a-ha @ Barclaycard Arena, 29th March 2016

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To celebrate not only the latest offering, ‘Cast in Steel’, but also thirty years since breaking the music scene, a-ha are touring, their first since the ‘Farewell Tour’ of 2010. Tonight’s show at the NIA (will I ever get used to calling it Barclaycard Arena) is the last of their UK dates before they head of to the rest of Europe.

Arriving straight from work I had made the error of not leaving my hi-vis jacket in the car, and I only realised when I’d been stopped for the third time for directions, unknowing punters thinking I was staff on duty!

Support tonight, is Anneli Drecker, also from Norway, who last supported a-ha in the early 2000’s, and she also provides backing vocals for a-ha during their set. Anneli has the voice of an angel, and her first two songs are so gentle on the ear at one point I drifted off and was imaging myself sat in a bath having a long soak. She finished her (too) short set with “Ocean’s Organ”, which she has recorded with the backing of a Mauri tribe, and it really is a beautiful song. Vocally she reminds me of Maria McKee which is never a bad thing.

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So to the band the near sold-out venue has come to see, a-ha. They burst onto the music scene in the early eighties, but it wasn’t until 1985 that “Take on me” saw them achieve success, with the now famous accompanying video. Since that time they have continued to craft perfect songs and rather than their contemporaries focusing on image, for a-ha it has always been about the songs.

Tonight the impressive set draws on all of their career, opening with the majestic “I’ve been losing you”, to the more recent “Foot of the mountain” with some added Bond theme nostalgia in the form of “The Living Daylights”, however, for me personally two songs omitted (“Train of Thought” and “The blood that moves the body”) are a huge loss as they really are superb songs, but with such a huge back catalogue the line has to be drawn somewhere.

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“Crying in the rain” is a beautiful rendition, with vocals shared between Morton and Anneli, and the blue lighting giving the effect of rain. Vocal duties are also shared with Pal and Mags each taking a song, Pal singing “Velvet” a tender moment in tonight’s show and Mags apologising before his vocal on “Lifelines” “we all get to sing one” and asking for help from the audience, most of which help by shining the lights on their mobile phones.

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Overall this was a polished performance, and as ever between-song chat is limited, the main interaction coming from Mags, but this is nothing new and with a-ha it has always been about the music and not witty stories or anecdotes.

The most interaction we get from Morton is during “Hunting high and low” when he gets the audience to sing with him, and I have to say Birmingham sounded really good, to the point I think even the band were taken aback.

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The encores suitably contain “The sun always shines on TV” and of course “Take on me” leaving everyone on a high and happy note. It’s hard to believe they have been providing a melodic background for thirty years, the songs still sound as fresh as the day they were released and it’s fair to say the years have also been kind to the band, apart from Morton now wearing glasses, they have hardly aged. Long may they continue.

 

a-ha Setlist

I’ve been losing you

Cry wolf

Stay on these roads

The swing of things

Cast in steel

Crying in the rain

Mother nature goes to heaven

We’re looking for whales

Velvet

Lifelines

Here I stand and face the rain

Sycamore leaves

She’s humming a tune

Foot of the mountain

Hunting high and low

Scoundrel days

 

The sun always shines on TV

Under the makeup

The living daylights

 

Take on me

 

Review: Glenn Raybone

Photographs: Chris Bowley

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