Fireworks, gold discs, spots, a lot of snogging, an interview in a pub, a TV-am film crew and two very nosey people from Smash Hits…
“I’VE GOT lots of spots,” announces Morten cheerfully to the make-up artist who’s here to powder their faces for the TV cameras. She slaps on loads (“it’s very much needed”, he says) and then moves onto Mags. He’s in his usual “playful” mood and makes her life as awkward as possible, insisting that he’s a “marionette” and will only do exactly what she asks him too. Meanwhile, Pål’s standing in the comer looking much more serious as he whispers to his girlfriend, over from America where she goes to college.
Once they’ve been made up, A-ha go to the board room next door for the record company meeting. While waiting for the company toffs they have a quick peep at the video for the new single, ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ which shows them playing in a church accompanied by hundreds of plastic dummies playing violins (filmed, they tell me, in St Albans Cathedral).
“We’re very pleased with it,” says Pål, meaning both the video and the song itself. The song is the last one they wrote, written on “one of those down days”.
“Me and Mags were watching English TV on a rainy day,” he explains, “and the guy announcing the programme said ‘it’s a rainy day but, as always, the sun always shines on TV’. The song’s about the power of television, the way that television presents life.”
10.15am Record Company Meeting
SIX MONTHS ago this would probably have been very different: Mags, Morten and Pål would probably have smiled meekly every time they met all the important people — managing directors and so on — gathered around this table, but today quite the opposite is true. A-ha are the label’s big new stars and so now everyone has to laugh at their jokes and congratulate them all the time.
First the band are shown the sleeve and magazine ads for the new single (no-one mentions that it’s far too late to make any changes even if the band hate them) then they’re asked to choose a photo for a new picture disc.
“You can use my head for the 12″ because it’s so big,” chortles Mags and everyone laughs. “It’s a go-ahead guys! Let’s do it!” he shouts sarcastically in a fake businessman’s voice once they’ve chosen the photo, and everyone laughs again. Then more congratulations as a record company “executive” reads out a list of their progress around the world with ‘Take On Me’: “number one in America, Australia, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Brazil… we’ve lost count.” “Brazil in March then,” decides the manager and A-ha nod.
Suddenly someone whips out from under the table — gasp! — a gold disc (for half a million British sales of ‘Take On Me’: “the first of many,” says Morten) and they’re all congratulated again. “Thanks,” says Mags, “I don’t have this record,” and everyone has another giggle.
Tiring work, all this laughing and backslapping, but suddenly… craaackkk-aaaak-crak-kk-kkk-kkkk-crakkkkkk!! Mags starts sniggering as smoke billows from under the table where he’s just thrown a firework. What a wag, eh? It keeps burning for ages and makes a nasty mark on the plush carpet, but everyone chortles, congratulates the band again, parrot-fashion, and off they go…
11.30am Photo Session
“WE HATE studio sessions,” fumes Morten. He’s in a bit of a grump. Apparently A-ha have spent half of the last five months in photographic studios around the world and they’re reaching the end of their tether. “It’s such an insult to my creative taste,” he moans indignantly. “I don’t understand why people want these sort of pictures anyway. I think I look like a meatball in most of them. I just don’t like glossy pictures because there’s nothing to them. I’d like to be photographed going out in the street, walking about, going to a cafe, hanging out in some sort of environment.” In fact, he says, this will probably be their last studio session for a long time, though he admits that going out in the street might not be that easy after all.
“Success really narrows your ability to move about,” he says. “You can’t go out to the shops simply because you’re always going to have people coming up to you. You can’t get away from it, it’s always there. It’s like a big poster on your head.
“I mean, we wanted to be in this position,” he says as if, just sometimes, he has second thoughts about it, “but you have to learn to deal with it. It’s hard.”
12.30pm Leaving The Building
THE IDEA is simple. A-ha leap out of the record company building, are mobbed by hordes of screaming fans (for the benefit of the TV cameras) and get into the car. Only trouble is, at the last count the screaming horde consists of a dozen far from hysterical girls. It’s not that A-ha aren’t popular, it’s just that no-one particularly expects them to come out of this particular door during this particular lunchtime. The few that are here only found out because A-ha’s manager “tipped off” the fan club to try and drum up a crowd. Never mind — a couple of people are dispatched outside to round up some passers-by while A-ha loiter impatiently in the foyer. Pål has another “canoodle” with his girlfriend — something that he seems to spend most of his spare moments doing — while the others discuss the new 12″ version of the single with the manager. (It turns out that, rather to their displeasure, it’s already finished despite the fact that they’ve never even heard it. Funny business, this pop music lark.)
Finally they’re given the go ahead and out they come. They get the required cheer and stop to sign autographs with the pens they were “conveniently” given inside (they’d refused to carry piles of photos of themselves as they thought that a bit too obvious). Morten winces as he’s subjected to saucy comment after saucy comment. “My mum wants you to know that she fancies you,” says one girl, “and that she plans to beat Bunty.” Bunty is the girl from the ‘Take On Me’ video who Morten is rumoured to be “seeing” and from his pained expression it’s obvious he hasn’t the slightest intention of giving her up for anyone’s mum. After a couple of minutes he looks rather relieved to escape into the limousine, smiling weakly as the fans shout “can we hitch a lift?”
1.00pm Live News Interview
NBC IS ONE of the biggest news networks in America and today they’re broadcasting their regular “aren’t-the-British-strange?” slot live by satellite to millions of homes in America. As A-ha get ready for the filming, we see a story about the London pubs which still get their beer delivered by horse and cart (no wonder they think we’re “quaint”). The band have got to do their bit in a cordoned-off area of an English pub into which the presenter has just “happened” to wander and found them drinking (the idea being that, when not reading Shakespeare and going on double-decker buses, most people in Britain spend their life in “quaint” English pubs).
A-ha grin and bear it as the interviewer runs through a few of the banal questions he’s jotted on his clipboard (he’d probably never even heard of A-ha this time yesterday) and afterwards admit it was hardly the most suitable place for the interview. Pål only drinks occasionally — “I hate that hazy feeling so I save up for just once a month and do it properly” — and Morten never drinks. “I can taste it,” he explains, “but I hate any kind of drugs because they dim your brain and your emotions as well. I can’t tell you how much I hate it — it takes away your ability to live and take life in.” Only Mags, acknowledged as the group’s most “rock ‘n’ roll” member, is rather more enthusiastic — “I just love that feeling when your brain is slowing down and you’ve had too much to drink,” he says jokingly.
3.00pm TV-am Interview
AFTER THEY’VE disappeared for a long lunch with their manager — to “discuss things in private” — it’s TV-am’s turn to interview the band in their “London base” — a posh hotel suite. Mags does most of the talking — about overnight success — (“It took us fifteen years to have overnight success”), fashion (“I only like denim anyway”) and fame. “We’ve lived for 23 years without people running down the street after us so we don’t take it seriously,” he explains.
Then, like the professionals they are these days, the three of them have to do lots of “nodding” shots where they’re filmed nodding as if listening to someone. This gives the TV people bits of film to edit in the final programme where they didn’t have the camera on the right person.
3.30pm Smash Hits Interview
Next it’s Smash Hits‘ turn to talk to them, or at least try to, as we all sit on the bed chatting in between instructions from the camera crew. Eventually the TV crew leave and A-ha really get going. Morten sulks a bit when Mags calls him “swotty” for enjoying the company of orchids (“he doesn’t understand,” murmurs Morten) then sulks even more when Pål starts saying that “90% of the records I hear I hate” (he won’t say which ones, though). “They get really irritated with me,” sighs Morten, “but I just don’t think like that.” They all get a bit annoyed at the suggestion that the last band who’ve enjoyed a comparable rise to fame were Kajagoogoo and things didn’t turn out too rosy for them. “There’s no resemblance at all,” huffs Morten, a little offended.
“They were a little too based on Duran Duran,” says Mags, by which he means they concentrated too much on what A-ha call “the teen market”. A-ha want to be successful in that market (“it’s fun to have kids screaming at your concerts”) but they want to be taken seriously as well. Even though, as Pål said earlier, “what’s wrong with the teen market? When I was 15 I was probably more passionate about music than I am now.”
Still, Morten reckons that A-ha’s ambition is to “get back the excitement that the Beatles had” and they all say they’re not the slightest bit interested in the glamour of being pop stars.
“We threw all the glamour out,” says Pål proudly. “We don’t want that sort of stuff.”
“It’s so stupid,” says Mags. “It doesn’t interest me. We’ve seen it all but we don’t want to get involved. We come from economically stable backgrounds so it’s not a big thing for us to be able to drive expensive cars.”
“I mean,” says Pål, “there’s too many bands saying ‘oh we don’t want to be like Duran Duran’ who are basically just the same but…”
“…but we aren’t,” says Mags confidently. “We don’t like posing. We’re different.”
We shall see…
© Chris Heath, Smash Hits, 1 January 1986