A-ha’s Mags Furuholmen talks ‘Take On Me’ anniversary and the long, long wait between Australian tours

It’s been said, if you can remember the ‘60s, you weren’t there.

If you can remember the year 1985, lucky you.

Step into the time machine. 1985 was a pivotal one for music. The single most important moment in live music happened in mid-1985, as Bob Geldof’s Live Aid showed the world how the artist community could rally and react to a catastrophe, raise millions and rock you at the same time.

As years go, it was a decade at its crossroads. Music was changing. The new wave was gone, the electronic pop sound was done. Stadium rock was about to take charge, with U2, Bon Jovi and Guns N’ Roses ready to rule the next half of the decade.

Pop music was a tribal war in 1985. You read ‘Smash Hits’ and ‘Number 1’ imports, magazines that had surprisingly broad appeal which reached into such luminaries as The Smiths, Midnight Oil and Echo and the Bunnymen. If you liked those groups, you hated Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet. Duran Duran fans hated Wham. No one really liked Culture Club.

Then, in 1985, a-ha came along. Three good looking gents from Oslo, Norway, with exotic names and, according to one of those pop magazines, a passion for climbing trees. No one hated on a-ha.

If Frankie Goes to Hollywood was your drug of choice, you’d find space in your world for a-ha. Tears for Fears fanatics (there were some) could secretly dig a-ha.

Signed to Warner Bros, a-ha operated in their own lane. Their overnight success with ‘Take On Me’ was at least a year in the making. The song was originally recorded and released in 1984 but failed to bother the charts. A new version was cut and a gamble on an eye-catching new music video paid off, big time.

And it continues to.

Filmed by British director Steve Barron, weaving pencil-sketch animation with live-action using a technique called rotoscoping, the clip is flying towards one billion hits on YouTube.

Only one band from the ’80s has reached the milestone, GNR’s ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine,’ which hit the magic number this month. ‘Take On Me’ has a full 50 percent more views than another iconic video from the era, Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller.’

‘Take On Me’ peaked at No. 1 in Australia and remained in the chart for 16 weeks. It went to No. 1 in the United States exactly 34 years ago this week.

Since then, it’s had a life all of its own. These days, kids jam to it at school discos. The song featured this week in the U.S. edition of ‘Dancing With the Stars.’

“Thirty-five years down the line, even we have to tip our caps and say, ‘you’ve really been a tireless soldier on our behalf,’” says a-ha’s Magne Furuholmen, the keyboardist who gave the world that famous riff.

“We probably spent a few years talking it down, trying to get people to focus on new stuff we’re doing. Obviously the video is unique and it has some features that stand up and stand the test of time. At this point, certainly speaking for myself, I’m just surprised and proud that the song has done so well and still finds an audience.”

Australian audiences were the first to fall for the charms of a-ha. And they’re arguably the least rewarded for that loyalty.

When the group embarks on a tour of Australia and New Zealand early year for a run of arena shows and open-air dates for the A Day On the Green series, it’ll break an agonisingly-long drought. A-ha, comprising singer Morten Harket, Mags and guitarist/chief songwriter Paul Waaktaar-Savoy, last played these parts in 1986, some 34 years ago, when they tore through 14 sold-out concerts. They’ve never visited NZ.

“Time flies. You have to put it down to bad management, you have to think,” says Furuholmen with a laugh.

“We started out our career on stage in Australia. Perth was our first ever gig as a band. It was a fantastic experience. We always figured we’d be coming back if not every year, at least every two years. Thirty years later you’re shocked to find out its our first time back since then.”

The ABC’s ‘Classic Countdown’ series gives us a glimpse of those golden years. One particular episode captures the fresh-faced Scandinavian group with the world at their feet, and a rabid Aussie fanbase at their fingertips.

During a performance of their global hit at the ABC studios, Harket can be seen testing his multi-tasking skills by signing autographs while singing along.

Furuholmen can multi-task, too. Since the ’80s, he’s split his time between creating music and visual art. “I’m happy to have both in my life and be able to do a bit of crop rotation, as it were,” he explains.

He’s a fan of Australia’s food and beaches. And he’s in wise-cracking form, a master of dad jokes — “I have a great future behind me as a surfer,” is one beauty — no doubt honed on his two sons, both of whom are heavily into music.

One of his lads, Thomas Vincent Furuholmen shot the video for Mags’ ‘This is Now America,’ a politically charged song that the band fired back at Donald Trump earlier this month when the U.S. president shared a rip-off of ‘Take On Me.’

They make a good team, these Furuholmens. “I get a lot of exposure to new stuff from them, from their discoveries,” Mags explains. “And I’m doing my best to educate them about what was going on prior to them being born in the 90s, know what I mean.”

“There’s a lot of great new artists coming up. The artists seem to be getting younger and younger, and maturing at a young age.

“I don’t know what the future will hold. Super-sophisticated and mature artists in diapers doesn’t seem like a remote possibility if you look far enough into the future.” Mags might be joking, but he makes a point.

When a-ha return to these shores next year, they’ll revisit their junior years. They’ll play in full their debut LP Hunting High And Low, a record that kicked-off a career that spans more than 55 million album sales and a place in history with a theme song for the James Bond franchise (‘The Living Daylights’ from 1987). Coldplay’s Chris Martin has repeatedly referred to them as one of his “favourite bands of all time”.

Expect to hear ‘The Sun Always Shines on TV,’ the music video for which picks up where ‘Take On Me’ left off. The touching title track, plus ‘Train of Thought,’ and, of course, that evergreen hit.

“We’re in a situation now where we’re looking back and maybe we’re able to, in retrospect, enjoy what we created in the ‘80s. We kind of kept running, kept looking forwards. Right now, doing this first album in its entirety is a bit of an exercise that revitalises those first songs for us.”

The group should be hitting their strides by the time they arrive here next February. They’re currently on a stretch of dates which takes them through the U.K. and Europe, Middle East and South Africa before they touch down for the first Australian concert, scheduled for Wednesday, Feb. 19 at Perth’s Kings Park & Botanic Gardens for ADOTG.

Frontier Touring and Roundhouse Entertainment are producing the 2020 Australasian trek, with Rick Astley opening. The ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ singer leads the support line-up for the ADOTG dates, with a mystery guest expected to be announced next month.

Will the Nordic trio lock-in studio time anytime soon to record a follow to 2015’s Cast in Steel, a top 10 album in the U.K.?

“I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one,” Mags admits. “Right now, we’re just enjoying being able to go out and play in different formats to different audiences around the world.

“Hopefully it’ll make us enjoy performing these songs to people that helped get us to where we got, eventually. If it hadn’t have been for the people who bought that record, we wouldn’t be here today talking.”

Visit frontiertouring.com/aha for Australasian tour dates.

This article originally appeared in The Industry Observer.