A-HA, OMD & TOM BAILEY Live

The opening night of a-ha’s 31-date Electric Summer tour yielded plenty of surprises, as Barry Page discovered…

The home of Kent County Cricket Club, the Spitfire ground has been doubling up as a music venue since Elton John brought his Red Piano tour to the beautiful, historic city of Canterbury in June 2006. Twelve years later, three acts synonymous with pop music’s greatest decade – the 1980s – played to a largely enthusiastic crowd on a balmy spring day.

Since his return to the pop music fray in 2014, following a lengthy absence, 62-year old Tom Bailey has become something of a permanent fixture on the festival circuit, delighting fans and nostalgia-hungry crowds with a selection of hits culled from the back catalogue of his former band, the Thompson Twins. A warm-up concert at SUB89 in Reading in August 2014 – which this writer was lucky enough to be present at – marked the start of a journey that will culminate with the release of his first ever solo album, Science Fiction, next month. “It’s exciting,” he says, “because rediscovering the ability to play live and write pop music has been part of a personal transformation. I started off full of fear and all sorts of ‘oh no I can’t do that, and I can’t do that’. But, little by little, I’ve rediscovered that it’s okay. It’s fun and it’s really interesting.”

Boasting outstanding cuts such as ‘Ship Of Fools’, ‘If You Need Someone’ and 2016’s comeback single, ‘Come So Far’, Science Fiction is a fine album that fans of his former band will undoubtedly be pleased with. Also included on the PledgeMusic-funded new album is a track titled, somewhat prophetically, ‘Bring Back Yesterday’, a title that seems to perfectly encapsulate the nostalgic mood of the Kent crowd who, rightly or wrongly, expect to hear the hits. As Bailey told The Guide in 2016, “You’re known for your best work so it would be foolish for me to walk out to a crowd and say, ‘Here are ten songs I wrote last week’. You have to earn permission for that.”

During their mid-80s heyday, which included a memorable performance at Live Aid with Madonna on backing vocals, the Thompson Twins racked up a slew of hit singles. Sadly, the lowly 45-minute slot ensures that Bailey and his fabulous all-female band – which includes Emily Dolan Davies, a former member of The Darkness – can’t play them all. But the allocation is lengthy enough to remind the crowd that the Thompson Twins produced some truly classic pop singles in their pomp, including ‘Hold Me Now’, ‘Doctor! Doctor!’, ‘You Take Me Up’ and their first Top 10 hit, ‘Love On Your Side’, which still raises a smile with its clever interpolation of 1982’s ‘In The Name Of Love’. The arrangements are largely true to the studio recordings, but US hit ‘King For A Day’ is presented in a slightly slower, bossa nova style; replete with lyrical tweaks (“Diamond rings/ And all that bling”). The visuals feature a combination of graphics and lyrics, and the band also daringly throw in the Latin America-inspired current single, ‘What Kind Of World’, which includes some infectious Cuban vocal samples. The band endure some software problems which results in some occasionally off-key vocals, but overall it’s a very enjoyable set that is well received by the sun-baked crowd.

Equally adept on both the festival circuit and indoor venues are synth-pop pioneers Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, who had actually once supported the Thompson Twins on a lengthy US jaunt – The Tour Of Future Days – in late 1985/early 1986.

Since the band’s official reformation in 2005, OMD have enjoyed something of a career renaissance; rivalled only by that of Gary Numan’s. As the social media reaction will later attest, the band win a plethora of new admirers after an outstanding 70-minute, hits-packed set.

“Tonight, Matthew, we’re gonna be a Blues Brothers tribute band,” declares singer and bassist Andy McCluskey, before launching into their first Top 10 hit, ‘Enola Gay’. By the time of the band’s arrival on stage – which is still facing the glare of a powerful early evening sun – the throng has significantly swelled, and the well-rehearsed band feed off the energy and enthusiasm of the audience. Some early sound problems are eradicated once a fresh microphone has been installed for set perennial ‘Tesla Girls’, but a confident and jovial McCluskey is undeterred as he cajoles the crowd into pogoing along to ‘History Of Modern (Part One)’, a highly energetic live favourite that’s essentially about the end of mankind (“Everyone you love/ Everyone you hate/ All will be erased and replaced”).

Whilst it’s a sprightly McCluskey who largely provides OMD’s focal point, keyboardist Paul Humphreys is also afforded a turn in the spotlight as he arrives centre stage for a run-through of the band’s final UK hit of the 1980s, ‘(Forever) Live And Die’.

“I don’t think I’ve ever played at a cricket pitch before… with or without pads,” announces McCluskey, before launching into ‘If You Leave’, the huge US hit that formed part of the soundtrack for the classic Pretty In Pink movie. It’s become something of a divisive song amongst OMD’s fans since its release in 1986, but there’s no denying the quality of 58-year old McCluskey’s vocal and Martin Cooper’s saxophone solo on this mid-set number. Such is the band’s proficiency, one concert-goer flippantly suggests that the band are miming!

A longstanding part of OMD’s live set over the years has been what McCluskey has termed the ‘pastoral section’, frontloaded with a triple header of Top 5 hits from 1981’s classic album, Architecture And Morality, which still remains the pinnacle of their career. On the Humphreys-sung ‘Souvenir’, McCluskey takes a now-customary wander around the stage as he picks out the simple bass notes, while ‘Joan Of Arc’ and ‘Maid Of Orleans’ showcase the considerable talents of drummer Stuart Kershaw, an often overlooked figure in the history of OMD, despite having co-written some fabulous songs over the years. Since stepping into the breach following the unfortunate departure of original drummer, Malcolm Holmes, Kershaw has added a fresh dynamic and, with his powerful drumming, has become an integral part of the band’s live set-up.

‘Talking Loud And Clear’, which Duran Duran’s John Taylor once described as having a ‘nursery rhyme’ feel, gives McCluskey something of a breather after a typically frenetic workout during the climax of ‘Maid Of Orleans’. There’s a slightly clumsy end to the track and a few quizzical looks between members, but no-one seems to notice. “We must be doing something right,” announces McCluskey. “There’s no queue at the Prosecco tent!”

When the band’s original line-up disbanded at the end of the 80s, McCluskey embarked on a solo journey; utilizing the OMD moniker, but with mixed results. The excellent Universal album proved to be that particular era’s swansong, but it produced one bona fide classic single in ‘Walking On The Milky Way’, which the Canterbury crowd are treated to. In concert the band haven’t quite been able to replicate the magic of the studio recording and the lack of the Hannah Clive backing vocal sample further exposes its frailties, but it’s well received by a crowd who are clearly receptive to the song’s nostalgic tones.

Whilst the set leans heavily on the hits, the band indulge the crowd with the title track of last year’s critically-acclaimed 13th studio album, The Punishment Of Luxury. Whilst some of the lyrics are questionable (“Can I have my cheque please, Sir?”), the track boasts a memorable Kraftwerkian melody, and the “hey! hey! hey!”s provide another opportunity for the audience to interact.

There’s a return to the hits with the Caribbean-flavoured ‘Locomotion’ and a double-header of singles from 1991’s Sugar Tax album, ‘Pandora’s Box’ and ‘Sailing On The Seven Seas’, while the band’s oldest song, ‘Electricity’, rounds the set off in style.

It’s now almost 40 years since Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark formed – something the band will commemorate with some special shows in the autumn – and this rapturously received set certainly consolidated their reputation as one of the finest live acts around at the moment.

“It’s a huge privilege to be able to go out and play in front of enthusiastic audiences 30 years down the line – not a lot of artists get that opportunity” – Magne Furuholmen


It’s been almost four months since a-ha completed their MTV Unplugged tour at the O2 arena. The process of reimagining key songs from their vast back catalogue has clearly reenergised the Norwegian trio, and much of the new set list on the opening night of the Electric Summer tour expands on this approach. “You have to reinvent things,” Pål Waaktaar recently told The Yorkshire Post. “It has to feel fresh, so even the ones we always play, you try to give them a different spin or really bring it back to the way it was at the core.” Certainly, it would be so easy for the band at this stage in their career to run through perfunctory versions of their hits, but they deserve credit for continuing to challenge themselves musically. Sections of the Canterbury crowd are not so receptive to some of the new arrangements, and the band are understandably rusty after a four-month break away from the live stage, but it’s nevertheless a fine set, with some intriguing twists and turns.

By the time the band appear at 8:30, the temperature has noticeably dipped. Featuring the same line-up as the MTV Unplugged tour – sans multi-instrumentalist Lars Horntveth – the band launch into ‘Cry Wolf’. Morten Harket endures some problems with his in-ear monitors, a sight that his audiences are well used to witnessing. “It’s about trying to hear what I’m doing myself,” he once told the Norwegian journalist, Jan Omdahl. “And because I use the voice over such a large spectrum – not only high and low – but also in intonation and levels of sensitivity, it demands a lot. It’s a shitty job for the soundman to work with me.”

Whilst the set leans heavily on the band’s singles, deep cuts such as ‘The Weight Of The Wind’ get a much welcome airing, as does Magne Furuholmen’s ‘This Is Our Home’, a beautiful new song which was debuted during last summer’s shows in Giske.

Other tracks that haven’t been played for several years include ‘The Blood That Moves The Body’ and ‘Minor Earth Major Sky’, which boasts a more electronic foundation than its studio counterpart. But perhaps the biggest surprise of the set is the inclusion of ‘Train Of Thought’. Not the version of the band’s third Top 10 hit that most people are used to, but an arrangement that’s closer to the original demo recorded at John Ratcliff’s Rendezvous studio circa 1983; replete with alternative lyrics and a distinctive guitar riff that was later used on ‘Cold River’ (see 1990’s East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon).

Elsewhere, ‘Manhattan Skyline’ is presented in a more stripped-back arrangement and boasts a more ambient introduction. Towards the end of the song, as Harket gazes admiringly at Waaktaar’s guitar playing – which is excellent throughout – he misses his vocal cue; a sign perhaps of some opening show nerves.

Set mainstay, ‘Stay On These Roads’, features a lovely cello solo and some fabulous organ flourishes, while ‘I’ve Been Losing You’ includes a sneaky snatch of The Doors’ ‘Riders On The Storm’ in the song’s dramatic climax.

The crowd are a little subdued throughout, and there are some audible moans and groans about Harket’s apparent failure to interact with the crowd in the same way as OMD’s loquacious singer had done in the previous set – it’s a criticism that has followed him around for years. “I’ve never been uncomfortable being a frontman,” he told The Guardian in 2016. “I’ve always known that to be my position, but I’m not a showman. I’m not an entertainer, I’m an engager.” Furuholmen remains the band’s onstage spokesman, and he manages to rouse the crowd for a finale that includes the band’s only UK No.1 hit, ‘The Sun Always Shines On T.V.’, and James Bond theme, ‘The Living Daylights’.

Since its inception in a Manglerud nursery school basement in 1981, transatlantic hit ‘Take On Me’ has seen many changes, culminating in a beautiful ballad arrangement premiered last year. This time round, the band return to the version most people are familiar with, but with some funkier guitar elements. It’s the final number of the evening and, despite some of the criticisms – with one disgruntled fan even claiming that they have lost the plot – the band have delivered once again.


Tom Bailey set list: Love On Your Side / What Kind Of World / You Take Me Up / King For A Day / Lies / Lay Your Hands On Me / Doctor! Doctor! / Hold Me Now

OMD set list: Enola Gay / Messages / Tesla Girls / History Of Modern (Part One) / (Forever) Live And Die / If You Leave / Souvenir / Joan Of Arc / Maid Of Orleans (The Waltz Joan Of Arc) / Talking Loud And Clear / Walking On The Milky Way / The Punishment Of Luxury / Locomotion / Pandora’s Box / Sailing On The Seven Seas / Electricity

a-ha set list: Cry Wolf / The Blood That Moves The Body / Minor Earth Major Sky / Lifelines / The Weight Of The Wind / Crying In The Rain / Foot Of The Mountain / Analogue (All I Want) / Train Of Thought / Stay On These Roads / This Is Our Home / Manhattan Skyline / Hunting High And Low / I’ve Been Losing You / The Sun Always Shines On T.V. / Scoundrel Days / The Living Daylights / Take On Me


All photographs by Barry Page

Special thanks to Sara Page


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SAVOY – See The Beauty In Your Drab Hometown

Pål Waaktaar’s most adventurous album to date

Savoy were originally conceived as a vehicle for Pål Waaktaar’s songs whilst a-ha were on hiatus in the mid-to-late 1990s. Featuring Waaktaar’s wife Lauren Savoy (on guitar and vocals) and drummer Frode Unneland (an established musician on the Norwegian music scene who’d been in bands such as Pompel & The Pilts and Chocolate Overdose), the band have released six albums to date. See The Beauty In Your Drab Hometown, which takes its title from the lyrics of latest single ‘January Thaw’, is their first release in over a decade. In the somewhat tongue-in-cheek Q&A section of Drabant Music’s press release, Unneland asks Waaktaar to choose between a-ha and Savoy: “I really just look upon it as different paths to release music that I’m passionate about,” Waaktaar replies. “I feel the same about the album I made with Zoe Gnecco. “It’s funny; once you start thinking about making an album, no matter what the band is, that’s when the songs start to appear.”

With the release last year of the career-invigorating MTV Unplugged – Summer Solstice, a-ha’s stock hasn’t been as high since their mid-80s heyday. Guitarist – and main songwriter – Waaktaar was particularly busy in 2017. Aside from contributing a new song – the country-tinged ‘A Break In The Clouds’ – to Summer Solstice, the 56-year old musician also released the impressive album World Of Trouble, a collaboration with New York singer Zoe Gnecco that slipped by virtually unnoticed as attentions switched to a-ha’s acoustic project. He was also the subject of the Norwegian-language book Tårer Fra En Stein (‘Tears From A Stone’) by journalist Ørjan Nilsson that has attracted some very favourable notices. It was also announced that Waaktaar had mixed Poem, the second (unreleased) album by pre-a-ha band Bridges, while a brand new album by Savoy was also pencilled in for September release, but delayed due to the October release of Summer Solstice. With a limited window available before a-ha commence their acoustic tour, Savoy can finally release their long-awaited new opus.

The recent flurry of activity in the Waaktaar household has, in part, been precipitated by the departure of the couple’s son True August (who has recently enrolled at college), but Pål Waaktaar is certainly no stranger to hard work and song prolificacy. In fact, there was one particularly crazy 6-year period in Waaktaar’s music career, with the prolific songwriter releasing six albums between 1999 and 2005 as he alternated between a-ha and Savoy. Whilst Waaktaar would later concede that running the two bands concurrently was “madness”, some brilliant music was recording during this period; including the critically acclaimed albums Lackluster Me and Mountains Of Time, which represented his best set of songs since 1986’s Scoundrel Days. Latest album See The Beauty In Your Drab Hometown is Savoy’s first all-new collection of songs since 2004’s self-titled set, although there was something of a futile attempt to bring their music to a wider audience in 2007 with the release of the Savoy Songbook (a collection of re-recordings and new songs).

Commitments to a-ha and other projects delayed the release of new Savoy material and, bizarrely, such was the length of their hiatus, another Brooklyn-based electronic rock band named Savoy sprang up in their place. “I couldn’t believe it,” Waaktaar told Dagbladet. “We take a little break, and these guys show up!” Though the couple were clearly disappointed, wife Lauren was able to make light of the situation: “We should have arranged a ‘Battle of the Bands’ at a local bar and settled the case there!”

Since the release of Savoy Songbook, Vol. 1, drummer Frode Unneland has busied himself with the Bergen-based ‘supergroup’ Evig Din For Alltid, releasing a number of albums on Apollon Records (the same label that has reissued Savoy’s Lackluster Me and Mountains Of Time albums in recent years). Meanwhile, Lauren Savoy – who has directed several a-ha videos – has resumed her career as a filmmaker, releasing the award-winning 12-minute short Scent Of A Woman in 2013. But it hasn’t been all plain sailing, as she explained to online business strategist, Gry Sinding: “I had my heart kind of broken. With a friend of mine, Halley [Wegryn Gross], we had written a TV pilot for a television series and had applied to Sundance [Film Festival] – they have a very prestigious writer’s lab – and we were a finalist, down from, like, thousands to twenty, and from twenty they picked ten… and we got cut. This took the wind out of my sails, because it would have meant so much in America. And we had gone so far, and we were one of the last to be rejected.” But, despite this setback for the London Film School graduate, who married Pål in December 1991, she has continued to develop ideas for both film and television, including a series centred around controversial radio evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson.

A first glance at the tracklisting for See The Beauty In Your Drab Hometown revealed a brace of tracks that stemmed from the period of uncertainty following a-ha’s retirement-that-never-was in 2010. There were certainly a few false starts as Waaktaar pondered his future when a-ha bowed out ‘on a high note’. ‘Manmade Lake’ had originally been considered for both a-ha’s Foot Of The Mountan album and, later, a solo album. The solo project was abandoned as Waaktaar focused his attentions on a-ha’s comeback album Cast In Steel, but a version of ‘Manmade Lake’, under the Waaktaar moniker, did see the light of day, courtesy of a surprise free download in February 2014. “It’s been a favourite of mine for a while,” he told a-ha.com. “It was written around the overdriven guitar riff in the outro and I’ve been looking for a way to present it. The voice is run through a guitar amp which I thought strengthened the mood and related to the words, particularly in the second verse. Sort of like a ground-to-air type voice.” The original track is certainly charming, with a lo-fi production that recalled acts such as Grandaddy and R.E.M. (circa Monster). But the new Savoy version, described by Waaktaar as more “grown-up”, features drum parts performed by Joe Mardin (who had also played on Waaktaar & Zoe’s World Of Trouble), and it certainly benefits from a more natural – and less distorted – approach.

Another track recorded during this period was ‘Weathervane’, which Waaktaar had been commissioned to write for Morten Tyldum’s 2011 movie Hodejegerne (‘Headhunters’), a huge box office hit in Norway. The track featured Jimmy Gnecco – the father of Zoe Gnecco – who had previously guested on ‘The Breakers’ on Savoy’s self-titled fifth album. Featuring a synth-pop backing that almost seemed purpose-built for a-ha, the melancholic track relayed a scenario in which Waaktaar had been left at home for a week while Lauren Savoy holidayed in London (“So you’re going for a week to sort out your head/ So you left me here to keep things going”). The new Savoy version employs a slower tempo and strips away the piano that characterized the original track, while the new lead vocal by Waaktaar is imbued with distortion. “We’re using an old microphone that used to be a telephone on the song, so it sounds like it’s recorded a hundred years ago,” explained Waaktaar during a recent video interview. “Frode is doing his best sort of band harmonies on the pre-chorus, where he’s being [The Band’s] Richard Manuel and Rick Danko at the same time!”

The ephemeral ‘Bump’ was originally written by Lauren Savoy for inclusion in the film Scent Of A Woman, which was shortlisted for several awards, winning ‘Best Short’ at the Broad Humor Film Festival in 2013. Described as ‘a short film about love, sex and lactose intolerance’, it featured Ryan Eggold (a current regular in crime thriller series The Blacklist) amongst its small cast. The album’s lightest – and most throwaway – number, it features some catchy Beach Boys-esque harmonies.

Stretching back even further is the gorgeous ‘Falls Park’. On both Cast In Steel and World Of Trouble, Waaktaar unearthed some real gems from a-ha’s earliest days (notably ‘She’s Humming A Tune’ and ‘They To Me And I To Them’), and Savoy’s latest album features a song that actually predates both a-ha and Bridges, written when Waaktaar was just 16 years old. “It’s still fresh,” Waaktaar said recently. “I hear it on the album with new songs right next to it [and] it doesn’t feel any different.” With some lovely vignettes (“I watch from afar/ Lunch bag and tea in a jar/ Whistling leaves and distant cars/ Falls Park/ I watch from afar”) set against a simple bossa nova backing to accentuate its vintage, it’s certainly one of the highlights of the new album.

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Whilst the surprise inclusion of whimsical songs such as ‘Falls Park’ are a welcome addition to Savoy’s impressive back catalogue of songs, perhaps the biggest surprise on this album – given the somewhat piecemeal recording process – is just how fresh and contemporary it sounds. The strong use of modular synths mark this out as a Savoy album unlike any other, and certainly one that’s more in tune with the synth-pop stylings of a-ha. Sure, Waaktaar has experimented with synths before on previous Savoy albums (see ‘Foreign Film’ and ‘Fearlist’), whilst tracks such as ‘Laundromat’ and ‘Open Face’ (from last year’s World Of Trouble) provided portents of a more electronic direction… but not to this extent. Album opener – and first single – ‘Night Watch’ (featuring a-ha’s regular drummer Karl Oluf Wennerberg), certainly sets the tone. The lyrics, which feature a simple “just let it go” refrain, are conventional enough, and there’s a euphonious blend of U2-like guitar work and keyboards… but listeners are taken on a somewhat bonkers detour with its playful mid-section of squelchy synths.

Tracks such as ‘A Month Of Sundays’ see the band exhibiting a more goth-tronic sound (described by Lauren Savoy as “dark dance”), not dissimilar to Birmingham band Editors (see their third album In This Light And On This Evening). Elsewhere, the wonderfully titled ‘Shy Teens Suffering Silently’ combines cold synth sounds – à la Gary Numan – with mid-period Beatles pop sensibilities.

In his book The 10 Rules Of Rock And Roll, former Go-Betweens frontman Robert Forster claims in rule 2 that “the second-last song on every album is the weakest”. This doesn’t apply to Savoy’s ‘Sunlit Byways’, which is arguably the catchiest track on the album (“It puts me in a good mood when I listen to that song,” Lauren Savoy said recently). Whilst Waaktaar recently stated that “you can never get enough distortion”, the vocals do let the track down slightly, but it’s a lovely pop song that resonates with both warmth and optimism (“When we walk/ Through sunlit byways/ Grab my hand/ When things go sideways/ As they sometimes will”).

Overall this is a confident – and surprisingly seamless – collection; playful, adventurous, and boasting a production that benefits from retaining its rough edges. In fact, it’s the perfect companion piece to last year’s World Of Trouble. Hopefully we won’t have to wait another ten years for the next one…


See The Beauty In Your Drab Hometown is released by Drabant Music on 12th January.

Savoy, featuring Linn Frøkedal (from Misty Coast) on keyboards and Chris Holm on bass, will be performing at Parkteatret in Oslo on 11th January, with special guest Zoe Gnecco.

Many thanks to Matea Grøvik at Drabant Music.

Photographs by Jason Brandenberg.

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2017 – The Year In Review

2017 has been an eventful year in the world of electronic music, particularly here in the UK which saw some of the classic acts back in action. But it also saw the emergence of some talented contemporary electronic acts as well. Here’s TEC’s review of the year along with our contributor’s lists of songs and albums that they rated in 2017…


2017 started off in a strange place for The Electricity Club as it found itself in a position to discard the accumulated baggage of many years and give the site a ‘soft reboot’. With an agenda that was focussed purely on music, it was a foundation that provided a sturdy structure for the months ahead.

January saw Austra make a triumphant return with their third studio album Future Politics. Along with lead single ‘Utopia’, the album was a reflection of our times as we entered into a turbulent period in global politics. TEC’s review summed up the album as “…a more intimate and personal approach than previous outings”.

TEC favourites Lola Dutronic also made a welcome return, first with a sequel to their classic ‘Everybody Loves You When You’re Dead’ (now updated to reflect some of the losses music suffered in 2016 such as Lemmy, David Bowie and Prince). We interviewed Lola Dutronic to get some gain some insight into how the globally distant pair produce their music. The duo also managed to bookend the year with a further release when they released the wonderful ‘My Name Is Lola’.

Vitalic came back with the stunning Voyager album. Pascal Arbez’s crunchy flavour of muscular beats and hook-laden melodies was present and correct on his new outing. Tracks such as ‘Waiting For The Stars’ suggested an unabashed nod to Arbez’s favourite ’70s and ’80s songs with a Moroder-esque beat driving this squelchy and engaging electropop wonder. Meanwhile, ‘Sweet Cigarette’ offered up a homage to The Normal’s ‘Warm Leatherette’.

TEC’s Lost Album series delivered some eclectic choices from the vaults for consideration. This included U96’s Replugged, Kon Kan’s Syntonic and Gary Numan’s 1994 album Sacrifice, a release which Barry Page suggested held the keys to the future: “Whilst the album often suffers from its use of some rather unimaginative and repetitive drum loops, the album put Numan firmly back on track.”

Sweden’s Sailor And I, meanwhile, offered up brooding, glacial pop on debut album The Invention Of Loneliness. TEC also spoke to musician Alexander Sjödin, the brains behind the outfit, who summed up his methods thus: “I use music as a kind of meditation. I get into this mood where I turn everything else off and just run as far as I can every time”.

In March, Goldfrapp returned to the fold with new album Silver Eye. While it was a serviceable outing of the glam synth workings that the duo had traded on previously, it was also bereft of many surprises or challenges. A return to Felt Mountain glories seems overdue.

Throughout the year, we were won over by a whole host of emerging electronic acts that caught our attention. This included the “ruptured melodies” of Jupiter-C (a duo championed by the likes of Clint Mansell). The “multi-utility music” of Liverpool’s Lo Five drew our focus to the wonders of the Patterned Air label. Elsewhere, the electro-acoustic sounds of Autorotation provided their own charm while the crunchy qualities of Cotton Wolf also suggested an act worth keeping an eye on.

With the 8th March traditionally being International Women’s Day, we thought it was time to add a twist to it by suggesting an International Women In Electronic Music Day. While the commentary of the likes of Lauren Mayberry (Chvrches) and Claire Boucher (Grimes) had blazed the trail for a level playing field for women, it was still depressing to see tone-deaf blog articles that were essentially ‘Birds With Synths’ being offered up as support.

One of our choices for that esteemed list, Hannah Peel, managed to deliver two albums of note in 2017. The personal journey of Awake But Always Dreaming (inspired by her family’s encounter with dementia) and also the magical world of Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia – an album which our review summed up as “a testament to Hannah Peel’s seemingly endless abilities to craft new and intriguing ideas out of the ether. It’s a cosmic journey that delivers.”

Hopes were high that Basildon’s finest could deliver a solid return to form with their 14th studio album Spirit. But the album divided critics and fans alike on a release which TEC’s review summed up succinctly: “…as impressive as it is lyrically, it’s an often challenging and unsettling listen that doesn’t quite meet up to its billing as “the most energized Depeche Mode album in years.””

Despite the controversy, Depeche Mode still managed to put on their biggest ever UK show, with over 80,000 attendees at London Stadium in June this year.

Elsewhere, another of the old guard was also facing a productive year. Marc Almond released new compilation album Hits And Pieces, which spanned his extensive career from Soft Cell through to his more recent solo work. Although not as comprehensive as 2016’s Trials Of Eyeliner, TEC’s review suggested “…the new compilation offers a more concise selection of music that still manages to cover Almond’s extensive musical career in fine style”.

April saw TEC looking at the dark wave delights of Dicepeople, whose ‘Synthetic’ offered up “brooding gothic synth melodies against a burbling electronic background”. But their cover of Depeche Mode’s ‘Strangelove’ showed the outfit could also deliver muscular electropop that still retained their own unique style. Speaking to Dicepeople’s Matt Brock in an exclusive interview, TEC discovered the band’s strong cinematic touchstone. “Cronenberg’s Videodrome is another huge influence for us with its exploration of very dark themes involving control, voyeurism and the nature of reality as shown via layers of screens (a recurring theme in Dicepeople).”

Marnie released her follow-up to 2013’s Crystal World in the form of Strange Words And Weird Wars. The album demonstrated the Ladytron member’s knack for tunes, which our review summed up as “…a solid album of contemporary electropop that listeners will find intelligent, engaging and yet also fun. Strange Words And Weird Wars is a continuing demonstration on why Marnie is one of electronic music’s most precious assets”.

The emerging generation of electronic artists kept producing new acts of interest throughout 2017. Pixx (who cropped up on our radar after supporting Austra) released The Age Of Anxiety, which our review described as “an album that offers up a combination of smart pop tunes married with thoughtful lyrics”. Hannah Rodgers, the talent behind Pixx, also addressed the surge of nostalgia and retro acts with a philosophical quote: “There are a lot of people who are just trying to recreate things that have already been done, because they’re almost scared of the way modern music sounds, but we do have technology now that allows us to make quite insane-sounding music. And… we are in 2017”.

Kelly Lee Owens was another emerging artist who released her eponymous debut this year. The TEC review summed it up: “At heart an electronic album, the tracks contained within dart between ambient soundscapes and beat-driven compositions”.

AIVIS, a new act that had come to TEC’s attention via The Pansentient League’s Jer White, delivered their debut album Constellate. As with acts such as Lola Dutronic, AIVIS consists of a duo located in separate countries – in this case Aidan from Scotland and Travis based in Ohio. Their use of harmonies and warm synths led us to conclude that “Constellate is a smooth collection of subtle electropop”.

Irish outfit Tiny Magnetic Pets had a good year in which they released a new album and went on to support OMD. The 3-piece unit had made their UK and European live debut back in 2015 championed by Johnny Normal. Now in 2017 they brought new release Deluxe/Debris to bear. TEC’s review gave the album an honest appraisal: “They’ve got the chops to push the envelope, but there are times on this album where, arguably, the band appear happier playing from a safe position. When they introduce their more experimental side, or opt for a more dynamic approach, Tiny Magnetic Pets shine brightest”.

Voi Vang’s powerful voice and dancepop sensibilities made her one of the star turns of 2017. Meanwhile, Twist Helix woke us up with their “dramatic tunes and big, euphoric vocal melodies”. Our Teclist reviews also had good things to say about Elektrisk Gønner, OSHH and Russian outfit Oddity.

Elsewhere, the classic synthpop acts still had a strong showing this year. Erasure released the downbeat World Be Gone, a more reflective album that was heavily influenced by the troubling political climate (a persistent theme for many other releases this year). OMD returned with the follow-up to 2013’s English Electric with The Punishment Of Luxury. The album wore its Kraftwerk influences on its sleeve for a lot of the tracks, while the title number offered a commentary on commercial culture.

German pioneers Kraftwerk brought their 3D experience back to the UK and TEC’s Rob Rumbell offered his thoughts on their Nottingham concert: “…sensory overload… which left you awe-inspired and breathless”.

Blancmange presented a superb compilation of their first three albums titled The Blanc Tapes which we summed up as “the perfect archive for Blancmange’s often-overlooked musical legacy.” Neil Arthur also delivered new studio album Unfurnished Rooms, which prompted an honest critique from TEC’s Imogen Bebb: “whilst as an album it isn’t always easy to listen to, it makes for a welcome new chapter in Blancmange’s ongoing story”.

Howard Jones also went down the compilation route with the comprehensive Best 1983-2017 which the TEC review suggested: “this 3-CD set will have a special appeal not only to loyal Howard Jones fans, but also perhaps a new audience keen to experience the appeal of this pioneering electronic musician”.

While there were bright moments in the year, the music scene also saw tragedy in 2017 with the loss of Can’s Holger Czukay, trance DJ Robert Miles and Roland founder Ikutaro Kakehashi.

Barry Page provided some long-form features which took the focus to Norway’s a-ha, particularly the side projects that the likes of Morten Harket and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy have embarked on.

Speaking of a-ha, although the idea of an acoustic album by an electronic act seemed absurd, it was a concept that the Norwegian outfit embraced for Summer Solstice. The breath-taking arrangements for classics such as ‘Take On Me’ and ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ proved that a-ha still had the chops to surprise people.

Meanwhile, Midge Ure’s own orchestral-inspired approach for Ultravox and his solo numbers resulted in the release of Orchestrated later in the year. TEC’s Jus Forrest summed things up: “As an album, Orchestrated is diverse enough to pique interest. It’s contemporary enough to be relevant, and there’s enough classic tracks to reach out to fans”.

The soulful tones of Fifi Rong returned, this time with a bolder electronic sound on ‘The Same Road’. TEC’s review concluded that the new song “…demonstrates that Fifi Rong is capable of adding plenty more colours to her musical palette”.

Kasson Crooker, formerly of Freezepop, also provided some gems throughout 2017. There was the Gishiki album released under his Symbion Project banner – a release that we summed up as “one of the standout electronica releases of the year.” Meanwhile, he launched new outing ELYXR which was designed to be a collaborative project introducing different singers for each subsequent release. This included the warmth of ‘Engine’ as well as the punchier (and lyrically timely!) ‘Godspeed’.

2017 also delivered a diverse selection of electronic music events that showcased a multi-line-up of diverse acts. May saw Synth Club Presents, which included the ever-excellent Vile Electrodes as well as the sultry delights of The Frixion and the energetic pop of Knight$.

Culled from their 2016 album Ath.Lon, in June Greek duo Marsheaux unveiled a new video for ‘Now You Are Mine’.

Meanwhile, July delivered one of the bigger events of the year with Liverpool’s Silicon Dreams. Combining established artists with newer acts, this year’s event pulled together an all-star schedule featuring Parralox, Avec Sans, Future Perfect, Berlyn Trilogy, Caroline McLavy and Voi Vang. As TEC’s review stated: “The 2017 incarnation of Silicon Dreams serves not only as an evening of entertainment, but also as an example of the importance of grassroots electronic music events. By showcasing both up-and-coming talents alongside more established acts, it’s an event which demonstrates a legacy in action”.

August presented the Electro Punk Party which offered up some of the more alternative acts on the scene. This included Dicepeople, Microchip Junky, Hot Gothic, the dark surf guitar of Pink Diamond Revue and the anarchistic LegPuppy. In fact, LegPuppy demonstrated an impressive schedule of live performances throughout the year as well as releasing songs such as the wry observations of ‘Selfie Stick’ and dance-orientated ‘Running Through A Field Of Wheat’.

The regular Synthetic City event returned, this time at Water Rats in King’s Cross. The evening brought with it some superb performances from the likes of Hot Pink Abuse, Eden, The Lunchbox Surrender, Train To Spain and Parralox (marking their second UK live show this year). The weird and wonderful Mr Vast topped things off and the whole affair was superbly organised by Johnny Normal.

Susanne Sundfør, who released the superb Ten Love Songs album back in 2015, brought a much more challenging release in the form of Music For People In Trouble. The album weaved in acoustic touches, spoken word segments and often unsettling soundscapes. But the epic ‘Mountaineers’, featuring the distinctive voice of John Grant, had an almost physical presence with its hypnotic tones.

The mighty Sparks returned with new album Hippopotamus and delivered a superb live performance in London back in October. The same month, the 22rpm electronic music festival took place. Showcased by record label Bit Phalanx, the event featured the likes of Scanner, Derek Piotr, Digitonal, Coppe and a truly stunning performance from Valgeir Sigurðsson.

The Sound Of Arrows brought out their newest album since 2011’s Voyage. Stay Free offered a much more grounded approach to electropop than the dreamy moods of their previous release, but still managed to deliver some cinematic pop moments. Their pop-up shop to promote the album was also a nice touch!

PledgeMusic has proved to be a vital lifeline for many artists in recent years. It’s a funding option which delivered for everyone from Ultravox to OMD. Gary Numan used the platform to fund his 21st studio album Savage (Songs From A Broken World) which provoked critical praise and which Jus Forrest suggested delivered “a flawless production of intrigue; a soundtrack that brings together the atmospheric, the lonely, the eerie and, in places, the added drama of colourful crescendo”.

Empathy Test, an electronic duo from London, also chose the PledgeMusic route and achieved such success that they decided to release not just one, but two albums together. The stunning Losing Touch and Safe From Harm revealed a band that could combine mood and melancholy in an impressive collection of songs. TEC’s conclusion that compositions such as ‘Bare My Soul’ demonstrated a band capable of delivery that was both “mythical and melodious”, also showed the heights that contemporary electropop can ascend to.

As the year drew to its conclusion, there were still some gems to pop up on the radar. Canadian sleazy synth specialist TR/ST teased us with ‘Destroyer’, a nocturnal affair that (along with the year’s earlier release ‘Bicep’) paved the way for a new album due in 2018.

Scanner, who had delivered a stunning performance at the 22rpm event, also unleashed The Great Crater, an album of mood and often brooding unease. Our review’s final conclusion was that “The end result is less listening to a body of work and more being immersed into a physical experience”.

Curxes brought us the hypnotic delights of ‘In Your Neighbourhood’, which paved the way for new album Gilded Cage.

As the winter months drew to a close, we took a look at Parralox’s latest release ‘Electric Nights’, which proved to be a euphoric floor-stomper. Meanwhile, Norway served up Take All The Land, the debut solo album by Simen Lyngroth which TEC’s review summed up as a “beautifully well-crafted and intimate album”.

Perhaps one theme that 2017 demonstrated time and time again is that electronic music continues to evolve and thrive, particularly at the grassroots level where emerging acts are less focused on being a pastiche of the bands of 40 years ago. Instead, there’s a fresh and dynamic scene which has seen a genre looking to the future rather than the past.

This doesn’t scribble over the achievements of decades of previous electronic acts. That history and legacy continues to exist, but perhaps the idea that acts don’t need to be beholden to the classic acts is a concept that younger artists are more willing to entertain.


CONTRIBUTOR’S LISTS

IMOGEN BEBB

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

OMD – The Punishment of Luxury
Gary Numan – My Name Is Ruin
Sparks – What The Hell Is It This Time?
Alphaville – Heartbreak City
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Never Alone

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

OMD – The Punishment of Luxury
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Deluxe/Debris
Blancmange – Unfurnished Rooms
Superdivorce – Action Figures
Brian Eno – Reflection

Favourite Event of 2017

OMD at Liverpool Empire in October.

Most Promising New Act

Superdivorce


JUS FORREST

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

Among the Echoes – Breathe
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Control Me
John Foxx and the Maths – Orphan Waltz
Gary Numan – My Name is Ruin
Gary Numan – Bed of Thorns

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

Jori Hulkkonen – Don’t Believe in Happiness
Gary Numan – Savage (Songs from a Broken World)
Tiny Magnetic Pets – Deluxe/Debris
Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey to Cassiopeia
Richard Barbieri – Planets + Persona

Most Promising New Act

Spaceprodigi


BARRY PAGE

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

OMD – Ghost Star
Waaktaar and Zoe – Mammoth
Depeche Mode – Cover Me
Simen Lyngroth – The Waves
Alexis Georgopoulos and Jefre Cantu-Ledesma – The Marble Sky

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

Waaktaar and Zoe – World Of Trouble
Simen Lyngroth – Take All The Land
a-ha – MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice
Empathy Test – Losing Touch
Sparks – Hippopotamus

Favourite Event of 2017

Depeche Mode at London Stadium, June 2017

Most Promising New Act

Simen Lyngroth

Best reissue

China Crisis – Working With Fire and Steel


JER WHITE

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

Tiny Magnetic Pets – Semaphore
2raumwohnung – Lucky Lobster (Night Version)
Sylvan Esso – Die Young
Pixx – I Bow Down
Vitalic (ft. David Shaw and The Beat) – Waiting for the Stars

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

2raumwohnung – Nacht und Tag
The Moonlandingz – Interplanetary Class Classics
AIVIS – Constellate
Jupe Jupe – Lonely Creatures
Vitalic – Voyager

Favourite Event of 2017

Kraftwerk in 3D at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh.

Most Promising New Act

AIVIS


PAUL BROWNE

Top 5 Songs Of 2017

Susanne Sundfør – Mountaineers
Empathy Test – Bare My Soul
Austra – Utopia
TR/ST – Bicep
Curxes – In Your Neighbourhood

Top 5 Albums Of 2017

Empathy Test – Safe From Harm/Losing Touch
Hannah Peel – Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia
Austra – Future Politics
Susanne Sundfør – Music For People In Trouble
Sailor & I – The Invention Of Loneliness

Favourite Event of 2017

Synthetic City 2017

Most Promising New Act

Empathy Test


2017 – Albums Of The Year

This year saw a wealth of electronic music talent competing for the attention of the public. There was a good balance between classic acts that were still capable of crafting solid tunes – and also contemporary acts often taking electronic music in unusual and interesting directions.

Here are 15 albums that are not presented in any particular order (aside from our top choice), but as a whole were the standout long-players for The Electricity Club in 2017.


Album(s) Of The Year

EMPATHY TEST – Losing Touch/Safe From Harm

The blossoming of grassroots electronic acts in recent years has brought a lot of bright talent to the fore. London-based duo Empathy Test have attracted critical appraisal and also managed to smash their PledgeMusic goals to fund their debut albums.

The choice to release two albums rather than one was a topic that Empathy Test’s Isaac Howlett addressed in an interview with TEC earlier this year: “We… felt that the new material was too different to the old to be on the same album. We didn’t like the idea of a double album so we decided to create the album we should have put out in 2015 (Losing Touch) and the album we wanted to put out now (Safe From Harm), and release them both at once”.

If there’s one thing that emerges from Empathy Test’s material, its the chemistry between Howlett and Adam Relf that allows them to compose songs that sound so polished and captivating. Here, there’s a sense of mood and melancholy that’s as heartfelt as it is unique. Relf has also done a stunning job in not only crafting a smooth, engaging production for the albums, but the sleeve designs show that he’s got some artistic chops into the bargain.

On Losing Touch and Safe From Harm, Empathy Test have delivered not one, but two of the finest albums of the year. Standing as a testament to the heights that contemporary electropop can ascend to, Empathy Test suggests that the genre is in safe hands for the future.

TEC Review: Losing Touch/Safe From Harm


GARY NUMAN – Savage (Songs From A Broken World)

Without covering historic pastures, it’s fair to say that those who are familiar with Numan’s work in recent years will connect upon first listen. Savage is unmistakably modern-day Numan. Not only that, unsurprisingly, it has Ade Fenton DNA stamped all over it.

It’s a carefully calibrated mix; a formula that’s based on the sure-fire template previously witnessed on the highly acclaimed Splinter (Songs From A Broken Mind), delivering a flawless production of intrigue; a soundtrack that brings together the atmospheric, the lonely, the eerie and, in places, the added drama of colourful crescendo. In summary, a sub-genre that’s more than suitable.

TEC Review: Savage (Songs From A Broken World)


HANNAH PEEL – Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia

Out of all the electronic music releases in 2017, Hannah Peel’s latest opus has to rank as one of the more intriguing albums to reach the ears of music enthusiasts.

Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia is a concept album of sorts that revolves around Peel’s alter ego of ‘Mary Casio’. Drawing from her influences of electronic pioneers Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, Peel’s back story for Mary Casio is as an elderly stargazing electronic musician. Her lifelong dream is to leave her mining town home of Barnsley in South Yorkshire and journey into space.

The album presents an aural journey of delights, its unusual approach to combining synths and brass managing to present something both accessible and unique. It’s also a testament to Hannah Peel’s seemingly endless abilities to craft new and intriguing ideas out of the ether. It’s a cosmic journey that delivers.

TEC Review: Mary Casio : Journey To Cassiopeia


DEPECHE MODE – Spirit

For the majority of fans and critics choosing not to view Depeche Mode’s latest product through a Vince Clarke/Alan Wilder kaleidoscope, 14th studio album Spirit represented something of a return to form for the veteran synth-rockers. Whilst we weren’t as enthused about Spirit in our original review, there was still plenty to admire about one of the band’s most defining albums of recent years.

First single ‘Where’s The Revolution’ set out the band’s stall, exhibiting some more aggressive – and politically charged – wordplay. Despite its production flaws – ironed out during the Global Spirit shows in the summer – this was a serviceable enough slab of electro-blues. The more ambient ‘The Worst Crime’, meanwhile, spoke of “misinformation” and “misguided leaders” in a less cluttered arrangement. But perhaps the album’s definitive ‘call-to-arms’ statement was represented via the discordant and angry ‘Scum’, featuring some particularly vitriolic swipes from Gore.

Impressive album opener ‘Going Backwards’ had already provided a portent of what was to come, with main songwriter Martin Gore delivering some pretty harrowing lyrical concepts throughout. Gore himself sang the lead on ‘Eternal’, an ephemeral ballad in which the protagonist declares his eternal love in the midst of an apocalyptic horror. Elsewhere, Gahan consolidated his reputation as a more-than-capable songwriter with the Bowie-influenced ‘Cover Me’, while serviceable synth-pop arrived courtesy of ‘No More (This Is The Last Time)’ and ‘So Much Love’.

But, despite its high points, the album suffered from poor production and, disappointingly, featured tracks bordering on filler (see ‘Poison Heart’ and ‘Poorman’).

TEC Review: Spirit


AUSTRA – Future Politics

Many of the releases of 2017 seemed to reflect a troubling period in contemporary culture, particularly with politics providing a turbulent backdrop. Austra were one of those outfits and the release of their album Future Politics offered up some thoughtful insight into troubled times.

Casual Austra fans might be a bit glum that the baroque pop elements that the previous albums held so strong are less evident here. Electronic music enthusiasts will perhaps find Austra adding further colours to the particular musical palette that the Canadian outfit have carefully crafted since 2011’s Feel It Break. Certainly Future Politics offers up a more intimate and personal approach than previous outings, but as an album it still offers up rewards from patient listening.

TEC Review: Future Politics


THE SOUND OF ARROWS – Stay Free

When The Sound Of Arrows appeared to disappear following the release of their 2011 debut album Voyage, it seemed like one of the brighter hopes for electronic music may have gone forever. Stefan Storm and Oskar Gullstrand had brought an optimistic element to their widescreen pop that immediately stood them apart from their contemporaries.

Stay Free is a very different affair to Voyage with a much more grounded sound than the magicpop of old – an evolution in The Sound Of Arrows sound that was hinted at in the earlier Kids Of The Apocalypse output. As Storm suggests: “It’s less conceptual than Voyage and a little more about having two feet on the ground, maybe gazing up at the sky rather than floating up into space this time.”

There’s always been a desire for the outfit to develop and grow rather than repeat themselves and Stay Free offers a solid collection of songs that stands proud against a busy modern music scene.

TEC Review: Stay Free


SUSANNE SUNDFØR – Music For People In Trouble

While the success of her 2015 album Ten Love Songs managed to raise the profile of Norwegian musician Susanne Sundfør, new album Music For People In Trouble took Sundfør back to her singer-songwriter roots. Although the album boasts some fine electronic flourishes, there’s also more nods to jazz and traditional instrumentation.

But the album switches gear for compositions such as ‘The Sound Of War’. Here, it’s the sound of birdsong and rivers that open up a multi-part composition while Sundfør delivers some often grim words (“Leave all that you were/‘Cause you won’t need it where you’re going tonight”). There’s a more mournful quality to ‘No One Believes In Love Anymore’ as the title certainly implies with its thoughts cast on the topic of doomed romance.

‘The Golden Age’ features stunning immersive synth arpeggios and Sundfør’s mesmerising voice (“I wake from a dream/to be in another dream”). But the album’s crowning achievement is clearly the epic ‘Mountaineers’ which starts with the basso profundo voice of John Grant. Here, Grant’s sonorous delivery echoes from the depths. When Sundfør comes in, the song suggests a coming to the light from a great darkness, a sudden revelation and builds to a choral symphony that takes the breath away.

TEC Review: Music For People In Trouble


MARNIE Strange Words And Weird Wars

The release of the Crystal World album in 2013 demonstrated that Helen Marnie continued to display a talent for good electronic music, even while Ladytron were on an extended hiatus. Strange Words And Weird Wars features material penned over a 2-year period and showed a marked direction for the pop end of the scale.

The pulsing beats of ‘Alphabet Block’ was a good example – a track that Marnie herself described as “shoe-gaze electropop”. Similarly, ‘Bloom’ invites the listener to throw shapes on the dancefloor. “I’m in trouble again/in a no man’s land we’ll bloom” suggests Marnie on a track that boasts strong vocal melodies. Meanwhile, ‘G.I.R.L.S.’ with its cheerleading chants offers up one of the strongest tracks on the album. Equally, ‘Electric Youth’ invites the listener to reflect on nights of teenage abandon on a track that has a bright, airy quality to it.

The album ends on a high note with the rhythmic wonder that’s ‘Heartbreak Kid’, its bass-heavy arpeggios setting the scene for the emotional punch in the vocal delivery. But it’s the melodic flourishes and arrangement that gives this track the polished pop that’s such a central theme to the album as a whole.

TEC Review: Strange Words And Weird Wars


SAILOR & I – The Invention Of Loneliness

Swedish electronic musician Alexander Sjödin caught everyone’s attention in 2017 under the moniker Sailor & I. Debut album The Invention Of Loneliness bounced between icy pop and beats-driven electronica…

‘Chameleon’ has a subtle power to it that can take a few spins to appreciate. There’s a dark piano melody over which Sjödin’s yearning vocal offers hints of change or transformation. Meanwhile, a gradually-building slab of stark electronics gives the track a dark pop appeal. ‘Fire On the Moon’ utilises a lot of elements to arrive at the big, cinematic sound of the final composition. There’s a warmer feel on ‘Supervisions’ with its use of tribal chants and driving bassy synths.

The Invention Of Loneliness is an album that adopts a range of styles that include both the glacial pop of the likes of ‘Chameleon’, as well as more instrumental compositions such as ‘Supervisions’. There’s also a competent sense of production on this release that gives the material a vital humanity next to the icy thematic tunes.

TEC Review: The Invention Of Loneliness


VITALIC – Voyager

There’s a robust quality about the electronic tunes contained on this latest release by Vitalic, which appeared to signal a strong start for electronic music in 2017.

Voyager draws from a wealth of influences, including nods to the likes of Giorgio Moroder and Cerrone. Certainly, standout track ‘Waiting For The Stars’ is an unabashed nod to Arbez’s favourite ’70s and ’80s songs. Featuring vocals from David Shaw, there’s a Moroder-esque beat driving this squelchy and engaging electropop wonder.

But Voyager also features an appreciation for classic synthpop too. Written as a tribute to ‘Warm Leatherette’ by The Normal, ‘Sweet Cigarette’ features similarly deadpan lyrics against machine-like rhythms. There’s also a wealth of hooks and melodies all over ‘Use It Or Lose It’. Elsewhere, ‘Nozomi’ takes its inspiration from the Japanese shinkansen trains. As a result, there’s a constant sense of movement at play driven by the relentless rhythms and the oddly off-kilter synths.

Those that are fans of contemporary electropop will not be disappointed by the contents of Voyager – it’s also a demonstration that decent electronic music can cross many boundaries.

TEC Review: Voyager


PIXX – The Age Of Anxiety

The themes on The Age Of Anxiety, not surprisingly, touch on elements of anxiety – a condition that Hannah Rodgers (aka Pixx) endured from a young age. In particular, she suffered from insomnia caused by persistent nightmares. Songs such as the bassy ‘A Big Cloud To Float Upon’ refer back to her being in primary school age 9 and watching the clock slowly count down. Every ‘tick’ represented one step closer to the dreaded time when she’d have to go to sleep.

Meanwhile, ‘Waterslides’ (which is one of the album’s finest moments) was inspired by an odd nightmare of being trapped in a waterpark surrounded by faceless figures. The song itself is structured around plucked melodies steering the listener to the engaging chorus: “Don’t follow me into my dreams you don’t belong here”. But the album boasts many gems, including the seductive charms of ‘Your Delight’ – an immersive dreampop world which entices the listener to be drawn in by its mesmerising melodies.

The Age Of Anxiety is an album that offers up a combination of smart pop tunes married with thoughtful lyrics, which at the same time presents an evolution of electronic music that suggests there’s still horizons to reach for.

TEC Review: The Age Of Anxiety


A-HA – MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice

It was something of a surprise when a-ha announced plans to release a live acoustic album, having resisted such offers for a number of years. The band had of course performed many of their songs in more pared-down versions during their career, but never on this scale. Further credence was added to the project with its subsequent MTV branding and, in the spirit of the original format, several guest artists were introduced during the shows (notably Ian McCulloch and Alison Moyet). Several locations were touted, but the band settled for Giske, a remote Norwegian island.

The subsequent MTV Unplugged – Summer Solstice album was released in an array of visual and audio formats. The double CD version was a fine document of the two-day event, featuring stripped down versions of classic hits, alongside deep cuts and rarely-played songs. The band also performed two new songs (‘This Is Our Home’ and ‘Break In The Clouds’).

The band was also able to tap into its progressive rock past with a stunning version of ‘Sox Of The Fox’. Aka ‘The Vacant’, the song had originally appeared on the rare album Fakkeltog by Bridges, a Doors-inspired band that included Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen.

Arguably the biggest surprise of the show was the version of ‘Take On Me’, presented in a fresh, ballad-like arrangement. It created a huge online reaction, and the band eventually released a studio version of the track in December.

Whilst some of the arrangements are a little leaden and plodding, it’s a largely crowd-pleasing set, and a fine addition to the band’s impressive catalogue.

TEC Review: MTV Unplugged Summer Solstice


GIRL ONE AND THE GREASE GUNS – Night Of The Living Electrical Appliances

Proving that there was life beyond a series of eclectic 7″ singles (neatly compiled on the album The Strange Little Lines That Humans Draw In The Dust), Girl One And The Grease Guns returned with their first proper album earlier this year.

Stating that the material on Night Of The Living Electrical Appliances was aiming to be “pure electro-pop with more experimental, darker sounding tracks”, the outfit have delivered an album that certainly boasts pop elements on tracks such as ‘He’s A Replicant’, ‘She’s A Calculator’ and ‘Emergency (Dial 999)’. But their more experimental side is evident on the likes of ‘Telegraph Street’, ‘Mute Your Gums’ and the eerie album closer ‘(She Sits) In The Freezer’.

As ever, the enigmatic outfit’s love for ’60s girl groups, combined with a ‘garage punk’ aesthetic, delivers an album whose raw energy weaves a particular magic on the listener’s ears.

TEC Review: Night Of The Living Electrical Appliances


KELLY LEE OWENS Kelly Lee Owens

Perhaps the most striking thing about the debut album from Kelly Lee Owens is its fractured nature. At heart an electronic album, the tracks contained within dart between ambient soundscapes and beat-driven compositions. It’s not a million miles away from the the sounds crafted by the likes of Japanese musician Sapphire Slows in its mesmerising electronics.

The gauzy ambience of opening track ‘S.O’ manages to drop the listener into a warm, immersive cocoon. ‘Arthur’ (a tribute to avant-garde composer Arthur Russell) opens with a soundscape of birdsong and nature sounds. Later, it weaves in subliminal beats combined with a breathy, indistinct vocal. Meanwhile, ‘Anxi.’ (featuring Norwegian artist Jenny Hval) is an intriguing dreamlike composition featuring an amalgamation of dreampop, spoken lyrics and glitchy electronica.

Kelly Lee Owens, as an album, drew critical praise from a range of commentators this year. Owens is clearly someone with a voice and with an interest in exploration. Her debut album provides an intriguing foundation, but it’s what comes next that’s going to convince us to continue exploring with her.

Further reading: Kelly Lee Owens


LO FIVE – When It’s Time To Let Go

Wirral-based electronic musician Neil Grant (aka Lo Five) describes debut release When It’s Time To Let Go as “deep landscape electronics” and “an album of wild spaces and intimate rooms”. It’s an apt description for an album of reflective reveries that both challenges and surprises the listener.

Peppered throughout with evocative chimes that suggest some lost ice cream van song, there’s also a plethora of natural sounds weaved into the mix. Compositions such as ’Sabre Contusion’ have a raw electronic component combined with a fractured production. There’s a more reflective element to ‘Machinations of the World’ with its rainfall effects and soothing tones. While ’Leave You Alone’ offers up haunting qualities with a dub-like approach to synth tunes.

Closing track ‘The Emergence Of Something Familiar’ has a suitable downbeat finality to it with its stark piano and nocturnal atmosphere.

Lo Five presents a sound that’s quite tough to easily categorise. When It’s Time To Let Go throws up plenty of challenging compositions, yet at the same time has the comforting allure of the familiar.

Further reading: When It’s Time To Let Go


A-HA – MTV Unplugged – Summer Solstice

Acoustic love from Norway’s finest…

“Suddenly we’re a band again, suddenly we understand why we’re together, and we’re in agreement like never before.” – Morten Harket

“This current process has given us an incredible team spirit and a creative exchange that we haven’t had in many years.” – Magne Furuholmen

“I can’t remember the last time we had such a natural and easy way of working together.” – Paul Waaktaar-Savoy

It was in mid-December 2016 that a-ha officially announced that they would be releasing a new live acoustic album, with a mixture of songs old and new being selected from a series of intimate shows. Throughout their career, the band had performed many of their songs in more pared-down versions in concert (for example, ‘Stay On These Roads’), but until this point had resisted offers to perform an entire set of stripped-down songs. Singer Morten Harket, who has actually appeared on an MTV Unplugged album (performing ‘Wind Of Change with The Scorpions on Live In Athens), was enthused enough to declare: “There is palpable growing excitement about this in the group… I really look forward to it all!”

Whilst such a project had been discussed many times, the announcement was something of a surprise as the band had, ostensibly, moved on to other projects following the conclusion of the Cast In Steel tour. Paul Waaktaar-Savoy had signed a new recording deal with Drabant Music, debuting ‘Beautiful Burnout’ (the first single from World Of Trouble, his upcoming album with Zoe Gnecco) in September 2016. Plans were also in place to release another Savoy album (the long-awaited follow-up to 2007’s Songbook collection). However, the band had already come out of retirement once (following the Ending On A High Note tour in 2010) and, despite the fact that a-ha’s return was a temporary one (Cast In Steel was originally touted as two-year project), fans were well used to expecting the unexpected.

Of course, many of a-ha’s contemporaries – particularly from the 1980s – have dabbled with the acoustic format. Spandau Ballet used their Once More album as a springboard for their 2009 comeback; Erasure re-interpreted many of their well-known songs in acoustic versions on their 2006 album Union Street, while Nik Kershaw utilised the format to great effect on his 2010 album No Frills. In a concert setting, the likes of Midge Ure, China Crisis (see the Acoustically Yours album) and Howard Jones (see Live Acoustic America) have all enjoyed some success by employing a more stripped-back approach. And then there are the rock veterans Status Quo, whose recent Aquostic albums and shows have reinvigorated – and extended – the band’s career.

The subsequent MTV re-branding this year – from a historical viewpoint at least – makes sense. Whilst they never performed an MTV Unplugged set during the programme’s heyday, a-ha’s initial flurry of success in the USA was largely down to the exposure the MTV network gave their iconic video for ‘Take On Me’, eventually propelling it to the top of the Billboard charts (the band also won several awards at the MTV Video Music Awards in September 1986).

The MTV Unplugged shows that came to prominence in the early 1990s featured an array of both established and contemporary acts. Rock and pop luminaries such as Eric Clapton, Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen and Rod Stewart certainly benefitted from the wider exposure of their back catalogues, racking up some best-selling – and sometimes award-winning – albums along the way. At the height of their popularity in 1993, Nirvana recorded an acoustic set in New York that, arguably, rates as one of their finest albums.

Since 2000, the show’s popularity has tailed off and the number of performances has been somewhat more sporadic, but recent performances by Shawn Mendes – and now a-ha – have given the show a new lease of life.

Whilst the electronic technology of the 1980s characterized much of the band’s early recordings, key tracks such as ‘Hunting High And Low’ hinted at a more acoustic foundation to their songwriting. “We don’t use much technology at all when we write the songs,” confirmed Waaktaar-Savoy recently. “[So] the idea of an entirely acoustic show makes total sense. Playing all these songs now in their acoustic versions is like returning to their origins.” Indeed, the project has represented something of a return to the band’s musical roots, particularly messrs Waaktaar-Savoy and Furuholmen who, as one half of the band Bridges, had released an album (Fakkeltog) in 1980 that owed more to the music of The Doors and the progressive rock scene of the 1970s than the more fashionable punk and new wave music of the day. “We started as a band back before a-ha, writing and recording on acoustic instruments,” Furuholmen told Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø at last month’s Berlin press conference. “And then, when we moved to England and formed a-ha, we discovered a whole music scene that had moved on to Electronica, and we were a part of that first wave. And we started incorporating that, [and] that kind of defined our sound. But all along, we’ve added acoustic instruments on almost all the songs. So it’s not really something new in that regard.”

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Tapping into the band’s progressive rock past was 37-year old producer and multi-instrumentalist Lars Horntveth, who had already worked with the band on string arrangements for 2015’s Cast In Steel album. A former Spellemannprisen award-winner, Horntveth had gained a good reputation as a producer, helming albums for artists such as Susanne Sundfør (including 2010’s The Brothel). In addition to his work with the Norwegian rock band, The National Bank, Horntveth has recorded several albums with experimental jazz outfit, Jaga Jazzist; with one of them (A Livingroom Hush) receiving some favourable attentions from the BBC in 2002 (“It’s the mix of 21st century texture, intelligent jazz writing and improvisational concision that makes this one of the most enjoyable records of this (or any other) year”).

For the Summer Solstice project, Horntveth assembled a band that included bass player – and fellow Jaga Jazzist member – Even Ormestad, plus Morten Qvenild from The National Bank, musicians that were familiar to a-ha via the recording of Cast In Steel and its subsequent tour (more recently, Ormestad has played on Anneli Drecker’s highly rated new album, Revelation For Personal Use). Elsewhere, drummer Karl Oluf Wennerberg has been involved with a-ha since Foot Of The Mountain, and has also played on Morten Harket’s Out Of My Hands album. Completing the line-up was a string section comprising Madeleine Ossum, Emilie Heldahl Lidsheim and Tove Margrethe Erikstad.

In the end, the choice of producer Horntveth proved to be pivotal, as Harket explained: “Lars is a stubborn guy, he’s a strong character himself. And we really need somebody who has greater balls than brains, who is strong and one-track-minded enough to stand up for what he thinks is right. And he was commissioned by us to attack the songs freely – no directions given by us – because we needed to strip every song. We needed to reset everything, so that we could kind of rediscover the songs… Lars attacked it so that we had something to respond to… and respond we did. We hated what he did, and that was great, because we needed to react; we needed to have something to respond to.” Horntveth’s recollection of the experience mirrored that of Harket’s: “Working with the three of them has been enjoyable and fun, but very frustrating,” he told Aftenposten. “I have been utterly pissed off at times, and so have they. After all, they’re not used to a stubborn bastard like me interfering like this – but it’s been very healthy. Deep down I think they like it, even if they have hated me at times!”

Horntveth spent several months working on prospective arrangements for the show’s concerts but, due to his touring commitments with Jaga Jazzist, the number of shows was whittled down from four to two. Whilst the scheduling problem was rectified reasonably easily, choosing a venue for the brace of shows wasn’t so straightforward. “I wanted to build up a whole TV studio near London, but the band didn’t want that,” the band’s manager Harald Wiik told Aftenposten. “They wanted to go to the Amazon or the Brazilian city of Belém, but that proved to be too difficult. Then Magne figured we could do something ‘Norwegian’, inside a stave church, but that would be too small – although Morten suggested we solved the problem by simply using the mannequins from the ‘Sun Always Shines On TV’ video as our audience!” Eventually the band settled with Giske, a remote island in the Sunnmøre district of Møre og Romsdal in Western Norway. Following some preliminary sessions, the band resumed rehearsals at the island’s state-of-the-art studio, Ocean Sound Recordings (a facility that Scottish band Travis used to record their 2013 album, Where You Stand), while the nearby Øygardshallen venue would provide the setting for the actual shows on the 22nd and 23rd June.

What is initially impressive, following a first run-through of the set, is not only the high level of musicianship, but also some of the adventurous – and often sonically challenging – new arrangements.

Of the two new songs, set opener ‘This Is Our Home’ stands out the most. Penned by Furuholmen, the beautiful piano-driven piece utilizes a simple chord progression, and its “This is our home/ This is where we belong refrain perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the show. Waaktaar-Savoy’s country-tinged ‘Break In The Clouds’ is less immediate, but nevertheless impresses with its blend of harpsichord, pedal steel guitar and strings.

True to the spirit of the original MTV Unplugged shows, the band introduce a number of musical guests; a mixture of influential artists and younger, more contemporary performers. Introduced by Furuholmen as “An American with Swedish genes”, Lissie is a Rock Island-born singer who, in addition to working with the likes of Robbie Williams and Snow Patrol, has released three solo albums to date. No stranger to performing cover versions (check out her version of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Go Your Own Way’), Lissie certainly impresses on a duet of ‘I’ve Been Losing You’. Ingrid Helene Håvik, who trades vocals with Harket on an epic version of ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’, is a more local talent, based in the nearby town of Ålesund. A regular user of the recording facilities of Ocean Sound Recordings, Håvik has released one album as solo artist, but is better known as a member of the Spellemannprisen award-winning indie rock band Highasakite (their Silent Treatment album reached number one in Norway, and spent an impressive 120 weeks in the charts).

During Ian McCulloch’s introduction, Furuholmen mentions the impact that Echo and the Bunnymen had on the development of a-ha’s sound in the early 1980s (“we modernised our sound because of these guys”), citing the Heaven Up Here album as a key influence. The charismatic singer performs two songs with the band, beginning with ‘Scoundrel Days’; its sombre tones a perfect fit for McCulloch’s mournful voice. Whilst the Bunnymen’s third album Ocean Rain didn’t quite live up to its billing in press advertisements as ‘The Greatest Album Ever Made’, there’s certainly a case for ‘The Killing Moon’ being one of the greatest songs of that decade. The band duly perform the classic track, one of the highlights of the set.

Another influential band during a-ha’s formative years was Yazoo, whose combination of melodic synth-pop and soulful vocals appealed greatly to the fledgling band. Singer Alison Moyet is the final guest of the show and performs a fine version of ‘Summer Moved On’ (in a slightly lower key). The only disappointment is the glaring continuity error, as the song was clearly performed earlier in the day.

Another standout performance is ‘Sox Of The Fox’. Previously known as ‘The Vacant’, the song originally appeared on the rare Bridges album Fakkeltog, and was sung by Waaktaar-Savoy in a style that evoked both Jim Morrison and Scott Walker. Harket tells the 300-strong audience that he’d been ‘pestering’ his bandmates to do the song for over 30 years, and the new version – which faithfully mirrors the original arrangement – provides one of the set’s thrilling moments. Also stemming from the Bridges period is ‘This Alone Is Love’, with part of its lyric being recycled from two Fakkeltog songs. Ingeniously arranged with a jazz-like 11/8 time signature, the rarely-played track features some infectious harpsichord and an effective oboe solo from Horntveth.

Other highlights include the Furuholmen classic ‘Lifelines’, which is rearranged so that the spine-tingling “one chance to get back to the point where everything starts” lyric is pleasingly introduced into the song earlier than its studio counterpart; ‘Over The Treetops’, another rarely played song, includes some lovely harmony vocals and 12-string guitar playing, and then there’s ‘Living A Boy’s Adventure Tale’, which includes a stunning vocal from Harket. It is evident, however, that there are some tracks that work better than others (the versions of ‘Analogue’ and ‘Foot Of The Mountain’ feel a little leaden and plodding), but it’s largely a crowd-pleasing set.

Perhaps the biggest surprise of the set is the closing ‘Take On Me’, presented in a fresh, ballad-like style. Furuholmen, who has in the past referred to ‘Take On Me’ as the band’s ‘party song’, discusses his fondness for the new arrangement in the sleeve notes of the excellent ‘Fan Box’ edition of the album: “It went from being an uptempo synthesizer-driven pop song to a much more melancholic, yearning ballad in this slowed down arrangement. It shows with much more clarity how the song, at its core, is not some standalone upbeat track, but belongs squarely inside our catalogue alongside more thoughtful, darker songs like ‘Scoundrel Days’,etc.”

The problem of how the intimacy of the Giske shows will translate to the upcoming arena tour is something that Furuholmen addressed at last month’s Berlin conference: “It’s not really about the number of people – it’s what you make happen in that room, making that moment glow…It will be strange to go from a 300-audience to a 10,000-audience or whatever, but we are used to that format, too. The challenge for us is that we have to make sure we don’t slip into trying to change the musical content out of panic, thinking there’s 10,000 [who] are gonna get bored shitless if we continue this way. We have to stick with the plan.”

As for the possibility of another a-ha studio album, as ever it’s Waaktaar-Savoy who is the most optimistic about the possibility: “When we recorded our last few albums, we were sometimes working pretty isolated from each other. We should do this again – sitting and recording in the same room together for a couple of weeks or months and see what comes out as a result.”


MTV Unplugged – Summer Solstice is out now

www.a-ha.com
www.facebook.com/officialaha
twitter.com/aha_com

Main photo by Just Loomis.


Tears From A Stone – Exploring Paul Waaktaar-Savoy’s New Biography

‘Silence’ is golden

‘If you’ve got more to say, why wouldn’t you say it?’

Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, Berlin, 26 March 2015 (Press Conference to formally announce a-ha’s comeback and the release of a new album, Cast In Steel)

Traditionally, when ‘the quiet one’ from a-ha has had something to say, it has invariably been through his song lyrics.

While the other two members of the Norwegian band have been far more loquacious over the years, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy has done most of his talking through the pages of numerous well-thumbed notebooks.

While some musicians get worn down by playing the media game over time, for Waaktaar-Savoy there was barely a honeymoon period at all during which he was comfortable in that environment.

Take, for example, an interview on UK ‘Breakfast’ show Good Morning Britain in 1986, when interrogator Nick Owen asked ‘Are you OK’ because he ‘Hadn’t heard enough from [Paul]!’

A pattern had been set whereby singer Morten Harket and keyboardist Magne (then going by ‘Mags’) Furuholmen would spar with one another – and the interviewer(s) – while Paul shuffled uncomfortably alongside them.

Then again, when you have a back catalogue of songwriting credits like Waaktaar-Savoy does, do you need to give the public more?

Little appeared to have changed from that interview 31 years ago when a-ha visited Berlin again in September 2017 to promote the release of their MTV Unplugged Acoustic album (Summer Solstice) and subsequent extensive touring schedule.

Author and compatriot Jo Nesbo hosted the press conference and began proceedings by asking Paul: ‘How do you feel about being in the room on a scale from 1 to 10?’.

Paul, unsurprisingly, responded ‘1’, while Morten added, ‘It’s off the scale (for Paul)’.

For anyone still in any doubt, Waaktaar-Savoy doesn’t like doing interviews.

Which makes the publication of a biography – that involved writer Ørjan Nilsson undertaking several lengthy discussions with the musician – even more unlikely.

Yet here, in all its glory, comes Tårer fra en stein (Tears from a stone), published on 6 October, charting Waaktaar-Savoy’s rise to fame and exalted success not just with a-ha but Savoy and other side-projects.

The Electricity Club spoke to Nilsson about his role in what some may consider more like getting ‘blood from a stone’ in persuading Waaktaar-Savoy to open up for this long-awaited tome.


Firstly, is the book ghost-written – in the first person – or more biographical in the third-person?

Nilsson: The book is more biographical. It is based upon long interviews in four different cities (New York, Berlin, Hamburg and Oslo) over two years.

Many people have tried to persuade Paul Waaktaar-Savoy to put his thoughts into print (beyond song lyrics) but few have succeeded. Certainly, nobody has managed to get him to open up at such length – what is your secret?!

We (my publisher and I) contacted him in the fall of 2014 and told him what kind of book I wanted to write. Then we didn’t hear anything for half a year. Then, suddenly, he sent me an e-mail and asked if I could send him my first book, about Kings of Convenience’s iconic debut album (Quiet is the New Loud), and he liked it. Then we met one hot summer’s day in Oslo two years’ ago and discussed how we could try to dig deeper into his mindset around songs and songwriting.

It always helps to be passionate about the subject one writes about: how far does your interest in Paul’s music go, historically?

a-ha’s and Paul’s music played a significant role in my life since I was four years old. When the book was finished my editor wrote to me: ‘Congratulations. This is one of the most important things you’ve done in your life’. And it actually feels like that too. Paul, and a-ha as a trio, are among the few Norwegians that have reached far, far out of this country. Everybody knows the story behind their breakthrough, but I wanted to go into where the songs came from. What literature did Paul read in 1979? What films blow him away? Could his parents’ background say anything about the way he writes songs? What about the Norwegian landscape? I wanted to find out about that, for myself, and write about it so that it hopefully will be read as a cultural-historical document about a man that never spoke much but wrote songs that touched so many people in so many parts of the world.

Is this book something you have wanted to do for a long time?

I’ve had the idea somewhere inside me for 5-6 years, but it became more realistic three years ago.

Many people warn against meeting one’s heroes. Are you glad you did on this occasion?

I thought a little bit about that, of course. But five minutes into our first talk I knew that this was the right thing to do. This IS one of the most important things I have ever done – and will ever do.

Did you go into the interviews with any preconceptions about what Paul would be like? Was he as you expected or were there some surprises?

One surprise; he’s a very funny guy.

It is probably true to say that Paul was hit the hardest when a-ha split in 2010 – the other two were keen to embark on new careers whereas Paul believed there was still more to come from a-ha. Does this come across in the book?

Yes, it does. Paul says in the book that he didn’t want to quit at all back in 2010, and that he wanted more a-ha.

Is it also fair to say that Paul is the most enthusiastic with what is going on now – the ‘MTV Unplugged’ concert and the many live concerts ahead, both acoustic and ‘plugged’?

We haven’t talked about that specifically, we ended our two years of interviews just in the start of the ‘Unplugged’ project.

You have also written about Kings of Convenience, so do you see the struggles that a-ha has had internally over the years as just something that happens in every/most bands?

I don’t want to have an opinion about a-ha’s struggles. Paul talks about it in the book but he also says that Morten and Magne are two of his closest friends.

Initially the book will only be available in Norwegian. Are there plans to translate it into other languages, including English?

There is some interest in other countries, and there will be news out on that in the not too distant future, but I’m afraid not English right now. But I really hope it will happen.

As a-ha lived in and enjoyed great success in England in the ‘80s/early ‘90s (and retain a strong fan-base there to this day), why do you think the English translation is not near the top of the list?

Hmm, do you mean from my perspective or from English publishers? I guess many potential publishers haven’t heard about the book yet but hopefully they will and the book will have a long life.

Is Paul excited about the book?

Yes, that’s my impression. But probably also a little bit worried. This book goes into details about big parts of his life, and goes into the core of what he does – writing songs. I know I would have been kind of nervous (in his position).

And you have recorded a Savoy song (‘Whalebone’) especially for the release of the book with your own band (Willow) – how exciting was that to do and what does Paul think of it?

I have confidence in my writing and wasn’t too afraid about what Paul would think when I sent him the first chapters [of the book] last summer, since he liked the Kings of Convenience book. But the singing – and the Willow cover-version: I was super nervous. But then we got really nice feedback from him; he told me that he loved it and the version almost gave him a Placebo-vibe. Willow is, by the way, a band that broke up 12 years ago, but we thought this was a great opportunity to get back together and do something, because I like the concept of a book-single (a limited edition 7″ vinyl featuring ‘Whalebone’ by Willow and ‘Manhattan Skyline’ by Kings of Convenience was included for those who pre-ordered through bidra.no).


And what more from Waaktaar-Savoy?

When a celebrity has a book out it is common to tour the media circuit hammering home the point.

Will this be the case on this occasion?

Let publisher Christer Falck clear that matter up: ‘Pål will not promote the book,” Falck clarified.

‘As he said: “I have said what is to be said. From now on, I will keep silent.”’

One suspects Paul’s notebooks will continue to vocalise his thoughts for many years to come.


Tårer fra en stein is available now, published by Falck Forlag (http://www.falckforlag.no/)

http://waaktaar.com/
https://www.facebook.com/waaktaarpal
https://soundcloud.com/waaktaarpal
https://twitter.com/WaaktaarZoe

a-ha.com
https://www.facebook.com/officialaha/

Greg Lansdowne is a freelance writer, who wrote a book on a-ha in 2016 called ‘Living A Fan’s Adventure Tale – a-ha in the eyes of the beholders’.

The Electricity Club extends its thanks to Ørjan Nilsson. Photo by Ivar Kvaal.


AUTUMN NEW RELEASES

A look at some of autumn’s forthcoming electronic music releases…

2017 has already shaped up to be a good year for record releases with a combination of classic artists and contemporary bands putting out some sterling new albums. As a revised version of our earlier feature, here’s a rundown of some of the autumn releases that might be of interest for the electronic music enthusiast…


BLANCMANGE – Unfurnished Rooms

The reformation of Blancmange, and the subsequent release of 2011 album Blanc Burn, came as a surprise (particularly to those fans of traditional English desserts). The synthpop outfit had recorded one of the most highly regarded electronic music albums of the 1980s with the release of their debut album Happy Families (That album was subsequently reissued this year as part of the retrospective Blanc Tapes).

Neil Arthur has since continued to both tour and release new material under the Blancmange banner, with the last release being the 2016 album Commuter 23. Unfurnished Rooms, which was written and recorded by Neil Arthur and co-produced by Benge (Wrangler/John Foxx & The Maths), sees an album of songs written by Arthur, while Benge added percussion and layers of synths. One of the new tracks, ‘Don’t Get Me Wrong’, also features John Grant (who also contributed to Susanne Sundfør’s latest album) on piano and backing vocals.

Unfurnished Rooms is due for release on 22nd September, 2017.

More info:
http://www.blancmange.co.uk/


HANNAH PEEL – Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia Hannah Peel

‘Mary Casio’ is a side project that composer and musician Hannah Peel has been cultivating for some time. When a brass band commissioned Peel for a new musical project, she felt that her Mary Casio alter ego was the best face to put on it.

Drawing from her influences of electronic pioneers Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, Peel’s back story for Mary Casio is as an elderly stargazing electronic musician. Her lifelong dream is to leave her South Yorkshire home and journey into space. The resulting musical adventures, which combine brass and analogue synths, is surprisingly atmospheric and shows a whole new side of Peel’s talents.

Mary Casio: Journey To Cassiopeia is released 22nd September.

More info:
http://smarturl.it/syjioe
http://www.hannahpeel.com
https://www.facebook.com/pg/HannahPeelMusic


EMPATHY TEST – Losing Touch/Safe From Harm

The atmospheric synthpop produced by combo Empathy Test offers a refreshing and original change from many of their contemporaries. Latest release ‘By My Side’ showed a smooth slice of warm synthpop with a polished production that offered up a cinematic panorama of electronic goodness (as our review explained).

A series of releases, including 2016 double A-side single ‘Demons’/’Seeing Stars’ was followed this year by ‘By My Side’. A third single release, ‘Bare My Soul’, was released in April, followed by a PledgeMusic campaign to fund the release of their long-awaited debut album. But discovering they had a wealth of material, Empathy Test have now opted to release 2 albums, titled Safe From Harm and Losing Touch.

Losing Touch/Safe From Harm are scheduled for release 17th November.

More info:
https://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/empathy-test-album
Soundcloud.com/EmpathyTest
Facebook.com/EmpathyTest
EmpathyTest.com


A-HA – MTV Unplugged – Summer Solstice

Norwegian synthpop outfit a-ha can’t decide whether to retire or not (as 2015’s Cast In Steel album demonstrated). But now they’re releasing an album culled from live acoustic concerts that took place in June.

Earlier this year, Morten Harket commented, “The band is finally coming together for live acoustic recordings of a wide selection of our songs! As we speak, there is palpable growing excitement about this in the group. We had wonderful moments with the fans during our last tour, and as a fourth member of the band you certainly have had an influence on our commitment to this. I really look forward to it all!”

Filmed and recorded in Norway, the album draws from two shows and features not only two new songs in the form of ‘This Is Our Home’ and ‘A Break In The Clouds’, but also an old song taken from the pre-a-ha outfit Bridges. Guests on the album include Alison Moyet, Ian McCulloch and Lissie.

In early 2018, a-ha will take this special acoustic set on the road. Magne, Morten and Paul will be joined by a handpicked ensemble of musicians to embellish and reinvent the classics, as well as present new material in acoustic arrangements.

MTV Unplugged – Summer Solstice, which will debut as as album, DVD and broadcast, are scheduled for release on 6th October.

More info:
https://lnk.to/aha-unplugged
http://a-ha.com/news/articles/acoustic-evening/


THE SOUND OF ARROWS – Stay Free

The release of their debut album Voyage in 2012 established Swedish electronic duo The Sound Of Arrows as purveyors of smooth dreampop synth.

Their second album Stay Free has been eagerly awaited and was heralded by the unveiling of new song ‘Beautiful Life’ back in March. The song continues the electronic outfit’s talent for cinematic pop, but there’s also a more organic element with big string arrangements prominent in the mix. It suggests that Oskar Gullstrand and Stefan Storm (aka The Sound Of Arrows) haven’t lost their touch for stylish synthpop.

Stay Free is due for release on 27th October.

More info:
http://www.thesoundofarrows.com


NULL + VOID – Cryosleep


Depeche Mode and Dave Gahan collaborator, Kurt Uenala, will be releasing a full length album under his Null + Void alias soon called Cryosleep.

The album is said to be inspired by retro sci-fi, electronic innovators, and classic new wave. Lead single ‘Asphalt World’ is apparently “built on Detroit electro’s mechanical bounce and has a sinister glint in its eyes”.

The album will see guest vocals from Dave Gahan as well as guest vocals from Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, The Big Pink, and Light Asylum.
More info:
http://kurtuenala.com
https://www.facebook.com/nullandvoidmusik/

Cryosleep release date TBC


FREEZEPOP

US synthpop outfit Freezepop have embarked on the crowdfunding route to launch their 5th studio album. Raising over $88,000 via Kickstarter, the Boston-based group have also added on goodies such as bonus albums, vinyl releases, cover version requests, comic strip and even a sandwich (overseas customers will unfortunately have to make do with a picture of a sandwich…).

The new album follows on from 2007’s Future Future Future Perfect, which featured the crunchy dynamics of ‘Less Talk More Rokk’ and the wistful ‘Thought Balloon’. Details of the new release have yet to be confirmed, although on the topic of the potential songs, the band suggests they’re “deeply awesome”.

More info:
http://www.freezepop.net
http://www.kickstartfreezepop.com/

Album details and release date TBC


U96 – Reboot


German electronic act U96 are best remembered for ‘Das Boot’ (a techno styling of Klaus Doldinger’s 1981 film theme) and Eurodance hits such as ‘Love Sees No Colour’ and ‘Love Religion.’

U96 will shortly release their seventh album, Reboot, the follow-up to 2015’s The Dark Matter EP. Tracks include the excellent ‘Monkeys’, which was previewed last year, and a collaboration with former Kraftwerk percussionist Wolfgang Flür.

Release date TBC.

More info:
https://www.facebook.com/U96reboot/


DAYBEHAVIOUR – Based On A True Story

3-piece synthpop outfit Daybehaviour caught our attention with the 2003 release ‘The Sweetness of My Pain’ and TEC also reviewed their third album release Follow That Car! in 2012. Their talent for melody and classy, sophisticated dreampop was front and centre on the tracks featured on that album.

The Stockholm-based outfit have been working on their fourth album titled Based On A True Story for a while. The first song to be taken from the album was the stylish pop appeal of ‘Change’, which appeared in 2015. The group have provided updates on the album’s development recently and they appear to be getting close to a release date.

Release date TBC.

More info:
https://www.facebook.com/DayBehavior/
https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCx1KaWdnouVOq2TmLEfbaZw
http://www.daybehavior.com/


Outside of the albove, there’s also new releases mooted by TR/ST, Princess Century (aka Austra’s Maya Postepski) and Electric Youth.


LIFELINES: The Side Projects Of a-ha

“My potential as a solo performer, commercially speaking, isn’t any smaller than a-ha’s. But at the same time it should be said that a-ha could have been much bigger than we’ve actually been. On the other hand: who’s bigger, Sting or The Police? It depends who you ask.” – Morten Harket

As the instantly recognisable voice of a-ha, Morten Harket needs very little introduction. In the second part of our Lifelines series, we take an in-depth look at the solo career of the Kongsberg-born vocalist, uncovering a vast array of projects that stretch back to the late 1980s.

Over the years his versatile and adaptable voice has lent itself to several musical genres, including synth-pop, Christian pop, rock, jazz, folk and even drum ‘n’ bass; while his interest in theology, nature, environmental issues and politics has frequently seeped into his recordings, giving much of the material a spiritual – and often philosophical – slant. With his chiselled, boyish looks and distinctive vocals, Harket was certainly the most marketable member of a-ha – but the transition to a successful solo career, following the band’s hiatus in the 1990s, wasn’t without its challenges…


Headlines and deadlines (1988-1993)

During their commercial peak in the 1980s, a-ha were attracting offers to write theme songs for James Bond movies (‘The Living Daylights’), while Harket himself was in demand not only as a vocalist, but also as an actor; appearing in Kamilla og Tyven (1988) and its sequel the following year (which also featured Harket’s brother Kjetil). He also contributed ‘Kamilla og Sebastian‘ to the Ragnar Bjerkreim-composed soundtrack, a sentimental ballad that encapsulated the friendship between an orphan and a reformed thief. Harket discussed his work on these successful films with Smash Hits magazine: “The person I play is in his twenties and he’s called Christoffer. I enjoyed acting, but I have no aspirations to become an actor… I did it over ten days or so on my holiday and it was good fun. The reason I did the film is because I like the people who are doing it and I like what they’re trying to do – they are trying to fill a gap in the films that are out today for kids because there’s hardly any family orientated films… It has standards. It follows morals that one used to have in that era, because it’s set in the 1940s. I think we have a very cold society and I think the main reason for that is that family life has broken down. I was rebellious in an introverted way when I was a teenager. But I had discipline and respect for my parents and I think the problems that exist with drugs – which is the worst disease to hit our society – and violence amongst young people is because these things have been lost.”

Harket’s strong moral code stemmed from a firm interest in theology that began at school; something which has endured throughout his personal and professional life. It was often lazily reported that Harket had aspirations to be a priest, but his theological studies during his formative years did not last long. “In the end, there were too many other things I wanted to do,” he later recalled. “So I left to work in a psychiatric hospital. Working there was a very good experience. The job taught me how to cope with extremes, stay calm under pressure, and understand people better.” Harket’s primary passion was music and he briefly fronted Souldier Blue (a band that specialised in blues and soul covers) before eventually teaming up with Pål Waaktaar and Magne Furuholmen on his birthday in 1982 to form a-ha. His fame with a-ha eventually afforded him the opportunity to indulge in some of his other interests. One such project was an appearance on ‘Det Er Ennå Tid’, an uplifting track that was used to promote a 1989 Scout convention in Skaugum. The promotional single was credited to Bjørn Eidsvåg with Morten Harket and the Oslo Gospel Choir. Eidsvåg was a well known Norwegian songwriter, musician and Spellemannprisen award winner, who shared Harket’s interest in theology. Known affectionately as ‘Rockepresten’ (Rock priest), the ordained minister later conducted the ceremony at Magne Furuholmen’s wedding in August 1992.

During this busy period in the late 1980s, Harket also contributed backing vocals to ‘Merciful Waters’, an atmospheric – though unremarkable – single released by Jan Bang in 1989. The song also featured on Bang’s Frozen Feelings album (“It wasn’t a very good record,” Bang told All About Jazz in 2010). It was often claimed that Harket also sang on the album’s title track (which also closed the cult Icelandic movie Foxtrot), but this was never substantiated. Years later, Bang, an accomplished Norwegian musician and producer, worked on projects involving the likes of David Sylvian and Brian Eno, and also co-founded the annual Punkt music festival, which Magne Furuholmen performed at in 2007.

Ventures like this, in addition to his flirtations with the celluloid medium, allowed Harket to break away from the singer’s often perceived ‘poster boy’ image. Indeed, by the time of the band’s fourth album East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon, Harket had grown his hair long; while the trio were now recording Everly Brothers songs (‘Crying In The Rain’) and chasing a more organic and guitar-based sound. Waaktaar certainly hadn’t been impressed with the previous album Stay On These Roads, as he later recalled: “I remember we were at a dinner with George Harrison and Robbie Robertson. They advised us to always follow our gut feelings – all or nothing. And we sat there having just done a limp album with [Alan] Tarney, and we thought, “fuck”. I blame it a little on the Norwegian thing – you’re supposed to gratefully accept whatever they give you and try to make the best of it. You don’t have that English “fuck this” attitude. We got tougher as we got older, but then it began to be a little late.”

With a cash register still continuing to swell, following a series of hit singles and albums, the record label were understandably disappointed with a-ha’s ostensibly uncommercial change of sound on their fourth long player. Harket, meanwhile, was similarly disenchanted with the new direction; later describing the album as “the first recording that really suffered from the band’s inferiority complexes – the after-effect of having been smeared with teenage hair gel over time. We were supposed to make a big effort to sing cooler, bring out other sides. But I can’t work that way – I sing naturally the song that’s presented to me. What happens, happens. It was Paul and Magne’s trip. I felt instinctively that it was wrong, but tried to go along [with it].” Whilst the band weren’t quite the same commercial proposition they were in the 1980s, the new decade would see them consolidate their force as a live act, particularly in South American territories. The new year (1991) was particularly busy for the band; playing several dates in support of their fourth album, as well as recording a brand new track (‘Move To Memphis’) for the Headlines And Deadlines hits album. Harket also found the time to feature on Silje Nergaard’s Silje album, duetting on ‘Where You Are’ with the popular jazz vocalist.

Studio tensions within the band came to the fore once more as they recorded their fifth album Memorial Beach at Prince’s Paisley Park studio, with Furuholmen detailing some of his frustrations (that had also been echoed by Harket) in ‘Lamb To The Slaughter’. Waaktaar had contributed 85% of the album’s songs, with the material showcasing a grander, more guitar-based sound, and the clearest showing of their musical influences – both old and new – to date. The band’s love of The Doors was clearly evident on cuts such as ‘Cold As Stone’ and ‘Lamb To The Slaughter’, while elsewhere there was Prince-like funk on tracks such as ‘Lie Down In Darkness’, and more-than-faint rumblings of Joshua Tree-era U2 on ‘Dark Is The Night For All’. The increasing popularity of the CD format offered the band the opportunity to extend the length of several songs, with the stadium rock of ‘Cold As Stone’ stretching to over eight minutes (something of a throwback to the band’s roots in Bridges, the pre-a-ha band that Waaktaar had briefly considered reforming at the start of the decade). “It’s strong material,” admitted Harket years later. “But there’s an inferiority there. We’re an ostrich waiting to fly… The song material is good enough, but we’re trying to shove it in a certain direction. It quite simply isn’t honest…The producer, David Z, was really very good and did some great things. But Paul stopped those resolutely. He killed David Z’s spark. The tensions in the power balance between Paul and Magne were also at their strongest.”

The band were beginning to implode, but Harket was able to distract himself with some new projects. These included a faithful version of the much-covered Frankie Valli hit ‘Can’t Take My Eyes Off You’ for the Coneheads movie soundtrack. More crucially, Harket was about to become the first member of the band to release a solo album…


Poetenes Evangelium (1993 Album)

“Things will come from me, which will be hard to swallow for some. I am sick and tired of people wanting me to fit into ‘one’ role. I do what I think feels right.” – Morten Harket

Once the German leg of the Memorial Beach tour had ended in September 1993, Harket was able to take advantage of a break in the touring schedule and switch his attention to Poetenes Evangelium, a collection of 20th Century poetry set to music composed by Øivind Varkøy; all depicting the life and death of Jesus. Harket was certainly ready for a change of direction, as he told Treff magazine that year: “I have always had control of things, but lately I have found this to be more and more of a hindrance. Now I feel the strong need to get rid of the control. I want to get away from any predictable and well-known situation…I have been walking for too long on well-trodden paths.”

The ambitious project was masterminded by Erik Hillestad, a well known musician and producer (particularly amongst the church community), and the album was released through his Kirkelig Kulturverksted label at the end of the year. The album was based on Poetenes Evangelium: Jesu Liv I Norske Dikt, a 191-page anthology that Harket’s future collaborator Håvard Rem had released in 1991 (roughly translated as ‘The Gospel of the Poets: Jesus’ Life In Norwegian Poetry’). “I had no idea what would happen when I sat down in front of the microphone to sing these songs,” Harket recalled that year. “I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know anything about how I should sing. I didn’t even know the melodies – they were just as unknown to me as the lyrics. When I heard the piano chords, I didn’t think that they fitted together with the lyrics.”

The studio band included keyboardist Kjetil Bjerkestrand, guitarist Frode Alnæs and Per Hillestad, a drummer that Harket was already well acquainted with (both in a-ha’s live set-up and on their previous two albums). Bjerkestrand would later play a big part in the a-ha story, teaming up with both Harket and Magne Furuholmen on future projects. More recently, in 2016, Hillestad, Bjerkestrand and Øivind Varkøy collaborated on Poetisk Tale, which featured jazz singer Solveig Slettahjell’s interpretations of various Norwegian writers’ works (including Gunvor Hofmo, who was a huge influence on Pål Waaktaar during the Bridges period).

“The lyrics on Poetenes Evangelium aren’t necessarily very evangelical,” Harket explained. “The lyrics are what I would call ‘testimonies’; the authors describing what they’ve experienced themselves. Several of the poems are so ‘spaced out’ that you can’t figure them out with your head – you have to be hypnotized into it. I have sung many of those lines without knowing what I am singing about. But if you have an open and intuitive mind, they will make their way in… They are written with a kind of curiosity and openness that I can relate to.”

Whilst Harket found the recording process challenging, similar challenges were to be found for the album’s listeners; particularly a-ha fans who weren’t used to the vocalist singing in his native language. “I have never worked on anything that has been more uncertain and abstract than this,” Harket confirmed. As far removed from a-ha’s synth-pop as you could possibly expect, it’s an unconventional collection of songs that takes its listeners on a journey from Jesus’ life to death; familiar stories that are simply and eloquently interpreted, without ever being preachy. What really shines through, however, is the quality of Harket’s versatile voice; allowing the material to smoothly transcend the language barrier. Vårt Land, a popular Christian newspaper, certainly agreed: “Even if the album isn’t perfect, Harket’s voice acts as a gateway to the words, and is much more than just an intriguing celebrity gimmick.” The newspaper Haugesunds Avis offered a somewhat contrasting review, however: “Harket sings in a way too contrived and fumbling manner, on top of non-melodies so pretentiously serious that it borders on parody.” Whilst it’s certainly a challenging album (and not exactly brimming with immediate, catchy songs), it’s nevertheless a beautifully produced album that can be enjoyed both as a late night ‘chill-out’ album, or indeed as a Sunday morning soother. The use of strings, particularly on tracks such as ‘Sviket’ and the opening ‘Natten’, give some of the interpretations a haunting, ethereal quality. And while the arrangements are often sparse, there’s enough musical adventure to sustain the listener’s interest. ‘Salome’ adds contemporary beats and programming to the mix, and there are some beautiful choral flourishes on ‘Rytteren’.

Harket was keen to point out that he didn’t regard Poetenes Evangelium as a solo album: “Far from it,” he stated. “The album wasn’t planned. This whole album is a gift, not just to us, but to those who get their hands on it.” Whilst it wasn’t a big seller, the album was duly promoted via a series of radio and TV interviews; while two promotional videos (for ‘Natten’ and ‘Salome’) were filmed during a trip to Israel in October that year, and shown (as trailers) in cinemas throughout Norway. It was a trip that seemingly had a profound effect on Harket: “I met 17-year old girls and boys with guns in their hip pocket,” he recalled. “They would show their love for each other, but knew at the same time that a bomb could go off anytime. I experienced that same intensity in Rio – life was decaying and blossoming at the same time.” Having originally met in 1992, Harket reconnected with Håvard Rem during the trip, forming a bond that would eventually lead to a songwriting partnership. “He appeared at the right time and was the fire I needed,” Harket later told Norway’s largest newspaper Aftenposten. “I knew I needed someone to sharpen me, because I knew I had come to some point… and I knew I had powers in me that only Håvard could get out.”


Wild Seed (1995 Album)

“He could have been both Cliff Richard and Bob Dylan, but he’s neither and expresses himself as a kind of mixture.” – Håvard Rem

In between Harket’s promotional duties for the Poetenes Evangelium album, a-ha resumed the Memorial Beach tour in mid-December (1993). The band also found time to release a brand new single, ‘Shapes That Go Together’, for the Winter Paralympics in Lillehammer. A minor UK hit in March 1994, this represented the last of the band’s material to be released in the 20th century. Also released that month was Millimeter, a Spellemannprisen-award winning album by Norwegian rock singer Anne Grete Preus, featuring Harket performing backing vocals on the funky title cut. At the other end of the musical spectrum, Harket contributed a track to a Kjetil Bjerkestrand-produced collection of Norwegian evening prayers titled Nå Lukker Seg Mitt Øye. Set to a beautiful piano accompaniment, Harket contributed a plaintive version of ‘Me Slår Framfor Oss Krossen Din’ to the cassette release (it was eventually re-released on CD format in 2001).

By this stage Harket was now totally committed to a solo career, and had already started working with Håvard Rem on new material during a break in the Maldives at the turn of the year. “After we’d been to Jerusalem, I sent a few texts to Morten in England,” Håvard Rem told Aftenposten. “On the plane home, I wrote my first poem in English. Two weeks later, the melody to it was on my answering machine.”

Whilst a-ha did not officially split up, the first phase of their career came to a natural end, following the conclusion of their tour in June 1994. “There were no new disagreements – they were the same ones we always had,” Harket explained to musicOMH magazine in 2006. “When we stopped we were fed up with the media – I certainly was. I was fed up with the media’s take on what a-ha was… We were just fed up because the take on a-ha was that we belonged to 1985 and we had never embraced that – we just accepted it for a while. So we pulled the plug and let everything go [down] the drain.” The finality felt by Harket was seemingly unbeknownst to Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, who continued to work on new a-ha songs, before eventually conceding defeat and forming a new band (Savoy) with his wife, Lauren, and Frode Unneland. Waaktaar’s frustrations, vented in the Savoy song ‘Daylight’s Wasting’, were seemingly shrugged off by Harket: “If Paul writes lyrics about a problem he’s having or something he needs to put into words, in his own way – even if it is a stab in the back to me – that’s okay with me,” he later told Puls magazine. “I don’t have any problems with that. I’m sitting there, not sure of whether he really needed it or not, but that isn’t particularly interesting.”

Whilst Harket had co-written a handful of a-ha’s songs (notably ‘Take On Me’, ‘Stay On These Roads’, ‘Touchy’ and ‘Living A Boy’s Adventure Tale’), he was more renowned for his vocal skills than his songwriting abilities. This was a challenge that the singer was faced with during his initial collaborations with Håvard Rem. “I am actively a songwriter now,” he told VH-1’s Paul King in 1995. “I started to write at the beginning of last year, and at that point I had no experience with any of that process, so I’ve learnt quickly as I’ve gone along. And I’ve changed my methods on how to do it as I’ve gone along…I started looking for songs and very quickly I started to write instead. And then I started recording in the way that I’m used to recording with a-ha, but I kind of felt my way through it and put pieces together bit by bit.”

Aiding Harket during the recording sessions (in Norway and the UK) was producer Christopher Neil. Neil was well known to Harket, having produced both the East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon album (with Ian Stanley) and the ‘Shapes That Go Together’ single. “It was my luck that he had the time to do it, because he has been very successful and everyone wants to work with him,” Harket told Radio Signal One in July 1995. “I invited him to Norway. I wanted to let him come over to listen to some of the songs I had been working on and that I myself had written. He loved the idea. He came and the material was completely different from what he had expected. And so he was even more enthusiastic – and keen to produce the album with me. There were no obstacles. He was totally excited about the whole process. One song after another surprised him.”

The recording of Wild Seed would take several months. The musicians included Kjetil Bjerkestrand (the keyboardist who had played on Poetenes Evangelium), bassist Øyvind Madsen and Per Lindvall (the future a-ha drummer who had played on some of ABBA’s recordings in the early 1980s).

According to Harket, the record label had to be convinced about his change of direction: “At first, I recorded the album Warners wanted to have. It’s there, finished and all,” he told Aftenposten. “But I myself didn’t want to have this one. So I had to give them something else. Little by little, I gave them my own thing, songs I’d written myself… It was necessary for me that the record company threw away the old in favour of the new; that they changed their minds in my favour. Not because I argued for something they didn’t want, but because my music convinced them.”

The year 1995 would prove to be extremely busy for Harket. Aside from finishing Wild Seed, there was also time for a guest appearance on an album by Kamilla Og Tyven composer Ragnar Bjerkreim, titled Missa Caritatis; with proceeds from the February release going towards the Norwegian Missionary Society. Harket contributed vocals to ‘Hymne Til Kjærleiken’ (which also featured soprano vocalist Bodil Arnesen) and ‘Sanctus’, a largely choral piece. The following month, Harket and Håvard Rem were interviewed in the Maldives as part of a documentary about the making of Wild Seed.

The summer of 1995 was spent debuting new material, which included an interpretation of Sam Cooke’s 1964 Civil Rights Movement anthem, ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ (the song was performed during a surprise appearance at a peace celebration concert in Oslo in June). Harket also previewed some other new songs – in unplugged versions – during some radio promotion in the UK in July, including ‘I Don’t Have The Nerve To Leave You’ (which currently remains unreleased), ‘Half In Love Half In Hate’ and ‘A Kind Of Christmas Card’, which was scheduled as the album’s first single.

Other collaborators on Wild Seed included a friend of Håvard Rem’s, named Ole Sverre Olsen; described by Harket as “a really interesting character”. Olsen faxed the words to ‘Half In Love Half In Hate’ to Harket on New Year’s Eve, and the recipient was sufficiently enthused by his efforts to build a song around the fax (Olsen would later contribute lyrics to future Harket songs, both within and outside of a-ha). Elsewhere, Torstein Flakne (from the Norwegian rock band Stage Dolls) co-wrote the album’s second single ‘Spanish Steps’, and Norwegian poet Henning Kramer Dahl (who sadly died earlier this year) co-wrote ‘East Timor’.

The first public airing of Harket’s new solo venture had already arrived in June 1994, via an exclusive contribution towards MTV’s ‘Vote Europe Weekend’. “I read this poem by Joseph Brodsky, a Russian writer and poet, called ‘Bosnia Tune’ or ‘Time Will Pronounce’,” explained Harket. “It’s called ‘Bosnia Tune’ but I don’t really see it as about Bosnia, it’s more about the west… I just ended up doing this piece to it. It’s not really a call for action or anything, it’s just a comment really.” The title ‘Time Will Pronounce’ had already filtered into popular culture, via Michael Nyman’s 1993 album of the same name, while Joseph Brodsky himself was a huge literary influence, and a winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1987. Harket was clearly impressed by Brodsky’s ‘Bosnia Tune’ (published in 1992), relaying the abstract piece word-for-word via his own effective 3-chord strum. It was eventually retitled ‘Brodsky Tune’, one of the highlights of the Wild Seed album.

“Some of the songs are light, some not so light,” Harket told VH-1, when asked about the album. “But they’re all pretty direct I think – more cutting than things I’ve done before.” Aside from ‘Brodsky Tune’ there was also ‘East Timor’, which begins with the lines “Sandalwood trees are evergreen/ Cut them down/ Plant coffee beans/ Build no schools/ Construct no roads”. The track dealt with a subject that was close to Harket’s heart: East Timor’s fight for independence. Harket was able to use his high profile to highlight the plight of the Timorese people, and was involved in a Max Stahl-directed documentary titled Sometimes I Must Speak Out Strongly. Two activists, Bishop Carlos Belo and Jose Ramos-Horta, were later named joint winners of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, and Harket duly performed ‘East Timor’ at the subsequent concert.

‘Ready To Go Home’ was a near-identical cover of a 10cc song that had featured on their final 1995 album Mirror Mirror, and later re-recorded in a more electronic version on Gouldman’s 2000 solo album And Another Thing. The track was credited to Graham Gouldman and singer-songwriter Andrew Gold (who had both recorded a handful of albums as the duo Wax in the 1980s, including the excellent American English, which had been co-produced by Christopher Neil). The lyrics were inspired by the death of Gouldman’s father in 1991: “I suppose I was trying to put a positive slant on his passing,” the 10cc guitarist later revealed. “Remembering all the things we had done together and his artistic legacy to me. The last verse of the song best reflects my feelings on this.”

The first single from the album, ‘A Kind Of Christmas Card’, was released in August, and included a live version of ‘A Change Is Gonna Come’ (in Germany the single was retitled ‘Burning Out Again’, presumably to distinguish it from more traditional Christmas songs). The origins of the track can be traced back to 1994 and a chance encounter in Trondheim with a Norwegian band named Locomotives, who had been active since 1991. Harket picked up the story several years later: “Well, I was on the way home. It was late. I was at a relatively early stage when it came to preparing my first solo record. I was also in the process of searching as a songwriter. So that’s when I met them…I invited them into the studio where they played the song [‘My Woman’] that was to become ‘Movies’. At once, I thought that it was my song – I want a song like that! Then I drove right home and composed ‘A Kind Of Christmas Card’ as an answer of sorts.” The lyrics to the song stemmed from a visit to Los Angeles, and a meeting with a friend who relayed the story of a Norwegian girl who had journeyed from Norway to L.A. to become a film star. “That was her dream,” Harket explained to VH-1. “And then very quickly [she] started doing X rated movies, porn films (which has become a very big industry there), and got deeply involved with drugs. When my friend realised what was happening to her, she contacted the Norwegian consulate and got her put on a plane back to Norway – hopefully in time. This prompted Håvard to write the lyrics for ‘Christmas Card’.” VG were certainly impressed with the single: “Morten Harket may be about to make an ingenious turn in his career, because on ‘A Kind Of Christmas Card’ he appears with a brand new style. And it sounds very promising. A new haircut, a new voice and a new sound are important keywords. Harket’s voice has become noticeably lower and more raspy; like a cross between a young and potent Rod Stewart and a focused Feargal Sharkey.”

Wild Seed’s front cover, which displayed an ocean-traversing Harket carrying a typewriter, certainly symbolised his rebirth as a songwriter. And, as a document of where he was at that stage in his career, both in terms of the development of his songwriting and the musical direction in which he was heading, Wild Seed certainly does the job. In interviews, Harket name-dropped artists such as Crowded House and Sting, and you can certainly feel their influence as the album occasionally lapses into safe, MOR territory. Indeed, the newspaper Haugesunds Avis commented that: “The music lacks soul… There is something a little too safe and complacent about Wild Seed.” In the UK, the (now-defunct) Today newspaper remarked that: “he sounds like Sting on a bad day, on this gloomy and pretentious effort.” But, on the whole, Wild Seed was largely lauded by the music media, particularly in Norway. Vårt Land declared it an “impressive solo effort”, while VG praised the album for its songs and vocals: “Wild Seed is first and foremost a triumph for Morten Harket as a songwriter and vocalist. He’s using a wider vocal range than before, and that’s to his benefit.”

There are indeed some wonderful moments on the album. ‘Brodsky Tune’ is simplicity itself, with Harket delivering an almost David Sylvian-like vocal to convey Brodsky’s wordy meditations on Bosnia. Elsewhere, ‘Los Angeles’ and the chilling, funereal ‘Lay Me Down Tonight’ harked back to the melancholia of a-ha, ‘East Timor’ has a charming, whimsical – almost psychedelic – quality to it, while ‘Spanish Steps’ drifts along in a pleasing ‘Streets Of Philadelphia’ kind of way. What the album lacked were the big soaring choruses and pop hooks that Messrs Furuholmen and Waaktaar were able to provide; and there are some tracks which are best described as fillers – notably the lyrically slight ‘Tell Me What You See’ and ‘Lord’, a dull ‘Dear God’-type monologue.

As for Harket’s claim that there was another version of the album that “Warners wanted to have”, this is backed up by some of the outtakes that have appeared online, including ‘Sounds Of Rain’ and ‘A Place I Know’, which are certainly more pop-oriented. One particular track, the slightly more abstract ‘Gospel From A Heathen’, was cut from the album at the record label’s insistence. Despite Harket’s assertions that it was “a song about love”, lines such as “I’m not an atheist/ But I’ll be an atheist for you” and “Well, I’m not a fascist/ But I’ll be a fascist for you” were deemed to be too controversial.

Regarding the chart performances of Harket’s new material, there were some contrasting fortunes in the Norway and the UK. Both the single and album hit number one in Harket’s homeland, and Wild Seed went on to become the year’s biggest-selling album, eventually selling over 180,000 copies. In the UK, the single and album fared less well; reaching a disappointing number 53 and 89, respectively. In fairness, a-ha were already past their commercial peak in the UK, and several of their more recent singles (‘I Call Your Name’, ‘Early Morning’ and ‘Angel In The Snow’) had all failed to reach the Top 40 and, arguably, Harket’s profile had tapered off in recent years. Despite doing plenty of TV and radio promotion, the release of Harket’s debut solo single at the height of Britpop had been mistimed, with the attentions of the British record-buying public swaying more towards Oasis and Blur’s battle for the number one spot that month.

Whilst success in the UK would allude him, Harket was kept busy in his homeland until the end of the year. Aside from the release of the ‘Spanish Steps’ single (featuring the non-album track ‘Girl’ on the b-side), there was a new compilation album released, titled Kom Ut Og Lek! Recorded in co-operation with the LO (Norway’s largest employee association), the album featured several greats of Norwegian music, including Lars Lillo-Stenberg (of deLillos) and Magnus Grønneberg (CC Cowboys). Harket’s contribution was ‘Evig Ung’, a Norwegian-language version of Bob Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’.

The year was rounded off with a Norwegian tour that included performances of several new and unreleased songs. Whilst the new year would provide Harket with some fresh challenges, his interview with VH-1 in the summer of 1995 seemed to sum up his feelings of contentment as a solo performer: “I’ve never had it better than I have now,” he said. “These are by far the best two years I’ve had without a doubt.”


Vogts Villa (1996 Album)


The critical and commercial success of Wild Seed was acknowledged during the Spellemannprisen award ceremony in February 1996, with Harket winning awards in both the best song (‘A Kind Of Christmas Card’) and album categories, as well as ‘Best Male Artist’ and ‘Spellemann Of The Year’. In a move that was surely designed to capitalise on these successes, Warners released ‘Los Angeles’ as a single, but the lack of any new bonus tracks hardly made it an attractive purchase. ‘Spanish Steps’ was released as the UK’s second single, but a lack of promotion ensured it wouldn’t chart. Indeed, a perceptive Harket had already moved on to other projects. “I could see dangerous signals about dissolution within Warner Music internationally,” he told VG. “I understood that the album was going to be lost, so I withdrew [from more promotion]. I didn’t want to go down that route, even though I had just been to Mexico, received a great response and been upgraded to Warner’s main priority in Latin America.” There were problems in the Savoy camp, too, as a change of personnel at Warners eventually led to their switch to the EMI label.

During the Wild Seed tour, Harket had performed a number of new songs, including ‘All Of You Concerned’, ‘Heaven’s Not For Saints (Let It Go)’ and ‘Ape Angel’ (a more rock-based composition). In March, Harket performed two further new songs (‘Queen Of Stormy Weather’ and ‘End Of The Western World’) at a show at the Rockefeller Centre in Oslo; songs that had, ostensibly, been penned during a working trip to South America (the filming of an arts programme called Safari for Norwegian TV). All the signs were pointing towards a quick-fire follow-up to Wild Seed, and this appeared to be backed up by the release in May of a brand new single on the Arista label, the Steve Lovell-produced ‘Heaven’s Not For Saints (Let It Go)’. In a smart marketing move, the track (co-written by Håvard Rem and Ole Sverre Olsen) was performed at the Eurovision Song Contest in Oslo, which was also presented by Harket (along with journalist Ingvild Bryn). Boasting his most epic production to date, and a suitably soaring chorus (“The night is calling you/ Close to the edge/ Who knows the distance/ The distance when light fades away”), the single was another top ten hit in Norway, but failed to chart in the UK.

The summer was spent performing several indoor and outdoor shows in Norway, as well as working on new material with Ole Sverre Olsen. One particular concert during the Skagerrak Kulturfestival in August featured an unusual ‘pop and poetry’ set from Harket that included English-language songs, interspersed with poetry readings from both Håvard Rem and Ole Sverre Olsen. August also saw the release of Songs From The Pocket, the debut album by Jørun Bøgeberg, a bassist who had previously played on the Millimeter album by Anne Grete Preus (which had featured Harket on the title track). Prior to that he had played on both East Of The Sun, West Of The Moon and Memorial Beach, and would feature on future releases by both a-ha and Savoy. The album, which was housed in a Magne Furuholmen-designed sleeve, also featured Per Hillestad on drums. Harket’s vocals can be heard on the mournful and elegiac ‘Never Hear That Laugh’ (“I’m sure all the angels were singing in the sky/ Wishing you welcome as we said goodbye”).

Whilst Harket had stockpiled a number of new songs, there was a change of direction for his next release. By September, Harket was committed to recording a new Norwegian-language album for the Norsk Plateproduksjon label, featuring lyrics by both Håvard Rem and Ole Sverre Olsen. Provisionally titled Gammel Gris (‘Old Pig’), the album was recording during a productive 12-day period on the remote Norwegian island of Dvergsøya. Vogts Villa, an old country house – and future holiday home for the Crown Prince of Norway – had been converted into a recording studio, and Harket had assembled a new band that included multi-instrumentalist Geir Sundstøl (who would later play on sessions by both a-ha and Savoy), plus Thomas Tofte and Kåre Vestrheim from the band Locomotives, whom Harket had met in 1994. Lyrically, the material drew heavily from the poetry of Håvard Rem (who published Taksameteret Går, an anthology of his work, in 1996). For ‘Fremmed Her’ and ‘Jeg Kjenner Ingen Fremtid’, Harket recycled the previously unreleased songs, ‘Gospel From A Heathen’ and ‘All Of You Concerned’ (though the latter would eventually make it on to the b-side of 2008’s ‘Darkspace (You’re With Me)’ single). Elsewhere, ‘Vuggevise’ was a new Norwegian-language – and country-tinged – version of ‘Lay Me Down Tonight’ (from Wild Seed).

Harket previewed some of the new songs during a concert at Bredtveit Prison in October. To the outsider this would have seemed like an unusual move but, in addition to the likes of Simon & Garfunkel and Queen, Harket had grown up listening to Johnny Cash, who had famously played at San Quentin and Folsom Prison, so the chance to play a handful songs at a women’s prison would no doubt have appealed greatly to the 37-year old singer.

‘Tilbake Til Livet’ and ‘Herre I Drømmen’ were released as promotional singles, with the album Vogts Villa hitting the shops at the end of November.

Without a big hit single to bolster its sales, the album peaked at a disappointing number 21. Reviews were certainly mixed. Vårt Land declared the album: “A good follow-up from one of our very best artists. It’s clear that Morten and his buddies have enjoyed their cabin trip. Vogts Villa displays a musical playfulness and relaxed atmosphere that our former superstar probably needed to travel a far distance outside the regular studio walls to find.” Haugesunds Avis, meanwhile, were equally enthused: “Wild Seed was the most overrated Norwegian album last year. I much prefer Vogts Villa – it’s more introverted, melancholic, stripped-down and honest. Choosing to work with young and energetic musicians – led by the brilliant Geir Sundstøl – has been a smart move.” However, one of Norway’s tabloids, Dagbladet, criticised the album for its lack of ambition. In 1997 the same newspaper sensationally declared Harket “a fallen star with an audience reduced to a tenth”. The paper had, somewhat unfairly, compared the 180,000-selling Wild Seed to Vogts Villa’s somewhat more modest sales of 18,000, even going to the lengths of asking the record label’s Per Østmark to comment on the album’s poor performance. “There was never the intention that this would be a great deal like Wild Seed,” Østmark told the popular newspaper. “But we hoped it would sell a little more, of course.” Østmark also admitted that they would have considered advertising the album on TV during the lucrative festive period if initial sales had been better.

Whilst in some quarters, the Vogts Villa album was viewed as a suicidal career move in light of the success of Wild Seed, it would be foolhardy to dismiss the project as merely a vanity project from a musician who was harbouring major label disenchantment. Instead, it’s easier to view the album more as a stop-gap release, with Harket still honing his songwriting skills. And, besides, there’s plenty to enjoy on Vogts Villa, with Harket’s latest studio band utilising a number of instruments (mandolin, harmonica, mellotron, pedal steel guitar, etc) to great effect. Like the similarly-styled Poetenes Evangelium, its appeal wasn’t immediately apparent, but there are a number of standout tracks. ‘Tilbake Til Livet’ and ‘Herre I Drømmen’ boast decent hooks, ‘Jeg Kjenner Ingen Fremtid’ features a typically haunting vocal that recalled Chris Isaak in his pomp, while ‘Gammal Og Vis’ saw Harket employing a more playful, folky style.

By the end of February 1997, Harket had concluded his Norwegian tour in support of the album and his focus would soon switch to the writing of a new album for the international market. But the reformation of a-ha in 1998 would mean the English-language follow-up to Wild Seed wouldn’t be released for at least ten years…


Sidelines and Lifelines (1997-2006)

“He can go from having the world’s worst taste to having the world’s best taste. He’s open to everything; to a degree that, in the end, works against him, because he ends up not having any point of view. I think this has been destructive for his solo career. When you do everything from house music to romantic ballads, people think: where are you coming from? What are you thinking?” – Paul Waaktaar-Savoy

In between working trips to China and Jamaica with his regular writing partner Håvard Rem, Harket also found the time to perform some (largely low-key) shows throughout the year, and also appeared on a compilation album titled Kvirre Virre Vitt! that was released in May. Featuring childhood favourites by both new and established Norwegian artists, the album included Harket’s contemporary version of the popular children’s folk song ‘Kråkevisa’ (aka ‘The Crow Song’), while other notable artists included future a-ha collaborator Anneli Drecker. Also released in 1997 was First Breath, the debut album by Harket’s then-wife Camilla (with whom he had three children), but the couple would announce their divorce the following year, after nine years of marriage.

Aside from the change in his personal life, there was to be a significant change in Harket’s professional career, too, with the announcement that a-ha were to reform for the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in December 1998. The reformed band, backed by studio stalwarts Per Lindvall and Kjetil Bjerkestrand, performed ‘The Sun Always Shines On TV’ and a brand new song, ‘Summer Moved On’. “We were in reality way too busy with our own projects,” Harket told VG in 2007. “There was nothing to indicate that we would reform. We were tricked back together in a peculiar way. The response from the audience was totally unexpected – it had such a warmth, a feeling of them reaching out to us, like an attempt to make contact.”

Whilst the plans for a new solo album had to be put on the back-burner, Harket kept busy during this period. The summer of 1998 saw the release of the soundtrack to the musical of Sophie’s World, which received its world premiere in Germany in June 1998. Harket contributed ‘A Jester In Our Town’ (in the role of Socrates). Further displaying his versatility, the quirky theatrical track was later released as a promotional single. The 1991 Jostein Gaarder book on which it was based also received a movie adaptation in 1999.

Within the same soundtrack medium, Harket also contributed the mid-paced ‘Jungle Of Beliefs’ to the Swedish TV series Cultures Span The World. The project saw Harket reunited with Ragnar Bjerkreim, who had masterminded the Missa Caritatis project. Aside from its appearance on the accompanying soundtrack album, the track (which featured lyrics by both Harket and Ole Sverre Olsen), was also released as a single in 1999, and was a minor hit (the CD included a bonus instrumental version of the song, titled ‘Boys On Timber’).

There was one rather unusual collaboration, with Harket undergoing a rare foray into the world of dance music. Harket worked on three tracks with Swedish drum’n’bass duo Boolaboss, with ‘The Secret’ scheduled for release as a single in 1999. The single was abandoned as a-ha became Harket’s primary focus; the trio eventually cementing their reunion with the recording of their sixth studio album Minor Earth Major Sky. However, before the new project could be green-lighted, Harket insisted on an equal share of the band’s income as they entered the second phase of their career. “You cannot ignore the money side of things when you’re living in a universe with this kind of earnings potential,” he explained to Jan Omdahl. “I’m unquestionably the one who has earned the least, because of the way things have been set up. I had very clear criteria for going along a second time around, and to be honest, I had very little faith that my conditions for that would be met. But they were, in fact. Now we are – for the first time – starting to approach a division of income in which the contribution of each of us is considered equally valuable. We’re coming together like the three stubborn billy goats that we are, and whatever comes out of it, we all get a piece.”

In terms of songwriting, a new era was marked with each of the three members of a-ha all contributing material. For the first time since the band’s inception, Harket – who’d grown increasingly confident as a songwriter – was making a more creative contribution (parallels could certainly later be made with Depeche Mode, whose singer Dave Gahan had started to contribute material with his own songwriting team from Playing The Angel onwards). For Minor Earth Major Sky, Harket drew from his well of songs with regular writing partners Håvard Rem and Ole Sverre Olsen, contributing ‘To Let You Win’ and ‘Thought That It Was You’. ‘To Let You Win’ had previously been performed as a solo song, and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy later declared it as one of his favourite Harket-penned songs.

Minor Earth Major Sky was a hit with both critics and fans, and its success was consolidated with a number of live dates throughout 2000 and 2001. But the new found democracy within the band was stretched to the limit as its three members battled to get their material on to their 2002 album Lifelines, a body of work that eventually sprawled to 15 tracks. “Magne went too far pushing for songs,” complained Harket. “It became his private project. He was going to have his own way and, in the end, didn’t give a fuck about me… We wound up with an album with too many of both Paul’s and Magne’s songs – the songs that should have been trimmed away were by those two.” Harket’s own co-writes produced mixed results, as he admitted: “‘Forever Not Yours’ is one of those songs that sums us up – melancholic, and at the same time uplifting, soaring…’Turn The Lights Down’ ended up as a soppy ballad. It could have been a killer – Magne wrote a very important part, but it ended up being something it absolutely shouldn’t have been. To my mind that song was totally mismanaged, and Paul thinks so too… The same thing with ‘Oranges On Appletrees’ – it should have been produced under the influence of magic mushrooms!”

There were similar tensions evident during the recording of 2005’s Analogue album, but the songs benefitted from a more focused approach, as the band dispensed with the large number of producers that had blighted the previous album. Harket’s contributions included ‘Holy Ground’, a composition that dated back to the late 1990s.

Whilst the wheels of the a-ha machine were in full motion during the first half of the decade, Harket still found the time to collaborate with a number of other artists. In December 2000, EMI released a Salvation Army charity album in Norway titled Perleporten. Produced by jobbing guitarist Jørn Christensen, Harket and Spellemannprisen award winner Anne Marie Almedal (from the Norwegian band Velvet Belly) duetted on ‘Han Er Min Sang Og Min Glede’, a gorgeous stripped down version of a country standard (previously covered by artists such as Elvis Presley and ABBA’s Anni-Frid Lyngstad). In November 2001 the Norwegian boys choir Sølvguttene released Synger Julen Inn, which included Harket’s version of ‘Mitt Hjerte Alltid Vanker’, an old Scandinavian Christmas song that dated back to the 18th century (Harket had previously performed the song in December 1987).

At the other end of the musical spectrum, Pakastani Sufi rock outfit Junoon released the compilation album Daur-e-Junoon, in March 2002. This included a studio version of ‘Piya (Ocean Of Love)‘, which Harket had guested on during an Oslo show in September 2001. Harket also performed on a similarly Eastern-flavoured track by Earth Affair in 2004. Co-written with Håvard Rem, ‘Gildas Prayer’ appeared on both a promotional single and an album titled Chapter One. Described as a ‘a groove mixture of jazz, hip-hop and ambient influences from around the globe’, the album was masterminded by Gulli Briem, a founding member of the Icelandic jazz funk fusion band Mezzoforte.


Letter From Egypt (2008 Album)

“It feels like I have been in a monastery for twelve years. Now it’s time to step out into the light again and continue what I started on back then.” – Morten Harket

Although the recording and subsequent promotion of Analogue would keep a-ha busy throughout 2005 and 2006, Harket still managed to find the time to complete the long-awaited English language follow-up to Wild Seed. Co-produced by long-standing musical associate Kjetil Bjerkestrand, the album included other musicians well known to Harket; including Frode Alnæs and Per Lindvall. The new opus mainly comprised songs Harket had co-written with Ole Sverre Olsen, though lead-off single ‘Movies’ (released in November 2007) was a cover version of ‘My Woman’ by the Norwegian band Locomotives (who had disbanded in 2001). Harket had been a long-time admirer of the song, following a serendipitous meeting with the band in 1994. The original track, which appeared on Locomotives’ 1999 album Albert, was almost demo-like, with its minimal use of vocal and guitar and metronomic percussion, but its infectious chorus (which was given a slightly quirky lyrical tweak) seemed purpose-built for Harket, and its selection for single release was certainly justified. The song, along with the title track of his new album Letter From Egypt, was performed at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in December 2007.

In an interesting marketing move, Harket, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen all released their new albums for the UK market in May 2008 (Savoy’s Songbook Volume One had already been released in Norway in August 2007). Somewhat spoilt a-ha fans were also afforded the opportunity to purchase something of a dream concert ticket in both Oslo and London, whereby the three members of the band performed individual sets, before converging as a-ha for songs old and new.

Harket’s new album, had been preceded by the single ‘Darkspace’ (sub-titled ‘You’re With Me’ in some territories) in April, and featured another strong chorus and a memorable riff. Both singles were top ten hits in Norway and typified the sound of the album; its twelve songs largely falling within the mid-tempo range, and largely cut from the same musical cloth as Wild Seed. Indeed, VG criticised the album for its ‘mid-paced monotony’, before concluding: “Morten Harket can sing the phone directory and make it seem both melodic and lyrically exciting. There is a security in it, and that is the keyword with this record – safe.”

Another promotional single, released in June, saw a more familiar name on the publishing credits. ‘We’ll Never Speak Again’ (featuring Anneli Drecker on backing vocals) had previously appeared on the Hotel Oslo soundtrack album in 1997, and had been composed by Magne Furuholmen and Kjetil Bjerkestrand. Harket’s superior version of the song, featuring Furuholmen on backing vocals, was one of the album’s standout cuts.

Other highlights included ‘Send Me An Angel’, a more electronic piece that was perhaps better suited to a-ha, while the more abstract ‘There Are Many Ways To Die’ included some lovely imagery in its ghostly verses (“I hear the sound of water/ Boats are drifting by/ I’ve been waiting here for centuries”). Elsewhere, the album’s title track was beautifully enriched by the choral voices of Sølvguttene, whom Harket had previously collaborated with. Interestingly, the popular boys’ choir also lent their voices to ‘Shooting Spree’, one of the highlights of Savoy’s self-titled 2004 album.

The one track that didn’t really fit was the throwaway piece ‘Shooting Star’, and this was actually replaced with ‘Slanted Floor’ on the German version of the album. As an album, it didn’t quite hit the heights of Wild Seed, but it certainly merited a better reception than it did in the UK where it didn’t chart (it was a number one hit in Norway).

One particular track became the theme song for A Name Is A Name, Sigurjón Einersson’s movie about Macedonia (described as “a film about a nation held hostage because of its name”). The Icelandic filmmaker was a long time friend of Harket’s, and the pair had previously worked together on a documentary about East Timor (Sometimes I Must Speak Out Strongly). The 2009 film also included ‘Jewels Up High’ by Gulli Briem, another of Harket’s previous collaborators (the track later appeared on the Earth Affair album Liberté in September 2014).


Ending on a high note (2008-2011)

By the end of 2008, a-ha were back in the studio working on their ninth studio album (the band had already previewed ‘Shadowside’ and ‘Riding The Crest’ at the special solo shows in May). In addition to his promotional duties for Letter From Egypt, Harket continued to flirt with world music, lending his vocal talents to the Songs Across Walls Of Separation album (featuring artists from around the globe). Curated by Erik Hillestad, who had produce Poetenes Evangelium in 1993, the album included ‘Garden Of Love’, Harket’s collaboration with two Asian singers, Rukhsana Murtaza and Abdul Rashid Farash (who sadly passed away in 2009). In a month that also saw Harket celebrate the birth of his daughter Karmen Poppy, the September release tied in with a peace concert at Vågen harbour in Stavanger, with Harket performing a 12-song set on a bill that included actors, singers, children’s choirs and amateur theatre groups; ostensibly with the aim of raising awareness about child refugees, and highlighting the need to break down the walls separating the rich from the poor.

The next few years would represent an extremely busy period for Harket; not only recording and promoting a-ha’s Foot Of The Mountain album, but also bringing the curtain down on a 25-year recording career, following the announcement that a-ha would disband at the end of 2010. Whilst it wouldn’t actually prove to be the band’s ‘last hurrah’, Norway’s most famous export certainly bowed out in style: Their final album, released in 2009, was arguably a-ha’s best album since Scoundrel Days, and saw the band return to their electronic roots; with Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen reinstalled as the band’s primary songwriters. Waaktaar penned a suitable swansong in ‘Butterfly, Butterfly (The Last Hurrah)’ and Steve Barron, who’d directed the iconic ‘Take On Me’ video was brought in to direct their final video, bringing the story full circle. There was also a series of reissues, including deluxe editions of Hunting High And Low and Scoundrel Days, and a suitably comprehensive compilation, titled 25. Forlaget Press also published a a new, expanded edition of Jan Omdahl’s excellent a-ha compendium, The Swing Of Things, while a live album, DVD and Blu-ray, documenting the band’s final show at the Oslo Spektrum were released in 2011.

Amidst this frenetic activity, Harket also found time to add his vocals to ‘Den Stilleste Timen’, a charity single that had been penned by Norwegian balladeer Ole Paus, with all proceeds aiding victims of the Haiti earthquake in January 2010. Harket also performed ‘O Bli Hos Meg’ (an emotional Norwegian-language version of ‘Abide With Me’) at the subsequent charity concert, but the recording wasn’t included on the Dugnad For Haiti album.

The release of Yohan: Barnevandrer in March 2010 marked Harket’s celluloid return. The big budget family film, which also starred Kris Kristofferson, saw Harket reunited with Grete Salomonsen, the director of Kamilla og Tyven and its sequel.


Out Of My Hands (2012 Album)

““There are parts on this album that I feel are shamelessly commercial, and that’s fun…I try to give people something they didn’t know they wanted. For me, that’s where pop music starts to get interesting.” – Morten Harket

Although a-ha had officially split up in December 2010, they briefly reunited for a performance of ‘Stay On These Roads’ at a charity concert at the Oslo Spektrum in August 2011, in aid of those affected by the terrorist atrocities the previous month. By this time the band’s three members had moved on with the other projects: Paul Waaktaar-Savoy formed Weathervane with Jimmy Gnecco, while Magne Furuholmen worked on new music with his supergroup Apparatjik, in addition to his art projects. Harket himself had begun work on his next solo album, the follow-up to 2008’s Letter From Egypt, in April. “The end of a-ha is not sad at all,” Harket told Norway’s TV 2 channel. “It’s great to have the time to do something different.” One such project was Lille Speil På Veggen Der, a Norwegian language version of Mirror, Mirror (a family fantasy movie based on the story of Snow White), which both Harket and his daughter Tomine (an experienced voice-over actress) lent their voices to. The film premiered in Norway in March 2012.

Harket’s manager Harald Wiik was equally optimistic about his client’s future: “Morten can have a monster hit in Germany next year,” he said in 2010. “Paul or Magne can’t…Who can go on tour with a-ha songs after a-ha? Not Paul, not Magne. But Morten can.” Whilst Harket certainly had the greatest chance of succeeding as a solo artist, he probably wouldn’t have anticipated the critical mauling he was going to receive from the Norwegian music press in respect of his fifth solo album Out Of My Hands…

In the final stages of the second phase of their career, a-ha had not only consolidated their return to the synth-pop of their early days with cover versions of ‘A Question Of Lust’ (Depeche Mode) and ‘Say Hello, Wave Goodbye’ (Soft Cell), 2009’s Foot Of The Mountain also saw them return to the 10-track template that they’d employed on their first three albums. It was a sound and format that suited the band, and – to the surprise of many people – Harket utilised this setup for his next solo album; not only retaining the services of part of the team that had made Foot Of The Mountain, including drummer Karl Oluf Wennerberg and producers Steve Osborne and Erik Ljunggren, but also including an exclusive Pet Shop Boys track that had been written especially for the project.

On two of the new album’s tracks, Harket teamed up with the band Kent (popular in both Norway and their homeland of Sweden, the act released their twelfth and final album in 2016). “The collaboration with Jocke and Martin was very interesting on many levels, and I really like Kent,” he told the newspaper Dagbladet. “They are straight to the point – no bullshit – and they’re a friendly and seasoned bunch of guys.” The threesome co-wrote ‘Lightning’, while Harket came up with ‘Burn Money Burn’, an English-language version of Kent’s 2002 hit ‘Kärleken Väntar’. “‘Burn Money Burn’ is unavoidably a political song,” Harket explained. “It’s first and foremost about values, but there’s also a direct criticism of the money system we live by, which I quite frankly feel is extremely dangerous, because there are only certain values in life that can be measured in money.” The track originally featured on Kent’s fifth best-selling (and award-winning) album Vapen & Ammunition. “He loved those songs and wanted to test out English versions,” Joakim Berg told Kent’s official website. It was reported that Harket had also attempted a new version of the same album’s Swedish chart topper, ‘Dom Andra’, but this was apparently abandoned due to time constraints.

One of the album’s most memorable tracks was ‘Scared Of Heights’, which was selected for single release in both the UK and Germany. The original track by Espen Lind, with was largely built around an effective ukulele strum, topped the charts in Norway in 2008, and formed part of Lind’s fifth album Army Of One (with drummer Per Lindvall guesting on a few of the tracks). According to Harket, it was Magne Furuholmen who had encouraged him to cover Norwegian hits: “Magne came up with the idea that I should pick out good Norwegian songs and take them abroad,” he told VG. “I liked that thought, and it’s something that I will pursue on my next solo albums as well. Not just to be kind, but because these songs will be relevant and more than good enough in markets where they haven’t been released before.”

Aside from his collaborations with Kent, there was another Swedish connection, too, with the new album marking Harket’s first songwriting collaborations with prolific songwriter, musician and producer Peter Kvint (aside from working with the likes of Natasha Bedingfield and Britney Spears, he had also produced Andreas Johnson’s ubiquitous worldwide hit ‘Glorious’ ). Whilst Harket was keen to introduce some new blood, there were some familiar names in the credits as well: David Sneddon, a Fame Academy winner who had previously worked with Hurts on their debut album Happiness, had a hand in the writing of ‘Keep The Sun Away’, while steadfast collaborator Ole Sverre Olsen was credited with co-writing four tracks, including future single ‘I’m The One’. “The song is about finding out who you are and that it’s okay to make mistakes in life,” Harket told German magazine Jolie. “A human is a complex being and has to make compromises when interacting with other people. But only if you are honest with yourself and take conscious decisions.”

Håvard Rem was involved by default, contributing ‘When I Reached The Moon’ (which dated back to the Wild Seed era). Harket had maintained contact with Rem, and made a surprise appearance at a book launch for Rem’s latest poetry collection 30-40-50 in February 2012. One other track (‘Undecided’), which appeared on the digital version of the album, was co-written by Hågen Rørmark, who’d played harmonica on the excellent Savoy song ‘Is My Confidence Reeling?’ (featured on their self-titled 2004 album).

A promotional single, ‘Lightning’, was released to Norwegian radio in February 2012, but reviews were mixed. Aftenposten certainly weren’t impressed: “With a title like this, one might expect some rumble and noise, but there is a surprising lack of energy here.” The review was indicative of the reception the album was about to receive from the Norwegian media, with Dagbladet’s assessment the most damning: “Unfortunately, Out Of My Hands turns out to be a lazy and unsubstantial addition to Harket’s five-album solo discography…Catchy at times, but unimaginative, and strikingly predictable.”

Following a huge amount of promotion, particularly in Germany and the UK, Out Of My Hands was released in the Spring of 2012. For the front cover of the album, Harket was photographed by Nevada-born Just Loomis, who had published a book of his a-ha photographs (with a foreword by Magne Furuholmen) the previous year. “He photographed us with a-ha for the first cover we did – Hunting High And Low – so there’s a lot of history there,” Harket told German talk show host Stefan Raab. “I met up with him in Los Angeles last year and we went for a shoot. And we ended up in the water – well, I did anyway!”

Despite the largely negative reception, the album provided Harket with another chart topper in his homeland, and it even crept into the Top 40 of the UK charts. Reviews were generally more favourable in the UK, with the BBC even declaring Harket a ‘maestro of melancholy’. However, Harket was unable to avoid the same criticisms that he’d received in Norway. MusicOMH magazine described the album as ‘limp and formulaic’, while The Scotsman was far more scathing: “Out Of My Hands is a strictly lightweight exercise in throwaway pop chirpiness, outdated synth arrangements, processed rock guitar and banal lyrics.” Whilst some of the criticisms were justified, it’s a surprisingly cohesive work (particularly when considering the number of songwriters, musicians and producers that were involved in its making), and a perfectly serviceable synth-pop album that makes full use of Harket’s impressive vocal range. Whilst ‘Scared Of Heights’ and ‘Burn Money Burn’ were both standout cuts, there was plenty to enjoy elsewhere. ‘Listening’, featuring the Pet Shop Boys’ trademark symphonic chords and a typically deft lyric from Neil Tennant (“I know your tastes in food and wine/ But never really what’s on your mind”) was another clear highlight. ‘I’m The One’ could have fitted in seamlessly on Foot Of The Mountain (even if its chorus is a little pedestrian); ‘Keep The Sun Away’, the album’s most electronic track, includes a playful Daft Punk-like twist with its robotic vocals, and there are some wonderful Ultravox-like flourishes on the excellent title track.

Following on from a European tour in April and May, Harket did some live shows in both Oslo and South America (where he’d remained popular since his time in a-ha). The same month saw Harket pick up a Green Music Award for his ‘long-standing commitment to electromobility, renewable energies and the protection of rainforest’. But there was a far more prestigious honour to come in November when Harket received a knighthood from the King of Norway, Harald V. At a special ceremony at Gamle Logen in Oslo, the three members of a-ha were each awarded ‘The Order of St. Olav’, a ‘reward for distinguished services rendered to Norway and mankind’, and a recognition of the band’s outstanding musical contribution.

Harket’s knighthood had rounded off a successful year in which he’d re-established himself as a solo artist. However, when it came to promoting the final single (‘I’m The One’) to be lifted from his latest album, Harket was seemingly keen to move swiftly on to his next project. “At the moment, my heart is not in it,” he told the German magazine Focus. “Out Of My Hands is like an old wife – I don’t want to meet her, because I’m in love with what’s happening now. This is my dilemma.” Harket had already started work on his next album…


Brother (2014 Album)

“The process of recording this album is the best I’ve ever experienced…When the material really hits you, when the songs have a distinctive character, that’s when I’m reminded why I got into music in the first place.” – Morten Harket

By the end of 2012, Harket had begun working with Swedish songwriter and producer Peter Kvint on the follow-up to Out Of My Hands. “We have built up this trust between us and have a really good collaboration going,” Kvint told Musikkpraksis magazine. “There are creative sparks flying constantly and we always end up with something when we sit down to write.” The recording sessions would see the singer abandon the synth-pop sounds of the previous album, employing a more stripped-back approach. “I didn’t like the a-ha machinery on Out Of My Hands,” he said in an interview with VG. “The a-ha back story was still present in my system, but I was impatient and didn’t want to wait before starting again. This is a much more peaceful project, without all that noise. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very happy with Out Of My Hands and everything that happened afterwards, but now I don’t have those connections anymore. There’s an open sky before me and I feel completely free – this definitely feels like a new start.”

Work on the new album at Kvint’s studio in Södermalm (Stockholm) followed successful songwriting sojourns to both Kristiansand in Norway and Ilha Grande (a beautiful island off the coast of Rio de Janeiro), with most songs credited to Harket, Kvint and Ole Sverre Olsen. Musicians included Swedish pianist Jesper Nordenström and Per Lindvall, who’d played on Wild Seed and several a-ha recordings.

There was one notable distraction, with Harket performing ‘Wind Of Change’ with The Scorpions in Athens during a series of acoustic shows in mid-September 2013. Harket’s version of the worldwide hit was included on the popular German band’s MTV Unplugged – Live In Athens album, released in November that year (the performance was also captured on a DVD and Blu-ray release).

By the end of the year Harket was ensconced in a 19-date tour of Germany, performing five tracks a night during the popular Night Of The Proms concerts. Harket debuted ‘There Is A Place’, which was released as a download single in November, and ‘Did I Leave You Behind?’ which was eventually left off the album. “We decided not to include it on the album because we felt that it stood out a bit from the rest of the material,” explained Kvint during a Facebook Q&A. “It sounded a bit different from the rest of the songs. However, it’s fully produced and mixed and will be released later in some form, probably as a single.”

‘There Is A Place’ was a beautiful piano-based ballad, and a clear indicator that Harket had reverted to the more organic soundscapes that had informed his earlier solo outings. “I can’t really say that we tried to simulate any previous record of Morten’s, or any other album,” claimed Kvint. “Somewhere halfway through the process I remember Morten saying that he had the same feeling about these songs that he had for the songs on Wild Seed. That album was also written in a rush of inspiration and quite quickly. Which was also the case with Brother.”

The first song that the pair composed for the new album was the extraordinary title track, which was released as a single in January 2014. “We were listening to Radiohead the day we wrote it,” recalled Kvint. “We were in a boathouse by the sea in Kristiansand, where we had two great writing sessions for the album… The theme of the song is two brothers who have chosen different paths and how to define the relationship between them. Morten wanted to write about Christianity and Islam and the tension between the two, but it’s also about humanity and how we can’t live without each other.” Impeccably produced, with an effective double-tracked vocal that showcased Harket’s baritone and falsetto, the song took its lyrical inspiration from Maajid Nawaz’s highly rated memoir Radical: My Journey out of Islamist Extremism. ” [It’s] about growing up as a young Muslim in England, faced with European, Western culture and politics,” Harket explained to VG. “And his personal confrontation with fundamental values after years of going down an uncompromising and dangerous road internationally as an Islamist.” The song’s memorable video, featuring Harket submerged in water, was directed by Harket’s friend, the filmmaker Harald Zwart, whose credits included the 2010 remake of The Karate Kid and a-ha’s controversial video for ‘Velvet’. “Harald Zwart got the idea for the music video immediately after hearing the song for the first time,” Harket said. “It’s based on a classic movie [Ägget är löst] by the Swedish comedians Hasse and Tage.”

Boasting a simple sleeve design, the Brother album was released in April. It provided Harket with his fourth chart topper in Norway, and it also enjoyed a 6-month residency in the album charts on the back of some largely positive reviews. “The title track’s longing melancholy, naked sensitivity and timeless reflection on the term identity sets the standard” wrote Aftenposten, while the newspaper Drammens Tidende praised it for its ‘elegant, well-crafted and catchy pop’. Dagbladet were less generous, though: “Brother starts well but fades gradually away in a stream of identical semi-ballads that do not take him to places he has not been before.” In the UK the album was Ken Bruce’s ‘Album of the Week’ on BBC Radio 2, and the reviews generally mirrored those in Norway. However, sales were disappointing and Brother peaked at a disappointing number 56. Whilst London magazine The Upcoming declared that the album was ‘fabulously produced’ and boasted ‘plenty of variety’, Classic Pop magazine were less enthused in their 2-star review: “Although Harket’s musings on identity, individuality and even death clearly mean much to him, this is an album that should have delivered much more to the listener.”

Brother is a fine addition to Harket’s catalogue of solo work, even if it rarely strays beyond Harket’s MOR comfort zone. The title track, in particular, ranks as one of his greatest songs. Elsewhere, ‘Heaven Cast’ recalled the melodic songwriting artistry of Neil Finn, ‘Whispering Heart’ boasted a soaring chorus that Paul Waaktaar-Savoy would have been proud of, and the meditative Ole Sverre Olsen-penned closer ‘First Man To The Grave’ was Nordic melancholia at its finest. Harket was certainly happy with the album, although he admitted that he wasn’t completely happy with the production of ‘Safe With Me’, a song that sonically stood out due to its programmed drums. “That’s a very primal song, basic and simple, but also very distinct. So we had to remove all the extra fluff and crap,” Harket confided to Musikkpraksis. “But that’s also one of the songs I like the most on the album. That one, ‘There Is A Place’ and ‘Brother’. Those songs have the clearest identities.”

A third single release, ‘Do You Remember Me?’ coincided with the start of a tour in support of the album, including several festival dates in the summer. In September Harket announced to Norwegian broadcaster Radio 102 that he’d begun working with Peter Kvint on new material, but plans for a new solo venture were about to be derailed…


Shadow endeavours (2014-2017)

“In the minds of the listeners, I’ll always be connected to the past. A-ha doesn’t go away, as it’s such a big part of me and my system.” – Morten Harket

During an a-ha fan club convention in October 2014, Harket concluded his Brother tour, while manager Harald Wiik also announced plans for a series of tantalizing a-ha reissues: “As of now there are plans for a 5-disc set of Hunting High And Low, with lots of new material,” he said. “Plus heavy vinyls of all the first five albums, a box set of the vinyls called The Warner Years… And then deluxe editions of Stay On These Roads, East Of The Sun and Memorial Beach. And some other things that I can’t tell you about now.” The ‘other things’ were the subject of much speculation over the coming weeks, before a-ha finally announced in December that they’d been invited to perform at the 30th anniversary of the Rock In Rio festival in September 2015, the scene of one of their greatest live performances. There was a further announcement at a press conference in March 2015 that the band would release a brand new album to coincide with the show. “It started off very easy and low-key with Morten dropping by my studio at various occasions,” explained Paul Waaktaar-Savoy. “I would show him songs that I was working on. He would sing on the songs he felt a connection with and leave the ones that didn’t and it just went like that until we had done ten or twelve songs.” For the first time since 2005’s Analogue, Harket was involved in the songwriting, contributing to three of Cast In Steel’s best songs: ‘The Wake’, ‘Forest Fire’ and the exceptional ‘Living At The End Of The World’.

Harket also found the time to contribute a new version of ‘Hunting High And Low’ to a short film (‘Hemland’) by Swedish filmmaker Sara Broos, which formed part of a documentary series titled Fans. Airing in Sweden in May 2015, Harket also appeared in the episode which revolved around a refugee named Raghad Kanawahti who cited the a-ha classic as the song that meant the most to her when growing up in war-torn Syria. “I had no idea there were people there who were listening to what we were doing, and that it mattered to them.” Harket said.

Harket also managed to pen an autobiography, appropriately titled My Take On Me. This was initially published in Germany in April 2016 and, at the time of writing, there has been no official word on English and Norwegian-language versions of the book.

The release of a Bendik Hofseth box set in 2016 saw Harket dabbling with experimental jazz. Along with the musicians Håkon Kornstad and Peder Kjellsby, Harket contributed a version of ‘The Boy From Port Manteau’ to the 25th anniversary version of Hofseth’s album IX.

At the Berlin press conference in 2015, Harket stated that a-ha’s reunion wasn’t permanent: “We’ve agreed to come back for a set period: one album, one tour,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity and allows us to write another chapter.” But the band have since added another chapter to their remarkable story, recently coming together for a brace of MTV Unplugged shows in June this year. Documents of these shows will be released via CD, DVD and Blu-ray in October, with acoustic and full-band shows to follow. And, with rumours of a new studio album mounting, there appears to be plenty of mileage left in this incredible band…


Many thanks to Jakob Sekse, Suzie Dent, Catherine Sexton, Jan Omdahl and Sara Page

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SAVOY – Mountains Of Time

Savoy reissue their successful third album, introducing its classic songs to a new audience…

Following last year’s re-release of Lackluster Me, Bergen-based Apollon Records have now reissued Savoy’s classic third album Mountains Of Time. Originally released in 1999, the band’s biggest selling album has been remastered on CD, vinyl and digital formats, and now boasts a striking new sleeve design that incorporates both the band’s logo, and a virtual depiction of the album title. At the time of its release, the album represented Paul Waaktaar-Savoy’s best set of songs since 1986’s Scoundrel Days.

Savoy were officially formed when it became evident to chief songwriter Waaktaar that Morten Harket had prioritised a solo career over plans to record a sixth a-ha album; an album that he had already started demoing, largely independently, in 1994. Joining the prolific songwriter was Frode Unneland (from the band Chocolate Overdose) and Waaktaar’s wife, Lauren Savoy. The London Film School graduate had already played a huge part in the a-ha story; not only as a source of support for her creative husband, but also as a director of some of the band’s promotional videos (she had also contributed the line “Night I left the city, I dreamt of a wolf” to ‘Cry Wolf’). As a musician in Waaktaar’s latest three-piece, Lauren Savoy was credited with co-writing all the songs, as well as contributing vocal and guitar parts.

By the time a-ha had reformed for the Nobel Peace Prize concert in Oslo in 1998, Savoy had already released two albums; attaining a respectable level of success – both critically and commercially – in Norway. Despite a-ha’s reformation and intentions to release new material, plans were already in place to release a third Savoy album. Indeed, by the time a-ha had signed with WEA Germany in July 1999, both acts were working concurrently. “To run the two bands alongside each other was of course madness,” Waaktaar later told Jan Omdahl. “To juggle records, recording dates, release plans, tour plans, and promotional plans from two different record companies makes everything spin for me. The place of freedom that Savoy had been, became, in the end, pretty stressful.”

However, it was a confident band that entered the recording studio to cut their third record; undoubtedly buoyed by the enthusiastic response to their previous album, 1997’s Lackluster Me. “The songs kept coming – recording it was easy,” recalled Waaktaar. “Lauren was pregnant. We were giddy and excited!” Like its predecessor, the album was self-produced, with Waaktaar resuming bass-playing duties following the departure of Greg Calvert. Many of the songs were also enriched with string parts, featuring session players who have played on recordings by the likes of Jarvis Cocker, Susanne Sundfør and Morten Harket.

Such was Waaktaar-Savoy’s prolificacy during this period, the band were able to set aside songs for a fourth album. And, inevitably, there were some Savoy songs that would eventually make it on to a-ha’s comeback album, such as ‘Mary Ellen Makes The Moment Count’ and ‘Barely Hanging On’. For the Nobel Peace Prize concert, Waaktaar was presented with the dilemma of which song to play at the show, entrusting the decision to drummer Frode Unneland: “I gave Frode the choice between ‘Summer Moved On’ and ‘Man In The Park’“, he said. “He chose ‘Man In The Park’ and with that, ‘Summer Moved On’ became an a-ha song. Both songs are equally good, and I guarantee you that if a-ha had recorded ‘Man In The Park’, that would have been a hit instead.”

With both a-ha and Savoy running in tandem, both acts’ new albums inevitably ended up featuring some of the same musicians. Drummer Per Lindvall, who became a regular member of a-ha’s recording and performing setup in the noughties, guested on ‘Man In The Park’, while Savoy’s Frode Unneland featured on a-ha’s ‘Minor Earth Major Sky’ and ‘The Company Man’. When quizzed by NRK in August 1999 about the next a-ha album, Lauren Savoy replied: “The thing is, I’m an a-ha fan. I think it’s great – I’m looking forward to the next album… the more music the better!” In the end, she made two major contributions to Minor Earth Major Sky, co-writing ‘The Sun Never Shone That Day’ and adding a distinctive backing vocal to ‘You’ll Never Get Over Me’.

One other notable guest on Mountains Of Time was Magne Furuholmen, who added a gorgeous clavichord part to ‘Bottomless Pit’. Waaktaar was certainly impressed with Furuholmen’s musicianship, telling Jan Omdahl: “Magne can pick up any instrument at all and play it as if he’s been doing it all his life. I’ll never forget when he walked in and laid down a fantastic part on ‘Bottomless Pit’ in the space of two hours… I used to challenge him, and the only time I’ve been surprised was when I asked him to play the saxophone part on ‘The Living Daylights’ live at a concert. Magne bought a sax, went out in front of a packed arena, and totally screwed it up! The shock was that he couldn’t pull it off. It was the only time.”

“Life should be a song/ One of those sixties songs/ With lots of catchy phrases/ That everybody knows/ So you can sing along.” It’s this verse, taken from Lackluster Me’s ‘Foreign Film’, that seems to perfectly encapsulate the spirit of Mountains Of Time. ‘Star (I’m Not Stupid Baby)’, released as the album’s first single in July 1999, certainly provided a portent of what was to come: well-produced songs with a ’60s flavour and catchier pop sheen; an antidote to the previous album’s more sombre inflections. Featuring Lauren on lead vocals, the single was a minor hit and earned the band another Spellemannprisen nomination (the Norwegian equivalent of a Grammy award).

‘Grind You Down’, featuring another Lauren Savoy vocal, was released as a promotional single in October 1999. An extremely catchy four-chord pop track, it featured some lovely arpeggiated guitar, and became a firm favourite amongst Savoy fans (it was later re-recorded for 2007’s Songbook compilation). Elsewhere, the more sombre ‘Bottomless Pit’, found itself in similar Beatles-influenced territory, subtly evoking the melodic craft of Rubber Soul. Other highlights included ‘End Of The Line’ (which has shades of Burt Bacharach) and ‘Any Other Way’, which included some effective keyboard work from session player Preben Grieg-Halvorsen, as well as a stunning middle-eight.


Whether by coincidence or by design, the album seemingly takes the listener on something of a seasonal journey. The opening ‘Man In The Park’ evokes images of springtime walks in Washington Square Park, with its tale of the ‘flower shop girl’ and the ‘man that knows’; summer is clearly represented by ‘Grind You Down’ (“You wait all year/ Then the summer comes”), and there’s some lovely wintery imagery in ‘See What Becomes’ (“I’m walking through a snowfall/ I’m just a little kid”). Lauren Savoy’s original 1960s-style sleeve design, featuring individual shots of the band, also seem to embody the album’s many moods, via its array of Warhol-inspired colour filters. As an illustration of Waaktaar’s gift for fusing melody with melancholia, it’s a largely unparalleled collection.

The album was released by EMI in July 1999, with initial copies including a bonus 5-track EP (titled The Bovarnick Twins). Reviews were unanimous in their praise. “John Lennon would have been hailed as a god if this were his solo album” claimed Dagbladet, while VG declared: “If the legendary Phil Spector had heard Savoy’s Mountains Of Time, we would probably have seen tears behind that eccentric’s sunglasses.”

And there were celebrations-a-plenty in the Waaktaar-Savoy household throughout August and September 1999, with the couple announcing the birth of their child True August, and the album hitting number one in the Norwegian charts. The celebrations continued in February 2000 when Savoy were awarded a Spellemannprisen award for ‘Best Pop Group’. “This album was so much fun to make, and we enjoyed it so much,” Lauren Savoy said during her brief award acceptance speech. “It’s so nice when you guys like it as well!”

a-ha’s comeback album Minor Earth Major Sky would attract similar plaudits, and it was no surprise when Waaktaar later described this period as one of the highlights of his career. “We got two-page reviews in all the Norwegian newspapers,” he later reflected. “That’s never happened with a-ha. The summer we had Augie and released Mountains Of Time almost at the same time was totally special. It was magical. It’s never been better.”


Mountains Of Time is available to order via www.savoyaha.bandcamp.com/album/mountains-of-time.

Thanks to a-ha.com, a-ha-live.com, Jan Omdahl and Sara Page.

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The Story Of BRIDGES

“Musically, we went through a bunch of phases – for a while it was rock opera. We were going to compose some grandiose stuff about earthquakes in Guatemala. Our ambitions had no limits.” – Paul Waaktaar-Savoy

It’s been well documented that a-ha’s huge success with ‘Take On Me’ – and subsequent album Hunting High And Low – didn’t happen overnight. Whilst the band didn’t slog it out via the conventional – and slightly clichéd – live route, they chose instead to hone their songwriting craft in the studio; using the fast-developing advances in electronic instrumentation to develop their sound.

But that’s not to say the band didn’t have any grounding at all in live performance – in truth, the three members of a-ha had all paid their dues, completing a musical apprenticeship of sorts in a number of bands.

Prior to a-ha’s official formation on Morten Harket’s 23rd birthday in September 1982, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Magne Furuholmen had recorded two albums as part of a four-piece combo named Bridges, including a self-financed opus titled Fakkeltog (which translates as ‘torchlight procession’). In this article we tell the story of Bridges, using archive material and some exclusive reminiscences from former members of the band.


Far from being prototype a-ha recordings, the music of Bridges owed more to the music of The Doors than the synth-pop sounds that would characterize much of the Norwegian trio’s earliest demos and album recordings. Brimming with ambition, the band’s only officially released album Fakkeltog is a surprisingly complex piece of music; split into three parts and boasting an impressive mastery of several instruments, progressive rock-like time signature shifts and lyrics inspired not just by Jim Morrison, but also Norwegian literary figures such as Gunvor Hofmo. Perhaps more importantly, the roots of many of a-ha’s songs stemmed from Bridges sessions and recordings, including ‘Take On Me’, ‘Scoundrel Days’ and ‘Soft Rains Of April’.

It would be very difficult to understate the huge influence of The Doors on the music produced by Waaktaar and Furuholmen. As key an influence as David Bowie on the ‘Blitz Kids’ of the late 1970s or Kraftwerk on electronic acts such as OMD and The Human League, much of the music of a-ha (particularly throughout the 1980s and 1990s) is permeated with Doors influences. There’s the earlier brooding numbers such as ‘Here I Stand And Face The Rain’ and ‘Soft Rains Of April’; through to the roadside drama of ‘Sycamore Leaves’ and mid-period numbers such as ‘Slender Frame’, ‘Early Morning’ and Lamb To The Slaughter’ that all imbue a Venice Beach campfire spirit. In concert the band regularly included a snatch of ‘Riders On The Storm’ during ‘Cry Wolf’.


Building Bridges (1974-1979)

Pål Waaktaar Gamst and Magne Furuholmen had become acquainted circa 1974 as near-neighbours in Manglerud, a borough that lies in the southeastern district of Oslo. Waaktaar reflected on their early meetings years later: “He was unbelievably musical, and we hit it off right from the start. He had a Dali amplifier – with a tremolo. It was the coolest thing we’ve ever heard – the first time you hear a tremolo, it’s a fantastic sound. Magne played ‘Sunshine’ by Nazareth, and we were really impressed.”

In 2013 Furuholmen told music writer Wyndham Wallace about an early encounter with Waaktaar: “I saw him perform on a third floor balcony. They were performing inside, but there was a group of people stood outside, and they’d come out and he’d put the drumsticks in the air. I think it was just a Hammond, a living room organ, and cardboard drums – a very makeshift concert – but I remember being incredibly impressed, not by the music but by the spectacle of it all.”

Both teenagers had grown up with music coursing through their veins; Furuholmen in particular. His father Kåre was a well-travelled musician, playing trumpet for the Bent Sølves Orkester, a popular six-piece jazz band. Sadly, he (and the rest of his entourage) died in an airplane crash on the way to a show in Sweden in May 1969. Bizarrely, the tragedy was witnessed by a nine-year old Morten Harket. Furuholmen told the Adresseavisen newspaper years later: “The first time I met Morten Harket, we walked home together after a party. It was a long walk, and when we had talked about the important stuff – what music we liked – we needed to find other topics of conversation. What our parents were doing, things like that. I told him that my father died in a plane crash in 1969. Morten remained completely silent for a while, before he told me that he was an eyewitness to the plane crash in Drammen… he saw the plane hit the ground.”

The teenagers had a shared love of both Jimi Hendrix and The Doors, as Waaktaar recalled during a Facebook Q&A in 2015: “When I first started playing guitar, I learned from copying old blues vinyl played on half speed. Jimi Hendrix was an early hero – Magne and I would compete who had the biggest collection of obscure bootlegs. Mind-blowing stuff. Then it was all about The Doors and Robbie Krieger who just knew exactly what each song needed and without ever over-playing.” And it probably wouldn’t have gone unnoticed that, while Jim Morrison garnered most of the attention as The Doors’ frontman and in-house poet, it was guitarist Krieger that had quietly contributed some of the band’s best songs (see ‘Light My Fire’, ‘You’re Lost Little Girl’, ‘Touch Me’, ‘Love Her Madly’, etc). Waaktaar also practised at an after-school club, playing folk songs such as ‘Hang Down Your Head Tom Dooley’.

The fashions of the Sixties also had something of an effect on Waaktaar: “I wore wide bellbottoms, grew my hair long and put up Jimi Hendrix posters,” he told Tor Marcussen in The Story So Far. “At Nordstrand, the boys were all clean, crew cut kids driving around in their rich fathers’ cars. Everybody else’s style was completely alien to me, and I had no desire to become like them. I’ve always wanted to be different.” Much to his parents’ disappointment, the increasingly music-obsessed Waaktaar harboured little in the way of academic ambition (he was even nicknamed “The Guest” by his teachers due to his poor attendance record!). “They came from Northern Norway to Oslo to get an education, and had to uproot themselves from their families up there,” he recalled. “My not wanting to go to University and take the same route was a bit of a downer for them.”

Both Waaktaar and Furuholmen had been in different school bands, including Black Day and Black Sapphire, respectively. Waaktaar confirmed that the competitive streak between the pair was prevalent even at this early stage in their music career: “We were always in there together, competing to write the best songs, play the fastest guitar.” The pair initially teamed up in the band Spider Empire, with Furuholmen on vocals and guitar, before changing their name to Thala and the Layas Blues Band and then, finally, Bridges, in 1978. “During that period Magne and I went though different band names from one month to the next,” Waaktaar told The Electricity Club. During a speech in 2012, Bondi recalled the first time he met Waaktaar and Furuholmen: “I got off the bus, carrying a bass guitar – that is how I meet Magne and Paul for the first time. Two long-haired boys – or were they girls? – dressed like Jimi Hendrix. Silk flower shirts, bell-bottom pants, moccasins, long scarves, handkerchiefs – I was catapulted back to the sixties!”

Viggo Bondi and Erik Hagelien in the band Essens
There was to be a further personnel change in the new year, with Bondi’s friend – and bandmate in Essens – Erik Hagelien replacing Jan Erik Ødegård on the drum stool. Hagelien told The Electricity Club: “I had played with another Asker band for a short period where we tried out playing with two drummers,” he explained. “Viggo contacted me to ask if I would join his new band with two young enthusiasts (Magne and Paul) which I accepted. The band name Bridges was created and adopted by the four of us. Later we introduced another old friend, Jostein Nygard, on keyboards. He brought his organ, Fender electric piano and his old Minimoog which required quite some time to warm up and stabilize the oscillators.”

The band, which was known for a while as ‘The Bridges’, eventually reverted to a four-piece with Waaktaar in a dual guitar and vocal role, while Furuholmen was persuaded to take a Ray Manzarek-like position behind the keyboards; the fledgling songwriter keen on guiding the group in a Doors-like direction. Whilst not as rich in tone, Waaktaar possessed a baritone voice akin to that of Jim Morrison’s, and his rockier vocal tones would perfectly suit his later indie-pop work with Savoy during a-ha’s sabbatical in the mid-to-late 1990s. I asked Hagelien if he was as enamoured with The Doors as Waaktaar and Furuholmen. “I always said that the songs composed by Magne and Paul at that time was much influenced by The Doors,” he replies. “I believe Jimi Hendrix was important for them too, and probably also The Beatles. Magne and Paul gave me the book The Beatles: In Their Own Words for my 17th birthday. I was, and Viggo too, more of a prog rock lover, listening to artists like Rick Wakeman, ELP, Yes, Genesis and Frank Zappa. We also loved what we called ‘jazz-rock’, like Mahavishnu Orchestra. I really was a fan of the drummer Phil Collins, both in Genesis and Brand X, Carl Palmer, Billy Cobham and Terry Bozzio.”

By the time of Bridges’ formation, the well-travelled Furuholmen had moved to Asker, which was within a commutable distance from Manglerud. And it was the basement at Furuholmen’s family home in Asker, affectionately referred to as Knusla Bruk, that provided the rehearsal space for the ambitious young band during their high school years. They focused on practising original material rather than covers, while Waaktaar wrote his lyrics in English rather than his native Norwegian, later explaining that “there was no point trying to shove Norwegian down English people’s throats.”

After-school sessions were frequent and Waaktaar was beginning to stockpile a vast repertoire of songs, as Bondi later recalled: “The only homework we did during high school was what we assigned ourselves – or, more accurately, what Magne and Paul assigned one another. A new song for every practice. The result was a huge number of songs: ‘Truths Of Love’, ‘The Endless Brigade’, and so on. The list is incredibly long. Songs about dreams… songs as musical building blocks for what would later become a-ha.”

Whilst Waaktaar’s chosen career path had been met with disappointment, he certainly found an ally in his older sister Tonje who would spur him on during this period and throughout his musical career. In the Furuholmen household, Magne’s mother Lise was also a constant source of encouragement. “There was always a woman behind the band – Lise,” recalled Bondi. “With four rehearsals every week for four years, three teenaged boys not only moved into her house, they moved into her refrigerator! She also had four children of her own. We weren’t given many responsibilities, but at one of the first practises, we were sent out to the potato field! Lise is a teacher, but she never asked us if we had done our homework. It was as though she understood that something big was happening.”

Erik Hagelien’s cassette of 4-track demos (1979)

Whilst music was seemingly the primary focus, occasionally the band would help each other out with their schoolwork, as Bondi fondly recalled at the a-ha Fan Convention in 2016: “We were really busy, practising four days a week actually and it was really hard to combine homework, you know, with playing. So I had some homework to do myself… and I needed to write a short story for the next day I think I was. And I said, ‘well I have a problem guys, because it’s hard to play tonight because I have homework to do for tomorrow’. And Magne said, ‘well I have one here – maybe you can use that one’. So I just took his and I got an A!”

Hagelien was also able to share some memories from this period: “Paul came all the way from Manglerud to Vollen every Friday after school,” he says. “He stayed there for the whole weekend. Viggo and myself showed up on Saturdays and Sundays. There was a 25-minute walk from Hvalstad (where Viggo and I lived in Asker) to the bus stop and another 25 minutes from the bus stop in Vollen to Magne’s house. We practised mostly every weekend and Magne’s mother always served us good food – we felt very welcome. It was a big house with a large room in the basement where we played, and my drums stood permanently. Over time I damaged the very nice and brand new wooden pine floor with my drum hardware spikes – I felt very embarrassed! Per Arne Skjeggestad, an old friend of Magne and Paul, occasionally joined us in parts of the weekends – he was following the band and took a lot of pictures.”


Bridges In Concert (1979)

Live performances were sporadic during the infancy of the band’s career and, years later, Waaktaar vividly recalled his first performance: “I started, you know, on drums, because that was the most invisible place in the band. But then songwriting suddenly reared its head, and the urge to present the songs became so strong that it literally pushed me forward to the edge of the stage. I remember the day I turned on the microphone and sang – it was a big deal for me.”

One of the band’s first live commitments was NM for Rockeband (a Norwegian ‘battle of the bands’) at Chateau Neuf in Oslo. The performance of ‘Somebody’s Going Away’ during the preliminary heat on the 11th March was, according to some sources, beset with sound problems and the band didn’t progress to the next round on the 12th (Oslo-based Broadway News prevailed as the winners at the national final in July). The following weekend the band played a private show for family and friends at Hagelien’s home in Hvalstad, and also went to the trouble of preparing a small programme for the event! This fascinating document reveals that Waaktaar was still using his original surname of Gamst, while the set list included songs such as ‘Born Between The Battles’ and ‘Imagination’. Keen to boost their profile, the ambitious band were also interviewed by local newspaper Asker og Bærum Budstikke in April. “We do not want to make it big here in Norway,” they said. “We do not want to be a new notch in the joke.”

Chateau Neuf also provided the setting for another live show, performing with several other bands as part of a programme organised by the IAB (an amateur band association) on the 27th May. According to Hagelien, the band performed well during the day-long event.

The IAB concert, May 1979. L-R: Pål Waaktaar, Magne Furuholmen, Viggo Bondi and Erik Hagelien

By the summer of 1979 there was a change of personnel behind the drums. Hagelien picks up the story: “Magne and Paul showed up at the family house to have a discussion. They had decided to dedicate themselves 100% to the music to become international professionals. They also had a clear view to grow abroad and not in Norway. The ultimatum they gave me was to commit to their strategy, with the consequence that I had to quit school. At that time this was not an option for me.” Replacing Hagelien wasn’t easy, but they eventually found an ideal replacement in 19-year old Øystein Jevanord. He’d already graduated from Sogn Upper Secondary School in 1977 and, in footballing parlance, was a ‘free agent’. “I was looking for an interesting band to play with,” Jevanord told The Electricity Club. “I had played drums since I was 12, had some special skills, and was open-minded to all kinds of music. I saw Bridges live at Chateau Neuf during the IAB concert, with Hagelien on drums, so I knew what they were about… and they stood out that night. A good friend of mine ripped out a small ad in Aftenposten (Norway’s biggest newspaper), and I got it a week too late. It sounded interesting, so I called them up. They had already tested two drummers – which didn’t work too well – so they invited me to Magne’s house the following weekend (15th September 1979). I remember the date because my 20th birthday was the day after. We played all night, slept over, and after breakfast we continued playing. It was magic – interesting music, very nice people. Everything matched. I was very happy and excited, and the others agreed… this was it!” I also asked him who his musical influences were: “As I said, I was open-minded and listened to all kinds of music – but mostly to music with great drummers, such as Frank Zappa, Genesis, Brand X, Yes and Santana. But I must admit that Phil Collins was my biggest influence at the time.”

One of the new line-up’s most important engagements, certainly in terms of the formation of a-ha, was a performance at Asker Gymnasium in 1979. Bondi picked up the story years later: “On the way to the concert, Terje Nøkleby – Magne’s stepfather – played a tape recording of the previous weekend’s jam session. It sounded dreadful. We were in shock – were we really that bad? We could not live with that. It became one of our best concerts ever… but, more importantly, among the audience in the hall was Morten Harket.” The future a-ha vocalist was certainly impressed by the performance: “It really stunned me when I heard them live – this was Doors music,” he told Wyndham Wallace in 2013. “All of a sudden everything changed – it stunned me, right there on the floor. ‘This is it. This is how it’s gonna happen.’ It was instant. But at the same time I knew they needed me. I had to be a part of it. That wasn’t a question for me. It wasn’t an issue. It wasn’t a problem. It was just a fact, a comfortable matter of fact. But I was not going to go after them and suggest anything. I just knew, and that was enough for me. So I left it there. For quite some time.” Harket did in fact approach Bondi about joining the band, but the timing was wrong, and the future a-ha vocalist would have to ply his trade in the band Souldier Blue for the foreseeable future. World domination had to be put on hold…

In the spring of 1980, the confident band played a show at the Dovrehallen club in Oslo, sharing the bill with a local punk rock band named Kjøtt. “The punks waltzed to Bridges’ music – we did not take that as a compliment” recalled Bondi. The show was etched in his memory as he also recalled that a few days later his ears pricked up when he received a phone call from Ole Sørli, formerly of Polydor Records. “We were in shock – this would mean a record contract! Or so we thought. Instead, he produced two black and white pictures of two teenage girls with huge sunglasses: Ingrid and Benedicte. Dollie de Luxe had just recorded their first album, and he asked if we wanted to be their backing band! We left his office, infuriated. We’d been given one of their records and, once we were out on the street again, we found out that it performed really well as a frisbee!”


Fakkeltog (1980)

“I grew up in the Sixties/ The Seventies I betrayed/ But the Eighties are mine/ You can’t take them away from me”

Following their flirtations with live performance, the next logical step was to cut a record; and fate was to play another part in the Bridges story with their choice of record producer. Svein Erichsen was both a neighbour of Furuholmen’s and a fan of The Doors (he’d seen them play at the Isle of Wight Festival in August 1970), and – crucially – possessed technical knowledge. “As I recall, he didn’t do much as a producer… we did that mostly ourselves,” says Jevanord. “[He was] more of a fan, and neighbour of Magne’s. Anyway, he was credited as a producer on the album because he helped us with various equipment in the period before Fakkeltog. For example, a 4-track recorder to get down the old songs Bridges had made. Mags can probably tell you more about his musical background, because I don’t know. I know he was a guitar / bass player… oh yes, he did some background vocals on a track on Fakkeltog as well.”

Octocon Studio, 1980. L-R: Magne Furuholmen, Øystein Jevanord, Pål Waaktaar, Tore Aarnes and Viggo Bondi

In the summer of 1980, the band booked recording time at a basement in an old factory in Nydalen (in Northern Oslo) that had been converted into a recording studio (named Octocon) by Tore Aarnes. “I think it was Paul that found Octocon,” says Jevanord. “Not too expensive for four young lads. And the recording conditions were okay… we didn’t have much to compare it to since this was our first time in a real studio. I just remember it was exciting and joyful to work there. Eight tracks was a lot for us then – fantastic!”

It would take the well-rehearsed band just a week to record the album, at a cost of 500 krone per day, and the sessions were long and productive. “We prepared all the arrangements at the rehearsals, so we used just four days to record the main [album]” recalls Jevanord. “The rest of the week we did the overdubs, vocals and mix. Fakkeltog was finished in one week in other words. But of course, some changes were also done here and there in the studio.” I asked Jevanord if there were any creative tensions between Waaktaar and Furuholmen at this early stage. “No, just minor, healthy disagreements all musicians experience during making good music together – four strong personalities,” he replies. “So, no, not like I’ve heard it has become in late a-ha-days!”

Waaktaar’s guitar of choice was a Gibson SG (a model favoured by Robbie Krieger), while Furuholmen’s keyboard setup included a Wasp synthesizer and a Moog Polymoog (203A) synthesizer. The Wasp synth (a favourite of Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes) was a quirky but affordable instrument that was launched by EDP (Electronic Dream Plant) in 1978, and is easily identifiable by its yellow and black colours and unconventional flat keys. The considerably more expensive Moog, meanwhile, dated back to 1975 and featured a number of presets (including harpsichord, piano and organ) and was important to the band, in that it was capable of emulating some of The Doors’ trademark sounds. One notable user of the 203A was Rick Wakeman, who’d used the instrument on some of Yes’s recordings in the late 1970s, while Gary Numan used a more affordable version of the Polymoog (the 280A) to great effect with the iconic Vox Humana preset.

The band also used some additional musicians to augment some of the songs, including strings on the beautiful ‘Vagrants’ (the 4-piece string section included Hans Morten Stensland, who later featured on a-ha’s Foot Of The Mountain album in 2009).

Though unarguably derivative in places, the resulting album is a perfect representation of where the band were at that point. What is really impressive, though, is that the album was cut by a band largely in their late teens and barely out of school (Furuholmen was just 17). Certainly the quality of the musicianship shines through – Bondi’s bass lines are melodic, while Jevanord’s drum playing is adventurous but tight (check out the album’s superb 10-minute centrepiece, ‘The Stranger’s Town’, that showcase a range of skills). But it’s the combination of Waaktaar’s inventive guitar work and Furuholmen’s broad palette of keyboard sounds that characterizes much of Fakkeltog; a sound that was more in tune with the progressive rock genre than the Punk and New Wave sounds that were coming out of the UK and the USA in the late 1970s. Norway had its own progressive rock movement, spearheaded by early ’70s acts such as Saft, Aunt Mary and Popol Ace, but it was a scene that was becoming increasingly unfashionable as the decade wore on.

Whilst Fakkeltog wasn’t quite in tune with the musical trends of the day, the band certainly weren’t alone in their affinity for The Doors’ music – acts such as The Stranglers, Echo and the Bunnymen and The Triffids were all clearly influenced by the Los Angeles rockers. It would be cruel to dismiss Fakkeltog as nothing more than a Doors tribute album, though. Certainly the spectre of the Lizard King looms large: ‘Death Of The Century’ and ‘Vagrants’, portents of Waaktaar’s favoured ballad style with a-ha, echo the mournful and melancholic side of Morrison’s baritone, while the spoken word elements of ‘Every Mortal Night’ recall ‘The WASP (Texas Radio And The Big Beat)’ from 1971. Waaktaar’s guitar playing, whilst not as effortlessly dextrous as Robbie Krieger’s, is certainly impressive and you can hear The Doors guitarist’s influence on tracks such as ‘Somebody’s Going Away’, which feature some fine blues licks.

There were some other key literary references on Fakkeltog as well: Gunvor Hofmo was a reclusive writer who lived in the Nordstrand area of Oslo, publishing several poetry collections. “She was the closest you could get to The Doors in Norway,” Waaktaar later claimed. “Early Bridges songs like ‘Guest On Earth’ were snatched straight out of her poetry collection Gjest På Jorden.” Waaktaar wasn’t alone in his admiration for the poet (who died in 1995) either – many years later, a Norwegian singer-songwriter named Susanna Wallumrød would record an entire album Jeg vil hjem til menneskene using Hofmo’s poetry.

In terms of the history of a-ha, there are two tracks that stand out: ‘May The Last Danse Be Mine’ [sic] and ‘Every Mortal Night’ both featured lyrics that were later recycled on the 1986 b-side ‘This Alone Is Love’, notably the melodic refrain “It will make my last breath pass out at dawn/ It will make my body dissolve out in the blue”. ‘May The Last Danse Be Mine’ was a track that dated back to the early days of the band, and represented a more romantic facet to Waaktaar’s writing. “That album is actually about my first real kiss,” Waaktaar later reflected. “About how at last I felt like a member of the human race. About how relieved and happy I was that it had happened – that someone wanted to be with me. About how I had grown up to the extent that I had thought it was rotten to be alone and about my disappointment when I realised how little she really was involved, but how something in me had been awakened anyway.”

The band had a novel way round of getting round the problem of presenting a three-part album across two sides of vinyl, as Bondi later recalled: “Sometimes Paul and Magne’s genius could get out of hand, such as when they decided that our first album should have three sides instead of two, with a stop-groove in the middle of one side… Very clever, but highly impractical!”

The album, which boasted a striking collage of band photos and lyrics on the front cover, was mixed by Svein Erichsen and Octocon owner Tore Aarnes. The band were confident that no major labels would show an interest in Fakkeltog, so they adopted the DIY ethos of British bands such as The Buzzcocks and released the album themselves on their own Våkenatt label (a name inspired by a Gunvor Hofmo poetry collection from 1954 titled I en våkenatt). Just 1000 copies were pressed, with the band shifting less than half of these units. I asked Jevanord what expectations the band had for the album, and how they promoted it. “Well, just the fact [we made] an album available, and get some reviews in some music papers and daily papers was fantastic – and most of them liked it,” he recalls. “All the promotion we did was to glue lots of posters all over Oslo city wherever we could, and we went around to the most popular record shops in Oslo and asked if they would like to buy some of them… some of them actually did!


Poem (1981)

Artwork for the shelved Poem album
By the end of 1980 the band were ensconced in Sound Art Studio in Oslo, working on the follow up to Fakkeltog. Waaktaar had also convinced his band colleagues into a change of band name from Bridges to Poem. “I believe it was Paul’s idea,” says Jevanord. “And the reason was simply to find a more catchy name before we got more well known.” With the change of name there also came a change in musical direction, with the four-piece aiming for a more commercial sound. Fakkeltog’s distillation of Doors and Prog influences had provided an ideal musical grounding for the band, and an insight into record recording and production; but the band was still taking steps to realise their musical identity. An inspired Waaktaar had penned some shorter – and more direct – new songs, which included ‘Soft Rains Of April’ and ‘The Leap’ (an embryonic version of ‘Scoundrel Days’); tracks that would eventually end up on a-ha’s sophomore album. “I recall that the songs were more fresh,” recalls Jevanord. “Simply because we made the songs in the middle of the week at rehearsals and recorded them in Sound Art studio in the weekends – three new songs every week until we had the whole new album. We had evolved as musicians as well, and Sound Art Studio was better equipped and the production was much better sounding.”

Also involved in the making of the new album was former drummer Erik Hagelien: “Paul called me later, after I left, and asked me to join a studio recording,” he recalls. “One single song, ‘Våkenatt’, which I did and enjoyed very much. I recall that Paul’s sister and her boyfriend [Erik Nygaard] was in the studio and that a slide guitar was used.”

The band’s plans were derailed when an intruder broke into the recording studio and stole both the master tapes and Bondi’s Gibson Les Paul bass guitar. A distraught Waaktaar made an appeal to the Aftenposten newspaper in January 1981: “Those tapes couldn’t possibly be of any value to the thieves… But the recordings, the unfinished album, have cost us thousands that we’ve spent on studio time and work. Those tapes are worth so much more to us than the thieves. Can’t we please get them back?” Luckily, the plea proved to be successful and the stolen items were eventually returned. Tor Marcussen, a journalist with Aftenposten at the time, would later write The Story So Far, one of the first books about the band (published in 1986).

Around this time Waaktaar and Bondi travelled to London to pick up a synth-bass but, much to Jevanord’s annoyance, the pair returned with a set of expensive Pollard Syndrums! “I didn’t like it much,” he confirms. “Simply because the synth-drums in 1980 were terrible… more of a toy than an instrument. I used the analog Syndrums, and it was just another sound – like a bad drum machine. But I used them anyway on some tracks, just to please the other guys!” Syndrums were used by some well known acts, including The Cars and Yellow Magic Orchestra, but its primitive sounds soon went out of fashion; particularly following the introduction of the Simmons company’s range of far more authentic sounding electronic drum kits in the early 1980s (showcased by artists such as Duran Duran, Kajagoogoo and Ultravox).

Intent on steering their music in an electronic direction, Waaktaar sold his Gibson guitar. He told The Electricity Club: “I traded my SG for a Roland GR-300 guitar synth for the Poem album… Missing that awesome SG though… never seen a similar one since!” Guitar synthesizers were introduced in the late 1970s and Roland’s GR-300 had been officially endorsed by The Police’s Andy Summers, and used by other artists such as King Crimson and Robert Fripp. Roland enthusiastically described the product in one of their brochures: ‘The GR-300 polyphonic guitar synthesizer has an outstanding expressing ability, being able to reproduce the subtleness of the guitar sound which cannot be obtained by a keyboard synthesizer’. Sadly it didn’t quite live up to its billing and these days the vintage instrument is, like the Syndrum, more of a collector’s piece – Waaktaar soon reverted to guitar, primarily using a Gibson ES-335. Furuholmen, meanwhile, made a far greater investment with the purchase of a new Korg synthesizer; which was to prove far more conducive to their creative aspirations.

The pair announced plans to head to London in the hope of landing a record deal, but Bondi and Jevanord didn’t share their ambitions and declined an invitation to join them. Whilst artwork for the self-titled Poem album had been designed, its release was sadly shelved following the band’s inevitable break-up. Waaktaar and Furuholmen’s alliance with Harket was just around the corner, and a song that the duo had originally rehearsed with Bridges called ‘The Juicy Fruit Song’ would later morph into ‘Take On Me’, changing their lives forever…


Scoundrel Days (the post-Bridges years)

a-ha with Viggo Bondi
Despite the break-up of the band, Waaktaar and Furuholmen didn’t – pardon the pun – burn their bridges. Bondi and Jevanord kept in touch with their former bandmates, and both played a part in a-ha’s career throughout the 1980s. Bondi – along with Waaktaar’s girlfriend and future wife Lauren Savoy – featured on one of the band’s Rendezvous Studio demos from 1984, an experimental instrumental named ‘Umbrella’ (aka ‘Telephone’), but his main focus during this period was studying law. He’s currently the Executive Director in the Department of Labour and Legal affairs and Competence Development at the Norwegian Shipowners’ Association. He still plays the bass and in recent years has recorded some songs for the appropriately named Guns ‘N Lawyers.

Jevanord, meanwhile, maintained a much higher musical profile and contributed to both the Scoundrel Days and Stay On These Roads albums, playing on key tracks such as ‘Cry Wolf’ and ‘The Blood That Moves The Body’. “We first did a demo version of ‘Cry Wolf’ in Oslo,” Jevanord explains. “And then some months later I was asked to come to London for a week in 1986. We started from scratch with ‘Cry Wolf’, using a drum machine on bass drum, snare and cowbell. Then I did all the cymbals and fills, using a full drum kit with lots of toms – my take took about 20 minutes to do, so the rest of the one-week session I was just present and watched! I remember that, after a couple of test takes, Paul told me to “go bananas”! And I did… that’s the take they used on the record!” On ‘Stay On These Roads’ (the title track), I just played some cymbals recorded at Rainbow Studio in Oslo. On ‘The Blood That Moves The Body’ I did the same as on ‘Cry Wolf’ the year before… not so good – more tame – but okay.”

Jevanord was also a part of a-ha’s live band in 1987: “I was simply asked,” he says, when recalling his appointment. “And I said yes! An adventure – Mike Sturgis on drums and me on percussion; Ian Wherry on keys and Leif Karsten Johansen on bass. Seventeen concerts during three weeks in Japan, two concerts in Reykjavik, Iceland, and five outdoor concerts in the south of France, all during the summer of 1987.”

Øystein Jevanord at the Arena of Nîmes, France, August 1987

For a brief period in the mid-1980s, Jevanord was a member of popular Norwegian band deLillos (he recorded two albums with them: Før Var Det Morsomt Med Sne and Suser Avgårde). He’s also played with many other acts, including Fra Lippo Lippi, Beranek, Oslo Plektrum and Michael Krohn. “Most of them no one has ever heard of!” jokes Jevanord, who is also a long-term member of the band Dog Age. “I joined them in 1991 and they’re still going. The band has made eight records, the first in 1987. When I joined the band, they had two records already out, and the first year for me with the band was live performances. It’s kind of an underground band and lo-fi – at the same time, very creative. And the band have never done something with haste, taking their time in making an album – each record in making maybe two , or sometimes three, years. Each member makes songs, so it’s quite variable music. We like to describe the music as psychedelic pop rock, as it’s mostly inspired by late ’60s and early ’70s music. Lots of fun – if you want to listen, you’ll find many of the albums on Spotify!”

Erik Hagelien, the band’s original drummer, currently works for Hans H Schive (a battery manufacturer) and still sees Bondi occasionally: “Just for fun, our first band Essens were reunited about five years ago,” he says. “I meet Viggo and the others a couple of times a year, ending up with the same yearly performance at a local reunion party. I recently bought a second hand drum kit from a famous Norwegian drummer, Thor Andreassen. Viggo hated my digital drums and forced me to take this step which I am very happy for!”

As for Tore Aarnes, the owner of Octocon Studio, his first post-Fakkeltog project (and debut release on Octocon Records), was an impressive progressive rock album by Octopus, released in 1981. Titled Thærie Wiighen, and inspired by the writings of Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, this equally rare cult release featured Aarnes on keyboards and synths (a second album, Sica, remains unreleased). Other notable Octocon recordings included 1985 a-ha demos of ‘Scoundrel Days’ and ‘I’ve Been Losing You’; and ‘Dance With The World’, a synth-pop single by Aarnes (under the pseudonym Y Me) that Waaktaar had remixed.


Rebuilding Bridges

It was confirmed earlier this year that the Poem album is finally set for a long-awaited commercial release. “I’ve just mastered the second Bridges album,” Waaktaar tells me. “And I’m surprised how good it ended up sounding, considering the age of the tape and the modest studio we used.” In the meantime, fans can look forward to a brand new Savoy album (provisionally penciled in for September).

Fakkeltog is still a highly prized collector’s item, with some copies changing hands for over £500. It was unofficially re-released by Luna Nera Records as a limited edition in 2012, but the tracks are now easily accessible via vinyl rips on YouTube, giving a fresh generation of a-ha fans the opportunity to listen to this cult favourite. I asked Waaktaar about the master tapes and a potential official reissue. “Those tapes have worn a bit over the years,” he says. “I did get a transfer of the multi-track last year. And, who knows, maybe we’ll remix this one as well one day. The album was done on 8-track and the main performance is already mixed down on two tracks so it’s limited to what you can do to restore it.”

I asked Erik Hagelien, the band’s original drummer, what he thought about Fakkeltog. “Great album, with jazz rock elements,” he says. “My favourite is ‘May The Last Danse Be Mine’, since I knew this song so well from our playlist.”

“I think it’s good music,” adds Jevanord, fondly. “And we did what we could at the time to make it feel good. We were four happy, self-taught amateurs, but with good intentions in a cheap recording studio. I think it’s good if you think about that… and we made the album in one week!”

As for a Bridges reunion, Bondi recalled talk in the early 1990s of a potential reformation: “I was contacted by Paul and he said ‘I think we should talk about [getting] together again’… and I think Paul was thinking about Bridges actually at that stage… So I took out the old LP, was listening to the songs and started to practise and I was almost there, waiting for another phone call from Paul… still waiting for it!”


The Electricity Club gives its warmest thanks to Erik Hagelien, Øystein Jevanord, Paul Waaktaar-Savoy and Viggo Bondi

Thanks also to www.a-ha.com, a-ha-live.com, Jan Omdahl and Sara Page

Article and new interviews by Barry Page

All photos, courtesy of Erik Hagelien, Øystein Jevanord and Viggo Bondi


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