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.

.

.

20091221

Track by track 98

Archive number: 98
Title: Rock and Rio
Main Album: Focus 8
Track number: 1
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Studio: Peptide Studio, Vuren
Length: 3' 24”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, pizzicato synthesiser, voice; Jan Dumee – Guitar; Bobby Jacobs - Bass; Bert Smaak - Drums
Producer: Geert Scheijgrond & Focus
Engineer: Geert Scheijgrond & Dick Kemper
Label: Musea/Red Bullet
Date of recording/release: A limited run of 500 of the album appeared in August 2002 to be followed by a general release on CD later that year. Also later on Paras and JVC Victor
Alternative version: None
Notes: The track begins with a clicking voice from Van Leer soon joined by drums then a distinctive bassy groove with Hammond organ (00:00-00:14). This bassy groove hook alternates with Van Leer leading in a yodelling voice (backed by a pizzicato synthesiser early on) and the band (00:15-00:24; 00:25-00:34; 00:35-00:45). At 00:46 Dumee takes up the lead, this part punctuated by staccato beats from the band at 00:56-58 and 01:01, 01:02. Then it's back to the bass groove (01:04-01:13) followed by the yodelling again (01:14-01:23). Dumee leads once more (01:24-00:33) with the staccato punchline (01:34-01:36) and a little improvisation until 01:45 and a new guitar led rising section (to 01:54) followed by a fresh allegro part that includes a Russian like halt at 02:08. At 02:10 we return to the guitar-led style with the punctuation more to the background this time (02:21,22 and 02:26, 02:27). At 02:31 we go back to alternating the distinctive bassy groove and yodelling section (02:31-02:40; 02:41-51; 02:52-03:06; 03:07-03:11; 03:12-03:24)

Track by track 97

Archive number: 97
Title: Neurotika
Main Album: Focus 8
Track number: 8
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Studio: Peptide Studio, Vuren
Length: 3' 42”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, flute, voice; Jan Dumee – Guitar; Bobby Jacobs - Bass; Ruben Van Roon - Drums
Producer: Geert Scheijgrond & Focus
Engineer: Geert Scheijgrond & Dick Kemper
Label: Musea/Red Bullet
Date of recording/release: This track was recorded early in 2002. The presence of Van Roon on drums makes it a unique release. As for the eventual album - a limited run of 500 appeared in August to be followed by a general release on CD later that year. Also later on Paras and JVC Victor
Alternative version: None
Notes: This is the earliest recorded track by the Focus reincarnation that came about when the CONXI line up that had come together as a Focus tribute band was joined by Van Leer himself. Called a rehearsal track on the album listing, it is counted in by Van Roon (00:00-00:02) and is a mostly fast paced piece driven mainly by bass, drums, organ and guitar but being bolstered by Van Leer's voice mainly yodelling (00:18-00:28; 00:44-00:51; 01:07-01:12; 02:29-02:35, etc) and the flute (00:52-01:06; 01:36-01:45, 02:45-02:55) then with a guitar-led middle section (01:46-02:28). The guitar also leads twice with a slower, typically Focus, section at 01:13-01:35, and repeated at 02:56-03:19. We end with a ritartando or slowing down from 03:24 and a live finish.

On first listening to Moving Waves

The first Focus album I ever heard was their second. Moving Waves, as it was called in the UK, appeared towards the end of 1971. It was initially on the Blue Horizon label (the label my first copy bore). I must have first listened to it in 1973, the year I turned 14. I had heard the single version of Hocus Pocus on TV but the rest of the album was unknown to me. Before buying it I borrowed a copy from my friend Gwilym Evans, already a fan. The cover looked good for the time with a nice purple colour and a small picture of the group on the front and a mainly red, black and yellow set up on the back. There were quite a few words on the back but not much information.
I guess I started with Hocus Pocus knowing I liked that already. At 6' 42" the album version is quite a bit longer than the single version and it was amazing to have it there pumping into the room, this really wild rock music and yet with these weird, sometimes quite primitive, bits and that crazy yodelling. Then after the blistering opening track it goes quiet and you get a Rodrigo style classical guitar and what sounds like an orchestra and I know we have gone really classical. Nice though. The third track is Janis and we're off somewhere else this time - somewhere very eastern. I like it but it's difficult to compare it with anything. The track after that is Moving Waves and now I really don't know which way is which. This weird piano and vocal piece sounds like something in a Dutch eisteddfod or something. The last track on the first side of the vinyl album is Focus 2. It is at this point that I am hooked. This is jazz - the sort of thing Michael Parkinson would come on stage to - and yet it's a rock band playing. What have I got here?
So I flip the thing over and now I'm anxious. Here is a piece that takes up the whole of one side. It is broken up into sections according to the cover but you can see by looking that there are no gaps between tracks. This is 23 solid minutes of music! So we listen and it is mostly jazz again, although at one point the guitarist does go quite wild (the Bridge, etc) and I like the ethereal voices that remind you of something from Holst. Eruption really did take several listens to get into and I would often get lost in one passage or another. I knew instinctively that this was good stuff though and worth persevering with. As soon as I had the money I trundled off to the shops (can't remember if it was the local independent retailer Sounds or the chain store Boots) and bought my own copy.

20091113

Sugar Island

Black Beauty

Focus (Vocal)

Focus Live 10

The last time Akkerman and Van Leer performed together was in 1993. In 1999 and since 2000 Van Leer has revived the band under the name of Focus. There have not only been studio albums but many, many concerts. Since the 1990s things have changed exponentially as far as live recordings are concerned. The story of the bootleg has turned to a new and perhaps less exciting chapter. The new Focus have themselves produced a number of official live albums in various formats including - Live in South America (2002), Live in America (2003), Live in England, Live in Europe (both 2009). No doubt trips to the far east and Australia, not to mention the Arctic (!), will lead to further albums.
Meanwhile a plethora of good and bad recordings have become available from the past ancient and more recent. Youtube alone has an abundance of material. Available recordings today include concerts in Brazil, Canada, England, Holland, Mexico (2002), Brazil, Chile, France, Holland, Japan, Mexico, Scotland, Wales (2003) England, Scotland (2004) Holland (2006) England, Mexico, Holland (2007) Germany, Holland, Wales (2008).

20090903

Focus Live 09

In February 1976 Jan Akkerman finally left the band. A 33 date tour of the UK and Ireland had already been agreed and could not be cancelled so Belgian jazz guitarist Philip Catherine was drafted in. The first date (February 20) was in the Cardiff University Student Union. I remember being present on that rather disappointing occasion. The band was forced to perform a relatively brief set of unfamiliar material that included Catherine's own Sneezing Bull. When pressed for an encore they could only repeat one of the previous numbers.
As the tour progressed it was possible to add Hocus Pocus and one or two other familiar things to the set list. The tour ended on March 29 and included near the end (recorded March 17, broadcast March 21 by the BBC) the concert at The New Victoria Theatre, London. This concert appeared on CD many years later. At this time they also did Maximum and Sneezing Bull on the The Old Grey Whistle Test. The concert in Southport is also around but is of poor quality.
Things then go very quiet as far as Focus is concerned for nearly a decade. In 1985 there were at least four reunion concerts in Holland, including one recorded in Utrecht on May 21 where, with Mario Argandoña and Tato Gomez, Akkerman and Van Leer play the material found on the album of that year among other things. The set list reads - Who Is Who? (14:56) King Kong (4:02) a reggae-style House Of The King (8:51) Le Tango (6:20) Tommy (11:15) Russian Roulette (8:34) Sylvia (4:53) Streetwalker (14:05) Beethoven's Revenge (13:12) Indian Summer (8:44) Song For The Open Road (12:29) and Just Like A Star (5:31). Previous to this Akkerman had guested at a Pedal Point concert at De Brakke Grond in Amsterdam (April 4) where the Dona Nobis Pacum material was played along with a version of Akkerman's Central Station (Centralus Stationium!)
There is then another shorter gap until 1990 and the concert for Radio Veronica's Goud Van Oud in Apeldoorn, available in audio and video formats. On that occasion the classic line up of Akkerman, Van Leer, Van Der Linden and Ruiter tackled Focus 3, Focus 2, House of the King, Sylvia, Tommy and Hocus Pocus.
The very last time that Akkerman and Van Leer appeared together was in 1993 on July 10 when they shared the stage at The North Sea Jazz Festival. The set list at that time included Focus 3 (6:17) Pietons/Hocus Pocus (10:18) Puccini's Cafe (7:22) Streetwalker (8:56) My Pleasure (14:03) Fool For Your Stockings (10:55) Crackers (8:04) House of the King (2:23) Hocus Pocus (reprise) (0:55) Flute Solo (2:13) Focus 2 (4:09) Burger's Blues (4:24). Akkerman and Van Leer were joined by Ton Dijkman (Drums) Lesley Joseph (Bass) and Willem Swikker (Keyboards).

20090805

Focus Live 08

By 1975 things in the Focus camp were beginning to unravel but they continued to play together. The final Akkerman era album, Mother Focus, was recorded in Belgium early in the year with David Kemper as drummer. In late June the band appeared at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark. There seems to have been other activity in Scandinavia that year, including a disastrous stadium concert in Oslo, but none of it is available in recorded form.
At some point Pierre Van Der Linden rejoined the band for their return visit to Australia and Japan in June. Again the Japanese were ready with recording devices and shows in Osaka and Tokyo have been preserved. The one in Osaka on Thursday June 19 features part of AQQA/Focus 2 (presumably they began with Focus 3 or an improvisation, as in Tokyo), then comes Sylvia and House of the King and a new piece that never made it to a studio recording (some detect lines from Crackers and Can't Believe My Eyes in it). It was also played in the Budokan Hall, Tokyo on July 2. In Osaka we then have the end of Hamburger Concerto, a flute solo and most of a version of Eruption. The Budokan Hall concert begins with an improvisation that leads into AQQA/Focus 2. We then have the untitled track, the very end of Hamburger Concerto, House of the King and Sylvia. Both concerts close with Hocus Pocus, an improvisation (partly lost on the Osaka version) with Eurydice from Eruption and Hocus Pocus (reprise). Recordings also exist from Tokyo in 1975 of a 24 minute Eruption and a 10 minute Hocus Pocus. The lack of Mother Focus material seems strange but was may be due to working with Van Der Linden.
That year three concerts were performed in Spain (February 4-7) and at least two in Denmark.

20090803

Focus Live 07

The year 1974 was the year of the Hamburger Concerto album and concerts feature that material alongside the older numbers. In April a TV show was recorded for Danish television with Colin Allen (not 1975 as previously stated here). The show includes the ever popular Sylvia, House of the King and Hocus Pocus. They also do an Improvisation in D major and the wonderful No Hang Ups.
In March, Focus did their first tour of Germany. A recording exists of a performance in the Hamburg Musikhalle. It begins with a 21 minute Hamburger Concerto plus other tracks from the album (Strasbourg, Harem and a 14 minute Birth). They finish off with the familiar Hocus Pocus/Sylvia/Hocus Pocus (reprise) sequence. Between comes a jam featuring bits of Focus 2, Focus 3 and Tommy, possibly a regular feature of concerts at the time.
A good recording exists from Monday April 29 from Vereeniging, Nijmegen, Holland. It begins with a 25 minute Hamburger followed by La Cathedrale, Sylvia, a 12 minute Harem and a 14 minute Birth. Finally there is a 10 minute improvisation and House of the King. Oddly, there seems to have been no Hocus Pocus this time round. Perhaps they just ran out of time.
Focus recorded several shows for TV in 1974. One was for Vara Televisie in Holland featuring Hocus Pocus, a Hamburger excerpt and House Of The King. A well known recording exists for BBC 2's In Concert. It begins with an 18 minute Hamburger followed by La Cathedrale and Harem and ends with a Hocus Pocus/Sylvia medley.
Later in the year concerts were televised in America. One on ABC included short versions of Hocus Pocus, No Hang Ups and some improvised material (from the Rainbow?). In October or November the Don Kirshner Rock Concert featured Hocus Pocus, Birth (9:57) and Hamburger (13:51). No Hang Ups was also apparently performed but not recorded.
In May there was a short tour of seven British cities (May 19-27) including two nights at the Rainbow Theatre. The support band was Blue. On Saturday May 25 they played the Bristol Hippodrome and I was there - the one and only time to see Akkerman and Van Leer play together. It was an amazing concert - very loud (massive Bose speakers to the fore) and pretty magical all round.
In the Summer they toured Japan (June) and Australia (July). Later in the year they also performed in Scandinavia. Recordings exist from at least three of the Japanese concerts – one in the Koseinenkin Kaikan, Osaka on Sunday June 2; one in the Koseinenkin Kaikan, Tokyo on Sunday June 30 and one the same month some time in Nagoya.
The concerts begin with the Focus 3/AQQA/Focus 2 sequence (first two missing from the Nagoya recording) followed by Sylvia. Then comes Harem (11:07 Tokyo; 14:03 Osaka; 15:17 Nagoya). Very unusually, in Osaka, Love Remembered comes next. It also features in the Nagoya show where it is preceded by an early version of My Sweetheart on piano and guitar (untitled and apparently composed that afternoon!). The Osaka and Nagoya concerts continue with Tommy then (in Tokyo and Osaka) House of the King, Birth (around 13 minutes), Hamburger Concerto (around 21 minutes) and Hocus Pocus. In Tokyo Tommy comes after Birth. Next in Osaka comes a drum solo and various improvisations (15:20). In Osaka and Tokyo they finish with No Hang Ups and Hocus Pocus (reprise). In Tokyo the jam is more of a Hamburger Concerto thing and lasts around 13 minutes. The Nagoya recording has after Tommy - Birth (13:31), Hamburger (20:43) and Hocus Pocus.
On August 23 they again did the Reading Festival.

20090615

Focus Live 06

A good number of recordings have surfaced from the very busy period that the second half of 1973 was, some of them quite interesting.
Focus were supposed to begin touring America and Canada in early July 1973 but Van Leer went down with appendicitis and so the tour was delayed. They did do San Francisco (Friday June 29) and Passaic NJ (Friday July 13). Eventually they did over 20 more dates in the period October 30-December 1. While in America Akkerman hired an electric sitar, which he also used on his solo album Tabernakel recorded in between gigs in New York, July 14-25.
The sitar can be heard on Anonymous 2 in a gig recorded at the Hollywood Sportatorium in Hollywood, Florida on August 25. Either side of Anonymous 2 they play Focus 3/AQQA/Focus 2 and Hocus Pocus/Sylvia/House of the King/Hocus Pocus (reprise). That same month Focus also played back in Holland, in de Veermarkthallen in Leeuwarden. In this concert Anonymous 2 does not appear but a long version of Eruption does and this features not just the electric sitar but Akkerman playing the recently composed Hamburger Concerto riff on it.
Recordings exist from some time in Arlington, University of Texas, where Van Leer distinguished himself with quite an amazing operatic riff. In late September the band were in Europe, appearing at Alkmaar in Holland (Friday September 14) and the Turnhout Festival in Belgium (with Kayak, etc) on Sunday September 30. Rehearsals then began in Kasteel Groengueid, Holland for Hamburger Concerto. It is at this time that Van Der Linden left the band to be replaced by Colin Allen, who played his first gig with them in Toronto on October 29. This gig is notable for the first version of Hamburger Concerto, a 27:11 work out complete with drum break. They also played Focus 1 and the Rainbow material on this occasion.
On Friday November 2 they were in Bloomington, Indiana. It is during this concert that Van Leer mistakenly announced Pierre Van Der Linden on the drums and has to apologise and correct himself. A classic moment!

20090611

Focus Live 05

In 1973 Focus began to break in America. A broadcast recording exists from that year. It was recorded in the Philharmonic Hall in New York on Friday March 23. This was one of about 24 venues played in this period between March 2 (Miami) and April 7 (San Francisco). It has many similarites with the released recordings at the Rainbow Theatre, London of May 4 and 5 beginning with Focus 3/AQQA/Focus 2 as it does. The other tracks are similar, though we also get Anonymous 2 and the two versions of Hocus Pocus are slightly differently apportioned.
There is also a poor recording, probably from the same period, at The Sunshine Inn, Asbury Park, New Jersey (Friday March 16) and similar recordings from the first half of 1973 at The National Stadium, Dublin, Ireland on Wednesday May 9 and in Edinburgh on Friday May 11. This was part of a 13 date tour of England, Scotland and Ireland between May 4 and 17, beginning at the Rainbow. The year had begun with a 21 date tour of English cities, January 7-31 (the last date in Manchester being an extra).

20090610

Focus Live 04

An early recording for the BBC exists from the end of 1972 (November or December 12) or the beginning of 1973 (some time in January). It is sometimes known as The sky will fall on London tonight.
The compere is Bob Harris who introduces the band by saying "Hello, welcome again to another concert programme. My name's Bob Harris and, uh, tonight really does promise to be a special programme I think. It's, uh, the time of the season for saying about various bands, well, this is going to be their year and, uh, I think that statement really does apply to our guest band tonight. I've, uh, not been so much excited about a band, hearing them for the first time, as I was when I heard Moving Waves a little while ago, for a very, very long time and, uh, it's gonna be a special evening tonight, I think. Having said all that, please welcome Focus." The crowd cheer and we are straight into a 21 minute version of Anonymous 2 complete with bass and drum breaks and featuring Van Leer not only on the organ and flute but also on the electric piano.
"Remarkable playing" comments Harris, names the track and then introduces the band. He refers to their "brightest hope" award and that two albums are in the charts by this time and gives thanks on the band's behalf. he then says thank you to those who sent him eight different copies of the first album when he mentioned on air some weeks before that he did not have it. This leads into a version of Focus 1. On the recording this is immediately followed by the by now familiar trio of Focus 3, AQQA and Focus 2.
"It really is a joy to sit and listen and to watch them play" says Harris naming the track and their sources.
We finish off with a storming Hocus Pocus, very similar in style to the Rainbow version with yodelling antics and introductions, etc. It clocks in at around 7:23.

20090606

Focus Live 03

As we come into 1972 and the beginnings of Focus's international fame there are two more recordings about from Holland plus, significantly, one, possibly two, others, recorded in England.
Of the Dutch recordings, one is from Friday March 31 at the Spinoza Lyceum in Amsterdam. This features what would be an oft repeated running order familiar from the later Rainbow album - Focus 3/AQQA (both then unreleased) with Focus 2 (now including Van Leer's meandering organ intro). These are followed by the long track Anonymous 2 with its bass and drum breaks.
The other (undated) recording is of a performance in a student centre in Wageningen. In addition to the four initial tracks played in Amsterdam there is a recording of Focus 1 before Anonymous 2 and a long version of Eruption plus versions of the St Anthony Chorale (where Van Leer begins by singing in operatic style) and House of the King. The St Anthony element seems to be looking back to the Ramses Shaffy era as much as looking forward to Hamburger Concerto. The version of Eruption includes some quite eclectic elements, including a series of so called 'Bridges' where, after a fairly long ensemble piece including elements from his solo piece Fresh Air, Akkerman is left to solo on electric guitar. Some of this is quite remarkable stuff. He appears to draw on a number of pieces that can be found on his then current and sometimes later albums. After one storming section that anticipates his Prelude:Friends Always there is a brief rendition of Andante Sostenuto. We come back to more familiar Eruption territory via Van Leer's organ in quite Bartokian mode before Van Der Linden takes his turn with a six minute drum solo. This is followed by more Bartok from the band to close.
Focus also did the Pinkpop Festival again at the end of May 1972 and the Great Western Express Festival in Bardney, Lincolnshire (Sunday May 28). The very first Focus gig in England was in 1972, and may have been to 60 people somewhere in Huddersfield. There were also free gigs at the famous Marquee Club in London (Wednesday March 8, Thursday June 1, Friday August 11). The first of the recordings from England is Saturday August 12 1972 at the famous Reading Festival that was so important a break for the band in Britain. Again we have the four track sequence mentioned already. Then comes this time a rather short extract from Eruption and this time the Hocus Pocus/Sylvia/Hocus Pocus (reprise) sequence is preserved.
Recordings also exist of The Melody Maker Poll Winners Concert at the Oval Cricket Ground on Saturday September 30, 1972, when Akkerman and Van Der Linden jammed with the bassist Jack Bruce doing Powerhouse Sod. Focus also opened the show and (possibly) Bert Ruiter and Pierre Van Der Linden backed Rory Gallagher at one point.
Other gigs in 1972 include - in Holland (January 1 Wageningen, June 30 a festival in Rotterdam, August 6 Terborg) and their first tour of England and Wales - a series of around 30 gigs between October 13 and November 18 (as far west as Swansea, as far north as Newcastle, as far easy as Ipswich adn a sfar south as Southampton and Plymouth).
The other recording that possibly comes from 1972 is a BBC recording introduced by whispering Bob Harris, an early champion of the group. We will consider this recording separately.

20090525

Focus Live 02

The next group of Focus extant recordings are from 1971, the year that the second album was released. Again they are from Holland. There are two undated recordings from an early and late show in Den Burg on the Isle Of Texel. It is not clear whether this is before or after Bert Ruiter succeeded Cyril Havermans.
The first show features Anonymous 2 (22:35) Eruption (23:20) and finally an Improvisation (5:55). The later show also has versions of Eruption (23:24) and Anonymous 2 (21:58). These are preceded by versions of House Of The King/Janis (4:11) and Focus ( 5:01).
Focus were also heard that year on a documentary about them called Moving Waves and currently available on DVD.
We know that Focus played the Pink Pop Festival in Geleen on May 31 (alongside Brainbox, Fleetwood Mac, etc). They also played alongside others in the Students Union at Utrecht (June 6) and in a festival at Meerlo (July 7).
Havermans had left by September and so by November, Bert Ruiter was well settled in and their concert at Schouwburg, Den Bosch, on November 6, was recorded as was the one on November 12 at Club Zodiac, Amstelveen. The first begins with various Improvisations leading into Focus 1 (28:24). We also have the track that was later to appear on Focus 3 - Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers! (17:20) and Anonymous 2 (22:21) which are also on the second (16:45 and 22:35 respectively), separated by Focus 2 (7:38). The second concert also includes a version of Eruption (24:09) and the sequence that was eventually to feature on At the Rainbow - Hocus Pocus (9:13) Sylvia (4:12) Hocus Pocus Reprise (2:09).

Focus Live 01

Focus must have played many hundreds of concerts as Focus over the years. In most cases, certainly in the early years, recordings of these performances are quite rare. Where there are recordings these sometimes leave a lot to be desired technically and can be difficult to get hold of in some cases. Some of these concerts have been released on CD and DVD, many remain as bootleg items only.
There are three main official live recordings of Focus available - one from the early period (Rainbow) one from the Philp Catherine period (BBC) and one from this more recent period (America). There are also one or two other official live albums such as Live in South America (2002) and early material such as that found on Masters from the vaults and Gold/Greatest Hits or Living Legends. More recently, other official items have appeared.
Perhaps the very earliest extant recording is a good quality one from Saturday April 4, 1970, featuring Van Leer, Akkerman, Dresden and Cleuver. This would be well after the Amsterdam and London recordings of the first album. Two tracks were recorded at 'Studio 7' Club in Amsterdam on that occasion.
One lasts for 10:31. This is a version of Steamin/So What as made famous by Miles Davis. Van Leer is on an upright piano and the feel is very much a jazz one. Focus rarely sound quite as jazzy again but this element does resurface at various points in their later career.
The second track lasts for 17:18. This is Scarborough Fair, a traditional song arranged and made famous by Simon and Garfunkel in 1966 (Paul Simon got the song from Martin Carthy). Versions by The Ventures, Wes Montgomery and Charlie Byrd may have influenced this one. It was featured on the self-titled Brainbox Album of 1969 (with Akkerman on acoustic guitar and Van Der Linden on drums). While still quite jazzy in feel we are much more in Prog Rock territory here. Van Leer plays flute as well as piano.
The lack of audience reaction may suggest this was a run through prior to performing.
We know that focus also played in Breda on April 30 1970 (with Golden Earring and the George Baker Selection), at Terborg on August 6 and on October 31 in Wageningen as part of the Cantil Festival but we are unaware of recordings.

20090407

Track by track 96

Archive number: 96
Title: Hocus Pocus (Live)
Main Album: Focus Live In America
Track number: 9
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Venue: Patriots Theater, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, New Jersey, USA
Length: 12' 57”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, Flute, Voice, Whistling; Jan Dumee – Guitar; Bobby Jacobs - Bass; Bert Smaak - Drums
Producer: Gavin Bott/Bob Carruthers
Engineer: Mike Potter (Orion Sound) Mix (Total audio)
Label: Classical Rock Legends Limited
Date of recording/release: October 2002 (part of a two day Uriah Heep led classic rock legend festival that also featured Nektar, Mostly Autumn and Asia). Released on DVD and CD (edited) in 2003.
Alternative version: One of the most famous and oft repeated Focus tracks, it appeared first on the Moving Waves album.
Notes: On the DVD the flute improvisation that precedes it is separately credited. Beginning with organ too, the flute is mostly solo. This takes us to 02:35 when the organ comes in and Van Leer begins on a sort of priestly singing in tongues. This then transmutes (to a loud cheer from the audience) into the famous yodel. Unable to get the high notes these days Van Leer switches to a harsh whistling sound, supplemented by Dumee's voice. We are then into the main riff, complete with high volume (sometimes squealing) guitar. This is broken up twice by the yodel and scream, then the strange voice and scream. Third time round we have the low (Van Leer) and high (Dumee) voices. Next time it's the flute then the extended yodel (not quite as long as it used to be). The guitar is frenetic by this point but things cool down for the intros – Bobby Jacobs, Bertie Smaak, Jan Dumee and the man himself on organ and flute. We come out of that with a great driving bass and one more blast from the band ending in unison at 09:13. The crowd then cheer (one man's "Oh yeah" is very distinct), Van Leer says thank you very much for the final time and that is the end – though on the CD we have edited in the intro for what is there the final track (Focus 3).

Track by track 95

Archive number: 95
Title: Focus 7 (Live)
Main Album: Focus Live In America
Track number: 8
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Venue: Patriots Theater, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, New Jersey, USA
Length: 09' 55”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ; Jan Dumee – Gibson Marauder Guitar; Bobby Jacobs - Bass; Bert Smaak - Drums
Producer: Gavin Bott/Bob Carruthers
Engineer: Mike Potter (Orion Sound) Mix (Total audio)
Label: Classical Rock Legends Limited
Date of recording/release: October 2002 (part of a two day Uriah Heep led classic rock legend festival that also featured Nektar, Mostly Autumn and Asia). Released on DVD and CD (edited) in 2003.
Alternative version: This track eventually appeared on the Focus 9 album.
Notes: The introductory words from the previous track on the CD are “We go to a number which we actually wanted to record on our latest album, Focus 8, which is hopefully still available here - I don't know - but we didn't. Finally, we didn't make mix of it and so it's still in the air. It's called Focus number 7.” The track, which ends in electric guitar meltdown pretty much anticipates what was eventually to appear on the Focus 9 album with a different guitarist. We hope to give more analysis there.

Track by track 94 [DVD]

Archive number: 94 [DVD only]
Title: Harem Scarem (Live)
Main Album: Focus Live In America
Track number: 10 (DVD). Not on CD.
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Venue: Patriots Theater, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, New Jersey, USA
Length: 12' 02”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, Voice, Whistling; Jan Dumee – Guitars (Gibson Marauder and Fender Stratocaster), Voice; Bobby Jacobs - Bass; Bert Smaak - Drums
Producer: Gavin Bott/Bob Carruthers
Engineer: Mike Potter (Orion Sound) Mix (Total audio)
Label: Classical Rock Legends Limited
Date of recording/release: October 2002 (part of a two day Uriah Heep led classic rock legend festival that also featured Nektar, Mostly Autumn and Asia). Released on DVD and CD (edited) in 2003.
Alternative version: This track originally appeared on the Hamburger Concerto album
Notes: The song is not included on the CD. It is introduced with the words “Here's a song I wrote in the pub in Belgium. It's called Harem Scarem.” Bert Smaak counts the band in with his sticks. Both Dumee and Van Leer are involved in the “yeah, yeahs”. Van Leer again does his French whistling. Bobby Jacobs uses some sort of foot pedal with his bass to produce a fine bass solo from 08:20 to around 10:40. For some reason Dumee takes opportunity to change guitar during this solo – changing from the marauder to a black Fender stratocaster. Van Leer then leads them into the end at 11:47. He announces Bobby Jacobs name and says thanks before introducing the next track (see there).

Track by track 93

Archive number: 93
Title: Cathedrale de Strasbourg (Live)
Main Album: Focus Live In America
Track number: 7
Genre: Progressive Rock Vocal
Venue: Patriots Theater, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, New Jersey, USA
Length: 12' 57”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, Vocals, Whistling; Jan Dumee – Gibson Marauder Guitar; Bobby Jacobs - Bass; Bert Smaak - Drums
Producer: Gavin Bott/Bob Carruthers
Engineer: Mike Potter (Orion Sound) Mix (Total audio)
Label: Classical Rock Legends Limited
Date of recording/release: October 2002 (part of a two day Uriah Heep led classic rock legend festival that also featured Nektar, Mostly Autumn and Asia). Released on DVD and CD (edited) in 2003.
Alternative version: This track originally appeared on the Hamburger Concerto album
Notes: The data about this track is found on the previous track - “We've got another slow song for you. It's like a nostalgic feel I had thinking of the bells of the Cathedral of Stratzburg, which is a town in France on the frontiers with Germany and those bells had a very, very beautiful sound and I was a very little boy and I was more than impressed. So here's the impression. It's a little lyric sung in French.” The track itself begins with bell like organ tones. The band then join in. It was once unusual for this track to be played live and so again makes it easier for Dumee who plays well. Van Leer does slightly better with the vocals this time, the style suiting him better and whistles well (both in French!) as on the original (02:25-04:00). His voice is also heard near the end (05:38-06:10). The track closes (06:22) with the sound of the audience and Van Leer's thanks. The CD then has the words “we go to a number which we call Focus number 7” Harem Scarem being edited out of the CD version. On the DVD he says “Here's a song I wrote in the pub in Belgium. It's called Harem Scarem."

Track by track 92

Archive number: 92
Title: Focus 5 (Live)
Main Album: Focus Live In America
Track number: 6
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Venue: Patriots Theater, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, New Jersey, USA
Length: 04' 37”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ; Jan Dumee – Gibson Marauder Guitar; Bobby Jacobs - Bass; Bert Smaak - Drums
Producer: Gavin Bott/Bob Carruthers
Engineer: Mike Potter (Orion Sound) Mix (Total audio)
Label: Classical Rock Legends Limited
Date of recording/release: October 2002 (part of a two day Uriah Heep led classic rock legend festival that also featured Nektar, Mostly Autumn and Asia). Released on DVD and CD (edited) in 2003.
Alternative version: This track appears originally on the Ship of Memories album
Notes: On the previous track we have the introduction from Van Leer “We'd like to continue with a piece that Focus actually never performed so it's one of the first times we do this now. It's called Focus 5.” The performance is similar to that found on Ship of Memories (from the abortive Chipping Norton sessions) but live. Being much less familiar than other tracks, it gives Dumee opportunity to shine almost in his own right. The rest of the band do well too. At 03:43 it slows it right down to halt at 03:58. We then have a thank you and the data for the next track – for which see the next track.

20090406

Track by track 91

Notes: Archive number: 91
Title: Sylvia (Live)
Main Album: Focus Live In America
Track number: 5
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Venue: Patriots Theater, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, New Jersey, USA
Length: 04' 33”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, Voice; Jan Dumee – Gibson Marauder Guitar; Bobby Jacobs - Bass; Bert Smaak - Drums
Producer: Gavin Bott/Bob Carruthers
Engineer: Mike Potter (Orion Sound) Mix (Total audio)
Label: Classical Rock Legends Limited
Date of recording/release: October 2002 (part of a two day Uriah Heep led classic rock legend festival that also featured Nektar, Mostly Autumn and Asia). Released on DVD and CD (edited) in 2003.
Alternative version: Written way back for Sylvia Alberts, the track was first on the album Focus 3.
Notes: On the DVD Van Leer says before this track, “We'd like to play for you a short version of number Focus 3 and then specially for you it's a song called Brother.” Not a bad stab, this effort reprises what is essentially the Rainbow version. Dumee provides the high voice parts alongside Van Leer's lower ones. The piece actually closes at 03:38 and band introductions from Van Leer follow. These reveal this to be an afternoon performance. He calls himself "your organ player" with no reference to his flute here. He then introduces the next track for which see that track.

Track by track 90 [DVD]

Archive number: 90 [DVD only]
Title: Brother (Live)
Main Album: Focus Live In America DVD
Track number: 6 (DVD) not on CD
Genre: Jazz Rock Vocal
Venue: Patriots Theater, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, New Jersey, USA
Length: 12' 57”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, Vocal; Jan Dumee – Gibson Marauder Guitar; Bobby Jacobs - Bass; Bert Smaak - Drums
Producer: Gavin Bott/Bob Carruthers
Engineer: Mike Potter (Orion Sound) Mix (Total audio)
Label: Classical Rock Legends Limited
Date of recording/release: October 2002 (part of a two day Uriah Heep led classic rock legend festival that also featured Nektar, Mostly Autumn and Asia). Released on DVD and CD (edited) in 2003.
Alternative version: Instrumental versions can be found on Van Leer's solo album Introspection 3 and later on Focus 8. P J Proby sings it on Focus Con Proby.
Notes: Perhaps Van Leer was keen to include this when performing in America as it is essentially an American song. It includes a nice introduction on organ (as written for the Con Proby album), rather poor vocal work from Van Leer and, most interestingly, a guitar coda quoting Eruption. It was rightly left off the CD.

Track by track 89

Notes: Archive number: 89
Title: Focus 3 (Live)
Main Album: Focus Live In America
Track number: 10 of 10 (CD) 5 (DVD)
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Venue: Patriots Theater, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, New Jersey, USA
Length: 04' 43”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ; Jan Dumee – Gibson Marauder Guitar; Bobby Jacobs - Bass; Bert Smaak - Drums
Producer: Gavin Bott/Bob Carruthers
Engineer: Mike Potter (Orion Sound) Mix (Total audio)
Label: Classical Rock Legends Limited
Date of recording/release: October 2002 (part of a two day Uriah Heep led classic rock legend festival that also featured Nektar, Mostly Autumn and Asia). Released on DVD and CD (edited) in 2003.
Alternative version: The original is on the Focus 3 album
Notes: Performed after Eruption on the night, the CD moves it to the end. This is a fairly competent rendition of the number but, despite Dumee's best efforts, loses some of the subtlety of the best Akkerman versions. The music ends at 4:22 and is followed by applause and cheers.

Track by track 88

Notes: Archive number: 88
Title: Eruption (Live)
Main Album: Focus Live In America
Track number: 4
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Venue: Patriots Theater, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, New Jersey, USA
Length: 16' 27”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, Flute, Whistling, Voice; Jan Dumee – Gibson Marauder Guitar; Bobby Jacobs - Bass; Bert Smaak - Drums
Producer: Gavin Bott/Bob Carruthers
Engineer: Mike Potter (Orion Sound) Mix (Total audio)
Label: Classical Rock Legends Limited
Date of recording/release: October 2002 (part of a two day Uriah Heep led classic rock legend festival that also featured Nektar, Mostly Autumn and Asia). Released on DVD and CD (edited) in 2003.
Alternative version: The full original is found on the album Moving Waves
Notes: The announcment for this track is on the previous track. Van Leer says there “Now we'd like to take you to the second side, B side, of our album - actually the first album to break here in the States - that was Moving Waves. And it was a title called Eruption.” Here we start with 'violined' guitar the fare is quite standard until around 04:45 when Van Leer comes in first with the flute then some lovely whistling. This leads into a creditable Tommy (from 05:50). Then, after a little more whistling, we have more of the familiar live stuff, allowing Dumee to shine. There is some brief scat from Van Leer, mainly at 12:40-13:17, but recurring over the next minute or so after that and including something of a variation on the theme. There is also a jazzy flute-led break at 13:55-14:31 and an organ-led one at 14:32-15:34 which again features Van Leer's scat voice at certain points. There is then an abrupt return to the slow original theme (15:35-15:55) to round off. Applause and speech follow from 15:56-16:27. Van Leer says “Thank you so much ... Thanks ... We'd like to do a song that was once dedicated to a girl named Sylvia.” This is an edit, however, as it is clear from the DVD that before Sylvia another two tracks intervened (Focus 3 – at the end of the CD) and Brother (omitted from the CD).

Track by track 87

Archive number: 87
Title: Focus 2 (Live)
Main Album: Focus Live In America
Track number: 3
Genre: Jazz Rock Instrumental
Venue: Patriots Theater, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, New Jersey, USA
Length: 05' 18”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ; Jan Dumee – Gibson Marauder Guitar; Bobby Jacobs - Bass; Bert Smaak - Drums
Producer: Gavin Bott/Bob Carruthers
Engineer: Mike Potter (Orion Sound) Mix (Total audio)
Label: Classical Rock Legends Limited
Date of recording/release: October 2002 (part of a two day Uriah Heep led classic rock legend festival that also featured Nektar, Mostly Autumn and Asia). Released on DVD and CD (edited) in 2003.
Alternative version: This is again a well covered early Focus track
Notes: We begin with the well known organ intro as featured on the Rainbow album. Dumee and the band then join in to execute the piece in fine but unremarkable style, ending at 4' 45” with applause and a thank you from Van Leer and his next announcement - for which see the next track.

Track by track 86

Archive number: 86
Title: House of the King (Live)
Main Album: Focus Live In America
Track number: 2
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Venue: Patriots Theater, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, New Jersey, USA
Length: 02' 53”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, Flute; Jan Dumee – Gibson Marauder Guitar; Bobby Jacobs - Bass; Bert Smaak - Drums
Producer: Gavin Bott/Bob Carruthers
Engineer: Mike Potter (Orion Sound) Mix (Total audio)
Label: Classical Rock Legends Limited
Date of recording/release: October 2002 (part of a two day Uriah Heep led classic rock legend festival that also featured Nektar, Mostly Autumn and Asia). Released on DVD and CD (edited) in 2003.
Alternative version: The oldest and most performed Focus song, this has many versions
Notes: Another competent live version. We go straight into the track (the announcmenet being on the previous track). It is played in the usual live style, although the Hammond is more prominent than the guitar in the middle eight. We end at 02:35 and amid applause Van Leer says thank you and announces “Next piece is called Focus number two”.

Track by track 85

Archive number: 85
Title: Focus 1 (Live)
Main Album: Focus Live In America
Track number: 1
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Venue: Patriots Theater, 1 Memorial Drive, Trenton, New Jersey, USA
Length: 12' 57”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, Flute; Jan Dumee – Gibson Marauder Guitar; Bobby Jacobs - Bass; Bert Smaak - Drums
Producer: Gavin Bott/Bob Carruthers
Engineer: Mike Potter (Orion Sound) Mix (Total audio)
Label: Classical Rock Legends Limited
Date of recording/release: October 2002 (part of a two day Uriah Heep led classic rock legend festival that also featured Nektar, Mostly Autumn and Asia). Released on DVD and CD (edited) in 2003.
Alternative version: The original version was on the first album.
Notes: This is a competent version of the very first Focus number with plenty of reverb from Dumee (who, the DVD shows, is not using a tremelo arm). The music lasts for slightly over 12 minutes (00:20-12:34) topped and tailed with applause and Van Leer's Thank you and announcement (“That was Focus 1. Now we do a thing called House of the King”). (On the DVD we have the opening announcement at the start "Welcome please Focus"). We begin quietly with just the distinctive Hammond. It also ends quietly with guitar and drums. In between we have a fairly raucous section (around 05:00-08:40) that people cheer on conclusion. Then there is a slightly reggae-styled (08:41-08:59) section that leads into a beautiful flute section (09:00-11:24) which on conclusion is whistled appreciatively by the audience. As they are about to build up to another crescendo, this is abruptly cut short (11:48) and we return to the earlier earnest strains to close (12:34).

20090327

Focus not Focus

There are a small number of almost forgotten tracks that are not exactly by Focus but that technically do feature the band.
The oldest of these are the 1969 or 1970 recordings of the Amsterdam cast of the controversial musical Hair. Van Leer, Akkerman, Dresden and Cleuver form the nucleus of a 10 piece orchestra led by Del Newman with the cast singing. They can be heard, for example, on the opening introduction to Aquarius and the closing Hare Krishna. From that period there is also a short recording with Ronald Snellenberg called Mijn Overtuiging.
In the same period Van Leer was working with Ramses Shaffy and on an album containing two long tracks on each side, Sunset and Sunkiss, the whole band plays on Sunset. In 1969 a Ramses Shaffy single (the highly didactic The shrine of God b/w Watch out for the ugly people) appeared with Focus as the backing group. Slightly later, Van Leer was involved in producing an album by Hans Cleuver's wife Bojoura (Beauty of Bojoura) and the band again appear on The Last Thing On My Mind. (The Akkerman, Van Leer composition Why do they go back home seems to feature Akkerman, Van Leer and Dresden but not Cleuver.)
In 1973 Focus' bassist Cyriel Havermans left to make a solo album (Cyril) and called on his former colleagues for help. Pierre Van Der Linden is on several tracks usually with Van Leer but Share Those Dreams is the only track featuring Van Leer, Akkerman and Cyril.
It is perhaps also worth mentioning here that Jan Akkerman performed with the Van Leer Band in the 1980s but no official recordings were released.
(For the Ramses Shaffy single check here)

20090303

Progressive Rock?

Today's official website boasts of Focus as De ultieme progressieve rockgroep. But are they really a prog rock band? Being interviewed last year Thijs Van Leer said “I know some rock musicians call us ‘The Godfathers of Progressive Rock’, but I describe the music as songs without words. It is influenced by European classical music, R’n’B, folk and jazz. It’s very much improvisational and has a signature all of it’s own.”
Progressive rock has been described as “an ambitious, eclectic, and often grandiose” form of rock music that evolved in the late sixties and early seventies as part of a “mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility.” Pushing “rock's technical and compositional boundaries” it went beyond the standard rock or popular verse-chorus-based song structures. Additionally, arrangements often incorporated elements drawn from classical, jazz, folk and world music. Instrumentals were common.
Prog rock developed from psychedelic rock as part of a wide-ranging tendency in the rock music of the era to draw inspiration from ever more diverse influences. Prog rock reached the peak of its popularity in the 1970s but continues to this day. The term became widespread in the mid-1970s and was applied to music by bands such as King Crimson; Yes; Genesis; Jethro Tull; Camel and was often applied to Focus. Is it appropriate? Perhaps it is best to answer yes and no.
Yes
Do Focus avoid common popular music song structures (eg verse-chorus-bridge) or blur formal distinctions by extending sections or inserting musical interludes, often with exaggerated dynamics to heighten the contrast between sections? Yes.
Are classical forms often inserted or substituted, sometimes yielding entire suites, building on the traditional medleys of earlier rock bands? Again, yes.
Do we get extended instrumental passages, marrying the classical solo tradition with the improvisational traditions of jazz and psychedelic rock, leading often to lengthy tracks? That is certainly there.
There is also distinctive instrumentation and tone colour with the use of flute and lute and limited experimentation with unusual keyboard sounds.
What about the exploration of time signatures other than 4/4 and tempo changes, inspired by classical, jazz, folk and experimental influences? Once again, it is yes. The freer rhythmic approach of prog rock is certainly there too.
Similarly, when it comes to melody and harmony the blues inflections of mainstream rock are supplemented by jazz and classical influences. Longer, developing passages are more common than short, catchy ones. Allusions to, or even direct quotes from, well-known classical themes appear.
No
On the other hand, ambient soundscapes and theatrical elements are not really part of the Focus scene and although Focus showed some interest in new electronic musical instruments and technologies, it was never to the fore. Mellotrons and synthesisers were used sparingly and in its current incarnation Focus pretty much avoids them. There has never been a Focus concept album either. The general lack of lyrics has also meant that themes from classical literature, fantasy and folklore (the stuff of many a prog rock band) have never been explored. Album art has never been a big part of Focus's appeal, either and as for stage theatrics the very opposite was generally true of the quiet Dutchmen. Unlike Genesis, Keith Emerson and others, for Focus the music is everything.
A qualified answer is necessary, therefore. Are Focus Prog rock? Yes, but in a way unlike any other prog rock band. Indeed, a unique style.

20090224

Akkerman: the humorous element

Most British audiences sat listening to Focus very soberly and the humour was perhaps overlooked. My tendency was certainly to be a little over earnest in my devotion. For example, I always listened to Focus 2 (Moving Waves) with a certain awe, oblivious to any echo of the 007 theme. On hearing the version on Akkerman's live album 10,000 Clowns (1997), where he slips in a brief quotation of the Bond theme I burst out laughing. A similar musical joke appears on Live at Alexander’s (1999) on Pietons. This time we briefly hear the Flintstones theme (to the momentary alarm of the other musicians, as I recall).
Hocus Pocus was not Akkerman's first foray into novelty. In 1969 The Hunters were number one in Holland with a cold war inspired vocal number The Russian spy and I, featuring hot guitar work, in balalaika style, from Akkerman, then an up and coming 18 year old. Some may say ‘Niet’ but I would argue that it bears hearing today both as artifact of social and political history and attractive guitar virtuoso pop.
We have written of Van Leer's humour but with Akkerman the humorous element is, if anything, more pronounced. In 1981 he made a solo album that is pure fun throughout. Apparently Oil in the Family was produced, perhaps uniquely, in just 48 hours in response to a Dutch radio producer’s challenge. Jan came up with what can best be described as a Middle Eastern disco record (one track is Disc-o-asis!) that is pure jest throughout. You may feel the joke is wearing thin by now but it still stands up as a good fun album.
There are plenty of other fun tracks too. It is difficult to listen without smiling to Green Onions (Guitar for Sale), Kemp’s jig and Minstrel/farmer’s dance (Profile), Crackers (available in several versions) or Quiet Storm (Art of Noise). There is even a track simply called Having Fun (also on Art of Noise). Until Flower Shower the Mother Focus track, I need the bathroom, (featuring a rare vocal from Akkerman himself?), was the wackiest item ever released by Focus.
Clearly in the making of most of Akkerman’s albums there has been plenty of laughter. Can’t stand noise originally had a closing track (Who knows) that ended rather abruptly. The story goes that the beautiful summer weather of 1983 prompted an attempt at outdoor recording. No sooner was everything set up for Akkerman to perform than a thunderclap announced a pending storm and everyone rushed back inside. The track Status Quo (From the Basement) ends with Dino Walcott breaking into fits of uncontrollable laughter. Jan explain in part"We were all standing together in the control room, while Dino was standing in the studio with his mouth organ. We were laughing our heads off, while the drum machine kept on going, and then Dino also started to laugh."
Akkerman loves punning (as in his trade mark ‘Thank you very Dutch’) and humour of a more unusual sort. His sense of fun comes out in several ways on albums. Even on a pretty serious album like Live at the Priory there are amusing remarks between songs (eg in response to the plea for more, ‘People. I’m dying for a fag!’). Occasionally there has been jocund art work. The album cover where Jan shares his bed with an amorous guitar comes to mind as does the carefully conceived Noise of art jacket. I also like the two perspiring plastic pieces on the Transparental album with Kaz Luz and the In and out of Focus gatefold sleeve where the word Focus literally goes in and out of focus.
Word play often features. On Puccini’s Café, produced after a serious road accident, we find for the first time song writing credits to M Muleta. Who is Mr Muleta? Ask Jan and he will tell you it is his old lady or that it is the Spanish for a bull fighter’s cloak. Try saying ‘em-mue-later’ however and you might see the joke. It is a little like A. Rab credited on some Oil in the Family tracks. It’s Jan again this time acknowledging an unknown Middle Eastern writer from whom he borrowed.
Some track and album titles are puns or jokes. The come back album Art of noise is a neat inversion. It includes the whimsical track title, You can’t keep a bad man up. Among bonus tracks released on three albums in 1998 we note, When I was a cocktail in a waitress bar, 39 seconds (that’s enough for that pilgrim), Akkermani and A town near Odessa (inspired by a town called Akkerman!). Think too of Ab-so-rocking-lutely, D.Jan.go and Knight of the lute on Passion.
Akkerman loves to rework tracks. This gives opportunity for droll punning. Heavy pleasure, Heavy treasure; Primadonna, Pre Madonna; Streetwalker, Weedstalker; Milestones, Akkerstones; not to mention Sylvia’s grandmother and Soft Focus or Birth and Early birth.
Again like elements pinpointed in other articles, humour is an important element in Akkerman’s music and a further part of what makes his body of work the phenomenon it is.

Van Leer: the humorous element

One thing that attracted me to Focus’s music as a teenager in the 1970s was its seriousness. Raised on pop music I was tiring of its superficial predictability. Then along came Focus with something quite different. The irony is that if the novelty piece Hocus Pocus had not become an international hit, I may never have discovered Van Leer (and Akkerman's) music. Somewhat unique in being the only yodelling track to consistently feature on albums that showcase the world’s greatest guitarists, it manages somehow, with its claps, shouts, whistles, yodels and blistering guitar riffs both to amuse and amaze. Perhaps the live version on Focus at the Rainbow is the most fun. (On the 1973 American tour, one night poor old Van Leer sang ‘And on the drums Pierre van der Linden’ only to find Colin Allen there – a reminder that not all humour is intentional!)
On Focus Con Proby the question is asked When does a smile begin? There is certainly a vein of humour, especially in Akkerman's work but also in Van Leer's that surfaces at various points. It is certainly in the Focus output and perhaps the search for novelty did dog them. Singles Harem Scarem and Mother Focus tried to capitalise on Van Leer’s distinctive vocals but nothing is quite as much fun or as satisfying as yodelling! An earlier version of Mother Focus is preserved on Ship of Memories, of course, in the weirder, possibly more satisfying, guise of Glider.
Round goes the gossip (the opener on Focus 3) is a track of subtle humour, weirdly enunciated Latin amid a jazz set overlaid with eventually manic voices repeating the title. Both Carnival Fugue and Elspeth of Nottingham (with its cow mooing at the end) are not without humour either. At the end of the second side of what was originally a double album one can appropriately hear weird and manic laughing in the distance. Eruption (Moving Waves) with its call and answer, piano forte style and monastic choir is another track with witty moments. However, in the musical gag department perhaps Hamburger Concerto (Rare, Medium and Well done!), whose very title is a rather old joke, is the most eccentric. It features Van Leer alternately singing male and female opera parts along with an old Dutch hymn sung in a perfectly composed manner amid classical piano and timpani, electric jazz and rock.
Van Leer's solo output and later Focus work is not marked to any great extent by this same sort of humorous approach though it does surface on rare occasions. For example – Super Fishel and Bahama Mama on Nice to have met you with its rather humorous cover (compare the more risque joke on the best of collection Collage) and perhaps I hate myself (for loving you) on the album of that name and Shock treatment on the same album plus Hurkey Turkey Parts 1 and 2 and the rather weird Flower shower (Focus 8 bonus track) - what on earth is going on there? - and possibly European (Rap)sody. Other fun tracks include Finale (Glorious album), the Rondo pieces and several others. Often when doing scat (as on Etudes sans Genes) Van Leer can be very humorous. The name 147 bars (Etudes sans Genes) is a rare example of a humorous enough title. Van Leer, unlike Akkerman, tends not to go in for such things. An example from Focus days would be using the title Anonymus on the first album or the later Mother Focus (no comment) which also includes the closing track Father Bach.
Writing about humour is seldom funny, but like other elements pinpointed in previous articles, humour is an important element in Van Leer's music to some extent and a further part of what makes his body of work the phenomenon it is.

20090223

Thijs Van Leer: the Latin element

Having observed the eastern element in the music of Jan Akkerman one looks for something similar in Thijs Van Leer's music. It is not really there to the same degree. Obviously he performed Moving Waves and collaborated on Black Beauty, Janis, Dayglow, Hocus Pocus, Love Remembered, Harem Scarem, Indian Summer, etc but a careful examination of the matter reveals that whereas both have been open to all sorts of influences (in 1997, for example, Van Leer was working with Senegalese musicians) whereas it is the eastern element that stands out with Akkerman, with Van Leer, it is the Latin one.
By Latin we do not mean the language used on Round goes the gossip but the various musical styles emanating from Latin peoples, chiefly from Latin America (including the Caribbean) but not forgetting Latin Europe. It is not that Akkerman ignores the Latin element (he has studied flamenco guitar, played with Paco de Lucia and recorded music by Villa Lobos and Rodrigo) or that Van Leer entirely ignores the eastern element (check out China or Miss Saigon for rare examples) we are simply remarking on a tendency in musical choices. Obviously the bulk of Van Leer's work is undergirded by German and other Central European traditions but the Latin element is quite strong.
If we look at the earlier Focus period we note that on several albums the Latin element comes through. On the first album it is Sugar Island, on Focus 3 the equally Caribbean Carnival Fugue. Do not forget either the Philip Catherine number Sneezing Bull. When we listed Focus tracks with an eastern influence above, we mentioned Harem Scarem. Interestingly the counterpoint to any eastern feel there is the introduction of a rather Latin French accordion element, clearly coming from Van Leer. The French Latin feel can be heard in several places on the unique solo album Renaissance (1986).
On later Focus albums we have the overtly Latin-influenced Le Tango (a Roselie Peters track that originally appeared on the 1975 solo album O my love! and is also on Introspection 4 from 1980) and the more obliquely Latin Ole Judy from 1985 and then, more recently, Rock 'n' Rio, Hurkey Turkey and De ti o de mi (Focus 8) and It takes 2 2 Tango and Brazil Love (Focus 9).The presence of South American aficionado Jan Dumee at one stage undoubtedly encouraged this South American impetus as well as the enthusiastic fan base that Focus have there. (Dumee had spent time in Brazil studying Brazilian music and has worked with many Latin American musicians). In 2002 Focus performed in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela. A limited edition Live in South America album was produced that year and other live recordings from that continent and time exist.
A trawl through the Van Leer archive will reveal other items that perhaps fit this pattern. On Introspection 2 (1976) we find Goyescas No IV by Granados and on Reflections (1986) the Arioso from Leoncavallo's Pagliacci, not forgetting Bahama Mama from Nice to have met you (1978), various issues of Ravel's Bolero, the Ennio Morricone suite (Introspection 92) and Bernstein's America (Musical Melody, 1994).
If the above connections appear a little tentative the same cannot be said of Van Leer's involvement with Spanish singer Miguel Rios on three Spanish albums in 1981-1983, the use of Luis Luz as percussionist on the Van Leer Band album (1987), his appearance on the album Nuevo Tango (1997) with Argentinians Astor Piazolla and Luis Borda and his tours of South America with Dutchman Mike Del Ferro. Several of these contacts seem to have arisen from the early eighties period when Van Leer worked with Paul Shigihara and two Chilean musicians – Tato Gomez (bass) and Mario Andragona (drums). As well as working on other projects together these four produced the modern mass Dona Nobis Pacem (1981) as Pedal Point. The lyrics are all in Latin but with a Spanish lilt. On the sleeve notes they thank Carlos Narea for help, singing on one or two tracks and Juan Edo Fernandez “for his spiritual guidance”.
Latin music is a broad category but it is a useful one to have in mind when considering the very varied influences that have shaped the musical output of Thijs Van Leer.
PS Since this article was penned three further Focus albums have appeared and each adds to what is found above. Focus X includes Latin influences such as on Crossroads and Birds come fly over, yet another version of Le Tango, this time featuring Brazilian singer Ivan Lins. He also sings on the Spanish or Portuguese track Santa Teresa which appeared as a bonus track on the Japanese version of Focus X and later on The Focus Family Album. Birds come fly over is sung by Thijs himself on this latter album.
In 2016 Focus released an album of material (8.5 Beyond the Horizon) with friends that was recorded with Brazilian musicians in Brazil. Including, as it does, tracks such as Hola, Como Estas and Inalta this album confirms all that has been said of Thijs van Leer being open to Latin influences.  The guest musicians, such as Arthur Maia and Mario Seve, are big players in the worlds of Brazilian jazz and samba, even if their names are not familiar beyond South America.

20090219

Jan Akkerman: the eastern element

In an interview in Odessa, Ukraine, in 2005 Jan Akkerman said “I think I have Russian roots. My aunt told me that one of my great-grandmothers was from the Akkerman region (a nearby fortress does have the name Akkerman) where were then living the Dutch merchantmen who traded between South Russia and Holland. My last name seems to be very eloquent in this respect, though sometimes I think I can't be completely certain in that. All in all, I don't have a wish to delve into my genealogy, but I believe my ancestors were from here.” No doubt he was not wholly serious but if you listen to Akkerman's music you will see that there is something in what he says.
Eastern music is notoriously difficult to define but something definitely happens to harmony and rhythm east of a point somewhere in line with Vienna that is quite distinct. This eastern element can be found in several places throughout Akkerman's work.
In recent years Akkerman and his band have played live in Mumbai, in Japan, in the middle east and other places east of Vienna and he has sometimes deliberately brought out this eastern element in these places. The current very eastern version of House of the King (Palace of the King) typifies it. If truth be told, however, House of the King always did have something eastern about it, something first declared unequivocally in the electric sitar version found on the solo album Tabernakel.
Like many others in the UK my first introduction to Akkerman's music was the album Moving Waves with Focus. One feature of that album was its unique sound. It was quite different to much of the rock music around at the time. Its European sound was often referred to. However, not only did it sound pretty European but in certain places there was an undoubtedly eastern feel to it. Think of a track like Janis for example, with its distinctly eastern flutes or certain parts of the long track Eruption, especially Dayglow. Hocus Pocus and the title track also share this eastern feel. (Vanessa Mae's version of Hocus Pocus brings out the eastern element very well). This was the early seventies, of course. The Beatles and others had already blazed a trail to India and back so this element was a very contemporary one. Jan appears on the original cover, if you remember, wearing a state of the art khaftan.
A similar phenomenon is faintly recognisable on the first and third Focus albums (although to be fair, both albums contain tracks firmly in the Caribbean tradition and so no corner of the globe is entirely neglected). Check out Black Beauty or Love Remembered for example. Harem Scarem and parts of Hamburger Concerto (especially Medium 1) also contain quite eastern elements.
Akkerman's eastern credentials go back a long way. His art was cradled in the very beginnings of Dutch rock in the fifties, when the Tielman brothers from Indonesia and their Indo-rock style dominated the Dutch scene. In a recent interview Akkerman has said that there were “a lot of Indonesian kids in the area where I grew up, and we played blues and rock & roll”. That surf rock sound always did have an eastern leaning and the influence can be detected in the early music of Akkerman and others. (The eastern influence on Dick Dale for example is widely acknowledged). Akkerman also admits freely to other early eastern influences from gypsies and from Balkan music.
Before his Focus days the eastern element can also be detected in the Jewish traditional, Hineimatov, on the first solo album, on the Russian styled hits with The Hunters The Russian spy and I and Janosh (revisited on Russian Roulette with Van Leer in 1985) and quite obviously on the Brainbox track Dark Rose.
By the time we come to the solo album Tabernakel Akkerman is featuring, at certain points, both the electric and the acoustic sitar. For some reason the sitars are not credited on the original album but it is an open secret that in the seventies and eighties Jan often used a Coral electronic sitar. This sitar also apparently features on the later Focus track Glider (on Ship of Memories). Jan also played it in public at the end of 1974 at a Brainbox reunion concert, later shown on Dutch television. With regard to the early solo albums Profile and Tabernakel, it is interesting that Akkerman plays the oudh-like lute rather than, say, a banjo!
In the seventies Akkerman played and recorded a lot with Neppie Noya the Indonesian born percussionist and son of Japanese Taiko drummer Fusao Nakato San. Later on, the legendary 1981 album Oil in the family features a very eastern style cover, reflecting the strong presence of eastern style melodies on most tracks. Jan actually credits A. Rab (!) as composer on certain tracks in an effort to acknowledge his borrowings from unknown middle-eastern musicians. Some live performances of this material actually featured the use of a belly dancer. The album apparently went down very well in Turkey.
With subsequent albums the eastern element is perhaps excluded, though in 1985 on the track Indian Summer with Thijs Van Leer an Indian tabla player based in Holland (Ustad Zamir Ahmad Khan) is brought in and some have detected it, for example, on some of the percussion for The noise of art (1990), the track Saudade on Focus in time (1996) and the opening track See you! on CU (2003). How much direct Akkerman influence there may be in the Forcefield tracks Year of the Dragon and Tokyo (on their second and third albums of 1988 and 1989) we do not know. The more one is aware of this eastern element, however, the more one can hear it perhaps.

Akkerman Solo


Before joining Focus Jan Akkerman had produced a solo album - the 1969 instrumental album Guitar for sale. While still with Focus he produced Profile and Tabernakel and the collaboration with Peter Banks (Two sides of Peter Banks 1973). Between the break up of Focus and the 1985 reunion with Van Leer in 1985 he produced several diverse albums, including a self-titled album (1977) and a live album with similar content the following year (Live in Montreux). The very classically oriented Aranjuez with Claus Ogerman also appeared in 1978. In 1980 the funky Jan Akkerman 3 appeared and in 1981 the Arab disco influenced Oil in the family. The 1982 album Pleasure Point covered diverse but more familiar territory as did It could happen to you (1985). Between these came the ZZ Top inspired From the basement. Alongside these albums came collaborations with jazz clarinettist Tony Scott (1977) singer Kaz Lux and drummer Pierre Van der Linden (1977 and 1980) and German keyboard maestro Joachim Kuhn (1978 and 1979) as well as others.

Since 1985 the albums have continued to come from time to time - Can't stand noise (1986) Heartware (1987) The noise of art (1990) Puccini's Cafe (1993) Blues Hearts (1994) Focus in time (1996) Blues Roots with Curtis Knight (1999) the acoustic Passion (1999) plus a number of live albums of various sorts. In 1989 Akkerman was on two albums from the heavy rock band Forcefield. He has been involved in several other collaborations and made many, many guest appearances. In 2003 the last studio album CU was produced, making use of then current techno or house production technique. Since 2003 several "unreleased albums" have appeared on the internet and in April 2011 the studio album Minor Details was released.

Van Leer Solo

While still with the original Focus, Thijs Van Leer produced one solo album - the very successful light classical orchestral album Introspection of 1972. At the time of the break up in 1975 he also produced the album O my love! with his then wife Roselie Peters. By 1985 he had done three further Introspection albums and in America the slightly different Reflections (1981) and the more jazz rock style Nice to have met you (1977). Van Leer also collaborated in this period on two Christmas albums and Geluckig is het land featuring Dutch national songs. In 1981 using the name Pedal Point he was involved with others in a modern mass called Dona Nobis Pacem. In 1984 he guested on one or two tracks for Akkerman's solo project From the basement.
After 1985 Van Leer went on to do several solo albums mostly of an orchestral type exploring the classics (Introspection 92, Bolero 1996) musicals (Musical Melody 1994) and hymns (two collections in the 1990s). Renaissance (1986) and Bach for a new age (1999) were solo efforts in a classical style. In 1987 a straight rock album appeared with a band I hate myself for loving you. There have also been two more Christmas albums, guest appearances on various albums and less commercial projects such as the DVD Etudes sans genes and the recent At home CD.

Focus fades

The fade is used by Focus quite sparingly, except on Mother Focus, where nearly half the tracks fade. It is usually adopted where a live piece has no obvious ending. Tracks using a fade include these

1. Why dream (In and out)
2. Carnival fugue and Sylvia (Focus 3)
3. The US or fast version of Hocus Pocus
4. Early Birth
5. Red sky at night
6. Bennie Helder, My Sweetheart, All together ... Oh that!, Hard Vanilla and No Hang Ups (Mother Focus)
7. Nightflight and Wingless (Focus Con Proby)
8. Le Tango, Who's calling and Beethoven's Revenge (Focus 1985)
9. Fretless love, Hurkey Turkey, De ti O de mi (Focus 8)

Answers? Questions!

???
Besides the Answer element in the long track Eruption (Moving Waves) and Answers? Questions! Questions? Answers! (Focus 3) Focus have at least five tracks that ask questions.
They are

1. Why dream?
2. Someone's crying ... what?
3. How long?
4. Who's calling?
5. Sto Ces Raditi Ostatac Zivota?

Track by track 84

Archive number: 84
Title: Who's calling?
Main Album: Focus (1985). Also a single b/w Beethoven's Revenge.
Track number: 7
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Studio: Studio Spitsbergen, Zuidbroek, Groningen, The Netherlands (mixed at Dureco Studios, Weesp, The Netherlands)
Length: 16' 14” (7:30)
Composer: Jan Akkerman, Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Jan Akkerman - Synthesiser Guitar, drum machine; Thijs Van Leer – Keyboards inc synthesisers, Flute, Vocals; Tato Gomez - Bass
Producer: Ruud Jacobs with Jan Akkerman, Thijs Van Leer and Theo Balijon
Engineer: Emile Elsen, Jan Akkerman and Theo Balijon
Label: Mercury (Phonogram)/Vertigo
Date of recording/release: Recorded 1985 Released LP/CD -1985 CD – 1989.
Alternative version: None
Notes: There are longer and shorter versions of this piece. The edited version (more than 8 minutes shorter) appeared on the original vinyl version. In typically prog rock fashion the closer is a slow march. This is briefly introduced by a dreamy flute and guitar with a synthesised background (00:00-00:29). The march is led first (00:30-01:44) by a synthesised guitar. The flute then takes up the lead (1:45-03:01) backed by guitar and the synthesised beat. At 03:02 there is break down to a slower, pleasant guitar-led section (until 04:10 on the longer version). The longer version has a transitional section (04:11-04:16) before coming back to the main guitar led theme (04:17-05:31). This too breaks down again at 05:32 and goes on to 06:30 with guitar and a little flute. In 06:31-06:49 the guitar becomes more raucous and the flute more eastern in style. It's then back to the main flute theme again (06:50-08:03) followed by the main guitar theme (08:04-08:46). At 08:47 the flute joins in again and takes things up to another climax at 09:19. At 09:20-10:33 the longer version has a unique section exploring the theme further on more acoustic then more rock like guitars before eventually coming back to the main theme. In 10:33-11:17 the flute leads (in the longer version) in a different key. There is also a section (11:18-11:36) led by the high guitar sound. From 11:37-11:50 the flute takes up the lead again. From 11:51-13:06 (on the longer version; 05:34-06:50 on the shorter one) a choir like chant comes in (Van Leer's synthesised and choired voice). The flute brings this section to its climax. The shorter version ends with the keyboards playing out until the fade. The longer version allows the keyboard section to become rather tedious (13:07-14:23) until it is finally rescued by the pleasant addition (14:24-16:08) of the flute (Akkerman has presumably left early). The piece then fades.

20090218

Track by track 83

Archive number: 83
Title: Ole Judy
Main Album: Focus (1985)
Track number: 6
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Studio: Studio Spitsbergen, Zuidbroek, Groningen, The Netherlands (mixed at Dureco Studios, Weesp, The Netherlands)
Length: 03' 44”
Composer: Thijs Van Leer
Musicians: Jan Akkerman - Synthesiser Guitar, drum machine; Thijs Van Leer – Keyboards inc synthesisers, Flute; Tato Gomez - Bass; Fairlight programmed by Ed Staring.
Producer: Ruud Jacobs with Jan Akkerman, Thijs Van Leer and Theo Balijon
Engineer: Emile Elsen, Jan Akkerman and Theo Balijon
Label: Mercury (Phonogram)/Vertigo
Date of recording/release: Recorded 1985 Released LP/CD -1985 CD – 1989
Alternative version: None
Notes: Perhaps the most accessible track on the album this piece is has a slightly Latin feel but is reminiscent of Birth (Hamburger Concerto) in the juxtaposing of Van Leer and Akkerman throughout the song. Van Leer kicks things off with his keyboards, sounding first more reedy (00:00-00:21) then more trumpet like (0:22-0:41) with a trace of flute at the end of the section. Akkerman then steps up to lead with a tough guitar riff (00:42-00:51). We then go back to the trumpet like keyboard briefly (00:52-01:02) before Akkerman has a second stab (01:03-01:23). At this point the flute comes in with gusto (01:24-01:44) before giving way to the trumpet-like keyboards (01:45-02:04) which are inevitably succeeded by the guitar (02:05-02:14). Van Leer's keyboard (02:15-02:35) then flute (02:36-02:45) lead once more before Akkerman closes with a final guitar solo in two parts (02:46-02:51 and 02:52-03:44) that finally fades away.

Track by track 82

Archive number: 82
Title: Beethoven's Revenge (Bach-One-Turbo-Overdrive)
Main Album: Focus (1985). Also a single b/w Who's Calling?
Track number: 5
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental
Studio: Studio Spitsbergen, Zuidbroek, Groningen, The Netherlands (mixed at Dureco Studios, Weesp, The Netherlands)
Length: 18' 40" (10' 43")
Composer: Jan Akkerman
Musicians: Jan Akkerman - Synthesiser Guitar, drum machine, Acoustic Guitar; Thijs Van Leer – Keyboards inc synthesisers, Flute; Ruud Jacobs – Acoustic Bass; Fairlight programmed by Ed Staring.
Producer: Ruud Jacobs with Jan Akkerman, Thijs Van Leer and Theo Balijon
Engineer: Emile Elsen, Jan Akkerman and Theo Balijon
Label: Mercury (Phonogram)/Vertigo
Date of recording/release: Recorded 1985 Released LP/CD -1985 CD – 1989.
Alternative version: My Pleasure on Akkerman's solo album Heartware provides the core of this piece
Notes: This track appears in its fullest form on the CD. The orginal vinyl had an edited version that lacked around 8 minutes of the original. The title references both the 19th Century Romantic composer Beethoven and the 1970s Canadian rock band Bachman Turner Overdrive. Focus had produced long tracks previously but they were composite tracks. This track has several elements but is really more akin to a long jam session based around Akkerman's My Pleasure than anything symphonic.
The introduction (00:00-00:32) uses a strong beat and a scattered keyboard effect before a choppy guitar takes up the lead (00:33-01:02). A whistful, synthesised flute sound comes in next (01:03-01:37) before a new rhythm is introduced led by harp like sounds (probably from the keyboard but possibly the guitar) in 01:38-02:13. The flute like melody then recurs (02:14-02:45) before we break into the very catchy guitar riff that carries the piece (02:44-03:29). Another catchy section follows – probably on the keyboard this time (03:27-03:41). It is then the turn of the guitar again (03:42-04:10) before the original catchy guitar riff and succeeding section are repeated (04:10-04:25; 04:25-04:39). We then move in to a more minor key for the next section (4:40-05:09) before the flute-like, romantic style returns (05:10-05:39). A percussive guitar with bell-like sounds breaks across this for another fresh section (05:40-06:13). A section from 06:14-07:33 first harp-like then flute-like comes next on the extended version, edited out on the shorter one. In 07:34-08:10 the percussive guitar with bells returns and is followed by the catchy guitar, etc (08:11-08:23) then a quieter section with an organ sound (08:23-09:51) and the catchy guitar again (09:52-10:06). In 10:07-10:19 the catchy piece is repeated with a flute sound before another fresher section (10:20-11:26) with a struck harp sound (at 10:40, 41 and 10:49) plus a Spanish guitar. In 11:27-11:54 the synthesiser's pitch fluctuates rather. At 11:55 the double bass comes in as the main theme is attacked at length with an oddly pitched guitar. A large chunk of this final section is (helpfully) cut from the final guitar-led jam (from about 13:22). The band are still going as the music fades.