I interviewed Pål Waaktar-Savoy before he played guitar for the A-ha MTV unplugged acoustic gig at the O2.
That gig was half concert, half band history. Before A-ha, Mags and Pal had been in a band called Bridges. Morten heard them play a song called ‘Sox of the Fox’ and realised he wanted to join them. They got the ferry to England, got a London bedsit, and found Morten’s cheekbones granted free access to the New Romantic movement. Inspired, Pal wrote or co-wrote the songs which secured their legacy.
30 years on, A-ha transformed the O2 ampitheatre into a giant version of that London bedsit. They played the full back catalogue: songs you’d heard, songs you hadn’t, songs that should have remained hidden. Unshackled from the synths, they took on fresh meaning. ‘Take on Me’ went from digital anthem to a sweet song about a boy who wants the girl he loves to notice him. Without the grunts and guitar riffs ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV’ became a beautiful warning about the dangers of comparing your inner world with everyone else’s external world. The faithful sang along to the rewritten old songs, stumbling over words we’d grown up with. Morten smiled at us fondly as we did so.
I’d broken up with A-ha in 2010. I went to the last UK concert of their farewell tour and cried as I waved them goodbye. AND THEN THEY KEPT TOURING. A fan scorned, I shunned the new albums and gigs, because having said goodbye, I was a bit taken aback when they kept saying hello.
I explained all this to Pål, who sighed and nodded. “I think with us we never agree on the same thing. You know, I didn’t want to quit when we quit. I got the feeling it was too… quick. It didn’t feel like an ending to me. And like a year later it was…’well, maybe we should do a little more.’ It’s always, yes, yes, no. No, yes, no. We can never agree on anything, and that’s just the way it is. Not even the ending.”
“So with Savoy, you’re writing with your wife, and it’s all beautiful. But with A-ha it’s like this complicated marriage with three people,” I replied.
“Yeah, it’s the same amount of work, but you know… with the first five albums, we were living in the bedsit or the same street. It was a much easier sort of a thing. It’s hard to be in the same band for that many years and make it work the same way that it did 20 years ago. Right now, the thing that makes it work best is the touring. And maybe, who knows, maybe we can make more albums if we get into that… slot.”
As he spoke, I realised A-ha is about the highs and lows of dysfunctional relationships. Stuck in that bedsit, in an uneasy marriage between these three complicated men and away from his beloved Lauren, Pål wrote about the yearning joy and disappointment of love. He still does. Hooked on their combined genius and our adulation, A-ha can’t tear themselves free from us or each other. So they take solace in side projects like Savoy, before returning for another hit of A-ha, to see if they can make it work this time. I understood, and made my peace with them.
Talk turned to the future. Pål said, “I’m always working on stuff. I have an album that I’m almost finished with and I’m debating where to put it. So, lots of different options, but I haven’t decided yet. And we’re playing over the summer for four months, and lots of those gigs are in the UK so that’s going to be fun. We’re going to use the same band that we do this show with, so there’ll be some strings and stuff like that, even though it will be electric/ electronic.”
I wished Pål well, and told him I hoped there would be more albums. He kissed me on the cheek, before I returned to the throng again. It was a spectacular gig, but it was the last fully acoustic gig they’ll play. You haven’t lost your chance to see them though. The same band, complete with electricity, violas and harpsichords are playing over the summer. Go if you possibly can, and if you can’t, check out the MTV unplugged album. It is truly splendid. https://a-ha.com