A-ha set to grace Cambridge United's Abbey Stadium this weekend
Magne Furuholmen, keyboard player with the legendary pop group, talks to the Cambridge Independent
More than 30 years after their mighty mid-80s heyday, A-ha – arguably Norway’s most famous export – are still going strong and are still regularly cited as a major influence by countless other acts, past and present, from right across the genres.
The band’s worldwide smash hit Take on Me (1985) is one of those songs that everybody knows. Even if they don’t know who it’s by or what it’s called, that instantly recognisable keyboard riff remains a much-loved burst of energetic synth-pop and was one of the defining musical moments of the 1980s.
The accompanying video, highlighting ground-breaking animation techniques, remains one of the period’s most iconic and one of the most popular of all time.
Formed in Oslo in 1982, A-ha’s ever present line-up consists of Magne, lead singer and guitarist Morten Harket and Paul Waaktaar-Savoy – whose main instrument is the guitar, though he, like the other members of the band, is proficient on a number of different instruments.
It was Magne who came up with that familiar keyboard burst on Take on Me, which has been covered by the likes of Matt Hales (Aqualung) – one of Magne’s favourite versions of it – the Rolling Stones and even Metallica at a recent gig in Norway.
“That was very early on – I was like 15 years old when that came up, and that was before Morten was in the band,” says Magne of the timeless riff. “Paul and I were in a sort of psychedelic blues rock-type band at the time. So we always felt that that was very poppy for us; it didn’t feel like it fitted in with anything.
“But then when Morten got involved, we were going through material we had written and that was one of the first things where we thought: ‘This is a hit’. I always thought it was a catchy hook, and as it happens it pretty much launched our career and paid the bills for quite a few years.”
Magne reflects on those heady days when the trio were bona-fide global superstars: “Back then, I think we were constantly trying to break out of every kind of mould that we were put in,” he recalls, “whereas now it’s more relaxed.
“We had that high-profile period and it was great, it was exciting, but since then we have had 30 years of making music and it’s nice to be able to feel today that there’s not much stuff that you think you would have done differently.
“We’ve been fortunate in the sense that the music we made transcended fashion and that people who were passionate about music could see through all the poster boy glamour. The music is more important now, I think, than the days of Smash Hits and Scandinavian cheekbones.”
Magne, who is also a visual artist and current chairman of the Bergen International Arts & Music Festival, says he enjoys being involved in a number of different projects. “I like this sort of crop rotation,” he says, “with A-ha it’s kind of like a really nice summer job!”
The group’s Electric Summer tour will include dates in the UK, Ireland and mainland Europe over the next couple of months. “It’s a fairly extensive tour this summer, in places that we haven’t really been much,” explains Magne, “and we’re looking forward to Cambridge.
“We’ve never played there before but I’ve been there on my own – although you might prove me wrong and dig up something from the ’80s.”
He continues: “We’re doing the UK and Ireland this year – I haven’t been in Ireland for a long time. And it’s outdoor gigs so we’ll just cross our fingers that the weather will keep being as nice as it’s been.”
On what Cambridge fans can expect to hear on Sunday, Magne says: “We did the MTV Unplugged tour, where London was the last date in February, and we had an extended band for that. We’ve kept part of that extension for this tour – we’ve got nine people on stage now, in total, and we’ve taken quite a few lesser-known songs for the UK audience.
“There’s this spread across the albums; some of them we’ve arranged close to how the original demos were, as opposed to how they ended up on the record. It’s not unplugged, it’s full-on electric – hence the title of the tour – so it will be a mix of hits and some hidden gems or lesser-known tracks, whatever you prefer to call them. And some new material.”
Magne adds: “There’s obviously a lot of shared history, a fateful bond if you like. You can’t run away from the fact that whether we are together or not, there’s a lot of people that remind us of our history. It’s nice, it’s gratifying that 30 years after we had our big moment in the public eye that people are very passionate about things we’ve done.
“People have followed our career on different levels and at different points in time. It’s not something you take for granted, that you’re 55 years old and can go out and perform songs to enthusiastic crowds.”
A-ha will be at the Abbey Stadium, Cambridge on Sunday, June 10 at 4pm. Support comes from OMD and The Thompson Twins’ Tom Bailey. Tickets: £45 + booking fee (general admission) and £65 + booking fee (golden circle). For more information, go to cambridge-united.co.uk.