Updates from Magne and Paul

A moment from the 2017 documentary a-ha Unplugged – På innsiden

Magne posted another new demo recording on Instagram last Thursday, which appears to be called “Time is on Your Side”.

This is the third new song he’s posted during the last month, following “I’m In” and “God is in the Details”.

Meanwhile, Paul has been sharing some newly drawn sketches on his Instagram, which can be seen here, here, here and here.
Paul has also been known to make paintings on canvas, some of which were part of his solo exhibition “Rammer” at Lillehammer in 1998. A selection of his paintings can be seen in this picture, posted by Augie some years ago.

As for new music, Savoy-drummer Frode Unneland was interviewed on the radio earlier this month, saying that Paul is working on lots of new songs at the moment. And according to last year’s Down To The Tracks-book, Paul already has a solo double album just waiting to be released.

Viking sings “Take On Me”

Viking on The Masked Singer, 23 January

The viking was back for his third appearance on The Masked Singer on ITV yesterday, as all eight remaining singers competed against each other for the first time. This time, each song would be a clue to the singer’s identity.

In a surprising move, Viking got on stage and performed the acoustic version of “Take On Me”, perhaps the most obvious clue ever presented on The Masked Singer.

Anyone with functioning ears would by now have worked out that Morten is behind the mask – apart from the show’s panel, consisting of Mo Gilligan, Davina McCall, Rita Ora and Jonathan Ross. They keep coming up with entirely random and bizarre guesses.

As Viking himself puts it: “One thing’s for sure; this panel has no clue as to who I am”. But much of their dialogue is obviously scripted, so they have probably been asked to keep the suspense by not naming Morten.

New clues from Viking on this episode:
“Vikings might have been around for millennia, but my career has been one of billions. It was over a billion people who watched me do my thing” = “Take On Me” reached a billion views on YouTube last year.
“As a viking I rely on tools I was born with and tools I can create. Like my sword for example, which was forged in the silver mines of my homeland” = the “sword” is his voice, which he was born with in Kongsberg, a town known for its silver mines.
“As precious metals go, steel has proved rather useful in my career” = a-ha’s last studioalbum was Cast In Steel (2015).

This time Morten was among those chosen to go directly to the next episode, so he will be back on 30 January for a new performance.
Meanwhile, Bush Baby was unmasked and turned out to be actor/comedian John Thomson. The complete episode from yesterday can be seen here.

Two new songs by Viking on The Masked Singer

The Viking’s movements on stage are familiarly sparse.

Anyone who may still have had the tiniest amount of doubt that Morten is behind the Viking mask on The Masked Singer UK, would have been convinced yesterday – as we were presented with two different songs performed in his unmistakable voice.

First up was Harry Styles’ hit single “Watermelon Sugar” from 2019, which may not have been the best choice for Morten to sing, as he didn’t sound entirely comfortable. Morten is known to be extremely sensitive to the acoustics surrounding him and needing constant adjustments to his in-ear-monitors, so singing live with a big mask on is clearly a challenge. It also makes his vocals sound somewhat muffled.

New clues to the Viking’s identity included him waving an American flag, which would point to “Take On Me” topping the Billboard chart in 1985. The Viking throwing away sheet music hints to the fact that Morten took piano lessons for a number of years as a child, but never learnt to read music, instead preferring to discover music on his own. Breaking records would include a-ha setting a world record for the largest paying concert audience in 1991 and Morten setting a record for the longest note held in a pop song with “Summer Moved On” in 2000. He is also the “proud owner of a Blue Peter badge”, which he got when he was a guest on the show in 1986.

Other masked singers in this episode included Grandfather Clock, Harlequin, Bush Baby and Blob. At the end Viking and Grandfather Clock were the singers with the least amount of votes, so they had to do a sing-off.

Morten chose Seal’s “Crazy” from 1990 as his second song, in which he also appeared to be struggling to maintain the right pitch. But luckily for Morten it turned out he was only up against a former football player and manager, as the Grandfather Clock had to take off his mask and reveal himself to be Glenn Hoddle. So Morten is on to the next episode, to air Saturday 23 January, when he’ll compete against all the seven other masked singers who remain in the contest.

The whole episode from yesterday can be seen here.

Is Morten on The Masked Singer in the UK?

Viking on The Masked Singer, 2 January 2021

The a-ha fan community lit up last night, when a very familiar voice appeared on the UK version of The Masked Singer on ITV.

Dressed up as a viking, the person inside performed a haunting version of Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird”. The video can be seen here.

The clues given were also a clear indication who might be inside the costume, as can be seen in a video posted here. “King’s rock” equals Kongsberg in Norwegian – the city where Morten was born. He played the role of The King in the Norwegian-dubbed version of the movie Mirror Mirror. And he has been a mentor on two seasons of The Voice in Norway.

Additionally, the viking said he also wears “another kind of armour”. All three members of a-ha have been appointed Knights First Class of the Royal Norwegian Order of St. Olav.

In September 2009 Morten selected a number of his favourite songs for “Tracks of my years” on the Ken Bruce show on BBC Radio 2, and the first song he chose was Fleetwood Mac’s “Songbird”.

“Christine McVie is one of the singers that have had the most influence on me. She’s credited, obviously, for her voice, for her singing and songwriting. I just think she’s greater than that. It’s the tone of her voice, the way she uses it. I think she’s truly great”, Morten told Ken Bruce back then. Later that same month he performed “Songbird” at a solo concert in Norway.

The judges and studio audience on The Masked Singer liked what they heard, and Viking is through to the next round. He beat Seahorse, who turned out to be Mel B from the Spice Girls.

According to Deadline, the second season of The Masked Singer was shot over eight nights at Bovingdon Studios, north of London, in September 2020.

The show has also been a big hit in Norway recently, as Maskorama, where the influencer Herman Dahl was revealed to be inside the viking costume.

White Xmas Lies concert to be streamed

Magne at the piano in Oslo last year

Magne’s White Xmas Lies solo concert at Kulturkirken Jakob in Oslo last year will be streamed on Facebook on Boxing Day, 26 December at 5pm CET. He will also be chatting live with fans during the concert. Read all the details about the event on a-ha.com.

During the 11-song set on 4 December 2019 he was joined by the following musicians on stage; Karl Oluf Wennerberg, Even Ormestad, Morten Qvenild, Tini Flaat Mykland, Madeleine Ossum, Emilie Heldal Lidsheim, Ingvild Nesdal Sandnes and Dan Sunhordvik.

Although Magne was planning four additional White Xmas Lies concerts this year; London, Berlin and two dates in Oslo, they had to be put on hold because of the pandemic.

A preview of the concert video can be seen on Magne’s YouTube channel.

Update: Magne will also be posting some of his new demo recordings for us to hear on Instagram this Christmas. Listen to the first song “I’m In” here (21/12) and the second song “God is in the Details” here (26/12).

2021 tour probably rescheduled for 2022

It might be a while until this happens again

Last week saw the announcement that next month’s a-ha tour in Japan will be rescheduled again. Today, a-ha manager Harald Wiik tells VG that all the other dates planned for next year are also likely to be rescheduled.

“30-40 concerts were postponed to 2021. Unfortunately, I assume we’ll have to postpone everything once again, to 2022. It is unlikely that large concerts and festivals will be going ahead until the third or fourth quarter of 2021”, he says.

“I wish we could tour in 2021, but I don’t think that will be possible. In Norway alone there is estimated to be 1,3 million people in the risk group, who are the first who should be vaccinated. Even if most things goes according to plan, it’s hard to imagine a return to normality until late fall.”

VG asks Wiik if it will be at all possible to do a world tour on a similar large scale as was planned before the pandemic.

“I think it can be possible in 2022, but even that is uncertain. We’re planning to tour all over South America, plus the USA, which is facing big challenges, and there could also be new waves [of coronavirus] in Europe. We are, as everyone else, dependent on the situation to get under control, and we also have to do a specific risk assessment on behalf of our employees and not least our audiences”, Wiik says.

He also tells VG that the a-ha camp is currently working on both a feature film and a musical, in addition to the already finished documentary film. And a lot of new music is being written, although it remains to be seen how it will be used.

“a-ha can handle another tour postponement. But it hurts to see how our crew and backing musicians are struggling, who, in addition to our postponements, are also losing other tour opportunities.”

New interviews with Morten

Picture by JS

Morten has resurfaced to do a few interviews in connection with the release of the German edition of Ørjan Nilsson’s book, Heimkehr – Morten Harkets prägende Phase 1993-1998.

In conversation with Redaktions­Netzwerk Deutschland (RND) he’s asked about his interest in music as a child, his time on The Voice and his thoughts on what can be done to combat climate change.

He is also asked about the possibilities of another a-ha studio album. Here are a few quotes:

“RND: Will there be another a-ha album?

Morten: Personally I believe that you’ll hear more from our band. But it could also be that we’re done [with studio albums]. Both options are possible. At this point I only know that Magne is working on new songs and that I’m writing songs myself. I’m sure that Paul is also making music at the moment, but he’s stuck in California because of the corona pandemic and can’t travel anywhere else.

RND: But will these songs appear on a joint album?

Morten: In the end it may culminate in something that we’ll do together. But it’s also possible that the songs will be used for solo projects. I have already heard a couple of Magne’s new songs and they are really good. It could indeed become a-ha material, but we’ll have to see what happens. We’ve done a few tours in the last couple of years, but we haven’t actually been together in the studio for a while. Time flies by. It’s impressive to look back at how long we’ve been on the road.”

Morten has also been interviewed by the German fansite morten-harket.de. The audio interview is password-protected and available exclusively for those who have purchased the book.

By the way, I’m told those interested in reading the book in English can try purchasing the Kindle version of the German book, which adds the possibility of switching between German and English.

Songs from Morten’s 1998 collaboration with Boolaboss appear online

“The Secret” single cover

Back in 1998, Morten recorded six songs together with the Swedish/Irish drum ‘n’ bass duo Boolaboss, consisting of Walter Bäcklin and Mark O’Sullivan. The songs were called “The Secret”, “Giant Steps”, “Butterfly”, “My Star”, “This is a nothing” and “Things I”. Sonically, this was new and exciting territory for Morten and fans were eager to hear what it sounded like.

The first single “The Secret” was planned for release in February 1999, but was eventually cancelled due to Morten shifting his focus to a-ha and the recording of the Minor Earth | Major Sky album. In the end, none of the songs from the Boolaboss collaboration were released back then.

During work on Ørjan Nilsson’s book project Hjemkomst – Morten Harket 1993-1998, the recordings were rediscovered in Mark O’Sullivan’s archive. In February 2019, Morten and Mark met up again in Stockholm to discuss the possibility of finally releasing the songs.

“That was a really exciting collaboration, and it’s very unfortunate that nothing was ever released. I’ve been thinking about it many times since. The single, “The Secret”, was really cool”, Morten says in Hjemkomst.

Although an official release is still pending, Mark O’Sullivan has now posted three of the songs on his YouTube channel:
The Secret    My Star    This is a nothing

“Morten is an absolutely brilliant singer (…) The first song we recorded together was “The Secret”, which I wrote for my brother. It’s a very emotional song, and right away Morten understood what I was aiming for”, O’Sullivan told Swedish newspaper Expressen in October 1998.

A lot more info about the Boolaboss collaboration can be found in Ørjan Nilsson’s Norwegian book Hjemkomst – Morten Harket 1993-1998, which is now also available in German – as Heimkehr – Morten Harkets prägende Phase 1993-1998.

Magne writes short stories for Juleroser

Magazine cover

Magne makes his debut as a fiction writer in the 2020 issue of Norwegian Christmas magazine Juleroser, with a collection of short stories inspired by his own song “So Cold It’s Hard To Think” from last year’s White Xmas Lies album.

The stories are written in Norwegian and spread across eight pages, interspersed with accompanying song lyrics in English and illustrated by two woodcuts from the Stigma series. Written in Magne’s trademark all-lowercase font, the stories revolve around relationships, work experiences, John Lennon, living through the pandemic and other things.

The magazine also includes the lyrics for “A Wintry Silence”, reinterpreted and translated into Norwegian (nynorsk) by Brit Bildøen.

Magne was asked to contribute by Juleroser editor and singer Herborg Kråkevik:

“I heard a song that made a real impression on me, and then I read an interview with Magne where he talked about it. He didn’t quite call it an anti-Christmas song, but that it was about reclaiming Christmas from what it’s become. And Juleroser is intended to be an alternative to superficial things”, Herborg tells VG.

Magne and Herborg recently visited Lysebu Hotel in Oslo to promote the magazine and shoot some video clips.

Update (28/11): A video clip of the two of them performing “Vinterstilla” has now been posted on Facebook.

This is not the first time the two of them collaborate. Back in 1998, Magne and Kjetil Bjerkestrand composed the melody for the song “Ein Strek – Nokon Fargar”, which was performed by Herborg Kråkevik. It can be heard on YouTube.

Juleroser is published by Det Norske Samlaget and is available in stores across Norway now.

a-ha aiming for Portugal (again)

Festival ad

a-ha were supposed to perform at Rock in Rio Lisboa in Portugal this summer, but the festival had to be cancelled due to Covid-19.

The organizers are trying again next year, and a-ha have now once again been confirmed to be headlining together with Duran Duran on 26 June 2021.

This will be the very first time a-ha perform live in Portugal. The Rock in Rio spin-off festival in Lisbon has been held every other year since 2004, and is one of the largest of its kind in Europe, with an attendance of around 350,000 people.

Tickets are on sale now, while tickets already bought for this year’s festival are still valid for 2021.

A total of 38 a-ha concerts are currently planned for 2021.

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