The Cameo, Edinburgh
I was never a big A-ha fan, but I was a teenager in the 80s, so I couldn’t miss them – and there was never any denying that Take on Me was a banging tune with a mightily impressive video. And yes, a few plaited leather bands might have made their way onto my wrists and, okay, I might have covered my French book with a Smash Hits centrefold of Morten Harket – I mean, I had to cover it in something, right? But I didn’t know much about them, apart from their names and that they were Norwegian. I wasn’t interested.
But now, I discover, there’s more to them than met the eye.
Until now, I’ve never realised that they had real musical ambition. I’ve filed them under ‘pretty boy band’ in my mind, and paid them little heed. This fortieth anniversary documentary reveals my ignorance: there’s some serious musical ability here, obscured by the way they were marketed back in the day.
I hadn’t known they were still going – have been going all along, albeit with breaks. They seem tethered to one another, despite some pretty serious tension.
Magne Furuholmen (or ‘Mags’) emerges as the most compelling character. He’s in thrall to songwriter/guitarist Pål Waaktaar, who’s been his friend and bandmate since they were twelve. He’s resentful of him too: Pål insisted Mags should relinquish his beloved guitar in order to play keyboards, and then refused to give him a writing credit for Take on Me, despite the fact that the catchy synth riff was indisputably Mags’ creation. The rancour has clearly been festering for years, but there’s respect and nostalgia and maybe even love in the mix; they’re like brothers, I suppose, bound together by something bigger than any grievance. Still, Mags’ broken heart is more than just a metaphor.
Morten is the glamorous outsider, with a beautiful face and the voice of an angel. Pål knows exactly how to write for his voice, to showcase his skill. Harket seems more content than the others, despite his self-avowed perfectionism and constant self-criticism. He knows where to draw the line – when to remove himself from the fray; how to remain level-headed, even in the presence of two-hundred-thousand adoring fans.
Thomas Robsahm and Aslaug Holm’s film provides a fascinating insight, not just into the band themselves, but also into the industry around them: I’ve never seen a producer’s impact so clearly depicted. Nor have I ever been so aware of a PR machine shaping the way celebs are seen: at the height of their fame, there was a huge chasm between A-ha’s projected image and how they saw themselves.
In the end, I’m left feeling sad for these three seemingly lovely men, none of whom seems to be enjoying life, despite their indisputable success in a field they all profess to love. Maybe this is why they keep returning: hoping against hope that the next tour, the next album, will finally be the one to bring them that elusive happiness.