Eighties heartthrobs and Norwegian synthpop superstars they may be, but it actually took a-ha three stabs and a groundbreaking animated video to finally break the UK charts and score a Number 2 hit with Take On Me in 1985. A quarter of a century, 35 million album sales and various popularity peaks and troughs later and Morten Harket, Magne ‘Mags’ Furuholmen and Pål Waaktaar are calling it a day – and there are clearly enough fans eager to bid them farewell tonight in the sold-out yet opulent confines of the Royal Albert Hall.
Receiving a fiercely passionate welcome to the stage, the trio launch straight into arguably their finest moment into that career-starting moment, and Harket’s vocal range is as strong as ever as he belts out many a failed The X-Factor candidate’s audition song. It may seem strange to start their set with their best-loved single, but the aim of tonight’s gig is to play through the Hunting High And Low album in sequence from start to finish.
The crowd makes for a great atmosphere and greets every track with a hearty scream and rapturous applause, though special whooping is understandably reserved for hits such as the album’s title track. Harket’s strong and distinctive vocal cords wrap around every word, from deep and vaguely moody to high falsetto on Living A Boy’s Adventure Tale. Then it’s time for The Sun Always Shines On TV, another brilliant pop song in the trio’s armoury and a-ha’s only UK Number 1 single. An over-excited stage invader, perhaps responding to the seemingly forever-young Harket’s calls to “Touch me”, even joins the band for a moment to scream and blow them kisses.
The gentle ballad of And You Tell Me is stripped back and touching, in contrast to the high energy of a hyper-extended I Dream Myself Alive, which sees the accompanying Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra really come into their own. But while the Albert Hall is obviously a great venue for an orchestra, tonight belongs to misty-eyed reminiscing over some of the finest Norwegian pop.
The band return to the stage following the interval and launch into their second album, Scoundrel Days, once again sticking faithfully to the original track listing. Once more, the hits, such as I’ve Been Losing You and Cry Wolf, spark mass singalongs while the rest of the material also gains a warm, if less frenzied, reception.
Perhaps it would have made more sense for the band to provide a straight selection of a-ha hits, especially for a farewell tour. But whether it’s down to Morten and friends being tired of playing the same old same old or merely wanting to celebrate and revisit their two biggest albums, it’s hard to walk away from tonight’s performance feeling cheated. Perhaps an encore would have been nice, rather than the threesome returning to the stage just to bow once again and walk off for good, but for a band who first achieved global success a quarter of a century ago their passion, commitment and showmanship could not be faulted.
This was not quite a-ha’s last hurrah in the UK, with Wembley Arena still to come in November. On tonight’s evidence, any fans wishing to feel the goosebumps of nostalgia and hear some damn good synthpop would do well to grab a ticket while they can.