Saturday, May 5, 2007


@ Wiki
Focus is a Dutch progressive rock band. It was founded by classically trained organist/flautist Thijs van Leer in 1969.

The 1970s
1970: At the release of their first album In and Out of Focus, Focus comprised keyboardist and flautist Thijs van Leer, guitarist Jan Akkerman, bassist Martin Dresden, and drummer Hans Cleuver. The album was little noticed outside of the Netherlands, where a small but avid fan base developed. Akkerman left the group to form another band with bassist Cyril Havermans and Pierre van der Linden, a drummer he had previously performed with in Johnny and the Cellar Rockers, The Hunters, and Brainbox (band). When Cleuver and Dresden left Focus shortly after, Van Leer joined Akkerman, Van der Linden, and Havermans as the new lineup of Focus.

1971: The group released Moving Waves, which brought the band international acclaim and a hit on both sides of the Atlantic with the radio edit of the bizarre rock rondo Hocus Pocus. This rock classic consists of Akkerman's striking guitar chord sequence used as a recurring theme, with quirky and energetic interludes that include alto flute riffs, accordion, guitar, and drum solos, whistling, nonsensical vocals, falsetto singing, and yodeling. This album established Van Leer and Akkerman as composers who could appeal to progressive-rock album listeners (a large audience in the early 1970s) and radio single buyers.

Shortly before the band went on tour to support the album, Havermans quit and was replaced by Bert Ruiter. He released a solo album, Cyril, in 1973, on which he was backed by all three of his former bandmates from Focus.

1972: The Focus III double album was released. Van Leer and Akkerman were still producing much of their most seminal work, but critics claimed that the album was not as cohesive as Moving Waves and the material did not support the length of a double album. However, the album contained the Van Leer-penned "Sylvia" which become a major hit in many markets outside the U.S. and topped the charts for several weeks in England. After two hits in a row, demands to continue producing hit singles began both inside and outside the ranks of the band and its producers.

In late 1973, the "Focus at the Rainbow" album was released, which showcases the energy and virtuosity Focus routinely displayed in their live concerts.

1974: Van der Linden was replaced by ex-Stone the Crows drummer Colin Allen before the Focus recorded the Hamburger Concerto album. It was felt by the producers and some in the group that Allen's more mainstream rock drumming style would make Focus more accessible to a wider audience. An attempt to repeat the chart-topping performance of the "Hocus Pocus" sound in the single Harem Scarem was not successful, and this contributed to the band's declining fortunes at this time.

1975: The album Mother Focus, featuring new drummer David Kemper, was released to mostly negative reviews. Critics and longtime fans were puzzled by the sudden turn to a light jazz-fusion style in several tracks, while the lack of a potential single soured the music industry's opinion on the band's ability to capture a wider audience. The quality of the compositions were still high, but the career of Focus was hampered by changing tastes in the audience away from the progressive music that was in vogue when the band started and the lack of a clear stylistic direction.

Early 1976: Frustrated with group's lack of direction and the constraints of working with its commercial ambitions, Jan Akkerman left on the eve of a sell-out UK tour. His last minute replacement was Belgian jazz-fusion guitarist Philip Catherine.

1977: The group's label Sire Records released Ship of Memories, an album of largely unfinished Focus tracks from the aborted 1973-1974 rehearsal sessions to produce a follow-up album to Focus 3. The liner notes were written by Mike Vernon who was the group's producer at the time, and claim that Akkerman's lack of interest in the project was the reason the sessions fell through. Ship of Memories was released largely due to the effort of Mike Vernon and without the active involvement of the band. The title track is a Van der Linden composition.

1978: American singer P. J. Proby and guitarist Eef Albers joined Philip Catherine and the rest of Focus to record Focus con Proby. The album received dismal reviews and a lack of interest from all but hardcore fans, and after a short tour the band decided to call it a day.

The 1980s
1985: Van Leer and Akkerman reunited for a joint project which resulted in the commercially unsuccessful album "Focus". Even though it is officially not a product of the band Focus, most tracks recall the "lite jazz" sound of the "Mother Focus" album. With tepid marketing support and a short record production run, many of Focus' longtime fans around the world were unaware that the album was released or were unable to find a copy. As a result, sales of the album were predictably abysmal.

The 1990s
1990: The classic lineup of Akkerman, Van Leer, Ruiter, and Van der Linden performed old and new compositions on the Dutch TV programs "Veronika" and "Goud van Oud" in 1990. An unsuccessful attempt was made to formally restart the band at this time.

1993: Van Leer and Akkerman shared the stage and performed Focus compositions at the North Sea Jazz Festival.

The 2000s
2001: Thijs van Leer re-formed Focus as himself and the members of a Focus tribute band: guitarist Jan Dumée, bassist Bobby Jacobs, and drummer Bert Smaak. The result was the well-received Focus 8 album and world tour. Jan Dumée's guitar playing on Focus 8 is reminiscent of Akkerman's, and both guitarists have expressed their high regard for each other's work.

2004: Bert Smaak and Jan Dumée left the group. Dumée is now performing with the group On the Rocks.

2005: Pierre van der Linden returned to the group as drummer.

July 2006: Guitarist Niels van der Steenhoven joined the group just before rehearsal sessions for the followup of Focus 8.

September 2006: The band released the album Focus 9 / New Skin under the Red Bullet label. This label now owns the entire back catalogue of Focus. The return of Van der Linden's distinctive jazz-influenced drumming style strongly moves the band closer to its classic 1970's sound. This has been hailed as a huge boost for the Focus comeback and suggests interesting future musical directions for the band. The band will continue touring internationally this year, starting in their home country.

Focus remains one of the most well-known and influential rock bands from the Netherlands. They successfully fuse inspired jazz, rock, and blues improvisation, classical musical structures, and accessible pop melodies into a powerful and instantly recognizable sound.

Akkerman's technical mastery of the guitar and the often unpredictable brilliance of his improvisations were the perfect counterpoint to Van Leer's extensive knowledge of musical styles and disciplined approach to composition. Van Leer's tongue-in-cheek musical references include the reworking of motifs from an early Monteverdi opera in the extended piece "Eruption" on the Moving Waves album, the contrapuntal passage in the middle section of "Carnival Fugue" on the Focus 3 album, the Renaissance-era harmonic progressions in "Anonymous II" (also on Focus 3), and the quote from the first chorale of J.S. Bach's oratorio St. Matthew's Passion in the track "Father Bach" on "Mother Focus". The works of both composers display an impeccable melodic sense more often found in pop songs and Broadway showtunes than in progressive rock compositions. It is to the regret of many rock fans that Thijs van Leer and Jan Akkerman were unable to continue their collaboration, as together they were more than the sum of their formidable parts.

Among most fans and critics, Moving Waves and Focus 3 are considered the best overall Focus albums. Focus 3 begins with the sprightly, jazz-tinged "Round Goes The Gossip" which includes a quote, sung by Van Leer in Latin, from Virgil's The Aeneid. The second half of the album contains compositions as long as 27 minutes, which feature extended improvised solos from Akkerman and Van Leer. Others consider Hamburger Concerto the band's masterpiece. The title track is a 20-minute epic with impeccable musicianship from all band members and features a reference to Johannes Brahms' "Variations on a Theme from Haydn" as its opening motif. During the tour for this album, they briefly joined Bruce Springsteen on his Born to Run tour.

Akkerman's "House of the King" (from the "In and Out of Focus" album) is the title theme of 'Don't Ask Me', a science-based British TV show of the 1970s that made household names of Dr. Magnus Pyke and Professor David Bellamy. It is also the title theme of Steve Coogan's BBC2 sitcom Saxondale. It is often mistaken for a Jethro Tull song.

* In and Out of Focus (January 1971)
* Moving Waves (October 1971)
* Focus III (November 1972)
* Focus at the Rainbow (October 1973)
* Hamburger Concerto (May 1974)
* Mother Focus (October 1975)
* Ship of Memories (September 1977)
* Focus con Proby (January 1978)
* Focus (August 1985)
* Focus 8 (January 2002)
* Live at the BBC 1976 (May 2004)
* Focus 9 / New Skin (September 2006)

Charting singles:
* "Hocus Pocus" #20 UK, #9 US. (B-side: Janis)
* "Sylvia" #4 UK, #89 US. (B-side: Love Remembered)

Non-charting singles:
* House Of The King (B-side: Black Beauty)
* House of the King (B-side: O Avondrood - a vocal version of "Red sky at night")
* Tommy (B-side: Focus II)
* Harem Scarem (B-side: Early Birth. This is a shortened alternate version of the track "Birth" on the album "Hamburger Concerto".)
* Mother Focus (B-side: I Need A Bathroom)
* P's March (B-side: Focus II)
* Hocus Pocus (B-side: Hocus Pocus, U.S. Version. This version is also found on CD release of the "Ship Of Memories" album.)
* Russian Roulette (B-side: Ole' Judy)

* In and Out of Focus : The Music of Jan Akkerman and "Focus" =>>>>>>>>>>>

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Jason Ankeny @ All Music
Best remembered for their bizarre chart smash "Hocus Pocus," Dutch progressive rock band Focus was formed in Amsterdam in 1969 by vocalist/keyboardist/flutist Thijs van Leer, bassist Martin Dresden, and drummer Hans Cleuver. With the subsequent addition of guitarist Jan Akkerman, the group issued its debut LP, In and Out of Focus, in 1970, earning a European cult following thanks to the single "House of the King." Dresden and Cleuver were replaced by bassist Cyril Havermanns and drummer Pierre Van der Linden for the English-language follow-up, Moving Waves; the record generated the hit "Hocus Pocus," a hallucinatory epic distinguished by Akkerman's guitar pyrotechnics and van Leer's demented yodeling. Easily one of the flat-out strangest songs ever to crack the American pop charts, the single peaked at number nine in the spring of 1973, by which time Focus had already exchanged Havermanns for bassist Bert Ruiter and issued their third album, Focus III, which yielded the minor hit "Sylvia." In the wake of 1974's Hamburger Concert, the band streamlined the classical aspirations of earlier efforts to pursue a more pop-oriented approach on records like Ship of Memories and Mother Focus; though roster changes regularly plagued Focus throughout the period, none was more pivotal than the 1976 exit of Akkerman, who was replaced by guitarist Philip Catherine for 1978's Focus con Proby, cut with British pop singer P.J. Proby. Focus then disbanded, with the original lineup reuniting in 1990 for a Dutch television special. =>>>>>>>>>>>

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1 comment:

Sam said...

Great post - and fantastic video, thanks.