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.




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!


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).


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.


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.