Mamma Mia! Putin denies mystery ABBA concert | world | Hindustan Times
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Mamma Mia! Putin denies mystery ABBA concert

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's office moved to quash claims he attended a mystery concert featuring ABBA lookalikes singing to him from behind a veil at a military-style compound.

world Updated: Feb 07, 2009 12:06 IST

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's office moved on Friday to quash claims he attended a mystery concert featuring ABBA lookalikes singing to him from behind a veil at a military-style compound.

Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov reacted after the London-based Bjorn Again, a long-established act that imitates 1970s pop super-group ABBA, said it had put on a show, cloaked in secrecy, for Putin, seven male guests and a woman who may have been the premier's wife.

"I can tell you officially and for sure Vladimir Putin never took part in any concert of the kind. He wasn't there," Peskov said.

However the musicians' manager, Rod Stephen, said he was in little doubt about whom the concert was for, and one of the band's singers said she saw Putin himself at the performance.

"It was quite obvious where Mr Putin was sitting," Aileen McLaughlin, who doubles for blonde ABBA vocalist Agnetha Faltskog, told AFP by phone from London.

"I got a glimpse of his face in the lights."

Stephen, also speaking by phone from London, said the band had been told beforehand that the show was for Putin.

"It was categorically stated and had been alluded to in the week leading up to the event," Stephen said.

The description offered by performers put a colourful twist on the mythology around the former KGB agent and ex-president, who has sternly rebuffed media incursions into his private life and denied claims of marital strife.

McLaughlin described a nine-hour drive through icy countryside to a military-style compound where the ABBA foursome were put up in barrack-like accommodation and shared a canteen with Russian soldiers.

The group was taken to a small theatre where they performed before Putin -- dressed in dinner jacket and bow tie -- together with fellow guests obscured by a gauze curtain arrangement, she said.

"Although there were so few people, from the beginning they made us feel very welcome, applauding 'Bravo!' and enjoying the performance, swinging their arms and clapping and joining in," she said.

She described as "a bit bizarre" the arrangements to obscure the audience from the performers as well as the intense security in which the band were under the permanent gaze of a minder and armed guards patrolling nearby.

But referring to the gauze curtain, McLaughlin added: "It was obviously for their discretion."

The band were warned in advance not to try to speak to the audience or leave the stage and Putin made no attempt to speak to them afterwards, instead going off to watch fireworks, she said.

While not previously known to like ABBA, Putin is reportedly a fan of the Beatles, whose music was banned in Soviet times, and has hosted ex-Beatle Paul McCartney in the Kremlin.

President Dmitry Medvedev, who took Putin's place as president last May, is a fan of British heavy rockers Deep Purple and revelled alongside other top officials in a specially ordered concert by the band last year.