Saturday, 16 March 2013

a-ha : the soundtrack of my life

Hi there all,

After holding my 100 follower giveaway for you guys, this is my present to myself.  I've said from day one of my blog that if I got to 100 followers, I would write a post about a-ha.  I never thought I would get to 100 followers of course, but amazingly I have, so I get to talk to you about my number one love.  Yes, loved even more than polish!

So, where did this obsession start then?  Well, at the beginning I guess.  When the single Take on Me was released in 1985, I was 13.  I was the perfect target for a new pop band just starting up.  Music videos weren't massive back then (believe it or not), and alot of songs didn't even have videos.  So the arty, brilliantly made video to Take on Me caused a big stir, and made me sit up and pay attention.  But I wasn't really that keen on the song.  It was catchy, yes, but it was just another bubblegum pop song, and as you know now from my music post, I'm a little bit more eclectic than that.

The Sun Always Shines on TV was released, and that was a bit more like my cup of tea, with violins and drama.  But it wasn't until the next two, Train of Thought, and Hunting High and Low, that I became hooked.  And little did I know back then that I was irretrievably and permanently hooked.

I bought the I bought the records, I bought the magazines, I bought the posters.  Every time they were on the TV I recorded it.  Anything a-ha related was a pocket money stealer.  I didn't have enough pocket money to get all the magazines I wanted (I've always been a collector of things), so I came to an arrangement with my mum where I did extra chores for extra pocket money, which worked out well for both of us.  Now I could get the a-ha things I wanted.  Alot of them I never got rid of.  Here's a few:
As you can see, even as late as Stay On These Roads in 1988, I was still buying my albums on cassette.  The Cry Wolf 12" got mauled by my hamster, there were some singles that never made it though that.  I wasn't happy!  That videotape is my prized possession, there are all kinds of a-ha interviews and TV appearances on it.  I should really find a way to digitise it before it becomes unwatchable.  As with quite a few of a-ha's albums, you can see I also own Hunting High and Low on CD as well as cassette, because as times moved on, so did my collection.

Here's how I looked right back at the beginning:
Yep, I was a shutterbug even back then! That camera was 'borrowed' off my mum and dad, and it went to alot of places with me.  It was a Kodak I think.  You had to buy flash bulbs for it, they were four-sided, and once you'd used it once, you had to turn the bulb, so you got four uses out of each one.  They weren't cheap, and needless to say, most of my photos were taken during the day haha.

I had some posters on my bedroom door, and the door opened against the bottom of my bed, so when the door was open and I was lying in bed, I could lie and stare at the posters.  I had a idea that I could take a picture of the poster, and it would look as if I was there actually taking a photo of them.  When I got the photo back from the developers, it wasn't quite how I planned.  It was taken with that same camera:
I missed!  I remember taking this picture, even though it was getting on for 30 years ago (how scary is that), and the poster was DEFINITELY slap bang in the middle of the viewfinder, with no gap on any side.  It could have worked too.  A good plan, let down by 80's tools.

So, while I was taking random photos, and getting my hair cut to look the same as Lady Dianas, a-ha were busy knocking out the hits.  And true to form, they kept up the quality videos, although as I only really got my music fix on the radio, or on Top of the Pops, where back in those days the bands would actually be performing, I didn't get to see many of the videos until years and years later.  However, there's no such restrictions now, so lets have a bit of Hunting High and Low. DON'T SHOOT THE LION:
The climbing chords in the 'tearing myself to pieces' part of that song continues to be one of my favourite moments in music, and it still gets me emotional even now. 

My friend and I used to listen to that album, with our eyes shut, and let ourselves get completely lost in the music.  At least until her dad shouted up the stairs at us to turn down the "row". 

It's also excellent for singing at the top of your voice in the car while driving to work.

I was lucky enough to be able to get The Swing of Things by Jan Odahl from Ebay, a goldmine of information.

In the book, Magne talks about the Hunting High and Low album:

"I think the record's production was a bit schizoid. It's a record by a band who wants everything - all at once. Otherwise it includes some on Pauls purest gems, like "Hunting High and Low" and "Living a Boys Adventure Tale". That, by the way, is Coldplay vocalist Chris Martins favourite a-ha song, and to my ears, it could have been classic. "Train of Thought" is a bit too 'in your face'. "The Sun Always Shines on TV" has the best production on the album - Paul's drum programming here has never been surpassed.
The mouse voice in the middle of "Living a Boys Adventure Tale" seemed like a good idea at the time. "Love is Reason" will be played again in a heavy-as-lead Nick Drake version for my solo tour. Or maybe not. We wrote part of "Dream Myself Alive" much earlier - back in the Bridges/Poem days. I think it still has an edgy weirdness that most pop songs lack. In fact, it was one of my contributions that I had the greatest hopes for. Shows how wrong you can be..."

Magne has always been my favourite of the three.  Of course, Morten has the film star looks and the soaring voice, and Paul takes alot of the credit for the songwriting, but Magne with his beach boy curls and killer synth has always been the one for me.  If you notice, he was the only one of the three never to wear the trademark leather laces.  Me and my friend used to buy them from the local shoe mending shop.  I bet they sold SO many leather laces back then!

However, things haven't really been how I imagined for my three favourite pop stars.  In the book Paul says:

"We were really tight in the beginning.  We were always in the same car, always at the same restaurant, always at the same hotel, as tight as you could get.  And it was great.  But after a while, we found out that the pressure of work led to side effects.  We were like lonely islands in a storm tossed sea.  We began to pick on each other as much as the people around us were doing.  We weren't the ones who created the problems, but we weren't smart enough to deal with them.  It began to affect the health of the other two.  Magne had panic attacks, and Morten began to bark a bit at people, which they interpreted as a star trip.  And maybe we were a bit hard on him, maybe we didn't understand the pressure he was under.  But even when we felt we were starting to pull in different directions, people would have been surprised to see how focused we were and how hard we worked to make the best out of every situation.  Looking back at it, maybe we should have done things differently, but it wasn't so gloomy then.  Not until the early nineties, when we stopped living at the same place, did things begin to come apart.  When Magne moved to Norway, with Morten living in England, and me moving to the States, we communicated more through middlemen and word of mouth."

That is not at all what I was imagining when I was picturing myself hanging out with the guys!  I thought it would be party, party, party.  Just goes to show that even the best jobs in the world, can sometimes still just be a job. 

This is a brilliant book, but I couldn't pay those high prices though.  I was lucky (and determined) enough to keep watching and waiting, and eventually a reasonably priced copy came up on Ebay which was being sold by another a-ha fan, who turned out to be a lovely lady.  The same with the CD that goes with the book, I kept waiting until I found one I could afford. 

So anyway, lets move on to the following year.  1986:
Here I am on my holidays.  My brother took this photo, and it's one of my favourites.  Apart from the fact that I'm bigger and more wrinkly now, I haven't changed much really.

A-ha released their album Scoundrel Days, and in there was my favourite ever song.  The Swing of Things.  As it was never released as a single (why not?!) it doesn't have an official video, so here's the music:
I've listened to this song thousands of times, probably most days, and I never tire of it.  "Sleep, you wrote sleep my dear.  In a letter somewhere."  Genius.

Paul says:
"On Scoundrel Days, we had learned a little.  It was also a much cooler album.  There's a spirit there, a sound.  It's very much typical of its period, but at the same time not.  Since Alan Tarney had done such a good job on 'Take On Me' and 'The Sun Always Shines on TV', we hired him.  But we were on tour and we were so busy that we finished half the album in Australia.  We started from scratch writing new songs.  It's good, but a little stressful.  It's very much on the edge, a very pure, youthful, go-get-'em piece of work.
The A-side (Paul is thinking here in vinyl terms), with 'Scoundrel Days', 'The Swing of Things', 'I've Been Losing You','October', and 'Manhattan Skyline', is pretty good.  The B-side was a little more uneven.
'The Swing of Things' was Mortens absolute favourite.  Morten is often thought of as being very commercial, but he can get totally hooked on the quirkiest songs.  And 'The Swing of Things' was one of those songs he just had to talk about all the time."  

Then after another couple of years Stay On These Roads was released.  I was most surprised to find that there was a couple of songs on there I didn't like.  Touchy particularly I didn't like, and I was only lukewarm with You Are The One and The Living Daylights.  The rest of course, were the usual a-ha excellence.  Out Of Blue Comes Green stood out for me, along with The Blood That Moves The Body.

And then life kind of got in the way, and I lost touch with a-ha.  Although I was still wearing my laces:
This was me at the Rovers Return at Granada Studios.  I had a great day there, happy memories!

They didn't know I'd drifted away though, so carried on making music without me:
Of course I always tried to keep up to date with what the boys were up to, but I didn't really buy any of the newer albums, although I was still regularly listening to the albums I already had. I'm not really sure why that is, just one of those things.  I got comfortable with my a-ha relationship, and just thought it would carry on like that. 

Then one day, I found something out.  A-ha were splitting up?!!  A farewell tour, an album, and that would be it.  Gutted.  But why split up?  I'll let the guys tell you:
Now I'd never seen a-ha live.  It just wasn't one of those things I thought I'd ever be able to do.  But now I was a bit (alot) older and it could actually be a possibility.  So I got in touch with my friend, yes the same childhood friend, and we arranged to get some tickets.

Our tickets were right at the back - Row W.  I didn't care. 
We were so excited.  We were sitting in our there a long time before anyone else, when all the other seats were empty haha.  Eventually, the arena was packed, and the 'special guests' had been on.... and then...


A wave of emotion washed over me, and I started crying like a big baby.  The three people that had made all the music that was so important to me.  In the same room as me.  But my friend gave me a big hug, and got me back together (she's ace), and before I knew it, I was bopping along and singing at the top of my voice.  I'm a pretty loud singer too, so I feel a bit sorry for those people around me.  I didn't think of that at the time though, sorry everyone!  And I'm convinced Morten waved at me.

We weren't allowed to take pictures, and there were stewards everywhere telling us to put our cameras and phones away, so I don't have any mementos, boo hiss at the Buzz Killingtons.

And before I knew it, it was all over.  That was it.  Finished.  So what now?

Magne put out a statement on the a-ha website :

"A message from a-ha:
where to begin…
i suppose ‘thank you, all’ for once sums it up perfectly.

thank you is really the only thing that makes any sense at this point. thank you fans and friends – for giving us your time, your minds, your passion, in some cases a good chunk of your respective lives, and no doubt considerable amounts of your money.
you have made it possible for us to do what we loved in the way we had hoped to do it.
this is the end for us, and we will not know what a future together could have brought.
but we do know what the past has held; it was pretty amazing to be a part of it.
from the start as childhood friends, to the peak of our career, and all the points inbetween,
a-ha has coloured our lives in ways we don’t even seem to comprehend ourselves.

this is as far as the road took us – but hey, we came a fair distance by any standard!
one thing is certain: we did it together. now a-ha will be a memory of a life we once shared.
so thank you all ;)
we will not forget you and we hope that you do not forget us.

snipp snapp snute…
magne f (on behalf of a-ha)"

Snipp Snapp Snute.  I love that.  I have it taped to my monitor at work to remind me that magic should always be around us, and not to get bogged down with soul crushing daily business. 

But that doesn't mean they guys are gone - oh no, far from it.  Now I have three careers to follow! 

Morten is making music, without the other two, I find his albums a bit too sad for my taste, still beautiful of course.  I'm sure that in time there will be an album that strikes a chord with me.  I still watch him with interest.  This is one of his recent releases:
Magne has continued to grow as a celebrated artist, as well as still producing music.  He even wrote the soundtrack for a Norwegian horror film, and released it as an album titled Hermetic although I didn't buy it, because quite frankly, it's a bit barmy haha.  Perhaps you have to have seen the film to properly appreciate it.

I want his new book In Transit so so badly, but I'm not sure I can make my budget stretch to £54.  C'est la vie, again I return to waiting for a bargain.  Unless my mum needs some more chores doing...

I did however, buy Past Perfect Future Tense and A Dot of Black In The Blue Of Your Bliss both of which I enjoy very much, and listen to alot.  You can feel a-ha still in his work, and in his earlier album, a heck of a lot of Coldplay influence.  Magne continues to work with Guy Berryman from Coldplay in their collaboration Apparatjik and you can visit their website here. 

He is also heavily involved at the moment with the winner of The Voice – Norges beste stemme Martin Halla, having written and performed on a large number of the tracks.  There's more information, and a video, on a-ha's website here

On Magnes 'Dot of Black' album there's a song called The Longest Night, which was the precursor to a-ha's Foot of The Mountain single, and I think that the two side by side show a very interesting example of how a song can change from its original birth to its big budget all-singing, all-dancing fruition.  I personally prefer Mags' version in this instance, it seems to touch my heart in a way that the a-ha version can't:
And here's the a-ha version:
Which version do you prefer?  To me, they're like chalk and cheese, but they still both have their place in my life. 

And now we move on to what Pauls been up to.  I always knew him in my youth as Pal, but I think he uses Paul more now.  Well, he too has been making music.  To be honest, I never really took much notice of him in his a-ha days, and I'm pretty sure that's the way he wanted it. 

But since the split, my interest has started to grow.  He formed a band called Savoy with his wife Lauren, and Frode Unneland, and it turns out he's a really good singer!  See what you think:
Whalebone.  This song & video has everything I love.  It's stunningly beautiful to look at.  Fantastical, haunting, and a tiny bit spooky.  Awesome.  You can really see and feel the powerhouse of creativity that kept a-ha going too.  The Savoy Songbook is well worth your money.

And in fact, it's only since seeing the guys go their separate ways, and watching their creations, that I'm starting to really understand all the layers that a-ha have.  They somehow seem to rue the fact that they're so different, and that they pull in different directions, but without that they wouldn't have become not only the band they became, but also, the men they became.  What we have is far more important than what we could have had.

And there we have it.  All the way from the beginning.  Not to the end, but to the present. 

Morten, Mags and Paul have been a constant inspiration to me, from my young shutterbug days, to the grown woman I am now, and no doubt they will continue to be even when I'm an old old woman. 

So I say thank you to them.  Thank you for those moments in my life that have been enriched by having them there.  For lifting me up when I'm down, and inspiring me when I feel lost.

And I still listen to Hunting High and Low occasionally with my eyes shut. I get just as immersed in the music as I ever did.  I don't know if that's a reflection of the music, or a reflection of me.  Maybe both.

And also thank you to you - for taking the time to listen to me go on (and on).  This post has been ALOT larger, and taken alot longer to write, than I anticipated.  I considered cutting some of it out, but hey, in the end I decided that those people that don't want to read it can close it, and those that do - that's you - shouldn't have to miss any.  So I kept writing.

Who knows, one day, one of the guys might actually read it!  Aim high, right?  Dreams do come true sometimes?  I remain an eternal optimist. 

Reunion? ;)

Until next time...




  1. Love it Wendy..such a lovely post and so many congratulations on your milestone, first of many i know it xxx

    1. Aw thankyou so much! I might retire after all that writing haha! x x x


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