I know I’ve already written about the a-ha gig at Brighton Centre, but this was truly a special time for me, so I’m going to mention it again, this time in context.
That was just the first in a series of gigs last month: a-ha three times and in between, Skunk Anansie at Brixton Academy. I will start by recapping on the a-ha gig the night before my birthday. I was on a wild high when I came, dazed, out of the auditorium and outside to try to meet the band. The fact that I was unsuccessful in this endeavour is entirely circumstantial and was not for lack of trying. This is usually something I’m pretty good at, but I learnt during the course of the three gigs I went to that if a-ha didn’t want to come out and meet hordes of screaming fans, they wouldn’t. Simple as. A pity – personally, all I wanted was a photo and their autographs and would certainly not have mobbed them, screaming like a dizzy teenager (even though I would most definitely have felt like one had I come face-to-face with these gorgeous men who I’ve loved since 1985).
The second gig involved travelling and erratic sleep patterns. I had to get an early train (03.50) from Brighton as I had booked a cheap one that would get me to London in time to catch my coach (dirt cheap, a pound each way) to Sheffield. Despite the lack of outlay, the journey was surprisingly smooth and rather comfy, so I have no complaints on that score. Even the length of the journey – more than three hours – did not seem to drag too much, as I took plenty with me to do, as always in these situations.
The gig at Sheffield was a bit – um – strange. The fans were OK but a little (this is going to sound really unkind, but…) unhinged and even during the show itself, no one in the stalls, where I was, stood up until the last song, which was of course Take On Me, which I concluded meant that there were a load of miserable buggers in the audience. No reflection on the band, however, who did a stellar job as they always do and Mags even managed to crack a funny when a poor girl at the front passed out. ‘We haven’t had a fainting since the 80s,’ he said. But the atmosphere was just a bit… subdued. Also, they had dropped (Seemingly) Non-stop July from the set by then, so I felt pretty lucky to have been there at Brighton while it was still in. Before the show, I had bought my coveted copy of the tour programme, which was made to look like a vinyl album, and a keyring which I plan to alter and wear as a pendant.
I had to leave quite early (for me) because I had a tram to catch so I could meet Frances and Alexis on the way back to their place, but I found out afterwards that had I hung on just a little longer – and I could have – I might have met the most beautiful man on the planet. *sigh* So I missed him again. I did meet Jimmy Gnecco and his band Ours, who opened for a-ha on this leg of the tour, and he gave me a copy of one of their CDs. (He was also, seeing as he had eye make-up on, erring rather a long way over the edge of cute, but that’s neither here nor there…) It was unbelievably cold in Sheffield, however, so part of me was relieved to have the decision taken out of my hands. But still – to have met Morten, Mags and Pål would have been a dream of twenty-five years come true.
That Friday, Greg and I went to see Skunk Anansie’s sold-out show at Brixton Academy. He’d seen them before, years ago, and managed to meet Skin (no such luck, this time, as the band went off to DJ at Jamm afterwards and we had to get back), but I never had. I expected to get crushed (I did) but Skin was on top form and made me laugh when she said, ‘I just have to say something,’ looked up towards the stalls and said, ‘Hi, Mum.’ This was a homecoming gig for the band and the last of the tour, so it was wild and frantic and people went nuts, but when you don’t expect anything else, you don’t really have much cause to complain about it. I was happy they did my three favourite tracks: Twisted (Every Day Hurts), Weak and Hedonism. That was me satisfied. Greg was disappointed they didn’t do Secretly, but they can only fit so many songs into one set and they were promoting their new album Wonderlustre so needed to get some of those in, too.
The next day, I went to St Albans to attend at lecture at my kung fu chief instructor’s house, which was infinitely fascinating, as these things always are. Filial piety, though it is something I’ve come to know about during the course of many years’ reading about Chinese culture, is nonetheless even more simple than I thought it was. After everything had been cleared away, three of us got a lift to the train station and once back in London, I headed straight for Wembley Arena. I didn’t have a ticket – I refused to pay extras with Ticketmaster and wasn’t sure Greg really wanted to come, so when I got a text from him that day asking if I really wanted him there because there was a rugby match on, I agreed to go by myself. Selfishly, now, I’m glad I did. There was a queue at the box office and I thought, Oh, no, please let there be tickets left – there had been the day before when I rang – and then worked out that many of the people queuing would have been collecting tickets they’d ordered. When I got mine, I was so relieved that I said as much to the guy who served me and he said, ‘Well, you’re in,’ and smiled at me. Yes – I most certainly was in. Jimmy Gnecco was already on, so I wandered around for a bit before going in and being shown to my seat. I like Jimmy Gnecco – the a-ha influence is clear in his singing and as he’d already given me a CD, I knew he was a nice guy, too. Sadly, he announced at Wembley that he had had the same sad news as Morten Harket had earlier in the tour – that his mother had died while he was away.
I was quite far back, but the important thing for me was that I was there. I couldn’t stand for much of it, as there were people behind me, but when a-ha started Analogue, I made sure the guy next to me wouldn’t be bothered by my standing (he couldn’t have cared less, which was nice of him), I stood up and went mental. I love this song and I just couldn’t stay sitting down any longer. There were people behind, yes, but I don’t think their view was obscured from that distance and in any case, no one asked me to sit, so I remained standing for the rest of the show. During The Living Daylights, a song where everyone has to join in on the refrain, Mags said, ‘Come on, last time in history!’ and then it fell on me like a blanket of heavy fog just how much this band has meant to me over the years and how much I’m now going to miss them. When it got to the end again and Take On Me finished, they left the stage in a wave of emotion and the lights went up on a-ha for the last time in the UK, it hit me. Really, really hit me. The bloke I was sitting next to and his friend both hugged me when they saw how upset I was, then a moment or two later I met a couple of girls on the way out and one said, ‘Don’t cry, you’ll set me off,’ and her face started to crumple as she tried hard not to show how upset she was. And, although I waited outside again, trying desperately for one last chance to get the autographs I’ve always wanted, they left in their cars – one each – without stopping to sign. It was understandable – that night was the coldest November night on record, in some areas, and London must have been at least freezing and perhaps even colder – but it was disappointing, all the same. But I wasn’t going to let that ruin the elation I felt – and still feel – at having been present to witness the last time a-ha played what is essentially a home gig – London was the city that gave them their first break and they’ve never forgotten it. Neither has London.
This was an emotional time for me. Now the 4th of December has passed, a-ha have officially split and that makes me sad. To be there for the last few weeks and days of a band’s history is quite a poignant experience. But I was truly honoured to have been there and the memories will stay with me for the rest of my life.
Mags, Morten, Pål (I still prefer spelling it that way instead of the Anglicised version): if, by even the slightest chance, you read this, let me say that your music has touched thousands, if not millions, of lives. Mine has been no exception and I can only thank you for that. The music world now has an a-ha shaped hole in it. Fans are in mourning. We miss you and wish you the best. Peace.