Looking at the music of Dutch rock band Focus, started in the late sixties by Thijs Van Leer (b /31/03/48) with Jan Akkerman (b 24/12/46). Van Leer still performs and records under the name today (official site here). Akkerman's site here.

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20171010

Live at The Stables Milton Keynes October 2017


 

It was fun to be at a Focus Concert once again. I have seen them in The Stables. Milton Keynes before. It is a little sterile but it was good to see nearly 400 present. I ended up with a front side row seat just a few feet from Thijs van Leer himself. It was not a great spot in some ways but it gave certain advantages. We had the usual run - Focus 1, Anonymous, House of the King to begin; Eruption, Sylvia and La Cathedrale with Harem Scarem elsewhere; Hocus Pocus to close and Focus 3 with Answers Questions, Questions Answers as an encore. We also had All Hands on Deck, which I have heard before and, for the first time for me, P's March.
Being as close to van Leer as I was I observed how he mostly only used one hand to play the battered old Hammond organ he sat at most of the night. He also played the flute with one hand at times (sometimes combining flute and organ). He also played the haunting alto flute at the beginning, the simple melodica on Le Tango and did various things voice wise - scat, singing, whistling, yodelling, throat singing and oohs and aahs, usually with the vocoder. The high note on Hocus Pocuss are no longer possible but Thijs still has a very good singing voice.
I enjoyed all the solos from the band in the main, including new man Udo's six string bass. Still not sure about all of Menno's.
The evening began with an elderly heavy metal outfit called Burnt Out Wreck who were alright for what they were. After the main event the band happily signed autographs and chatted. I bought the latest offering (already purchased on itunes) and had it autographed. I also persuaded Pierre van der Linden to give me a signed drumstick.

20170918

Track by Track 126

Archive number: 126
Title: Father Bacchus
Main Album: Focus X 
Track number: 1
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Studio: Fieldwork Studios, Schoten, Belgium  
(Mixed at B-Spot Studio; mastered at Tube Mastering)
Length: 4:03
Composer: Menno Gootjes
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, piano, flute, spoken word; Menno Gootjes – Guitars, Vocals; Bobby Jacobs – Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Bobby Jacobs
Mastered: Andy Jackson
Mixed: Bram Bol
Label: Eastworld Recordings
Date of release: November 2012
Alternative version: None
Notes: The track begins with drums, then the whole band give a Hocus Pocus style riff at frenetic pace before (at 00:12) a flute led section slows things slightly until things kick off again with the band at 00:23. At this point Van Leer gives a voice over as follows
"And ladies and gentlemen we proudly we present Focus
Fo- cus F O C U S
Hahaa! Beautiful!"
At 00:33 the band riff comes in for another 11 seconds and then the flute section follows, this time extended as far as 01:23, where the guitar takes up the lead. At 01:42 the flute returns to interweave with the guitar until 01:55 where there is a brief drum break backed up by the repeated flute riff. At 02:12 a new bassy band Hocus Pocus riff begins. The guitar leads for a while over this until the flute returns at 02:42, becoming playful ten seconds in as a flute-led acoustic ensemble plays out to a slow fade.
NB This title reflects the earlier instrumental Father Bach by way of reference to the Roman god Bacchus, the equivalent of the Greek god Dionysius, who Wikipedia says is the god of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness, fertility, theatre and religious ecstasy in ancient Greek religion and myth.

20170901

New Focus Album Out Today September 1

Rather out of the blue a new Focus album appears today. What they have done is to interleave Focus tracks with tracks from members of the band to create an attractive double album adorned with one of Roger Dean's iconic artwork covers. I understand that the CD version is quite lavish in presentation. This is well worth a listen and full of good things. They could have simply produced a 10 track Focus album but by this menas one gets soemthing a bit more meaty and this is probably the right move, although why the old method of calling solo tracks a group effort (pioneered by the Beatles [Yesterday] and continued by Focus [Moving Waves, le Clochard]) could not have been followed I am not sure. Some few tracks have appeared before but the bulk is very fresh to most of us. It is called Focus Family Album and is available through the usual outlets.

20170713

Box Set Listing

Disc: 1 – Focus Plays Focus/In and Out Of Focus  (1970)
1. Focus…(Vocal)
2. Black Beauty
3. Sugar Island
4. Anonymus
5. House Of The King
6. Happy Nightmare (Mescaluine)
7. Why Dream
8. Focus…(Instrumental)

Disc: 2 – Focus 2/Moving Waves (1971)
1. Hocus Pocus
2. Le Clochard
3. Janis
4. Moving Waves
5. Focus II
6. Eruption

Disc: 3 – Focus 3 (1972)
1. Round Goes The Gossip
2. Love Remembered
3. Sylvia
4. Carnival Fugue
5. Focus III
6. Answers? Questions! Qustions? Answers!
7. Elspeth Of Nottingham
8. Anonymus II

Disc: 4 – At the Rainbow (1973)
1. Focus III (Live)
2. Answers? Questions! Qustions? Answers! (Live)
3. Focus II (Live)
4. Eruption (Live)
5. Hocus Focus (Live)
6. Sylvia (Live)
7. Hocus Focus – Reprise (Live)

Disc: 5 – Hamburger Concerto (1974)
1. Delitae Musicae
2. Harem Scarem
3. La Cathedrale De Strasbourg
4. Birth
5. Hamburger Concerto
6. Early Birth

Disc: 6 – Mother Focus (1975)
1. Mother Focus
2. I Need A Bothroom
3. Bennie Helder
4. Soft Vanilla
5. Hard Vanilla
6. Tropic Bird
7. Focus IV
8. Someone’s Crying…What?
9. All Together….Oh That!
10. No Hang Ups
11. My Sweetheart
12. Father Bach

Disc: 7 – Focus con Proby (1978)
1. Wingless
2. Orion
3. Night Flight
4. Eddy
5. Sneezing Bull
6. Brother
7. Tokyo Rose
8. Maximum

Disc: 8 – Ship Of Memories (1976)
1. P’s March
2. Can’t Believe My Eyes
3. Focus V
4. Out Of Vesuvius
5. Glider
6. Red Sky At Night
7. Spoke The Lord Creator
8. Crackers
9. Ship Of Memories
10. Hocus Pocus (U.S. Single Version)

Disc: 9 – Focus (by Jan Akkerman and Thijs van Leer) (1985)
1. Russian Roulette
2. King Kong
3. Le Tango
4. Indian Summer
5. Beethoven’s Revenge (Bach-One-Turbo-Overdrive)
6. Ole Judy
7. Who’s Calling

Disc: 10 – Focus 8 (2002)
1. Rock & Rio
2. Tamara’s Move (Allegroadagio-Allegro)
3. Fretless Love
4. Hurkey Turkey
5. De Ti O De Mi
6. Focus 8
7. Sto Ces Raditi Ostatac Zivota?
8. Neurotika – Rehearsal Take
9. Brother
10. Blizu Tebe
11. Flower Shower

Disc: 11 – Focus 9/New Skin (2006)
1. Black Beauty
2. Focus 7
3. Hurkey Turkey 2
4. Sylvia’s Stepson – Ubatuba
5. Niel’s Skin
6. Just Like Eddy
7. Aya-Yuppie-Hippie-Yee
8. Focus 9
9. Curtain Call
10. Ode To Venus
11. European Rap(sody)
12. Pim
13. It Takes 2 2 Tango
14. Brazil Love

Disc: 12 – Focus X (2012)
1. Father Bacchus
2. Focus 10
3. Victoria
4. Amok In Kindergarten
5. All Hens On Deck
6. Birds Come Fly Over (Le Tango)
7. Hoeratio
8. Talk Of The Crown
9. Message Magic
10. Crossroads

Disc: 13 – The Best Of Focus (1993)
1. Hocus Pocus
2. Anonymus
3. House Of The King
4. Focus – Instrumental
5. Janis
6. Focus II
7. Tommy
8. Sylvia
9. Focus III
10. Harem Scarem
11. Mother Focus
12. Focus IV
13. Bennie Helder
14. Glider
15. Red Sky At Night
16. Hocus Pocus (U.S. Single Version)

New Focus Box Set


A full set of Focus albums has been collected in a new and comprehensive 13 CD box set called Hocus Pocus Box.
With the very recent Focus 8.5 (issued on their own label in 2016) the new box set collects all 10 studio albums, starting with 1970’s Focus Plays Focus/In And Out Of Focus moving all the way through to 2012’s Focus X. 1973’s live album At The Rainbow is also present, as is 1976’s compilation Ship Of Memories and the 1985 studio album from original members Jan Akkerman and Thijs van Leer, called simply Focus.
The final disc is the 1993 compilation The Best Of Focus. This features 16-tracks and includes the US single version of Hocus Pocus.
The albums come in card sleeves with original artwork and are housed in what looks like a clamshell style box. The set also comes with a booklet. Hocus Pocus Box is released on 14 July 2017.
There is very little misisng from this set. O Avondrood the lyrics verion of Red Sky at Night is the only obvious one, although one could mention others.

20170705

Hocus Pocus used in new film


The Focus track Hocus Pocus features alongside a host of other tracks in the new film Baby Driver. Most of the track is played and becomees integral to the shoot out taking place among police adn rival gang members. This is not the first time the track has been used in this sort of way. It also features in a shoot out scene in the 2014 version of Robocop. (It wa also used for  aNike advert remixed some years back).
This time round one especially notes the way at one point gunshots and guiter chords are synchronised. Hopefully it will be a means of introducing younger people to the work of one of the greatest bands ever.
In an interview for Variety director Edgar Wright is asked
Is there an evangelistic element for you, that you might be introducing millennials or even younger people to some classic rock and soul and jazz they wouldn’t otherwise hear? Who wouldn’t want to be introduced to Focus and “Hocus Pocus”?
He answers
I keep saying to people, “If you love the song, watch them performing it on YouTube. It’s astonishing.” I mean, that’s how I know that song, is because there used to be a British music show called “The Old Grey Whistle Test,” which is slightly before my time, but there’s a great DVD of that, and the clip of Focus is amazing.
They go on
“Hocus Pocus” was famous in the ‘70s but hasn’t been kept alive much since then, so it’s hard to explain to people that it’s one of the most exciting rock songs ever recorded… and it has both yodeling and flute.
He adds
Yes. And accordion!
I speak no Dutch but I also liked this comment on one Dutch website.
De 46 jaar oude hit Hocus Pocus van de Nederlandse rockgroep Focus is prominent aanwezig in de actiefilm Baby Driver.
Wright says that the Hocus Pocuus part was his favvourite part - mine too. He also claims the studio was not going to use the track but he was so keen to use it that he paid himself for two extra days of filming. Good call.
Check out this video from 8 minutes to get a tiny taste of the scene.

20170202

In and out of Focus played by alternative artists

New Bassist for Focus

We understand that after many years faithful service Bobby Jacobs has stepped down as bassist. The new bassist is jazz musician Udo Pannekeet.

20161026

Focus 8.5

It is possible to get hold of some unofficial material by Focus on an album called Focus 8.5. Subtitled Old skin, it is a collection of five tracks from sessions completed before the departure of Jan Dumee. The same title has been used, but now with the subtitle New Horizon, for a fresh collection of some seven tracks, again from the Dumee era. The album perhaps answers the question of what might have happened if Focus had determinedly struck out in a jazz direction rather than a rock one.
Technically, none of these tracks is by Focus - that is by the four piece rock band as it existed in 2005. Rather what we have is Van Leer and the others supplemented by other musicians, in and out of Focus. The opening track, for example, Focus Zero (a pastiche of Focus style tunes), features Thijs on flute and piano with Pierre on drums but with three Brazilians on bass, guitars and teclados. Track 6 (Talking rhythms) features Pierre with Marcio Bahia. On Track 3 (Rock 5) a very Focus sounding number, Bobby Jacobs on bass is the only Focus element, the other eight contributions (including the flute) coming from other (Brazilian) musicians.
Although very acoustic and World music in style, the album does have a Focus feel, with one vocal track (Hola, como estas?), the use of handclaps and voices, plenty of varied time signatures. The vocal track does actually feature a Focus foursome but supplemented by Brazilian voices and Marcio Bahia's drums. Perhaps this very good album should have come out under Van Leer's name.

Live at The Scene October 2016


I was able to catch Focus one again at The Scene in Swansea last night. The set list was fairly typical in that we started with the oldest material (Focus 1 with Anonymus and House of the King from the first album) followed by a very long and varied exposition of the Eruption theme (Eruption appears on the second album). We then had the famous Sylvia (from Focus 3) and (more unusually) excellent renditions of All Hens on Deck (from Focus X) and Hurkey Turkey 2 and Le Tango (from Focus 8 - the first not a track I recall being covered in a long while). We then had La Cathedrale and Harem Scarem (I am still not convinced about all that goes on under this heading but Menno Gootjes' violining was of a high order). We finished with Hocus Pocus, introduced by some excellent solo Bach flute. Pierre van der Linden appears to have another new  drum kit and somehow he was able to notch things up even further once again in an amazing solo that beggars belief. (How it happens that a piece surely made for the guitarist to show us his skills in becomes a drum tour de force I have complained about many times in the past). As so often in the past this was familiar but excellent stuff and certainly not a simple rehash of past glories. Several songs had been worked on afresh. I had never heard the recording of the bells of Strasbourg play as they were last night, for example. Thijs may not be able to reach the high notes any more but he gets deeper and deeper with those low notes as the years go by. For a 68 year old he is pretty remarkable. As ever he was a good showman and full of self-effacement in his presentation. It was good to shake his hand after the gig and get him to sign my copy of Focus 8.5 on sale at the gig. (I had bumped into Bobby the bassist earlier in the loos!).

20160322

Live at the Underworld March 2016


Really enjoyed Focus at the Underworld in Camden last night. A packed audience gathered first to hear Earls of Mars (rock on the heavy and loud side and not really my cup of tea). Focus were as amazing as ever from the opening Bach flute lines through to Hocus Pocus and the Focus 3/Answers Questions encore. There were genuine classical, jazz and rock moments and some fine playing by Menno Gootjes. I'm still not entirely convinced about the solos from Gootjes and Booby Jacobs on bass though Pierre Van Der Linden and Thijs Van Leer can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned. The bonus this time round was a two hour twenty minute set without a break. It's a short tour and so the usual intermission was dispensed with. One Van Leer trick new to me was making a whistling sound with a glass of water in the encore. With the flute, organ, vocals, whistling, melodica, scat, tongues, etc, Van Leer did not put a step wrong. Good to speak briefly with Thijs and Menno before leaving. I should have asked for a photo opportunity but none of my cameras seemed to be working properly.
The set list was Focus 1/Anonymous, House of the King, Ode to Venus, Eruption, Sylvia, Brother, Le Tango, All hens on deck, La Cathedrale de Strasbourg/Harem Scarem, Hocus Pocus with Focus 3 and Answers Questions as an encore.

20151221

Golden Years of Dutch Pop Music

This 2 CD compilation album issued in October contains
 
CD 1
1: The shrine of god
2: Watch the ugly people
3: Why dream
4: Happy nightmare (mescaline)
5: House of the king
6: Focus
7: Hocus pocus
8: Janis
9: Sylvia
10: Love remembered
11: Tommy
12: Focus ii
13: Harem scarem
14: Early birth
15: P's march
16: Focus v
17: Eddy
18: Sneezing bull
19: Anonymous
20: Black beauty
21: Le clochard
CD 2
1: Eruption
2: Focus iii
3: Answers? questions! questions? answers!
4: Hamburger concerto
5: Focus iv
6: Mother focus
7: Glider
8: Crackers
9: Hocus pocus

20151201

Miming to House of the King 1971


O Avondrood Video

Just now and again you come across something you've never seen on YouTube. This is a video with the Focus track Avondrood (Red evening). I'm not sure what the live at Top of the Pops tag means. I don't think this was ever on any British top of the pops.

20151106

SIr Thijs Van Leer Solo Album

Focus fans will be interested to know of a limited edition Thijs Van Leer solo album recently released. The three CD offering is a recording of a live gig at Trading Boundaries. The second and third discs give the concert itself with the fascinating biographical ramblings by Thijs that interweave the songs. The first CD selects songs from the concert and presents them as  amore straightforward album. The three CDs come in a very attractive book-like album with lots of photographs and info and original art work by Roger Dean. A lovely presentation full of old favourites and one or two more obscure ones, all in acoustic fashion. 

20151026

New edtion of Focus book

A new (third) edition of the book on Focus by Australian Peet Johnson arrived through my door the other day - Hocus Pocus: the strife and times of rock's Dutch masters. (See details here) Peet must know more about Focus than any man on earth and this new edition brings you right up to date with facts such as the version of Focus 3 done by Outkast and that by Guo Yue of House of the King (both in 1996). It's a bit expensive but hardcore Focus fans will go for it.

20150403

New version of Focus II

A new album, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra Plays Prog Rock Classics includes a version of Focus II with Van Leer on flute. Worth a listen.

20141127

Can't Believe My Eyes


Focus at The Scene in Swansea

My son is in university in Swansea so I thought I'd pay him a visit as Focus were playing at a place called The Scene on a Monday night, a good night for me (November 24).
My attachment to Focus goes back to my teenage years when I was born again and wanted to find a rock band that would not corrupt me! It is a little like paying homage. I had duties here I London on Monday afternoon so didn't get away as early as I hoped and with traffic and so on did not reach the venue until just after Focus had started. They were just coming to the end of House of the King when I got there. I guess they would have started with Focus 1.
The first half was all the old stuff including a brilliant Eruption, including Tommy, Sylvia and so on. The newer stuff didn't get played until the second half. It is hard to put into words what a brilliant band this is. The only low point for me was at the end of a ripping Harem Scarem where Menno Gootjes was left more or less to himself. It left me rather cold. Interestingly, because it was like something out of the seventies. Focus were never like something out of the seventies but always transcended the decade.
One treat at the concert was seeing just a few people dancing at the front to the rock numbers. The flute passages were also an immense treat.
During the interval I bought the new double helping of Swung where the band minus Van Leer jam. Interesting stuff. Van Leer's wife Anneliese runs the shops. She has no English (and I no Dutch). I said Thank you very Dutch. She said "What is Dutch?"!
The main set closed with an excellent Hocus Pocus, which now includes a second extended drum solo for the amazing Pierre Van Der Linden. As I watched him endlessly work his way round the kit it made me wonder have I ever preached at all? Here is a man who knows his drums better than I know any text I've preached. Surely I should be immersing myself in the texts week by week. Yes, you may not be appreciated (a Van Der Linden drum break is not to everybody's liking) but you will be thorough.
So by the end of the concert I was pretty impressed and would have been happy to leave. There was some enthusiasm for an encore, however, and the band returned with Focus 3, a beautiful number that has grown and grown on me over the years, and its partner Answers Questions Questions Answers. The flute playing at this point was beyond beautiful and I was gone. Amazing.
If you have opportunity to go to see Focus. They are worth every penny. Sorry I have no video footage or pictures. I left my camera in the car.

20131218

Moving Waves Documentary

Some good news now bad news - the 1997 documentary on the making of the album Moving Waves was briefly available on Youtube. The bad news for monoglot English speakers was that the documentary is in Dutch. However, as it was made up of performances and interviews with Mike Vernon and Jerry Boys there was quite a bit not in Dutch. Die hard fans might even have been able to work out what was being said in Dutch as Van Leer describes the writing of Hocus Pocus, perhaps or as Akkerman describes his early career and Havermans is asked about the bass parts! Anyway it is gone for now.

20131113

Focus in the Underworld

I went to see Focus down at The Underworld in Camden October 29. This was the last show in a recent short tour. I was in two minds about going really but a Tuesday night in London and the family away - why not? I got down there early as I had not bought my ticket. I saw Thijs and Menno on the street and Bobby in the distance. Unusually I came across a busker with a flute but the paths of the two flautists didn't cross I gather. Inside I spotted Thijs's daughter Eva (now based in France where she is an artist in ceramics I see here). It was an opportunity to thank her personally for her contributions to family Christmas albums such as this one (although she was taken aback to be reminded of it). It was nice to see Thijs's grandson near the back of the stage snapping away with his phone. (The current Mrs Van Leer was as ever on the merchandise stall).
The Underworld is a dump and the two opening bands (Sonic Mass and Sondura) were very much rock bands (some nice melodies with Sondura, however) and I was beginning to feel I'd rather not be there when Focus eventually came on and suddenly I was entranced. They began with Thijs on alto flute and then a chorused vocal and soon they were into an exquisite rendition of Focus 1 with a brief burst of Anonymus and then House of the King (all from the ancient first album). Then it was the rocker All hens on Deck and the melodic Focus 7, both from the latest album - both again very good. A highlight was the Tommy from a long version of Eruption. We then had the obligatory Sylvia and La Cathedrale followed by Harem Scarem with some solos. Menno Gootjes is very competent and is now thoroughly conversant with the material and plays very subtly. Given the opportunity to do his own thing he likes to rock in a very seventies way but not one that I feel is very much the Focus sound. Interest waned a little at that point for me, having trodden this path many times. Overall still a great band to see and showing no signs of waning.
Two of my sons and a nephew were watching Arctic Monkeys in Cardiff at the same time. Wonder how they got on. Imagine AM when they're in their sixties!

20131027

Revised edtiion of the book now out

The revised, corrected and improved edition of the book by Peet Johnson is now available. I have actually had a small hand in things this time. This new revised edition is most highly commended. The book can be ordered here.

20130404

How to write a Focus number - 10 steps

1. Ideally, you need to be Thijs Van Leer or a current band member but in theory you could be anyone.
2. Look for an attractive but subtle melody or two. Ideally, sing it with words of some sort. You can be inspired by an event or a person. Don't be afraid to half plunder the classics or, at a push, more recent music. Collaborations can come later, if necessary.
3. Play around with the melodies a bit. Try them fast and slow and in different keys.
4. Get the band together and try to get things in some sort of order. Start and end with any instrument. Be happy to receive collaborations or contributions and don't be afraid to throw in a yodel or something else that is slightly bizarre.
5. Not vital but if it is appropriate, try it out on the road perhaps. Live in it a bit.
6. Find someone to put words to it. Alternatively, start with the words. Don't worry too much about these as they will rarely be heard, if ever.
7. Attempt a recording with the whole band. Aim for around six minutes worth of music but it can be more or possibly less.
8. Possibly, abandon this recording unreleased and start again or cannibalise it for future pieces. Record it in another form on a solo project, if possible.
9. Add a Van Leer introduction perhaps and think of a title, usually in English. Puns and rhymes preferred.
10. Record it again in a different arrangement with no vocals and release it on an album to critical praise (or otherwise).

20130326

Track titles that rhyme

Over the years Focus have produced at least five tracks whose title rhymes.
These are

1. Hocus Pocus
2. Harem Scarem
3. Night Flight
4. Hurkey Turkey
5. Flower Shower,

Hard Vanilla