A-ha play their first ever concert in Britain! The whole country goes ‘wooooaaaaarrrrgggghhhhh!!!”
“BONG!!! THIS is the final call for all passengers travelling on flight BA 5610, the 11.45 a.m. shuttle service to Aberdeen. Will all remaining passengers please go to Gate number 12. BONG!!!”
You could easily fail to notice a small group of people sitting down in the middle of the bustle at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal One. The only conspicuous thing about them is that one of them’s quietly strumming away to himself on a guitar, but nobody’s really paying him any attention. Strange though it may seem, the group of people we’re talking about consists of Morten, Pal and Mags from A-ha, their backing musicians Dag, Lief and Michael, several management people, plus a few hefty looking bodyguards, all on their way up to Scotland — to Aberdeen in fact, for what is to be the first ever live performance by A-ha in Britain.
Really, you would expect them to be swanning up in their own personal jet or something, but no, here they are, waiting around with everyone else for the plane. A couple of A-ha fans are sitting bang next to them and don’t even seem to notice.
Mags, Morten, Pal and their entourage get up and take a casual stroll to the boarding gate. Mags has a very expensive looking video camera with him; Pal is strolling around with a whopping great “acoustic” guitar in one hand and a swanky tennis racket in the other, while Morten sits down again and a horribly pushy woman official from the airport comes up to him and asks him for a kiss. She doesn’t get one.
TODAY’S THURSDAY. It’s the day that sees the launch of the UK leg of A-ha’s nine month world tour. Morten’s actually been in the country since the beginning of the week. On Monday he found himself appearing on Blue Peter, which for some odd reason had been chosen as the programme on which the ‘Cry Wolf’ video would make its debut…
“And here is Morten just back in the country,” announced Blue Peter presenter Janet Ellis, “and making friends with Bonnie.”
And sure enough, there was Morten being slobbered over by Bonnie the monstrous Blue Peter labrador while Janet asks him questions about the tour. The other presenter, Mark Curry, tries to give Morten a Blue Peter badge “just in case ‘Cry Wolf’ does get to number one, which I’m sure it will — you’ll have to share it with the whole band,” he adds. Well. That’s fantastically generous of the BBC, now isn’t it?
BY WEDNESDAY, Morten had been joined by Mags and Pal; that night they were booked to appear on Wogan. To the sounds of I screams from certain rather “enthusiastic” members of the studio audience, A-ha played ‘Cry Wolf’ and were then “interviewed” by Wogan. He asks them about their very first date of this world tour in Perth, Australia. Mags answers: “The first night we went on was pretty unusual. We went on and played a song and played the next one (pant), and then the next one (pant), and then the next one (pant), and played an hour and a half set in about 50 minutes.”
Morten: (interrupting) “We didn’t say a word to each other.”
Wogan: “You’re getting better as I you go along?”
Mags: “Yes, we’ve kind of watered it down a bit.”
Morten: (contradicting Mags) “We’re getting worse now — we’ve I done it too much.”
And then Wogan asks how they cope with being “teenybop idols”…
Morten: “One sick insult after another!”
Wogan: “But you can’t deny that you’re followed by an awful lot of girls!”
A-ha fans in the Wogan audience: “WOOOOAAAARRGGGHHH!!”
Morten: “They’re here for you, Terry!”
Wogan: “No. I’m well past it. Any truth in the rumour that you’re going to get married?”
Morten: “Not really. No. I was told that the other day. I do have a girlfriend…”
And so on. Wogan at least has the decency to look a little embarrassed at asking such pathetic questions and then they’re off, WOOOOOSH! Away to get some rest before tomorrow…
ON THE morning of the first ever A-ha concert in the UK, a group of fans is gathering outside the back door of the concert hall. Lorraine, who’s 15, says she’s been there since nine o’clock in the morning, and she travelled 70 miles to get there. There’s even a Japanese girl called Mayumi there too who came up from London last night. She has already seen them seven or eight times in Japan, and intends to see them a few more times on this tour.
Meanwhile, somewhere in the air between Heathrow and Aberdeen, Morten, Mags and Pal are tucking into a “lovely” cold airline meal, and while the others sip their orange juices, Morten orders himself a glass of iced milk. Mags passes his time by flicking through a magazine. Suddenly he spots a familiar face in its pages — a picture of a really dodgy musician with whom he and Pal once tried to form a group when they were staying in London in 1982. He now seems to have abandoned music in favour of male modelling.
“He used to be a classical harpist,” laughs Mags unmercifully, “but he wanted to be a guitar hero. Look — he’s even uglier now than he was then…”
Around 1 p.m. the plane arrives at Aberdeen Airport; there’s a small group of fans who’ve been waiting there for hours. Up they rush and demand autographs the very moment A-ha step into the airport. The group stops for a quick chat and then it’s WOOOOOSH! again, into a tour bus and off to the group’s hotel to check in and wait till it’s time to “soundcheck” for tonight’s concert.
Outside the concert hall, “bootleggers” have already turned up to sell an “unofficial” programme, full of disgusting splodgy black and white pictures and whole pages nicked and horribly re-printed from Smash Hits. They’re selling it to unsuspecting fans for £2 or more, who buy it believing it’s the official programme — it’s not.
By 7.30 the hall is packed with 2,000 people who are waiting to see what on earth A-ha are actually like when they perform “live”. Reports from earlier concerts in the tour have been mixed. Some have said the concerts were brilliant, other reactions have been decidedly luke warm. No one’s quite sure what to expect…
SUDDENLY THE house lights go down and A-ha’s first concert in Britain is finally ready to begin. Three figures are silhouetted against a white backdrop. Two thousand voices go “WOOAAARRGGHHH!!” and playing the opening chords to ‘Train Of Thought’, Morten, Pal and Mags bound wildly down from a raised platform to the front of the stage, and zoom straight into ‘Love Is Reason’. When the noise dies down, Mags, grinning broadly, speaks: “Hello… er… You sound like you’re in a festive mood,” he grins, “it’s good to be home.” How touching.
“WOOOAAAAARRRGH!!” go the audience.
What’s amazing is just how brilliant A-ha have become at playing “live” in just a few months. It’s more or less exactly the same concert they’re giving as they gave on their first ever “live” performance on June 3rd in Perth, Australia at the very beginning of this tour. It’s the same basic stage show, the same songs, played in more or less the same order (except that in Aberdeen they don’t do ‘Manhattan Skyline’ — surprising really as it’s strongly rumoured to be their next single). But the big difference is how confident they’ve now become on stage since that opening in Perth when they rattled through the set hardly saying a word to the audience.
It’s strange, but A-ha concerts are extremely simple and straightforward compared to some of the flashy shows you get these days — none of your “fantastically amazing” light shows, no nipping off stage for a quick change into another fantastically “trendy” costume… The group just wear the same old clothes that they wore on the plane earlier today.
What that means is that it’s all up to Messrs Harket, Waaktaar, and Furuholmen. Pal is the quietest — he never speaks between songs. In a tatty pair of jeans, he seems a bit aloof and gets on with playing guitar most of the time, actually proving himself to be a bit of a whizz on the “axe”.
Half way through a storming version of ‘Cry Wolf’ he launches himself into the first of a few “searing licks”, bending backwards at the knees and twiddling away. And then again in ‘Blue Sky’, we get another blast. What’s more, like a proper “guitar hero” should, he keeps changing his guitar every five minutes. One moment it’s a white one, then it’s a red one, then it’s a black one, then it’s an “acoustic” one… It gets to the point where, during another guitar “solo” — this time in the middle of ‘Looking For The Whale’ — Mags begins taking the mickey, falling to his knees in front of Pal as he runs through a few “riffs”!
But then Mags is a bit of a clown on stage. Over the last few months it looks like he’s been working a few “gags” into the act. Like he bets the audience they can’t do what he’s going to do next and then he walks on his hands, does cart-wheels and back-flips and of course none of the audience can because they’re all packed shoulder to shoulder, har har. Or he picks up a horrible “Scotland” hat that someone chucks at him and says “Look! It’s our new image”. He’s a bit of an athlete too, bouncing around everywhere when he’s not plonking away wildly at his rack of keyboards. Mags is the one who does most of the talking, too, introducing songs and filling any odd spaces with chit chat.
As for Morten, he’s trying to look pretty “cool”, clasping the microphone in both hands and crooning away, dropping to his knees in front of the crowd who are packed up to the edge of the stage (“WOOAAAARRGGHH!!!”), gradually removing his jacket, untucking his shirt, then unbuttoning it (“WOOAAAARRGGGHHHH!!!”) as the show goes on, wincing at the audience’s attempt to sing ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’, or “taking it down a bit” for a soulful rendition of ‘And You Tell Me’, delivered as Morten stares off moodily into the distance…
The crowd — nearly all girls — have been on their feet screaming at the very tops of their voices since the moment A-ha stepped on stage. It’s mayhem: people trying to dance, clapping along, waving banners — including one on which it’s written “Drau En Sau I Balla” (Norwegian for “sheeps balls to you mate” — how nice). After ‘Hunting High And Low’, there’s ‘I’ll Be Losing You’ and finally they wind up with ‘Scoundrel Days’. And by the time they finish, Morten looks completely drained, his hair all ruffled up, and his shirt hanging loose. They all wave and suddenly they’re gone.
Within minutes A-ha are back on stage, looking understandably pleased with themselves and clutching bottles of very healthy Highland Spring Mineral Water which they’ve obviously been gulping down to refresh themselves. Morten proceeds to give the crowd in front of him a jolly good dousing with it before they close the show with a boisterous ‘Take On Me’. And that’s it…
AN HOUR and a half later, A-ha are back in their hotel once more, sitting in the restaurant under the watchful eyes of their minders. They seem pretty quiet and subdued and maybe just a little bit bored now they’re off stage, but this is about the hundredth time they’ve played since June and there’s still another three months to go…
© William Shaw, Smash Hits, 17 December 1986