a-ha – Live Review – Scarborough Open Air Theatre
By Roger Crow, July 2022
My love for some bands is immediate, and with others it grows over time. When the spotlight is on them at the height of their powers, it’s hard to gauge how good said group is, because there’s usually an ad campaign plugging them everywhere you look. The real acid test of course is you, them and time; when the hype has died down and you play their tracks every day, for years.
A-ha are one of those bands; creators of arguably the best pop song of the eighties, backed by one of THE greatest promos videos ever crafted, they burned brighter than the sun (which always shines on TV) for a while. It didn’t hurt that they also created a handful of other absolute classics; one of my favourite Bond themes, and more recently some beautiful ballads.
Never having seen them live, they were added to my mental list of bucket list bands, and as soon as the chance arose, I jumped at it.
However, there was a personal stumbling block. I’d seen one of their gigs on TV a couple of years ago, and wasn’t sure if Morten Harket’s voice was as good as the old days.
Could he still cut the mustard?
“Waves of emotion”
Well, after too-cool-for-school support band Deco do their thing, closing with one of the most infectious ear worm tracks I’ve heard in ages, there’s the obligatory pause.
Folks get drinks, pizzas and have loo breaks, while Norway’s greatest band get ready.
Though it’s an odd thing to do to compare artists of a similar age, advancing years of course have to be considered when assessing one of your favourite singers. Bryan Adams, who we saw a couple of days earlier at the same venue, is the same age as Harket, and works a crowd beautifully. Morten is the polar opposite, almost treating us like an afterthought for half of the gig. He’s all about the vocals, which is understandable. And that voice isn’t bad at all, far better than the time I saw their TV gig.
The band itself is phenomenal. I have to remind myself they’re not miming to some pre-recorded track, but creating that incredible sound live in front of us. And it’s odd that for songs which generate such waves of emotion from the audience, there’s so little from the lead singer. I’m not suggesting he do backflips across the stage, but at least become something more animated.
The set list is interesting, opening with the slow burn ‘Sycamore Leaves’, and ‘The Swing of Things’ before a few bangers, ‘Crying in the Rain’, ‘The Blood That Moves the Body’, ‘Train of Thought’, and the more recent classic, ‘Foot of the Mountain’.
Eventually ‘Cry Wolf’ turns up, and I’m a happy camper, but a handful of tracks; more recent stuff, dials down the energy. Things almost flatline, but you can’t build to a terrific finale without that calm before the storm, and while the new stuff is great, the final few smashes change things completely. I’ve waited decades to hear ‘Hunting High and Low’ live (one of my hard rotation songs), and it does not disappoint. The sight of gulls circling the theatre, a little like the video, only adds to the occasion.
Just as I’m recovering from that soaring masterpiece, ‘The Living Daylights’ kicks in, and again the crowd goes wild. It’s like somebody hooked the gig up to a nuclear reactor after 20 minutes of running on a 9 volt battery.
As things settle after that 1987 classic, the band go off stage, and one grumpy audience member storms off in a huff, which is like leaving a party that just kicked into high gear.
By the time Morten and the lads return, almost everyone goes crazy for ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’, which is understandable as it’s one of their greatest achievements. Many of us are transported back to the mid eighties, and while one mother and daughter in front of us have a big hug as they reflect on their past years, another mum is having a great time while her daughter gives her those looks of “You’re so embarrassing!”
And then comes the moment we’ve all been waiting for. Arguably the greatest pop song of the 1980s; a track which has been beautifully covered by the likes of Harriet, and Shiny and the Spoon, but there’s only one original. A tune which has the best workout beat for a treadmill, and one which bombed on its first release in 1984. However, a reworking crafted the 1985 synth-pop masterpiece that we know and love, and ‘Take On Me’ is the only way they could end the gig, with a sea of mobile phones recording the moment, while the masses sing along to every word. My vocals obviously are perfectly in tune, but just a shame they got drowned out. Take my word for it, okay.
The fact ‘You Are the One’ (absolute classic), and ‘Touchy!’ are absent is a crying shame, but kudos to Magne (Mags) Furuholmen for being the real conduit between audience and band. His one-liners are comedy gold.
It’s an unusual gig, with a strangely disconnected frontman, some laugh-out loud banter, and those incredible songs. Yes there are highs and lows like any show, but while I wanted more from Harket, his vocals are on point and I couldn’t fault a single note from the rest of the group.
A slow burn of an experience with a long fuse, and speakers that were sadly turned up to ear-shattering levels. However, when those explosive tracks ignite, it’s worth the preamble and the slight awkwardness to experience the unforgettable result.
images: Cuffe & Taylor