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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20080313

Track by track 40

Archive number: 40
Title: Harem Scarem
Main Album: Hamburger Concerto. Also a single with Early Birth 1974.
Track number: 2
Genre: Jazz Rock Instrumental
Studio: Olympic Studios 'B', 117 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 9HL
Length: 5' 50”
Composer: Anonymous
Musicians: Jan Akkerman – Electric Guitars (Fenders), Timpani; Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, Grand piano, Voice, Flute, Accordion, Mellotron; Bert Ruiter- Bass; Colin Allen – Drums, Chinese Gong
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: Bob Hall
Label: Polydor, Atco, EMI, Red Bullet, JVC, JVC Victor
Date of recording/release: January/March 1974; April 1974. CD – 1998, 2001, 2001, 2002, 2006
Notes: Van Leer says he wrote this one in a pub about drinking and there is something quite rowdy about it, especially the way its beginning cuts in after the previous track. Harem Scarem means reckless, rash or wild. The duplicative rhyme echoes Hocus Pocus and the hope was for similar single success. Guitar, piano, guitar, bass and drums begin in unison with a strong beat. The latter three then alternate with an incredible jazzy guitar riff (00:00-00:12). The organ joins in next and the double tracked guitars really begin to rattle (00:13-01:27). The beat varies a little and at 01:07 Van Leer attempts to move things along with some heavily reverbed Yeah, yeah, yeahs (01:07-01:27). Then with a slight slowing of pace at 01:33-01:38, some reverbed Aahs follow and some timpani (01:39-01:59). A beautiful bridge follows, led first by guitar (02:00-02:11) then an electronically treated flute and accordion (02:12-02:25) with a Parisienne feel. The opening sequence is more or less repeated (but without the yeah, yeah section) and we come (03:30) to the bridge again. This time (03:41-03:53) the accordion is more prominent and the flute smoother. Just as things are about to get going again things slow once more and a very attractive jazz guitar break with piano, bass and drums, explores the theme further (04:00-05:05). Then it is back to the original jam (05:06) for a roaring finale that goes out on a glorious ascending note from Van Leer that mingles with the final crash of a gong. The instruments are all carefully mixed and there is perhaps more evidence of production on this track than any previous one.

20080308

Track by track 39

Archive number: 39
Title: Delitae Musicae
Main Album: Hamburger Concerto
Track number: 1
Genre: Elizabethan Instrumental
Studio: Olympic Studios 'B', 117 Church Road, Barnes, London SW13 9HL
Length: 1' 11”
Composer: Anonymous
Musicians: Jan Akkerman – Lute; Thijs Van Leer – Recorder
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: Bob Hall
Label: Polydor, Atco, EMI, Red Bullet, JVC, JVC Victor
Date of recording/release: January/March 1974; April 1974. CD – 1998, 2001, 2001, 2002, 2006
Notes: This anonymous 17th Century piece features a simple setting for lute and recorder and sets the mood for the album – a rock album, but not as you might expect. The story goes that Akkerman found a manuscript by an old Belgian composer from Antwerp in a London music shop. It was then arranged for lute and recorder with Van Leer. It has been suggested that the piece is the work of a J Hove whose lute arrangement of a motet appeared in 1612 as Delitiae Musicae Cantiones. No doubt the Kasteel Groenguerd pictured on the album cover and used for rehearsals helped create the mood when work began.

20080306

Other Composers

Apart from those who were members of the group at the time Focus have looked occasionally to other writers for material. These have usually been classical composers. The exceptions are Tom Barlage (Tommy) and Paul Stoppelman (No Hang Ups). Also Eelke Nobel (Euridice).

Classical composers are Bach, Brahms and Haydn


We should also mention the lutenist John Dowland

Focus Lyricists 02

Here are the other five.
Also note that Focus fan Gordon Taylor is the man who put the Focus titles together for the track European Rap(sody).

6. Joost van den Vondel
7. Jules Deelder
8. Bert Ruiter
9. Roselie Peters/Van Leer
 10. Jan Dumee

Focus Lyricists 01

Focus vocal tracks are rare but there are some. Lyrics for these tracks have never come from Akkerman or Van Leer, the main composers. The band has always looked elsewhere - and in various directions. Here are five of the 10 they have called on.
1. Eric Cleuver
 
2. Mike Hayes

3. Jan Staal

4. Publius Vergilius Maro Vergil

5. Hazrat Inayat Khan

Track by track 38

Archive number: 38
Title: Ship of Memories
Main Album: Ship of Memories
Track number: 9
Genre: Instrumental
Studio: Chipping Norton Recording Studio, 26-32 New Street, Chipping Norton, Oxon, OX7 5LJ
Length: 1' 42”
Composer: Pierre Van Der Linden
Musicians: Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums, Harmonium
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: Barry Hammond and David Grinsted
Label: LP – EMI, Harvest, Sire CD – EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet, JVC
Date of recording/release: Final weeks of May 1973. Not released until 1977 (LP). CD – 1988,1993, 2001, 2006.
Notes: Again quite atmospheric this track, the last of the Chipping Norton remnants, would originally have begun with a lengthy drum break, perhaps something like The Lost Past on the self-titled album by Trace. We break in at the point where there is a loud crash on the drums and a drum roll ending with cymbals and leading (00:19) into the main part played on harmonium (an insturment also used briefly on Hocus Pocus). The cymbals carry on until 00:45 when sound effects of wind then seagulls begin. The harmonium slowly fades until only the sound of the wind remains. As what was expected to be the last published track from a great band it is a good choice.
A note on the harmonium (from Wikipedia)
A harmonium is a free-standing musical keyboard instrument similar to a reed organ or pipe organ. It consists of free reeds and sound is produced by air being blown through reeds resulting in a sound similar to that of an accordion. The air is supplied by foot-operated (or, as with the type of harmonium used in Indian music, hand-operated) bellows alternately depressed by the player. The harmonium was invented in Paris in 1842 by Alexandre Debain, though there was concurrent development of similar instruments. Christian Gottlieb Kratzenstein(1723-1795), Professor of Physiology at Copenhagen, was credited with the first free reed to be made in the western world after winning the annual prize in 1780 from the Imperial Academy of St Petersburg. Harmoniums reached the height of their popularity in the West in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. They were especially popular in small churches where a pipe organ would be too large or too expensive. Dvorak, Franck, Schoenberg and Rossini are among classical composers who have written for the instrument. The beatles and others have also made use of it.

Track by track 37

Archive number: 37
Title: Focus 5Main Album: Ship of Memories. Also a single in 1975 b/w P's March.
Track number: 3
Genre: Jazz Rock Instrumental
Studio: Chipping Norton Recording Studio, 26-32 New Street, Chipping Norton, Oxon, OX7 5LJ
Length: 2' 57”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Jan Akkerman - Electric guitars; Thijs Van Leer – Mellotrons, Flute; Bert Ruiter – Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: Barry Hammond and Dave Grinsted
Label: LP – EMI, Harvest, Sire CD – EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet, JVC
Date of recording/release: Final weeks of May 1973. Not released until 1977 (LP). CD – 1988, 1993, 2001, 2006.
Notes: This fourth salvaged track is a slow, subtle, laid back 'Focus' number and is beautiful. It is chiefly led by a double tracked lounge jazz electric guitar, though there is an alto flute passage in the middle at 01:37-02:06. Classically composed it is really jazz rock. Apparently the basic track was laid down first and it was only days later that, late one night, Akkerman added the guitars. Although composed and recorded prior to Focus IV it gets the name Focus V as it was only published after Focus IV had been released. Van Leer has a classical version on Introspection 3. Comparisons have been drawn with Akkerman's Javeh (Tabernakel) and Beyond the Loneliest Sea performed with Peter Banks (Two Sides of Peter Banks).

Track by track 36

Archive number: 36
Title: Out of Vesuvius
Main Album: Ship of Memories
Track number: 4
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Studio: Chipping Norton Recording Studio, 26-32 New Street, Chipping Norton, Oxon, OX7 5LJ
Length: 5' 43”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Jan Akkerman - Electric guitars; Thijs Van Leer – Electric piano; Bert Ruiter – Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: Barry Hammond and Dave Grinsted
Label: LP – EMI, Harvest, Sire CD – EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet, JVC
Date of recording/release: Final weeks of May 1973. Not released until 1977 (LP). CD – 1988, 1993, 2001, 2006.
Notes: This third offering from the Chipping Norton sessions is an extract from music recorded as a follow up to Eruption that would later transmute into part of the Hamburger Concerto (Medium 1?). (Vesuvius is a volcano near Naples, Italy, that has erupted many times - 1944 was the last. Most famously it destroyed Pompei in 79 AD). It has a very live feel to it with little evidence of over dubbing. We begin with some atmospheric tinkling on electric piano, guitar, bass and drums [tom toms and cymbals] (00:00-00:45). After a 3 second caesura (00:46-00:48) Akkerman breaks in with a wailing guitar and then leads a slightly lumbering band through the first part of the number (00:49-03:44). Overlapping with the end of Akkerman's lead Van Leer then takes things up on electric piano (03:45-05:43) to the fade. The electric piano is not an instrument used elsewhere by Focus.
A note on the electric piano (from Wikipedia)
An electric piano is an electric musical instrument. They began to be popular in the late sixties and were at the height of their popularity in the seventies but are still used today. Many models were designed for home or school use or to replace a (heavy) and un-amplified piano on stage, while others were originally conceived for use in school or college piano labs for the simultaneous tuition of several students using headphones. Unlike a synthesiser, the electric piano is not an electronic instrument, but electro-mechanical. Electric pianos produce sounds mechanically and the sounds are turned into electronic signals by pickups.
The earliest electric pianos were invented in the late twenties; the 1929
Neo-Bechstein electric grand piano was among the first. Probably the earliest stringless model was Lloyd-Loar's Vivi-Tone Clavier.
Van Leer's preferred instrument was the distinctive Fender Rhodes model. The first one was produced in 1965. The Rhodes' action is quite different from that of a conventional piano. Whereas in a conventional piano each key causes the hammers to strike sets of strings, in a Rhodes piano the hammers strikes tines instead. The result is a unique, fat sound with a bellish attack and good sustain. Since 1974 the Fender name has been dropped and just Rhodes has been used.

20080305

Track by track 35

Archive number: 35
Title: P's March
Main Album: Ship of Memories. Also a single in 1976 b/w Focus 5.
Track number: 1
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Studio: Chipping Norton Recording Studio, 26-32 New Street, Chipping Norton, Oxon, OX7 5LJ
Length: 4' 45”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Jan Akkerman - Electric guitars; Thijs Van Leer – Flute, Piccolo, Hammond organ, Clavinet, Mellotron; Bert Ruiter – Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: Barry Hammond and Dave Grinsted
Label: LP – EMI, Harvest, Sire CD – EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet, JVC
Date of recording/release: Final weeks of May 1973. Intended as a single but not released until 1976 (single) 1977 (LP). CD – 1988,1993, 2001, 2006
Alternative version: Van Leer used the track as the basis for his later Carmen Elysium on Introspection 2.
Notes: This, another track from the ill-fated trip to Oxfordshire, is really two alternating and perhaps too disparate pieces, each played twice over. The number begins with drums and two power chords on guitar then the whole band comes in with a repeated flute and piccolo-led jig with a bridge (00:00-01:23). It is followed by a lugubrious, dreamy-like guitar-led section that ends on a drawn out note (01:24-02:19). The sequence is repeated (02:20-02:56; 02:57-04:45) the guitar 'weeping' more the second time and becoming aggressive and insistent for a while (03:49-04:05), while the backing remains ballad-like. The whole ends with a distinct bass drum beat.

Track by track 34

Archive number: 34
Title: Can't believe my eyes
Main Album: Ship of Memories
Track number: 2
Genre: Rock Instrumental
Studio: Chipping Norton Recording Studio, 26-32 New Street, Chipping Norton, Oxon, OX7 5LJ
Length: 5' 19”
Composer: Jan Akkerman
Musicians: Jan Akkerman - Electric guitars; Thijs Van Leer – Mellotrons; Bert Ruiter – Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Mike Vernon
Engineer: Barry Hammond and Dave Grinsted
Label: LP – EMI, Harvest, Sire CD – EMI-Bovema, IRS, Red Bullet, JVC
Date of recording/release: Final weeks of May 1973. Not released until 1977 (LP). CD – 1988, 1993, 2001, 2006.
Notes: The first of five tracks rescued from 40 minutes of recording laid down during an abortive fortnight following the recording of Live at the Rainbow. This atmospheric, slightly disquieting piece was originally called "Can't Believe My Ears" but changed (one presumes) for obvious reasons. It was originally subtitled "Dance Macabre" the title of a Mediaeval allegory about the dance of death and a popular theme in art and classical music. The piece begins slowly with Akkerman double-tracked on guitars, one being distorted. Van Leer provides interesting 'howls' and other sounds on the Mellotron. Around the minute mark we settle into a rhythm that breaks down then recovers several times. The pace of the band remains fairly slow throughout while the lead guitar is quite jaunty and animated at certain points. This goes on until a final break down at around 04:50. A coda features a clavinet, mellotron, 'violined' guitar and some final drum beats.
A note on Dance Macabre (From Wikipedia)
Dance of Death (Danse Macabre, Danza Macabra, Totentanz) is a late-mediaeval allegory on the universality of death. No matter one's station in life, the dance of death unites all. It consists of death personified leading a row of dancing figures from all walks of life to the grave - typically an emperor, king, pope, monk, youngster, beautiful girl, all skeletal. It served to remind people of the fragility of life and how vain its glories. Its origins are postulated from illustrated sermon texts. The earliest artistic examples are in a cemetery in Paris from 1424. Paintings usually show a round dance headed by Death. From the highest ranks of the medieval hierarchy (the pope and the emperor) descending to its lowest (beggar, peasant, child) each mortal’s hand is taken by a skeleton or an extremely decayed body. The earliest known printed depiction is from 1499 Lyon by Mattias Huss. It depicts a compositor at his station, which is raised to facilitate his work; and a person running the press. To the right of the print shop an early book store is shown. Early print shops were gathering places for the literati. Pre-1973 musical versions include the following:
Normiger 1598; Liszt 1849; Saint-Saens 1874; Mussorgsky 1875-77; Woyrsch 1905; Schoenberg 1914; A ballet by Jooss 1932; Britten 1939; Shostokovitch, Ullmann 1944; 'Zombie Jamboree' by the Kingston Trio, which they say is based on Goethe, 1958; John Fahey (a finger style guitar solo in G minor tuning used in the film Zabriskie Point) 1964; Andrew Hill 1968; George Crumb 1971; 'Dancing with Mr D' by the Rolling Stones 1973. Also note, the use of the idea in two films - at the end of Ingmar Bergman's Seventh Seal (1957)the surviving members of the cast watch Death lead all of the others over a hill in a slow Danse Macabre. A particularly sarcastic danse macabre fashion show appears in Frederico Fellini's film Roma (1972)