THE STORY OF FOCUSFOCUS

"I'm not that important, only a guitarist in a band named Focus"

This quote from Akkerman is typical for him, because he is more interested in the music of Focus than listening to what people say about his role as guitarist.

In the first half of the seventies, where outrageous costumeshows were more acknowledged that creative musicians, people learned to know Focus too late - especially here in Germany.

There are different opinions when talking about the marketvalue of Focus. 200.000 LPīs and 175.000 Singles in Holland, 400.000 LPīs and 5 times the amount of Singles in England. 2 million LPīs, 1,5 million Singles and 200.000 8-track-cassettes in USA - thatīs the statistics of March 1974. A truly outstanding statistic by a continental formation - especially the success abroad.

With only 4 LPīs and a few Singles - where "Hocus Pocus" (a "studiogimmick") and "Sylvia" (a "Rockballad") reached the charts.

Akkerman, one of the most honest musicians in the rockbusiness, knows how to explain their succes on sober consideration:"Even if you have got a no. 1 hit in the American Top Ten, you have only reached a minimum of the listeners. America have 250 million citizens, so when you sell 600.000 or 1 million albums, then you are big in the charts, and we were that twice, but that is only a small percentage. Whatīs 1 million records to 250 million people.!?"

Before forming Focus at the end of 1969 in Amsterdam, guitarist Akkerman, drummer Hans Cleuver, bassist Martijn Dresden and organist/flutist Thijs Van Leer were playing together as a combo for the dutch version of the musical "Hair". But they saw the commercial way of rockmusic coming, so according to van Leer they wanted more than money and amusement.

1970 "In And Out Of Focus" was released as the first Focus LP, which included "Focus" and "Anonymus", which were goundbreakning and important musically for the development of their future musical style. No predicted timing schedule, but variations of melodic and harmonic styles, no lead-singer like in other bands, but a varied selection of instrumental sections were things that created the compositions and the sound of Focus.

In the meantime Cyril Havermanns replaced Martijn Dresden on bass; in september 1971 he was then replaced by ex. Jay-Jay Bert Ruiter. Pierre van der Linden replaced Hans Cleuver, and was later fired by Akkerman in 1973. He was then replaced by Colin Allen from "Stone The Crows".

"Moving Waves", the second LP released in 1971, was recorded with Van der Linden and Havermanns; "Focus 3" from 1972 was the debut for Ruiter, and after the live-recording "At The Rainbow" (1973), Allen was first heard on the last LP from 1974 "Hamburger Concerto".

Already in 1972 Akkerman released his first solo-LP, and one year later Van Leer had his solodebut. In the meantime all Focus-members are going different places, caused to different opinions.

In 1972 Akkerman - experiensed by blues and classical music - threw Eric Clapton from the throne of the "Melody Maker" readerpoll. At the same time in Melody Maker Focus was voted as "best international hope for 1973", and in "New Musical Express" they were placed as "hottest band".

In august 1972 Focus had great success on the Reading Jazz and Blues Festival, and one year later they had to expand their US-tour caused by the great success. In march 1974 Focus visited Germany for the first time. The concerts of Focus is often characterized as written by "Music Week" after the 1973 Rainbow concert, London:"In a periode, where the most heavy bands sounds monotone and without energy, no-one can reach the fresh sound from Focus. Focus is a band with musicians that has studied their work thoroughly, and they play with the virtuosity of modern jass-musicians". Akkerman lives and suffers for his music. Like a possesed he studies every day, and no-one of his 30 guitars were ever customized, until he created his own guitar. Together with Van Leer he is in charge of the musical direction of Focus. When Van der Linden once intended to change the classical elements to modern free-form, he was voted out by 3 to 1 - and he started his own formation. Another try to change the direction is unknown. The development of the band was going on continously, and the sound became unique and the songs inherited so much timelessness in the composition and freshness in the interpretation, that they have all the possiblility to become successful in the second half of the seventies.

"We have no "glitter" and no make-up during the show, - each band has to decide what they want to give the audience" - according to Akkerman. The optics were not important. Focus knew how to make a concert-success in a much more intelligent way: wellknow pieces like "Sylvia", "Questions, Answers", "Hamburger Concerto" and others was played live in different versions. The audience became familiar and enjoyed the déja vû. Both Akkerman and Van Leer prooved that timing, technics and feeling was not an anglo-american phenomenon.

Besides the lucky combination of outstanding talents the bandconcept was the clou to their success. Not like "Exeption" which pop- and rockversions of classical themes were becoming repetitions, Focus made a basis on elements of classical music, that kept them more alive. The most Focus songs are like playing around with classical elements which are arranged in a very nice way.

Bela Bartok, Miles Davis and Chick Corea was once mentioned as the inspiration to the members of Focus. Focus themselves has not made a direct influence on other bands, because their style was too personal, too individualistic and it needed too many things to know about in advance, which the most rockmusicians didnīt have. You can though find musical relates on the american jazz-scene like Keith Jarret, Jean-Luc Ponty and Joe Zawinul, which richness of musical knowlegde on harmony and melody made it possible to get the european style listenable for a wider audience.

So we donīt forget the dutch band Focus, that already in 1970 in a brilliant way breaked the frontiers of musical categories.

Text, translation and pictures kindly sent by Steffen Staugaard
Original text in german


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