Groups come and go in a flash but the boys from Norway seem to have staying power. Lucy O’Brien reports
A-HA NEARLY suffered the fate of the Short Shelf Life. They could have gone the way of Bros. They could be like New Kids On The Block, competing furiously to stay on top: in the realms of kiddy pop the five boys from Boston are fighting a losing battle. Curiosity lost it, Five Star truly lost it — so how come A-Ha are still in the charts after five years?
Recruited by the pop glossies in the wake of Duran Duran and Wham, A-Ha fulfilled all the credentials for screamie-dom — fine Scandinavian good looks, a chugging, atmospheric beat and, their number one selling point, Morten Harket, Heart Throb International.
He’s slightly bemused by the reaction the group have always had in Britain: “It’s only in England we have this teeny tag.”
But A-Ha were willing victims to the pop cause. In 1985 they prostrated themselves to get a hit. ‘Take On Me’ was released three times, re-recorded twice and two videos were shot before it became their first phenomenal success. In 1984, when A-Ha moved to London, they were three wide-eyed boys from the suburbs of Oslo, anxious to become pop stars and bowled over by the sophistication of the British/US music industry.
Success came in the mid-eighties with 12 hits and worldwide sales of 13 million. The impact was so great it nearly swallowed them up, like countless good-looking boy bands before them, They decided to gamble and take a break.
“We were screwed up,” says Morten. “We had no energy left. We realised we were reaching the end of the line. We had to get away from the whole circus and breathe fresh air — become a band again, not just personalities in the eye of the media.”
In their two-year break from the business, Morten went scuba-diving, married a Swedish girl, had a baby son, Jacob, and spent time with family and friends.
Taking time out was a risk but Morten says: “It would have been a bigger risk not to.”
A-Ha are still associated with the teeny bracket but their music has an enduring classic pop feel. A-Ha’s latest LP — East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon — has moved assuredly into the charts in the first week of release and has a hint of staying power.
A-Ha have more substance than Bros & Co and make no secret, for example, of their support of environmental issues. In their time off, Morten made a trip up the Amazon: “I’d read enough about the Amazon from fashionable environmental articles and felt I wanted to see it for myself.”
But he is not going to become the next Sting, a pop star tramping through rainforests with compassion, Now he is behind Bellona, the Norwegian version of Greenpeace, a group that has “turned the environmental scene upside down” in his country.
Maybe that’s why the A-Ha boys are still there; they have a life outside the pop circus. They may once have, been victims but they’ll never be martyrs to the cause.
© Lucy O’Brien, The Guardian, 14 December 1990