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a-ha, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall | reviews, news & interviews

a-ha, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall

a-ha, Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra, Royal Albert Hall

The Norwegians bow out orchestrally after 25 years

Take on him: Morten Harket 'was largely silent, bobbing from side to side while smiling enigmatically'

Twenty-five years ago, a-ha achieved something unprecedented for a Norwegian band: they entered the British charts. The week of 5 October, 1985 saw “Take On Me” enter the Top 40. Three weeks later it peaked at number two. To mark the anniversary, a-ha have chosen to do two things: embark on a worldwide farewell tour and play a special show at the Royal Albert Hall, running through their debut album, Hunting High and Low, with a full orchestra.

That not being enough for a full show, they also played its follow-up, Scoundrel Days. Both a first and a last, the concert was a homecoming to the scene where they first scored success.

Of course, 2010 is seeing other rock farewells: the Eagles, the Scorpions and Simply Red. But none of those define something quite as specific as a-ha. Although Simply Red were fellow Eighties newbies, their pattern-book soul looked to existing templates. a-ha’s moody, electro-informed pop was (and is) more exotic, perhaps a partial explanation for last night's multi-national audience. There was more Norwegian overheard than English. A flag hanging from a balcony was emblazoned, “Hi from Moscow”. My row and the one behind was crammed with Germans. Even though a-ha’s songs are in English, they all sang along.

As well as the “Take On Me” anniversary, this week has seen a new release: the career-spanning double CD a-ha 25. Both those first two albums, from 1985 and 1986, have recently been re-issued. There’s even a new single, “Butterfly, Butterfly (The Last Hurrah)”. Magne Furuholmen, Morten Harket and Pål Waaktaar-Savoy might be bowing out, but there’s an awful lot going on – an inversion of hitting the ground running.

Watch the original video of "Take On Me":

Which is apt considering last night’s reversal of the usual rock-show ritual. Audiences wait for the most well-known song – the expected peak at the end of the set. But a-ha stuck to Hunting High and Low’s running order, so “Take On Me” opened the evening. It was weird hearing that era- and band-defining hit first. In dark suits and white shirts, the main men initially looked serious. Accompanied by regular keyboard player/bassist Erik Ljunggren and drummer Karl-Oluf Wennerberg, they were also bulked out by the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra. Despite the grand surroundings and the occasion, Harket froze during “Train of Thought” for an audience member’s mobile-phone snap. After a soaring, string-textured “Hunting High and Low”, Furuholmen quipped, “As the actress said to the bishop, please concentrate, we’re only going to do this once.” Tracks buried within side two of Hunting High and Low, such as “And You Tell Me” and “Love is Reason”, shone alongside their album mates.

Following a quick break, Scoundrel Days was aired. Rockier and edgier than its predecessor, the live reading was powerful, with the audience even more vocal. The orchestrations didn’t shadow the songs, but offered punctuation and colour. Again, Furuholmen made the announcement: “The observant among you may have noticed we’re playing the second album, Scoundrel Days.” When not singing Harket was largely silent, bobbing from side to side while smiling enigmatically. His voice intact, during the portmanteau epic “Manhattan Skyline” it was shatteringly pitched. “Cry Wolf” found the audience making wolf cries and Waaktaar-Savoy leaping, Pete Townshend-style. Scoundrel Days’s downbeat closer “Soft Rains of April” had its final line strung out: “the soft rains of April are… over.”

And it was over, no encore, some bows and that was it. Playing straight, a-ha paid tribute to themselves and their audience. The songs weren’t overhauled or monkeyed with, the sympathetic orchestrations enhanced rather than swamped. Whatever the period these albums come from, they were delivered with commitment and joy. Side-stepping Eighties-revival ham, a-ha invested a dignity into an era which is so often disinterred with crass ugliness. Geographic separation can be a wonderful thing.

Visit Kieron Tyler’s blog

  • a-ha continue their UK tour from 15 to 27 November. They are also touring elsewhere in Europe
  • Find a-ha on Amazon
The songs weren’t overhauled or monkeyed with, the sympathetic orchestrations enhanced rather than swamped them.

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Quite simply, one of the best reviews on a-ha I have ever read. You "got" them, Kieron. An early sign that this band of enormous magnitude and influence will be more fondly remembered posthumously than in life.

Please tell me this show was recorded for a future dvd or cd release!

No se explicar en ingles lo contenta que estoy por este acontecimiento, cuando yo los conoci tenia 18 años y simplemente me encantaron! Desde entonces los escucho y me agrada mucho poder saber de sus logros. Felicidades Morten,Paul and Magne! desde Buenos Aires-Argentina

I was at the concert too- was one of the worst ones I have been too (and I am an a-ha fan!) SHould have spent my money on something else and they just lost a fan

The concert was not recorded for video, however, was recorded for BBC radio. Mary, I am intrigued as to why they have lost you as a fan? I felt a-ha and the orchestra complimented each other and did Hunting high and Low and Scoundrel Days justice. As for the setting, well, perfect! When I next see them in November, it will be in "aircraft" arena.

Mary-how was it one of the worst? I personally thought it was the best AHA concert (and I've been to a fair few over the years) ever. I loved every second of it. It was just sublime and the sound was perfect!

Templar!!! I waited til almost 12 for the boys to come out of Rah stage door only to be shouted at by an upstart staff of RAH that they had left by some underground parking road. So I decided to go home and almost fell asleep getting back to Reading!!! I wish the boys could enjoy this last couple of months and at least come to the door or window to acknowledge us. I'd have been happy with a wave and a smile and gone home v happy :) I've been a fan since I was 8 and 100% adored the gig :) played two of my fav albums which I didn't expect. And grinned from ear to ear throughout :) Morten u sounded perfect but a tiny bit disappointed u didn't go all the way on Here I Stand And Face The Rain. But you are totally forgiven as everything else was delicious:) Pal your guitar playing and energy was awesome and Mags, you still inspire me to get back on the keyboards :) love you :) a-ha have had a hell of a year. Don't be pissed at Morten if he was a bit off. U don't know why he was like that so give him a break. They aren't here to luck bums but to please our ears and put massive smiles on our faces with their musical tallents. I for one LOVED the RAH gig and am eagerly awaiting the 27th Nov :D love you a-ha forever!!! Currently downloading the Delux 25 album From iTunes. Can't wait :) Ooh ps

just bought my ticket 20 minutes before you could go in and enjoyed the music so much. it was my 3rd concert with them and i was reminded so much on the first one on 18th nov 1986:) bad news: i felt they are a bit tired of a-ha and only just did it for earning money... no additional song at the end, never experienced this on any concert before (and i saw quite a few..) and the boys were also short in talking to the audience. But abolutely great music, phantastic orchestra, perfect view close to the stage and fabulous mixed audience (all ages, male and female from so many different countries) so overall enjoyed the evening very, very much.

hi i am a great fan of a-ha and found there performance wonderful. but was left disappointed at the end no encore and very little interest of us fans......i cant believe that morten would ignore fans after all these years and are dedication we feel cheated.

I am afraid I am one of the fans who felt cheated by A-ha's performance at the RAH. Like others I have waited years to see them but standing in the gallery I felt like I was on the edge of something soooooo exciting but couldn't take part. Morten didn't connect with the audience, well at least those above the Circle. The sound up there was terrible and no encore....why? I am going to see them again in Bournmouth and just pray that Morten will find it in him to all his fans with respect.

Not sure what the problem was there, as I was up in Circle seats and enjoyed every second. A friend of mine had seats near the front down below, and came up during the interval to say hello - she said the acoustics up there were better than where she was sitting. Not quite sure how you can say he didn't connect when they're putting their heart and soul into performing an especially amazing gig - arguably the best A-ha gig I've ever been to.

Amazing review - so many are keen to write off Aha as an 80's pop group with a couple of hits and whenever you mention them, people say 'Aren't they the ones who did 'Take On Me?''. Well yes, they DID do Take on Me but they've done a whole lot else besides. It's good to read something positive about them that acknowledges their true talent. I, for one, loved the concert and thought they were outstanding. I have been a fan of Aha for 25 years now and am glad that other groups have acknowledged Aha as an influence on their music (Coldplay, Keane). I'm sorry for the guy who said he was ignored by Morten. I have met Morten a couple of times by hanging around after concerts with other fans, and have always found him to be respectful and this time was surprised that neither him or Mags stopped to say hi to us fans faithfully waiting outside the RAH behind the underground car park (yes - this IS the way they left), but all due respect to Pal - he stopped in his car and took a few minutes for autographs and a chat with us. Pal - we really appreciated that. Morten/Mags - I know you had had a tiring couple of days with all that was going on, but next time take the time to stop like Pal and say hi to those that love your music - after all, they're the ones that buy your music and put you where you are today!!! Looking forward to the Farewell Tour and bet it will be just as good as RAH. The boys were rocking!!

ah but Mary, obviously you were not a real a-ha fan. One bad concert would never turn a fan into a non-fan. Simple as that.

Yes, the BBC recorded the audio for broadcast on 21st Oct, Radio 2. It was the most amazing of nights. As a fan of 25 years, it was so wonderful to hear both albums played live, especially Living a Boys Adventure Tale (a stunning track). I was sat in the choir stalls behind the stage - didn't get the full effect of the orchestra with the band, but boy, did we still get a brilliant show (and the audience sounded great from up there too!). A-ha are one of the best bands of their generation, and would certainly put most of "today's" bands to shame musically. Morten can still hit the notes - quite simply one of the best singers in the world, Pal and Magne are still magnificient. Was all over far too quickly - but roll on the UK tour in November, and (sadly) the last show in December. ........ Mary, were you actually at the show????!!!!!!!!!!! You must be made of stone if you were touched in some way by the show. Morten has never spoken much (certainly at the shows i have been to) - i guess he is protecting his voice? (I would rather hear him sing at his best than small talk!). It's always nice to meet our idols (i met them at the HMV signing in London on Weds, after queuing from 8pm the previous night) - but guys, we pay our money for the music - we have no right to expect to meet them afterwards. No encore was strange, but somehow perfect - 2 full albums, simply sublime. Anything else would have spoilt the moment.

I too have been a fan since Take on me - I thought Fridays gig was absolutley fantastic. Yes, there wasn't much interaction with the crowd, yes they could have done an encore - but they didn't, so deal with it. I didn't feel cheated at all, I loved it! I think people shold be giving some consideration to the band, these final gigs are going to be hard both physically and mentally. They're saying goodbye to something that has been part of their lives for 25 years - it's going to be dificult for them! They owe us nothing & we owe them everything for the wonderful music that they've given us for 25 years.

Ps if one reaction can cause u to now dislike the music and band, you were never into the music to begin with. Gutted they went out the back way :) sneeks :) never mind it wasn't meant to be :) RAH - a sooner comment letting us know they'd gone would have been sensible?!! It was lovely to meet some of the fans anyway :) and hope to shake their hands at the London gig 27th Nov. They've been such a huge part of literally the whole of my life and it'll be hard going to their last gig :( I hope it's amazing ;) just go for it guys, enjoy yourselves and please try get Dec 4th broadcast live or defo on DVD aswell. That has to be shared :) love u a-ha :))))) ps LOVING the 25 delux album :) xxx

well they didnt leave the RAH til 02.30 they were at the after show party i was stood outside of the door until they came out i got a autograph of mags. im not pissed with morten im just dissapointed i waited 27 years for an autograph and i thought that the least he could have done was take a second to sign my book i travelled 12 hours to see that concert a few seconds of his time would have been a fair deal.

Christ, they do a special gig in one of the most iconic venues in the world doing the first two albums with an orchestra and people feel cheated!!! They were doing the first two albums - any other tracks and I'd feel cheated. It was a glorious night, hearing tracks that probably haven't been done live for years (October, The Blue Sky) and it was all magical. Coming back and doing the bows and acknowledgements right at the end was dignified and restrained. We can say our goodbyes at Wembley in late November. The true fans will be there too.

In reply to catherine, How lucky are you???!!! how do you know where and when they left? My friend and I waited ages at the back door only to be told by the RAH staff they'd gone! I was very sad. Can all us fans stick together and share info? I thought the show was absolutely fantastic and a special treat for all of us who know and love their work so much! So what if there wasn't lots of special effects and lights. Who needs all that? A-ha certainly don't they are talented enough to be themselves. The Orchestra were also fabulous and they recieved praise from us when they left via the stage door! We came, we saw and they delivered; exactly what we (fans) wanted. Beautifully done and something to cherish for the rest of our lives. Cannot wait for Manchester and Oslo!

hi there, even when i'm not a fan who is keen on any autographs i can understand that those being very sad who have waited for a long time and simply saw the guys ignoring them finally. yes, the concerts might be exhausting, however a bit of professionalism might help:) everyone of us working with clients (and fans are nothing else like this) and providing a good customer service knows what i'm talking about...

No encore? Wasn't the entire "Scoundrel Days" album the encore?? ;-)

As per my comment left on the the official website on 13 October 2010 under the Royal Albert hall Tour Blog we were all treated to a 10 track encore being Scoundrel days album in its entirety which we had not paid for or expected to see when we got the tickets. As for the band not engaing with the audience they are there to perform their music. I don't wanbt to spend the evening hearing them talk I pay to see their music being played which they do brillantly. It was a fantastic concert and I was so pleased to be able to have the opportunity to actually obtain tickets and see it. I listened to it again on BBC Radio 2 last night and it was like being back there. A night I will never forget!!! Thank you A-ha!

Where can I download the entire show??? Any link???

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