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Birmingham Burns in Harket’s Hands

Morten Harket @ Birmingham Symphony Hall, UK. 14th May 2012.

Reviewed by Anne-Marie Forker

This was my first visit to Birmingham Symphony Hall, a beautiful venue with great acoustics thanks to a reverberation chamber that apparently adds 50% to the hall’s volume! Morten’s voice could be heard as clear as a blue sky on a Norwegian summer day. The audience reflected the influences, music and style of Morten, with a mixture of pop and rock fans, and cross-generational.

It is almost 30 years since Morten’s voice burst onto the music scene out of Norway, and time has not diminished his vocal power. Wearing his Hoff-like sunglasses and opening the concert with performances of some new songs from the album Out of My Hands, Morten made an immediate impact with ‘Burn Money Burn’, a Euro synth pop song with a strong rock guitar played by the energetic Dan. Then followed ‘I’m the One’ and ‘Keep the Sun Away’, the latter being reminiscent of a majestic a-ha track from the 1980s and yet still sounding current.

Next from ‘the voice of a-ha’ came a collection of the Norwegian band’s songs, starting with the haunting Everly Brothers’ cover ‘Crying in the Rain’. He sang the beautiful song ‘Out of Blue Comes Green’ which was voted for by fans through his website prior to the gig (including myself). The opening note of that song is a difficult one to reach at the beginning of a song rather than waiting to the chorus, but Morten’s articulation was flawless. He certainly is not ‘Scared of Heights’!

Unusual for a solo artist who has just split from a band, Morten was proud of his a-ha history and paid homage to it. When Morten spoke to the crowd he took off his sunglasses (to inevitable screams from some female fans!) and spoke with sincerity and humour. One of the highlights of the gig was an a-ha song he introduced by saying that the creation of it was the first time the band really ‘felt like a-ha’. That surprised some people who thought he was about to perform ‘Take on Me’. Morten mischievously said ‘No, not that one’, with a smile before revealing that the song was one of a-ha’s best live tracks ‘We’re Looking for the Whales’. He touchingly dedicated it to the other a-ha members ‘this is for Paul and Magne’. For those of us who were lucky enough to see a-ha on their last tour, it was a thrill to see Karl Oluf Wennerberg perform the storming drum section again.

Old solo material, from the critically acclaimed Wild Seed album was also played. Morten’s treasured guitar, which was given to him by the Everly Brothers, was played during ‘Los Angeles’, a song which had vocal harmonies that stunned the audience into silence. This is an example of Morten’s song writing talent at its best and the acoustics of the Symphony Hall complimented it wonderfully.

The encore was similar to the format of the concert – featuring a new song (‘Scared of Heights’), a-ha song (‘Stay on These Roads’) and an old solo number (‘Lay Me Down Tonight’). ‘Stay on These Roads’ is the perfect song for showcasing Morten’s voice. With respect to the very talented Magne and Paul, it is Morten’s voice that makes that song. The tender, long high notes define it. ‘Lay Me Down Tonight’ is a beautiful lullaby. I recommend listening to the Norwegian version ‘Vuggevise’. I was very tempted to shout ‘synge på norsk’ but decided against it!

The final song was unsurprisingly ‘Take on Me’, which saw many people young and old run down to the front to reach up and hold his hand, or legs, or whatever they could get hold of! The song still sounds as fresh as it did in 1985. Morten was full of smiles for the front row and seemed genuinely thrilled.

I finally shouted at the top of my voice at the end of the concert, when Morten was given Orchids by a fan (which he amusingly told us the name of) and was taking his final bows with the band. I knew it had to be something different for him to hear me from the second row. ‘TUSEN TAKK’ I hollered. Morten surprisingly gave me a grin and a nod, mouthing ‘Takk’ before leaving the stage and an ecstatic crowd who, contrary to the title of his new album, were entirely in his hands.

(Anne-Marie’s photos from Birmingham are available on Flickr.)