated to his bedroom (“it’s got a low-hanging ceiling like a hutch”) and started making demos on Garage Band, using a “terrible” USB microphone and drawing inspiration from lyrics he’d scrawled across the walls.

One of his first compositions was a rusty, intimate ballad called Last Words. Gracie posted it on Soundcloud, where it immediately caught people’s attention.

It caused such a stir, in fact, that the head of Universal Music flew from LA to see Gracie’s first London show. He was quickly signed to Virgin EMI and dropped out of his creative writing course at the University of East Anglia. But his head was spinning.

“I was the opposite to being prepared,” he says. “I didn’t know where the road was taking me – but I also didn’t know that the road was even open to people like me, to ordinary people.

“For some reason, I thought anyone who was successful in music came from a different realm of existence.”

The dissonance triggered a crisis of confidence. Gracie started comparing his “rough and awful-sounding” demos to the singers he idolised.

“I thought I was a fake, you know? All of a sudden I hit a wave of inertia and self-doubt and depression that I’d never really experienced before.

“The terror of it all started coming over me.”

To make things worse, the sudden acceleration of Gracie’s career tore him away from his girlfriend, and they eventually broke up.

“It completely twisted our relation not only to each other but also to the world,” he says. “Because all of a sudden I had to disappear and do this stuff and she had to watch me go.

“Because life pulled us apart, rather than us deciding we were going to separate, there was a lingering sense of unfairness.”

That relationship, and the rubble of its remains, inspired most of Gracie’s subsequent songs, from the contemplative Silhouettes of You to the angrier, desolate Death Of You & I.

The singer never absolves himself of blame. “I’ve never given so little and promised so much,” he sings on When You Go; while admitting he “faked interest” in his girlfriend’s stories on the flute-assisted One Night.

He says his relationships are haunted by the sins of his father, who deserted the family when Gracie was young – and whom he hasn’t seen for three years.

“I would have said all of those songs were about my ex-girlfriend but in many respects my mum and my dad exist in them as well,” he explains.

“A lot of the songs are about block emotions of abandonment or guilt or heartbreak.”

The singer’s insecurities surfaces in other ways on Terrified, which was written as a riposte to his own hype.

I’m terrified that maybe,” he sings, “I wasn’t cut out for this.”

Those feelings caught up with him during the two-year creation of his debut album.

“I set moronically high expectations for myself,” he laughs. “I wanted it to be the best record of all time.”

Key to the problem was that he had to re-record those bedroom demos without diluting their essence. Last Word, in particular, was revised and re-versioned several times.

“The song is like a little hymn,” he explains, “so you can’t just say, ‘Let’s produce it like Hold Back The River’ because it won’t work on those terms.”

The first attempt, recorded by Markus Dravs (Arcade Fire, Florence + The Machine), bludgeoned the song’s delicate beauty, launching into the first verse with a double kick drum and starving Gracie’s angelic vocals of oxygen.

In the end, the singer went back to the arrangement of the original demo, adding subtle embellishments that combust in a cathartic climax which puts his choral training to excellent use.

“I only realised fairly recently how much choral music had played a role in how I record songs,” he says. I really try to carry through the evocative, emotional anguish.”

Now that the finished version of Last Words is out in the real world, the singer is finally satisfied.

“I really love it,” he says. “It’s a great song and everyone should listen to it – but I’m also going to say that it was a frickin’ trial and all the pressure and stress I felt boiled down to that one song.”

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Getting out of the studio and playing live has finally restored Gracie’s confidence.

Taking to the stage in London earlier this year, he was in playful mood – “Is a handsome nipple showing?” he asked the audience, tugging at his unbuttoned shirt. “No it isn’t. I’m sorry.”

During The Death of You & I, his long, dirty-blonde hair explodes around him in a thrash of guitar noise the youngster would never have contemplated in his childhood bedroom (“we’ve got neighbours!” he protests)

“Do I look forward to that part of the set? Oh hell, yeah!” he grins, in a rare moment of eye contact.

“Playing with the band made me realise I enjoy singing these songs, and I enjoy seeing the reaction people are having – and therefore they must have merit.

“Now I have a desire, a real drive, to get back in the studio.

“I’m sure all of those questions – all those emotions and confrontations with myself – will come back up again. But now I’ve got a roadmap for where I want to go.”

Isaac Gracie’s self-titled debut album is out on 13 April.

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Lana Del Rey and Radiohead ‘settle copyright dispute’

Lana Del Rey says her copyright dispute with Radiohead is over.

Earlier this year, Del Rey said the British band were suing her over similarities between her song, Get Free, and their breakthrough hit Creep.

Radiohead had rejected her offer of 40% of the song’s royalties, she claimed, and were demanding 100% percent.

The band’s publishers subsequently denied taking legal action, but confirmed they had asked for a writing credit to be added to the song.

Del Rey appeared to confirm the dispute had been settled during her set at the Lollapalooza festival in Sao Paolo, Brazil over the weekend.

After performing Get Free in her encore, Del Rey lit a cigarette and told fans: “Now that my lawsuit’s over, I guess I can sing that song any time I want, right?”

At the time of writing, the writing credits for Get Free have not been updated on the database of the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP).

The BBC has contacted Lana Del Rey and Radiohead’s publishers to confirm the singer’s comments.

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