Friday, 26 November 2010

It's Time We Said Goodbye...

Tuesday the 23rd November 2010 was quite possibly the best day of my life. Or more specifically, between the hours of 7.30 and 10.30pm. That was the day that I went to see A-ha in concert, at Sheffield Motorpoint Arena. It was the first, last and only time that I'll ever see them live, and I am so, so happy that I did.

We left here (Wakefield) at around 5pm, in order to get there in plenty of time, whilst allowing for rush hour traffic too. It was a steady drive over, with only one wrong turn off of a roundabout. We found the venue easily and parked up; it was just after 5.30pm at this point. We decided to walk up to the arena to find out where we could go in, although the doors weren't open until 6.30pm. It was a bitterly cold evening, and as we walked past the 'red doors' (our entrance), the other half, CJ, decided to try one of them. To our surprise it was open, so we went in out of the cold. As soon as I stepped through the door I got the feeling that we shouldn't be there - there didn't appear to be any other members of the public around, just arena staff. CJ was intent on finding food though, or somewhere to sit and wait, so we walked along the concourse and through another set of doors, where we came upon a group of stewards who appeared to be having a final briefing. CJ asked an older chap if there was anywhere to sit, but before he could really answer, one of the other stewards asked us what we were doing in the building, as we weren't supposed to be there. CJ informed her "if there's a door open, I'm coming in!" to which she replied that she was going to have to 'put us out' through another door, which happened to be the 'green doors' just behind us. CJ grumbled good-naturedly about her sending us back out into the cold night, and where was her Christmas spirit (I know, a month away), but she just told us that she'd get sacked if she let us stay in. We reminded her again that there was an open door further up, and as we walked back round the outside of the building, we saw her checking and securing the same red door that we'd gone through.

So, onto plan B, except we didn't really have one. It was only about 5.45pm, which was a long time to go and sit in the car, so we wandered over the main road still in search of food for CJ (I was far too excited to think about eating). He nosied through the window of a pub but rejected it, so we walked a little way up the road to a retail park and ended up in Burger King. I'd decided that I probably should have something after all, so he ordered some chicken bites and I had the fries. Once we'd finished we went back over the road and sat in the car with the heater on until 6.30, when we had another try at entering the building - this time we were allowed to stay!

We went straight through into the arena; we found ourselves in the upper seating area so made our way down to the main floor. The tickets were for seats 17 and 18, row 4, block A. It sounded like it might be near the stage, but I wasn't sure. A steward showed us to our seats - sure enough, we were in the 4th row from the stage, on the left hand side. I was literally speechless, I couldn't believe I was going to be so close to A-ha! The seats were also on the end of the row, nearest to the aisle, which was even better. After a quick loo visit, we went back to our seats and waited for the show to start. I'd taken two digital cameras (the point and click type) so I had a few practice shots, mostly of the keyboard that was already set up on stage:

I also tried using the camera on my phone, which seemed to take reasonable pictures, so once the concert started I had my phone in my left hand, and my camera in my right hand, and I was basically alternating between the two!

CJ popped out for another snack, but he'd also been to the shop and bought me a tour t-shirt. We chatted and watched the arena fill up, until it finally got to 7.30. The lights went down, a cheer went up and the support act came on - Jimmy Gnecco. That's Gnecco with a silent 'g':

He was pretty good, although I wasn't familiar with any of his songs. They were very loud, lots of guitar and drums. He was on for about half an hour, and then there was an interval. The lights went up and the stage hands and tech guys came out and started rearranging the stage - the black curtain that you can just make out behind Jimmy was lowered and removed, to reveal a bigger set, with a better drum kit further back. There were lots of comings and goings with instruments, mics etc, and I think I saw one guy taping what I assume was the set list to the floor just in front of Morten's mic stand. I'd worked out right at the start that since the keyboard was on 'our' side of the stage, that meant that Mags would be closest to us, Morten in the middle and Paul over the other side.

The interval lasted about half an hour, then at around 8.30pm the lights went out again, a huge cheer went up and everyone immediately got to their feet. A woman somewhere behind us said "oh for god's sake, sit down!" and started muttering about people further back not being able to see. I understand her point, but I'm afraid if the people at the front are going to stand, then everyone behind them is going to too. Anyway, the stage was dimly lit, just enough to make out the band walking on, to more cheering and whooping. Without a word the music started and they were straight into their first song, The Sun Always Shines On TV. This was the first photo I took of Morten:

I cannot tell you how excited I was to be seeing him in the flesh (so to speak) and this close, for the first time! He looked absolutely amazing! As expected, Mags was closest to us, so I got a snap of him:

... and not wanting to leave him out, I got one of Paul too, even though he was way over the other side of the stage:

They all looked incredible, so smart in their suits.

I'm afraid to say that, afterwards, I couldn't remember all the songs they sung, or in what order, mainly because the whole thing just seemed to go past in a blur of excitement on my part. Also, they really rattled through the songs, in a good way. There was a mix of old and new, they really gave the fans what they wanted. However, on the official website I've found the setlist, which was as follows:

The Sun Always Shines on TV
Move to Memphis
The Blood That Moves The Body
Scoundrel Days
The Swing Of Things
Stay On These Roads
Forever Not Yours
Manhattan Skyline
Hunting High And Low
The Bandstand
We’re Looking For The Whales
Butterfly Butterfly
Crying In The Rain
Minor Earth Major Sky
Summer Moved On
I’ve Been Losing You
Foot Of The Mountain

Cry Wolf
The Living Daylights

Take On Me

I was definitely very focussed on getting as many photos as I could - this really was my 'once-in-a-lifetime' chance so I didn't want to miss any good shots - but not to the extent that I missed the show. I was singing along all the way through, and I'd take two or three photos and then have a break to just enjoy the performance. To say I was mesmerised by Morten is an understatement! Having said that, I came away with 200 photos, so perhaps I was taking pics more often than I thought! I still don't feel as though I missed anything though.

Mags seemed to be the designated spokesman; I think after the first couple of songs he said hello and thanked everyone for being there. Speaking purely from a 'fanciability' point of view (just humour me for a sec!) it's always been Morten for me - he has to be the sexiest man on the planet! But Magne has definitely improved with age - he's also looking incredibly hot these days!

About halfway through there was quite a major lighting change where the stage was washed in blue light for acoustic versions of Butterfly Butterfly and Crying In The Rain - Morten said a few words here, basically thanking the fans for the last 25 years - it seemed very heartfelt and emotional.

After Foot Of The Mountain the guys went off stage, whilst the audience was treated to a slideshow of images of the band, album covers etc in the style of a book opening and closing - an incredibly emotional moment, although to lighten the mood they did slip in one or two of their slightly 'embarassing' photos from days gone by! Gotta love that 80's fashion!

Speaking of Foot Of The Mountain, I've always loved this song since I first heard it, but it's recently become even more special to me. First of all, at the end of October CJ and I (and the cats) went on holiday to the west coast of Scotland, an area which I am completely obsessed with. On the way up, we were driving into the Glencoe area on the A82, past Buachaille Etive Mor, and I had my mp3 player on shuffle.

As we approached the mountain, the next song to play was of course Foot Of The Mountain, which couldn't have been more appropriate! Listening to that while driving through the stunning scenery was an incredible moment for me. The next song to play (and I swear these were random) was Here I Stand And Face The Rain, which was also appropriate, because it was absolutely tipping it down!

Anyway, I digress. Back to the concert. As I say, it's now mostly one big, excited, lost-for-words, emotional, happy-yet-sad kind of blur. Although I took loads of photos, I can't remember which songs they were from, apart from a few where the background images are a clue, like the metronome in The Swing Of Things, and the dot-to-dot images from Manhattan Skyline. There were a couple of songs where a camera panned across the crowd and the footage was shown on the screens on stage - one was definitely The Living Daylights, and I thought the other was Hunting High And Low. However, I've watched video footage of that on YouTube and I can't see the point where Morten lets the crowd sing along, so maybe I've got the wrong song. Whichever one it was, I didn't spot myself on the screen (I was too busy taking pics of Morten!), but I saw CJ give a wave! Then again in The Living Daylights, I was taking photos of the 'Sheffield' graphic at the back of the stage, and also trying to get a close-up of Morten who had come right over to our side of the stage.

So what were my highlights? Basically, the whole concert, from start to finish. Despite the fact that I was surrounded by people, I genuinely felt like I was the only person there, and it was a private concert, just for me. I was definitely in 'my own little world' - it was almost spiritual, if that doesn't sound too cheesy.

It's difficult to pick favourite songs, because I like every song they've ever made, but it was great to hear the early stuff. I guess that's because I've had up to 25 years to learn them note for note and word for word, whereas I'm still familiarising myself with the newer songs. Stay On These Roads got an 'awww' from me when it started, as that would be a favourite if I was forced to choose; I tried to take photos of Morten during that, mainly because he was standing quite still, but there was a blue light behind him which seemed to be shining right in my direction, so I couldn't get any decent pics of him! Foot Of The Mountain was obviously a special moment for me for the reasons stated above, and really I could go on and list every song they performed as a favourite, plus I could probably list several more which I would've loved to have heard too. Let's face it, I could've quite happily stood there all day and listened to them play every single song from every album, all the way through - now that would be a great gig!

The final song was Take On Me - it couldn't have been anything else, really, could it? - and then they lined up with the other two guys from the band for one last massive round of applause and cheering from the crowd. A joyous, exhilarating moment, but also an incredibly moving one.

And that was that. We started to make our way out of the auditorium. As we joined the queue of people leaving there was a guy handing out leaflets and chatting. It took me a while to realise it was actually Jimmy Gnecco! I was about to take his photo when I had a moment of doubt as to whether it was actually him or not, so I didn't bother and then we kind of got carried along with the crowd making their way back up to the concourse. In hindsight, I'm sure it was him, but I never did get a photo, despite being stood right next to him at one point! Oh well.

Up on the concourse we went to the memorabilia stall where I bought a keyring, and then decided to get the official programme too. I'm going to get a nice storage box to keep the programme and my t-shirt in, wrapped in tissue paper; I haven't decided whether to use the keyring or not - I'd be gutted if I lost it, so it might go in the box too!

We stepped out into the cold night and made our way back to the car. I was still clutching my phone and camera, plus the bag with my purchases in. The drive back home was a bit subdued; I'd had an amazing night, but it was tinged with sadness too, for obvious reasons. I also felt a bit guilty, maybe even ashamed, that I'd never been to see them in concert before. However, there's nothing I can do about that, so I guess there's no point in having regrets about it now. If I've learned one thing though, it's that, in future, if there is a band or artist who I really want to see performing live, I'm going to do everything I can to make it happen, because I don't want to be in the position again of saying "I wish I'd seen them when I had the chance..."

We got back home at around 11.15pm I think, and I was up until after midnight uploading all my photos onto my laptop and then onto Facebook! I'm going to post a few more here, but before I do I just want to say Thank You to A-ha for a fantastic concert in Sheffield, but more than that, thank you for 25 years of absolutely amazing music. You have been the soundtrack of my life, you've been there for me through the good times and the bad, I have so many memories associated with your songs. A-ha the band may be coming to an end, but thankfully the music never has to stop, and it never will.

"Let's Stay Friends Forever..."

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