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 Under the Bridge London

I have been to Stamford Bridge, Chelsea's ground, more than once but I had not really noticed that under the East stadium near the Shed end there is a venue called Under the Bridge, Last Friday night I and a ministerial friend (who I convinced about Focus last time they were in town) were among a couple of hundred squeezed into this state of the art setting. (A light show is a rare treat at a Focus gig but appreciated - I think the visuals man must have a sense of humour as we had a picture of crocuses as we started on Hocus Pocus or as Jan Akkerman would surely have rechristiened it Focus crocus!). We caught most of Chantel McGregor's set which was of a high standard. She plays guitar and sings with a bass and drums rhythm section. Of course, once Focus stepped on stage were into a whole new zone with each member of the band making a solid contribution that was rewarded with a solo slot for for each - more in some cases. Van Leer was on form with the complete array of two kinds of flute, organ, melodica, scat, whistling, throat singing, lots of vocoder and a brief vocal on the opening song.
The set list began as usual with some very early stuff - Focus 1, a little Anonymus and House of the King. We then had a version of Eruption, good but not outstanding on this occasion I thought. We then moved on to some more recent stuff - Winnie and the simple but effective All hands on deck with the essential Sylvia in the middle.
We then had some songs rarely heard, if ever - Focus 4 (!) from Mother Focus and Focus 6 which has never appeared on a Focus album (I can only find it on a van Leer solo album. You can hear a recent live version here.). Between these we had Who's calling? originally on the Akkerman van Leer Focus collaboration of 1985 but recently revived on the Focus 11 album. Staying with 1985 material we then had a very fine version of Le Tango with melodics, whistling, etc. Before tackling that Thijs remarked on the presence in the audience of former wife Rosalie Peters who wrote lyrics for  this and other songs. We then had two numbers from Hamburger Concerto regularly played back to back La Cathedrale and Harem Scarem. In the second, van Leer takes opportunity to make himself scarce. So we had solos from Menno Gootjes and Udo Pannekeet on six string bass. Van der Linden had had one in Eruption and was to get another very full one on the penultimate track.
The set of over two amazing hours (no-one in the band showing any signs of tiring) closed with the usual Hocus Pocus and then slightly over they plumped for Focus 2 (rather than Focus 3) as the closer. Stupendous stuff.
There was an opportunity to meet the band but there was a rather long queue and so we decided to head off.


Track by track 132

Archive number: 132
Title: Hoeratio
Main Album: Focus X
Track number: 7
Genre: Progressive Rock with vocal
Studio: Fieldwork Studios, Schoten, Belgium
Length: 5:38
Composer: Bobby Jacobs
Musicians: Thijs van Leer – Hammond organ, piano, flute, vocal; Menno Gootjes – Guitars; Bobby Jacobs – Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums
Producer: Bobby Jacobs
Label: Eastworld Recordings
Date of recording/release: November, 2012

Alternative version: None
Notes: The band play an atmospheric but languid tune throughout. From 01:12 through to 02:24 van Leer does a voice over reciting from Horace's Ars Poetica the lines below. After this section the guitar leads with a thorough exploration of the fretboard for the next little while before getting back to the march at 04:01 and then van Leer's now more dramatic an unidentified vocal from 04:14. This takes us right to the end where there is a fade.
The words are

Tibia non ut nunc orichalco uincta tubaeque 
aemula, sed tenuis simplexque foramine pauco 
adspirare et adesse choris erat utilis atque 
nondum spissa nimis complere sedilia flatu: 
quo sane populus numerabilis, utpote paruus, 
et frugi castusque uerecundusque coibat. 
Postquam coepit agros extendere uictor et urbem 
latior amplecti murus uinoque diuino 
placari Genius festis impune diebus, 
accessit numerisque modisque licentia maior. 
Indoctus quid enim saperet liberque laborum 
rusticus urbano confusus, turpis honesto?

The meaning

The Flute – not, as now, bound in brass and a rival of the trumpet,
but slight and simple with few stops – was once of use to lead
and aid the chorus and fill with its breath benches not too
crowded, where, to be sure, folk gathered, easy to count because
few sober folk, too, and chaste and modest.
But when a conquering race began to widen its domain and an
ampler wall embraced its cities and when, on festive days,
appeasing the Genius by daylight drinking brought no penalty,
but then both time and tune won greater licence.
For what taste would you expect of an unlettered throng just freed
from toil rustic mixed up with city folk, vulgar with nobly born?

Note on Horace or Horatio (Hoe ratio is a word play - how rational) Quintus Horatius Flaccus (65–8 BC), known in the English-speaking world as Horace, was the leading Roman lyric poet during the time of Augustus (Octavian). The rhetorician Quintilian regarded his Odes as just about the only Latin lyrics worth reading: "He can be lofty sometimes, yet he is also full of charm and grace, versatile in his figures, and felicitously daring in his choice of words."
Horace also crafted elegant hexameter verses (Satires and Epistles) and caustic iambic poetry (Epodes). The hexameters are amusing yet serious works, friendly in tone, leading the ancient satirist Persius to comment: "as his friend laughs, Horace slyly puts his finger on his every fault; once let in, he plays about the heartstrings".
His career coincided with Rome's momentous change from a republic to an empire. An officer in the republican army defeated at the Battle of Philippi in 42 BC, he was befriended by Octavian's right-hand man in civil affairs, Maecenas, and became a spokesman for the new regime. For some commentators, his association with the regime was a delicate balance in which he maintained a strong measure of independence (he was "a master of the graceful sidestep") but for others he was, in John Dryden's phrase, "a well-mannered court slave.
The Ars poetica  or "The Art of Poetry" is a poem written by him about 19 BC. In it he advises poets on the art of writing poetry and drama. It has "exercised a great influence in later ages on European literature, notably on French drama" and has inspired poets and authors since it was written. Although it had been familiar since the Middle Ages, it was used in literary criticism only since the Renaissance.
It includes several famous phrases including quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus (l. 359) or "sometimes even good Homer nods off". Today this expression is used to indicate that even the most skilled poet can make continuity errors and that long works, usually epics may have their faults without that detracting significantly from their general quality. In context, however, Horace censures Homer for such lapses. I mention it as perhaps Homer nodded here too.

New Jan Akkerman Album out today

It is called Close BeautyCheck out the details here The track Retrospection explores the Focus link.


Hocus Pocus in the movies again

You'll enjoy this trailer especially from 1'09" on


Track by track 131

Archive number: 131
Title: Birds Come Fly Over (Le Tango)
Main Album: Focus X
Track number: 6
Genre: Jazz Pop Vocal
Studio: Fieldwork Studios, Schoten, Belgium
Length: 5:21
Composer: Thijs Van Leer, Roselie Peters
Musicians: Thijs Van Leer – Hammond organ, piano, flute, melodica; Menno Gootjes – Guitars; Bobby Jacobs – Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums; Ivan Lins - vocals. 
Producer: Bobby Jacobs, Geert Scheijgrond
Label: Eastworld Recordings
Date of recording/release: November, 2012
Alternative version: The same track is on The Focus Family album. Versions of Le Tango appear on the Focus album with Jan Akkerman, on Introspection 4 and in other places.
Notes: We begin with drums then acoustic guitar, organ, flute and eventually a chugging electric guitar in tango time. At 0:54 the vocal begins. The words are

I'm always watching sunrise,
I have at least a life
And for my heart's desire, I can die.

And you my love, my good love,
I see you live your life,
But in my heart I've often seen you cry.

I'm only waiting for the time to pass,
How can I raise my voice or my hand?
Birds come fly over to the sun.

Out of a million lovers,
One only could be mine,
Oh there's a million others passing by

From sun up until sundown
This life is such a strife
And if you lose your love you lose your life.

I'm only waiting for the time to pass,
How can I raise my voice or my hand?
Birds come fly over to the sun.

There is a brief instrumental section announced by a beat from 2:02-02:21 after verse 3. In the subsequent part van Leer's melodica is heard. From 3:28-04:01 the band comes in more strongly again before the final vocal section which features the second three verses repeated. A piano is heard in the mix this time.


Track by Track 130

Archive number: 130 
Title: All Hens On Deck 
Main Album: Focus X 
Track number: 5 
Genre: Progressive Rock Instrumental 
Studio: Fieldwork Studios, Schoten, Belgium 
Length: 5:44 
Composer: Thijs van Leer 
Musicians: Thijs van Leer – Hammond organ, piano, flute; Menno Gootjes – Guitars; Bobby Jacobs – Bass; Pierre Van Der Linden – Drums 
Producer: Bobby Jacobs, Geert Scheijgrond
Label: Eastworld Recordings 
Date of recording/release: November 2012
Notes: The track begins full pelt with drums then the band led by percussive guitar, the flute coming in from 00:06. This goes on until at 00:23 we have the breakdown with a series of three strokes, lasting until 00:44 when the Hammond led band takes up the theme. The flute then leads until 01:01 and the second break down. At 01:16 it is van Leer's scat vocal that comes in echoing the guitar with the band until 01:43. Menno's bluesy guitar then goes on until 02:28 when the scat section is repeated until 02:56. Next comes a radical slow down and a majestic, classical section led by the vocal and guitar. At 04:13 the earliest section is repeated, leading into the scat section (from 04:40). A final six strokes brings us almost to the end (05:25) before a long drawn out cat moan vocal contribution by a finally breathless van Leer.