Last week I was lucky enough to be present as a-ha, Norway’s legendary band, presented their seminal near thirty five year old debut album ‘Hunting High And Low’ live and in album running order to a sell out adoring crowd at the Royal Albert Hall.
It was an audience filled with fans of every age who cheered and danced and sang back the lyrics of an album that not only launched the band in the UK, but also included one of the most instantly recognisable songs, and for that matter music videos, of the last fifty years. Whilst there will be many people who are not aware of the outstanding back catalogue this band has, there are few people who will not know the album’s lead single ‘Take On Me’.
It was this song, presented to a backdrop and intro of video storybook graphics leading into the legendary iconic video, that opened the album and duly opened the evening. There are few singers who could open a gig with a song known for its vocal range and nail it with the aplomb which Morten Harket, lead singer of a-ha, did; the fact that he did this with such apparent ease belied his sixty years almost more than his stylish dress and look of physical fitness.
It’s testament to the strength of the album that this felt like an exciting opening and not a high point. The album holds up well at almost 35 and shows no signs of any middle age crisis. In fact, the years of subsequent writing, touring and recording of the three band members brings new depth to songs originally imparted in 1985 when the men were in their twenties.
Like a fine wine the album performed live in 2019 found new depth and maturity which added to the original recording. This was no walk down memory lane, more a triumphant live reworking of an eighties masterpiece as they release new material.
The evening was presented as a show of two halves. The first half being the rendition of ‘Hunting High And Low’, the second being a collection of songs picked from their extensive and impressive past and including not only classics like the Bond theme, ‘The Living Daylights’, but also new material such as ‘Digital River’. The three piece a-ha played in front of a drummer, guitarist and keyboard player adding real power to the proceedings which perfectly complemented the effortless vocals of Morten Harket, the deft keys of Magne Furuholmen, and the guitar work of Pal Waaktaar-Savoy.
The job of band leader and crowd interaction was left to Mags as Morten concentrated on bringing his still impressive vocal range to bear on each and every song particularly ‘Stay On These Roads’, a song vocally beyond men half his age.
His stage presence has always been enigmatic but never aloof. He simply lets his singing speak whilst making constant eye contact, and offering occasional hand shakes, to his audience, prowling the stage like a snow leopard eying its quarry; it’s hard not to follow his every move, even when he’s not singing.
Meanwhile Mags and Pal provide perfect support, both vocal and instrumental, to their front man. The affinity and ease between the men is a joy to watch as they move through their songs.
This is a totally new format for a-ha as they perform with an interval in ‘an evening with…’ style. The style perfectly suits what they want to achieve and allows the band to celebrate their debut album as well as showcase new music and material from the last 35 years. The band has released 10 studio albums, several compilations and four live albums and with new music like ‘Digital River’, hopefully another album is in the near future after being rumoured and hinted at over the last few years. From the reaction of the audience at the Royal Albert Hall last week, any new music will be keenly received.
It was great to see a real mix of ages at the gig and I sincerely hope it means we will see new music from them soon so that they can keep adding fans to their already loyal worldwide following.
A November 2020 date has been announced at Wembley Arena and I would encourage making the effort to see this iconic band. On the evidence of last week you would be in for a treat!
Set 1 – Hunting High And Low: Tour Intro; Take On Me; Train of Thought; Hunting High And Low; The Blue Sky; Living A Boys Adventure Tale; The Sun Always Shines on TV; And You Tell Me; Love Is Reason; I Dream Myself Alive (demo version); Here I Stand And Face The Rain.
Set 2 – Set intro; Analogue (All I Want); Foot Of The Mountain; The Swing Of Things; Crying In The Rain (Everly Brothers cover); Sycamore Leaves; Digital River; I’ve Been Losing You; Stay On These Roads; Encore: Scoundrel Days; The Living Daylights.