A-HA – BRIGHTON CENTRE 06.11.19
Morten Harket, Magne Furuholmen and Pål Waaktaar-Savoy were in town tonight and that can only mean one thing! It’s the welcome return of a-ha.
They were performing at a packed out Brighton Centre as a live sextet, with the addition of who I presumed to have been Karl Oluf Wennerberg (drums), Erik Ljunggren (keyboards) and Even Enersen Ormestad (bass). They were introduced during the 20 tune set, but unfortunately I’m not fluent in Norwegian I’m afraid.
The audience were definitely up for having a great time tonight. As I hit near the bottom of West Street prior to entering the venue, I could see the eager punters queueing in order to get into the venue! Clearly they still are everyone’s favourite Norwegian music trio then!
The band were performing their massively successful 1985 debut album ‘Hunting High And Low’ in the correct running order, thus making my setlist notes a doddle. Obviously just playing those 10 tracks wouldn’t be sufficient for a night out and so the evening was split into two halves, with a 20 minute interval between the two a-ha sets and no support act. The second half would consist of new and old, familiar and less-familiar songs.
The lights went down at 8:09pm and we watched a 4 minute intro film of movie style etchings, which could only really be leading up to the timeless megahit that is ‘Take On Me’. A truly fab way to start and many middle-aged ladies sitting around me, were all immediately up of their feet for a seat boogie. Yes girls, Morten still looks a hunk! Although he was far too cool to break into any sweats during the combined 1 hour and 45 minute set. He strolled around the stage at Mr Cool Sloth pace and belted out the notes as though he was still 26 years of age as opposed to 60.
The sound tonight was crisp as indeed were the interesting visuals on the screen behind the 6 band members, which included live camera feeds of the band members in action, often with special effects. The films were regularly consisting of things in nature like woodland, which certainly had the Scandinavian vibe.
I was slightly surprised that keyboardist Magne Furuholmen seemed to be addressing the fans in between selected numbers more than Morten, whereas I don’t recall guitarist Pål Waaktaar-Savoy uttering a single word. Obviously the quiet silent type then.
Obviously the night had a mid 1980’s vibe to it, but pleasingly none of the music sounded dated, although it’s fair to comment that the hit singles are the highlights of the show. By that I mean the aforementioned ‘Take On Me’, plus ‘The Sun Always Shines On T.V.’, ‘Hunting High And Low’ and final number ‘The Living Daylights’. But sadly for me there was no ‘Cry Wolf’, which I’m rather partial to. I would guess that many people would flag up ‘Hunting High And Low’ as one of their choice tracks of the night as they were invited to sing along to the tune and indeed many did.
The fans did get a couple of treats in the form of a pre album demo version of ‘Dream Myself Alive’ as well as a brand new decent tune called ‘Digital River’. For this tune the crowd were encouraged to get their phones out and turn their torch mode on, as opposed to back in the day having to get out your lighters!
By 10:20pm, it was all over and the merch stall was rammed after the concert, which is a sure fire way of accessing whether it’s been a successful night or not. For me personally, this was my first live encounter with a-ha and not every tune captivated me, but I’m glad that I went.
a-ha setlist reads:
‘Tour Intro Film’ (found on 1985 ‘Hunting High And Low’ album)
‘Take On Me’ (found on 1985 ‘Hunting High And Low’ album)
‘Train Of Thought’ (found on 1985 ‘Hunting High And Low’ album)
‘Hunting High And Low’ (found on 1985 ‘Hunting High And Low’ album)
‘The Blue Sky’ (found on 1985 ‘Hunting High And Low’ album)
‘Living A Boy’s Adventure Tale’ (found on 1985 ‘Hunting High And Low’ album)
‘The Sun Always Shines On T.V.’ (found on 1985 ‘Hunting High And Low’ album)
‘And You Tell Me’ (found on 1985 ‘Hunting High And Low’ album)
‘Love Is Reason’ (found on 1985 ‘Hunting High And Low’ album)
‘Dream Myself Alive’ (Pre album demo version) (found on 1985 ‘Hunting High And Low’ album)
‘Here I Stand And Face The Rain’ (found on 1985 ‘Hunting High And Low’ album)
‘Analogue (All I Want)’ (found on 2005 ‘Analogue’ album)
‘Foot Of The Mountain’ (found on 2009 ‘Foot Of The Mountain’ album)
‘The Swing Of Things’ (found on 1986 ‘Scoundrel Days’ album)
‘Crying In The Rain’ (Carole King cover) (found on 1990 ‘East Of The Sun West Of The Moon’ album)
‘Sycamore Leaves’ (found on 1990 ‘East Of The Sun West Of The Moon’ album)
‘Digital River’ (unreleased)
‘I’ve Been Losing You’ (found on 1986 ‘Scoundrel Days’ album)
‘Stay On These Roads’ (found on 1988 ‘Stay On These Roads’ album)
‘Scoundrel Days’ (found on 1986 ‘Scoundrel Days’ album)
‘The Living Daylights’ (found on 1988 ‘Stay On These Roads’ album)
The story of the ‘Hunting High And Low’ album……..
“Recording ‘Hunting High And Low’ was such a defining moment and an exciting time in our career and joint collaboration,” stresses Magne. “So revisiting this body of work now – more than 30 years later – feels like inspiration rather than obligation. I just need to dust off the old synths a little…”
Pål stated that a-ha appreciate that the tour will “pull your mind and mood back to when ‘Hunting High And Low’ was made, which for us was a time when we were living in the same tiny apartment in London and working on the songs 24/7. By when the album was finally released it had been a long and bumpy ride, and we poured all our ambitions into the record as if it would be our one and only shot.”
The tour is timed to celebrate the 35th anniversary of the release of the original version of ‘Take On Me’ – issued in the UK on 19 October 1984 to reputed sales of just 300 copies. The re-recorded ‘Take On Me’ was released in Britain during April 1985 to little fanfare, and in America that May where it hit big after its striking promotional video was seen on TV. It was reissued in the UK that September and, finally, the British hit came. The ‘Hunting High And Low’ album was on sale in America in June 1985, and in the UK in October 1985.
It was a long way from when, two years earlier, the three members of a-ha were making demos on a four-track, reel-to-reel tape recorder in a holiday cabin owned by Pål’s family in Nærsnes, near Oslo.
As Pål admits, a-ha’s road to ‘Hunting High And Low’ was full of twists and turns. Despite the band’s self-belief, there was never any certainty of success. If their label had not allowed them to re-record ‘Take On Me’ and then make the new version which became the global hit, that may have been that. Nothing was cut and dried.
Even when ‘Take On Me’ took off, no one knew the band would be become established as one of the world’s best and most-loved. There were no guarantees. But the pushing, the rethinking and self-confidence ensured that a-ha would not have “one and only shot”.
Yet when a-ha had what they needed for their debut album, they knew these were ten perfect songs capturing who they were and, to a large degree, still are. Ten songs marrying yearning melodies and drama; marrying immediacy and intimacy.
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