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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20080131

Track by track 28

Archive number: 28
Title: Eruption (Live)
Main Album: Focus at the Rainbow
Track number: 4
Genre: Live Progressive Rock Instrumental
Venue: Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury Park, 232 Seven Sisters Road, N4 3NX (recorded using Pye Studios Mobile Unit and edited from the two performances).
Length: 08' 28”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer, Tom Barlage
Musicians: Jan Akkerman – Electric guitar (Gibson Les Paul Custom); Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, Voice; Bert Ruiter - Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: Phil Dunne
Label: LP – Polydor, Sire CD – EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet, JVC Victor
Date of recording/release: May 4, 5 1973/October 1973 (May 4 concert televised UK July 1973) CD 1988, 1993, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006
Alternative version: The original is on Moving Waves
Notes: Van Leer continues his announcement about the set list with 'We'd like to do now a bit of a number called Eruption' which is greeted with applause (00:00-00:13). The piece begins with the slow and stately Orfeus on organ, 'violined' guitar and bass (00:14-01:52). The organ plays alone at 01:33-01:40 then with the guitar at 01:41-01:52 as tension builds. The whole band then burst in with the allegro Answer (00:53-02:57). Next it is the contrasting Orfeus again (02:58-03:50) with the guitar quite prominent. We then have a brief snatch of Pupilla, featuring Van Leer's voice (03:51-04:19) and the Answer (04:20-04:38) before the main Pupilla movement, 04:39-05:49. The way is now open for Akkerman and a magnificent guitar-led rendition of Tommy (05:50-07:44). Having been lifted high, a final segment of Pupilla gently brings us back to earth (07:45-08:25). Applause follows.

Track by track 27

Archive number: 27
Title: Focus 2 (Live)
Main Album: Focus at the Rainbow
Track number: 3
Genre: Live Progressive Jazz Rock Instrumental
Venue: Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury Park, 232 Seven Sisters Road, N4 3NX (recorded using Pye Studios Mobile Unit and edited from the two performances).
Length: 04' 36”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Jan Akkerman – Electric guitar (Gibson Les Paul Custom); Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ; Bert Ruiter - Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: Phil Dunne
Label: LP – Polydor, Sire CD – EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet, JVC Victor
Date of recording/release: May 4, 5 1973/October 1973 (May 4 concert televised UK July 1973) CD 1988, 1993, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006
Alternative version: The original of this is on Moving Waves
Notes: The piece opens with an unfamiliar organ solo which eventually turns, to the crowd's delight, into the familiar strains of Focus 2 (00:00-00:41). The organ is joined by 'Violined' guitar (00:42) then drums (00:52) and bass. As in the original, the band then plays and the high soaring guitar of 00:52-01:15 is followed by the jazz break (01:16-01:39) with only drums heard at 01:24-01:28. In 01:29-02:40 the sequence is repeated (Jazz [01:29-01:38], high soaring part [01:39-02:03], Jazz [02:04-02:40 including just drums at 02:10-02:15]). As in the original, a second movement follows (02:16-04:15). This slowly builds, beginning with 'James Bond' guitar and some harmonics. The whole comes to a satisfying climax and then a diminuendo. Finally, we have the sound of the audience and Van Leer saying “That we played for you was called Focus 3 and Answers Questions Questions Answers and Focus 2”.

20080128

Track by track 26

Archive number: 26
Title: Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers! (Live)
Main Album: Focus at the Rainbow
Track number: 2
Genre: Live Progressive Rock Instrumental
Venue: Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury Park, 232 Seven Sisters Road, N4 3NX (recorded using Pye Studios Mobile Unit and edited from the two performances).
Length: 11' 28”
Composer: Bert Ruiter, Jan Akkerman
Musicians: Jan Akkerman – Electric guitar (Gibson Les Paul Custom); Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, Voice, Flute; Bert Ruiter - Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: Phil Dunne
Label: LP – Polydor, Sire CD – EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet, JVC Victor
Date of recording/release: May 4, 5 1973/October 1973 (May 4 concert televised UK July 1973) CD 1988, 1993, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006
Alternative version: The orginal of this is on Focus 3
Notes: The opening section begins with Ruiter's bass riff alongside guitar, drums, organ and (unlike the original) Van Leer's voice. (00:00-00:31). At 00:31 the guitar cuts in to give the bridge (with a little help from the organ) to the point where the Hammond leads (00:41) until replaced again by a jazzy chopped guitar (00:54). The section is brought to a close (01:09) by four decisive chords. This first section is then partly repeated, Van Leer's voice sounding a little more manic (01:10-01:43). After the bridge (01:44-01:53) it is the guitar that briefly leads (01:54-02:32) beginning with ascending chords and ending with the thrice-repeated riff or scale. The third section (02:33-03:47) is led, after the slightest caesura, first by the guitar, now in plaintive mood and partly 'violined'. Then (from about 03:10) by the organ (apparently Akkerman's guitar string snapped at 3:02 but he continues on five strings for a while). Just before 03:47 the sombre and mysterious mood is introduced and we come to the lengthy flute-led section (03:47-06:19). The guitar joins in at 05:53 (string replaced) and the flute stops at 06:19, the whole thing then slowing right down until only organ and drums are heard until at 6:40 sparse guitar lines begin to come in. Akkerman, backed by the band, then leads, slowly building things up with some great fretwork, until at 10:29 with a distinctive final riff he leads into the final very slow section and the last long drawn-out chord from the band which then fades (ending at 11:19). Applause follows and the opening organ chord for the next track (Focus 2) is heard.

20080126

Track by track 25

Archive number: 25
Title: Focus 3 (Live)
Main Album: Focus at the Rainbow
Track number: 1
Genre: Live Progressive Rock Instrumental
Venue: Rainbow Theatre, Finsbury Park, 232 Seven Sisters Road, N4 3NX (recorded using Pye Studios Mobile Unit and edited from the two performances).
Length: 03' 55”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Jan Akkerman – Electric guitar (Gibson Les Paul Custom); Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, Voice; Bert Ruiter - Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: Phil Dunne
Label: LP – Polydor, Sire CD – EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet, JVC Victor
Date of recording/release: May 4, 5 1973/October 1973 (May 4 concert televised UK July 1973) CD 1988, 1993, 2001, 2002, 2004, 2006
Alternative version: The original of this is on Focus 3
Notes: The track itself is preceded by introductory material (00:00-00:36) - the crowd clapping and whistling then cheering the announcement 'Welcome on stage now Focus' and the sounds of the band settling into their positions (the bass drum and sticks are heard). The track itself is a quite faithful but edited version of the much longer studio original, beginning with just organ (00:37-00:54), bass and guitar joining at 00:55 and the brushes on the drums at 01:15, from which point the guitar is 'violined'. One difference is that Van Leer's voice can be heard from around 01:22. The 'Petula Clark' part comes in at 02:42. The early quieter part is not repeated as on the original but we come straight to the final sections - the soaring guitar-led part (03:00-03:30) and its reprise (03:31-03:54).
A note on Live Albums (From Wikipedia):
A live album – commonly contrasted with a studio album – is a recording consisting of material (usually music) recorded during stage performances. Live albums may be recorded at a single concert or combine recordings made at multiple concerts. They usually have a less "finished" character than a studio album and are intended to reproduce some of the experience of attending a concert performance. As such, they may include applause and other noise from the audience, comments by the performers between pieces, etc. They often employ multi-track recording direct from the stage sound system (rather than microphones placed among the audience) and can employ additional manipulation and effects during post-production to enhance the quality of the recording. Many successful recording artists release at least one live album at some point during their career. Some live albums are seen as expendable parts of an artists’ catalogue, often failing to sell as well as studio albums though some acts are known for live albums that rival or exceed sales of studio albums.

20080125

Focus Covers

Focus have been relatively free of covers by other artists, partly perhaps because of the demanding nature of their music. Apart from those mentioned in the entries on Hocus Pocus, Sylvia and House of the King there are very few indeed.
Quite early on Toots Thielemans did a version of Love remembered (Focus 3) available on his Silver collection and other compilations. Akkerman himself also later reworked the track with Claus Ogerman. There is a version of Focus 1 by The Lavender Hill Orchestra on an album called Pure relaxation. I believe there was a Danish band that covered much of the Hamburger Concerto material. The band was called Peaches and this is on their 1996 album.
PS (Thanks Kell Nordli - see his comment) In 1985 German guitar duo Les Deux Amis released Les Deux Amis Plays Focus Classics covering 15 Focus songs on classical guitar. Ansgar Krause (b 1965) and Thomas Müller (b 1958) studied under Prof Tadashi Sasaki at Academies in Cologne and Aachen. Teachers themselves, since 1971 they have played together as a duo.
They cover Love remembered- Sylvia- Focus III (inc P's March)- No hang ups- Anonymus (inc Answer, Orfeus, Euridice, House of the king, Tommy)- Soft vanilla- Le Clochard (Bread)- Focus IV (inc Janis)- La Cathedrale de Strasbourg (inc Focus I)- Focus II- Elspeth of Nottingham- Bennie Helder- Brother- Happy nightmare (variations).
A demo CD A little bit of an album from UK band The Trafns (2006) also include covers of Tommy and Le Clochard.
Orion from Focus con Proby was covered by drummer Steve Smith on Vital Information (1984). Smith played drums on Focus con Proby. The song is written by Eef Albers, who also plays guitar on both versions.

House of the King Versions

The third great Focus track is House of the King. It too is available in several versions by the band or by Akkerman or Van Leer and has been covered once or twice too.
1. The original track on In and Out also issued on the original Focus 3 and as a single (1971)
[The track was played live at the Rainbow concert but not issued on CD]
2. Jan Akkerman's version on Tabernakel also issued as a single (1974)
3. The live version featuring Philip Catherine on Live at the BBC (1976)
4. The acoustic version by Thijs Van Leer and others on Joy to the World (1996) and Hommage aan Rogier Van Otterloo (1998)
The reformed Focus can also be heard on at least two live recordings
5. Focus (with Jan Dumee) Live in America (2003)
6. Focus (with Jan Dumee) Live in South America (2004)
Also check out the very eastern version on
7. Jan Akkerman Band Live in Concert (2007)
Covers have been done by some rather obscure bands Cafe Noir, Gruppo Autonomo Suonatori and Flairck.

20080124

Sylvia Versions


Another great Focus song is Sylvia. Again not to be confused with other songs of the same title. About 8 versions of Focus by the band or by Akkerman or Van Leer are around. These are


1. The original track on Focus 3 also issued as a single (1973)
2. The live version for TOGWT on Masters from the vaults DVD (1973)
3. The live version on At the Rainbow (1973)
Also
4. An acoustic version by Thijs Van Leer and others on Summertime (1996) and Hommage aan Rogier Van Otterloo (1998)
5. Sylvia and Sylvia's grandmother Jan Akkerman 10,000 Clowns on a rainy day (1997)
6. Sylvia's grandmother Jan Akkerman Live at Alexander's (1999)
The reformed Focus can also be heard on at least two live recordings
7. Focus (with Jan Dumee) Live in America (2003)
8. Focus (with Jan Dumee) Live in South America (2004)

There have been few covers, although the following mostly obscure bands have produced versions.

9. Project D on synthesizers (1990)
10. Hank Marvin/The Shadows (1992)
11. Dream Circle (1995)
12. Razor (2002)

20080119

Hocus Pocus Versions


Hocus Pocus in no doubt Focus's best known song (although people often know the song but not who did it). Various versions are available.
There are at least 14 versions by Focus or by Akkerman or Van Leer playing solo. These are

1. The original opening track on Moving Waves (1972)
2. The edit from that for the original single, now on The Best of Focus (1972)
3. The fast version or US single available now on Ship of Memories (1973)
Various live versions by the early band are around including
4. The live version for TOGWT on Masters from the vaults DVD (1973)
5. The live version on At the Rainbow (1973)
6. The live reprise on At the Rainbow (1973)
7. The live version featuring Philip Catherine on Live at the BBC (1976)
Then there is
8. Thijs Van Leer Nice to have met you (1977)
In the late nineties Akkerman began to play it again live (without the yodels) in different forms.
9. Jan Akkerman 10,000 Clowns on a rainy day (1997)
10. Jan Akkerman Live at the Priory (1998)
11. Jan Akkerman Live at Alexander's (1999)
The reformed Focus can also be heard on at least two live recordings
12. Focus (with Jan Dumee) Live in America (2003)
13. Focus (with Jan Dumee) Live in South America (2004)
Also note this rather funky version
14. Jan Akkerman Fromage a trois (2006)

A number of covers have also appeared. The title Hocus Pocus is used for several songs but these are all covers of the Focus number
1. The Vandals a punk band appear to have been first on When in Rome do as the Vandals 1984
2. Fourth Estate a progressive band were next on Dustbuster Demos 1988
3. Spies who surf did a surf rock version on a compilation album 20 Explosive Dynamic Super Smash Hit Explosions! 1991
4. Gary Hoey had a big hit with it. It first appeared on his Animal Instinct 1993 [live versions can be heard on his Hocus Pocus Live 1998. Also check out Wake up call 2003]
5. Vanessa-Mae the violin playing oriental prodigy on Storm 1997
6. Helloween the Swedish heavy metal band on Metal Jukebox 1999
7. The Paul Green School of Music on the Rock School Soundtrack 2005
8. Iron Maiden had a version out on one of their Different world packages 2006
9. Marillion covered it on a special album called Friends 2007

Some versions are great, some not so hot. Often one finds new aspects of the song being explored. The heavy metal one is obvious, the eastern feel (that Vaness-Mae really goes for) less so but the classical dimension you might not have noticed until you hear the opening to Gary Hoey's live Hocus Pocus (Insanity Mix). Akkerman's different renditions over the years have shown quite some variation. The current Focus line up have turned the song into showcase for the undoubted talents of Pierre Van Der Linden.
PS Kell Nordli has kindly pointed out that the Metropole Orkest recorded an orchestral version (arranged by Henk Meutgeert) that is featured on a double LP 'Made in Holland' (1987).

20080117

Track by track 24

Archive number: 24
Title: Hocus Pocus 2 (US Single)
Main Album: Ship of Memories (first released as a single in the US, it is also on Masters of Rock 1974, Dutch Masters 1975, Best of Focus 1993, etc)
Track number: 10
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Studio: Olympic Studios 'B', 117 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 9HL or Chipping Norton Recording Studio, 26-32 New Street, Chipping Norton, Oxon, OX7 5LJ?
Length: 03' 22”
Composer: Jan Akkerman, Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Jan Akkerman – Electric guitar (Gibson Les Paul Customs?); Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, Flute; Bert Ruiter - Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: ?
Label: Single – Sire LP – Imperial, Polydor, Sire CD – EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet, JVC Victor
Date of recording/release: Single, April 1973. Ship of Memories – LP 1974, 1976, CD – 1998, 2001, 2002, 2006
Notes: Also known as the fast version, this remake was designed for the US market at the request of the record company. It eventually reached number 9 on the Billboard Hot 100 staying in the charts for around 19 weeks. This practically live version begins with a new bass riff accompanied by the band (00:00-00:07) before breaking into a more familiar guitar-led riff (00:08-00:23) and the even more familiar classic theme (00:24-00:45). At 00:46 the drums come in alone, followed by the yodel and a sort of scream. The band then come back in with the main theme (01:09-01:25) to be followed by the strange voice with yodel sequence (01:26-01:43). The band come in again (01:44-01:54) to be followed by the drums, yodel, scream sequence (01:55-00:00) this time with a low voice (02:13-02:16) high voice (02:17-02:20) contrast before a mad guitar-led frenzy (02:21-02:43). The final drum break follows (02:44-02:48) before closing with the bass riff from the beginning, this time featuring lead guitar licks before fading from 03:12.

20080116

Track by track 23

Archive number: 23
Title: Anonymus 2
Main Album: Focus 3
Track number: 8 (CD version, 7 on the LP)
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Studio: Olympic Studios 'B', 117 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 9HL
Length: 26' 19”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer, Jan Akkerman, Pierre Van Der Linden
Musicians: Jan Akkerman – Electric guitars (Gibson Les Paul Customs?); Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, Flute; Bert Ruiter - Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: George Chkiantz
Label: LP – Imperial, Polydor, Sire CD – EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet
Date of recording/release: July 1972/November 1972 CD - 1988, 1993, 2001
Alternative version: This is a development of the track Anonymus that appeared on the first album and that can slo be heard in the background on the Ramses Shaffy album Sunset Sunkiss.
Notes: The longest track Focus were ever to record (on the original vinyl it took up the whole of one side of a disc and continued on to the next side), the piece can be divided into three main parts (00:00-06:17; 06:18-19:03 and 19:04-24:46) followed by a sort of coda (24:47-26:19). The band begin together with a staccato statement of the main theme. The guitar quickly-plucked leads. At 01:01 a rasping flute takes up the lead and is backed first by the band's fourfold repetition of an 8 or 9-note riff (modified slightly from the original one in Anonymus). The flute grows increasingly breathless until at 03:24 the organ comes in to take up the lead. At 05:23 they slip into a repeated descending riff and at 05:59 the 8-note riff is again repeated until all goes quiet. Around 06:18 a solo bass quietly takes up a slow melody that is explored alone, picking up pace from 07:41 and being joined first by a strummed or chugging electric guitar (08:12) then snares and cymbals (08:50). The bass, backed by rhythm guitar and drums, continues to build and explore these funky rhythms until the organ finally returns at 11:37 (was Van leer on a toilet break?) and it is time for Akkerman, whose restrained guitar has been growing ever more sonorous, to move from rhythm to lead, which he does with aplomb. By this stage the sound is quite heavy but still melodic. It is pretty much a live presentation. At 15:19 an 'alarm style' is hinted at and at 18:33 this comes in with a strong echo as with the help of the drums the section is concluded at 19:03. Without a break, the 8-note riff comes in again (19:04) as we are lead towards the track's long (and technically impressive) drum solo. Full band and drums alternate briefly then the solo comes in at 19:24, lasting to 23:45, when bass and organ quietly return with the riff. Lead guitar takes it on briefly at 24:10 but by 24:47 the whole thing has ground to a halt. A coda immediately follows as the band play the main theme as at the beginning. This time Akkerman is even quicker until, at 25:31-26:11, a grand reprise-style finale brings us almost to the end. The job is completed with a brief, final, abrupt and comically fast conclusion (26:12-26:19). The whole piece is mostly live and full of enthusiasm. At various points enthusiastic shouts from the band can be heard (eg 06:22, 19:13).

20080115

Track by track 22


Archive number: 22
Title: Elspeth of Nottingham
Main Album: Focus 3
Track number: 7 (CD version, 8 on the LP)
Genre: Elizabethan Instrumental
Studio: Olympic Studios 'B', 117 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 9HL
Length: 03' 07”
Composer: Jan Akkerman
Musicians: Jan Akkerman – Lute; Thijs Van Leer – Recorders; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drum
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: George Chkiantz
Label: LP – Imperial, Polydor, Sire CD – EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet
Date of recording/release: July 1972/November 1972 CD - 1988, 1993, 2001
Notes: This is the first of two Focus tracks to feature Akkerman on the lute, although it does feature on some of his solo albums and was even used in live gigs of the time. This Akkerman penned piece in Elizabethan style is mainly lute but Van Leer briefly adds recorders and Van Der Linden beats a drum at three points (01:02-01:11;01:57-02:16;02:37-02:57). The whole is enhanced throughout by outdoor country sounds, mainly twittering birds but also a cow mooing (at the end)!
Note on the lute (from Wikipedia)
Lute can refer to any plucked string instrument with a neck and deep round back or a specific instrument from the family of European lutes. These and the Near-Eastern oud descend from a common ancestor (both words may be from Arabic al‘ud, the wood, though recent research suggests ‘ud may be Arabised Persian rud [string, stringed instrument, lute] or from Greek, Frankish or Slavonic words, meaning boat or ship). The lute is used in a great variety of instrumental music from early renaissance to late baroque. It is also an accompanying instrument, especially in vocal works. Lutenist, lutanist or lutist - Lute player. Luthier - Maker of lutes (or any string instrument). Lutes are made almost entirely of wood.
Soundboard: teardrop-shaped thin flat plate of resonant wood (usually spruce) nearly always with a single (sometimes triple) decorated soundhole under the strings (
the rose). It is covered with a grille in the form of an intertwining vine or decorative knot, carved directly out of the soundboard.
Back (shell): assembled from thin strips of hardwood (maple, cherry, ebony, etc) called ribs glued edge to edge to form a deep rounded body for the instrument. There are braces inside on the soundboard to give it strength.
Neck: light wood with hardwood veneer (usually ebony) providing durability for the fretboard beneath the strings, which is mounted flush with the top.
Pegbox: before the Baroque era it was angled back from the neck at almost 90°, presumably to help hold the low-tension strings firmly against the nut, which is not traditionally glued but held in place by string pressure only.
Tuning pegs: simple hardwood pegs, somewhat tapered, held in place by friction in holes drilled through the pegbox. With such instruments choice of wood here is crucial. As the wood suffers dimensional changes through age and loss of humidity, it must as closely as possible retain a circular cross-section in order to function properly, as there are no gears or other mechanical aids for tuning. Often pegs were made from suitable fruitwoods (eg European pearwood) or similar. Matheson (c 1720) wrote that if a lute-player who lives 80 years, will spend 60 tuning. [Why Akkerman practically gave up on the lute in the end].
Belly: its geometry is relatively complex, involving a system of barring in which braces are placed perpendicular to the strings at specific lengths along the belly's overall length, the ends of which are angled quite precisely to abut the ribs on either side for structural reasons. It seems ancient builders placed bars according to whole-number ratios of the scale length and belly length. The inward bend of the soundboard ('belly scoop') is probably a deliberate adaptation by ancient builders to afford the lutenist's right hand more space between strings and soundboard. Belly thickness varies, but usually is 1.5-2 mm. Some luthiers tune the belly as they build, removing mass and adapting bracing to ensure proper sonic results. The belly is almost never finished, though a luthier may size the top with a very thin coat of shellac or glair in order to help keep it clean. The belly is joined directly to the rib, without a lining glued to the sides, although a cap and counter cap are glued to the inside and outside of the bottom end of the bowl to provide rigidity and increased gluing surface. After joining top to sides, a half-binding is usually installed around the belly's edge. It is approximately half the thickness of the belly and is usually made of a contrasting colour wood. The rebate for the half-binding must be extremely precise to avoid compromising structural integrity.
Bridge: usually of fruitwood, it is attached to the soundboard at 1/5-1/7 the belly length. It does not have a separate saddle but has holes bored into it to which the strings attach directly. Typically it is made such that it tapers in height and length, with the small end holding the trebles and the higher and wider end carrying the basses. Bridges are often colored black with carbon black in a binder, often shellac, and often have inscribed decoration. The scrolls or other decoration on the ends of lute bridges are usually integral.
Frets: made of loops of gut (or nylon) tied round the neck, they fray with use and must be replaced. A few additional partial frets of wood are usually glued to the body, to allow stopping the highest-pitched courses up to a full octave higher than the open string, though not on original instruments. Many luthiers prefer gut to nylon, as it conforms more readily to the sharp angle at the edge of the fingerboard.
Strings: historically of gut (sometimes in combination with metal) gut is till used or nylon, with metal windings on the lower-pitched strings. Gut is more authentic, though more susceptible to irregularity and pitch instability due to changes in humidity. Nylon, less authentic, offers greater tuning stability but is of course anachronistic.
Of note are the "catlines" used as basses on historical instruments. Catlines are several gut strings wound together and soaked in heavy metal solutions which increase string mass. They can be quite large in diameter by comparison with wound nylon strings for the same pitch. They produce a bass which is somewhat different in timbre from nylon basses.
The lute's strings are arranged in courses (usually 2 strings each, though the highest-pitched course usually consists of only a single string, the chanterelle). In later Baroque lutes 2 upper courses are single. The courses are numbered sequentially, counting from the highest pitched, so that the chanterelle is the first course, the next pair the second course, etc. Thus an 8-course Renaissance lute usually has 15 strings; a 13-course Baroque lute will have 24.
The courses are tuned in unison for high and intermediate pitches, but for lower pitches one of the two strings is tuned an octave higher. (The course at which this split starts changed over time.) The two strings of a course are virtually always stopped and plucked together, as if a single string, but very rarely a piece calls for the two strings of a course to be stopped and/or plucked separately. The tuning of a lute is somewhat complicated. The result of the lute's design is an instrument extremely light for its size.
Medieval lutes were 4- or 5-course instruments, plucked using a quill for a plectrum. There were several sizes, and by the end of the Renaissance, 7 different sizes (up to the great octave bass) are documented. Song accompaniment was probably the lute's primary function in the Middle Ages, but very little music securely attributable to the lute survives from the era before 1500. Medieval and early-Renaissance song accompaniments were probably mostly improvised, hence the lack of written records.
In the last few decades of the 15th century, in order to play Renaissance polyphony on a single instrument, lutenists gradually abandoned the quill in favor of plucking the instrument with the fingertips. The number of courses grew to 6 or more. The lute was the premier solo instrument of the 16th century, but continued to be used to accompany singers as well.
By the end of the Renaissance the number of courses had grown to 10. During the Baroque era it continued to grow, reaching 14 (occasionally 19). These instruments, with up to 26-35 strings, required innovations in structure. At the end of the lute's evolution the archlute, theorbo and torban had long extensions attached to the main tuning head in order to provide a greater resonating length for the bass strings, and as human fingers are too short to stop strings across a neck wide enough to hold 14 courses, the bass strings were placed outside the fretboard, and were played "open", ie without fretting/stopping them with the left hand.
Throughout the Baroque era the lute was increasingly relegated to continuo accompaniment and was eventually superseded in that role by keyboards. It fell out of use after 1800 but enjoyed a revival with the awakening of interest in historical music around 1900 and later. That revival was boosted by the 20th century early music movement. Important pioneers in lute revival were Julian Bream [an influence on Akkerman] Hans Neemann, Walter Gerwig, Suzanne Bloch and Diana Poulton.

20080114

Track by track 21

Archive number: 21
Title: Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers!
Main Album: Focus 3
Track number: 6
Genre: Progressive Jazz Rock Instrumental
Studio: Olympic Studios 'B', 117 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 9HL
Length: 13' 50"
Composer: Bert Ruiter, Jan Akkerman
Musicians: Jan Akkerman – Electric guitars (Gibson Les Paul Customs?); Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, Flute; Bert Ruiter - Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums (brushes and sticks)
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: George Chkiantz
Label: LP – Imperial, Polydor, Sire CD – EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet
Date of recording/release: July 1972/November 1972 CD - 1988, 1993, 2001
Alternative version: A live version can be heard on the Rainbow album. Akkerman continues to play it live.
Notes: Jan Akkerman apparently had a sound stage built in the studio for Focus 3 and once again here is a track that chiefly has a very live sound, though there are some overdubs. The song was being played by Focus from Ruiter's arrival and he gets a credit. The idea of musical calls and responses is a common one in jazz and it forms the basis of much of the Focus repertoire. Here, slightly differently, the response or answer precedes the call or question. The opening section (00:00-01:21) begins with Ruiter's bass riff, which gives the track its initial impetus. Bass and guitar play in unison backed by snare, cymbals and a struck high hat. From 00:19 a swelling Hammond vibrato pans out across the sound spectrum. At 00:37 the guitar cuts in to form a bridge to the point where the Hammond takes up the lead (00:47) until replaced again by a jazzy guitar (01:21). The section is brought to a close by four decisive chords. This first section is then partly repeated but with no lead organ and a longer guitar-led section that ends again with the decisive chords plus a thrice-repeated riff or scale and a repeated drum beat (01:22-02:51). A short third section (02:52-03:58) is led first by the guitar, now in plaintive mood and dubbed over the existing track which also features guitar, and then (from 03:27) by the organ. At 03:59 a sombre and mysterious mood is introduced and we come to a lengthy flute-led section (03:59-08:06). Again there is evidence of some overdubbing to achieve this. The guitar provides a subtle undercurrent until (around 06:59) it becomes a little harder and more insistent and the atmosphere becomes less mysterious and more heavy. By 08:07 we are into a new guitar-led section that is increasingly heavy and ever wilder, with Akkerman moving up and down the fretboard with some dexterity. This lasts until around 11:25 where there is an unexpected change in the style. A final section (11:27-13:50) is then led by a weeping or 'violined' guitar. This slower section ends with a virtually solo but multi-tracked guitar riff that breaks down at the end, the one guitar letting out a final long-drawn-out note that employs feedback to sustain itself for over 20 seconds. The influence of Django Reinhardt has been observed with regard to this piece but certainly Jimi Hendrix has also had a strong influence on the guitar work too. On the original vinyl LP 5 seconds of manic laughter can be heard in the distant background after this, at the close of the second side of the album. On the CD version this is now attached to the beginning of the track that follows (Elspeth of Nottingham).

20080104

Track by track 20

Archive number: 20
Title: Focus 3
Main Album: Focus 3
Track number: 5
Genre: Jazz Rock Instrumental
Studio: Olympic Studios 'B', 117 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 9HL
Length: 06' 04"
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Jan Akkerman – Electric guitars (Gibson Les Paul Customs?); Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ; Bert Ruiter - Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums (chiefly using brushes)
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: George Chkiantz
Label: LP – Imperial, Polydor, Sire CD – Capitol, EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet , JVC Victor
Date of recording/release: July 1972/November 1972, 1975 CD - 1988, 1993, 2001, 2002, 2004
Alternative versions: A live version appears on Focus at the Rainbow. Van Leer also rearranged the track for the second Introspection album. Akkerman often features it in his live act.
Notes: This, the third in the Focus series, begins with just organ (00:00-00:18) mainly repeating the notes B, C#, D, F#. At 00:19 the bass and guitar join the organ. At 00:40 the drums join in and soon the guitar is being 'violined'. This quiet, laid back style continues, repeating the earlier material, until at 02:05 the volume rises and at 02:18 a more swinging and intense style comes in, one often compared with part of Petula Clark's Don't sleep in the subway by Tony Hatch with Jackie Trent. (Cf 00:35-00:50 on that track, where she sings “I’ve heard it all a million times before; take off your coat, my love, and close the door” and 01:44-01:58 where she sings "Goodbye means nothing when it's all for show; so why pretend you've somewhere else to go"). This is repeated, bringing us to 03:10. The band then switch back to the earlier quieter style, 03:11-05:11. This slowly rises, especially from about 05:00, to something of a climax at 05:11. In 05:12-05:41 high notes on the guitar play against the bass and drums in that soaring Focus style to be followed by much lower notes (05:34-05:41). The higher part is then repeated (05:42-06:04) ending on a hanging guitar note ready for the immediate succession of the next track. Once again the feel is very much a live one.

20080103

Track by track 19

Archive number: 19
Title: Carnival Fugue
Main Album: Focus 3
Track number: 4
Genre: Jazz Rock Instrumental
Studio: Olympic Studios 'B', 117 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 9HL
Length: 06' 04"
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Jan Akkerman – Electric guitars (Gibson Les Paul Customs?), acoustic guitar; Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, piano, piccolo; Bert Ruiter - Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: George Chkiantz
Label: LP – Imperial, Polydor, Sire CD – Capitol, EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet , JVC Victor
Date of recording/release: July 1972/November 1972, 1975 CD - 1988, 1993, 2001, 2002, 2004
Alternative version: There does not appear to be a different version of this anywhere but some sections were later used by Van Leer in quite a different (more obviously fugal) way on the 1981 Pedal Point album Dona Nobis Pacem (in the first Sanctus).
Notes: The piece can be divided into four sections. The first (00:00-01:30) is slow and solemn and features piano, electric guitar and very sparing drum fills using floor toms and cymbals. The piece begins just with piano but is complimented by laid back, meandering guitar lines. The music evokes the lack of activity before a carnival march starts. There is a four second gap between the first and second section (00:31-00:34). The second section (01:35-02:55) features piano again but now with acoustic guitars from the start and (from 00:49) bass and drums. This brisker section features rising scales and evokes perhaps the readying of carnival marchers. This leads into a third even quicker, more jazzy (or contrapuntal) transitional section (02:56-03:29) on the same instruments. By now the whole troupe is more than ready for the off and the final section is a lively 'carnival' style one, Caribbean perhaps, in its feel (03:30-06:04). It features piccolo, organ, electric guitar, bass and drums. An infectious joy permeates as the music eventually fades, the revellers, as it were, passing into the distance. Overdubbing has been used to enhance the piccolo lines and contrasing guitar lines come from thetwo channels at certain points.
A note on the term fugue (from Wikipedia)
The English term fugue originates in the 16th Century and is from French or Italian fuga, which itself is from Latin and is related to both fugere (to flee) and fugare (to chase). The adjectival form is fugal. Variants include fughetta (lit a small fugue) and fugato (passage in fugal style within another work that is not a fugue).
In music, a fugue is a type of contrapuntal composition or technique of composition for a fixed number of parts, normally referred to as "voices", irrespective of whether the work is vocal or not. In the Middle Ages, the term was widely used to denote any works in canonic style; by the Renaissance, it came to denote specifically imitative works. Since the 17th Century the term has described what is commonly regarded as the most fully developed procedure of imitative counterpoint. A fugue opens with one main theme
(subject) which then sounds successively in each voice in imitation; when each voice has entered, the exposition is complete; usually this is followed by a connecting passage (episode) developed from previously heard material; further "entries" of the subject then are heard in related keys. Episodes and entries are usually alternated until the "final entry" of the subject, by which point the music has returned to the opening key, or tonic, which is often followed by closing material, the coda. In this sense, fugue is a style of composition, rather than a fixed structure. Though there are certain established practices, in writing the exposition for example, composers approach the style with varying degrees of freedom and individuality.
The form evolved from several earlier types of contrapuntal compositions, such as imitative ricercars, capriccios, canzonas and fantasias. Middle and late Baroque composers such as Buxtehude (1637–1707) and Pachelbel (1653–1706) contributed greatly to the development of the fugue, and the form reached ultimate maturity in the works of Bach (1685–1750). With the decline of sophisticated contrapuntal styles at the end of the baroque period, the fugue's popularity as a compositional style waned, eventually giving way to Sonata form.
Nevertheless, composers from the 1750s to the present day continue to write and study fugue for various purposes; they appear in the works of Mozart (eg Kyrie Eleison, Requiem in D min) and Beethoven (eg end of Credo, Missa Solemnis) and composers such as Reicha (1770–1836) and Shostakovich (1906–1975) wrote cycles of fugues.

20080102

Track by track 18

Archive number: 18
Title: Love Remembered
Main Album: Focus 3 (also a single in 1972)
Track number: 2
Genre: Classical/Progressive Rock Instrumental
Studio: Olympic Studios 'B', 117 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 9HL
Length: 2' 45”
Composer: Jan Akkerman
Musicians: Jan Akkerman – Acoustic guitars; Thijs Van Leer – Flute, Synthesizer, Voice; Bert Ruiter - Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: George Chkiantz
Label: LP – Imperial, Polydor, Sire CD – Capitol, EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet , JVC Victor
Date of recording/release: July 1972/November 1972, 1975 CD - 1988, 1993, 2001, 2002, 2004
Alternative version: A version by Toots Thielemans appeared subsequently and Akkerman himself later re-recorded the track in a very laid back style with Claus Ogerman and his orchestra (Aranjuez).
Notes: This beautiful piece opens with acoustic guitars that continue throughout the piece. Some seconds in the flute takes up the main theme, backed by a high wind-like flute provided by a synthesizer. At 01:19 two beats from the drums, which were in the background until this point signal a new phase and Van Leer's voice and more cymbals can be heard. The song builds from here with a great yearning, breaking down a little around 01:58 but finding some sort of resolve by 02:16 and returning to the opening style. We end with an extended flute note followed by a muted final chord from a guitar so leaving way on the album for the opening chords of Sylvia, the next track.