FOCUS ON FOCUS - 1979
Sleevenotes from the album Focus On Focus, Bovema-Negram 5N 050-26233, written by Paul Stoppelman.
In the autumn of 1969 Thijs van Leer formed a trio with drummer Hans Cleuver and bass guitarist Martijn Dresden. The trio required much attention, with the result that Thijs had to give up his study at the Conservatory. In the meantime Martijn let the publishing company of Radio Luxembourg listen to original compositions, written by Thijs, and they immediately wanted to make a record to release internationally. During one of the rehearsals in the Amsterdam Shaffy theatre, guitar virtuoso Jan Akkerman, a member of Brainbox, stepped in and played with them. As a result of this Jan was fired by Brainbox's manager and Jan joined the trio.
In 1970 the quartet backed the Dutch version of Hair as the pivot in an orchestra of nine. Van Leer, Dresden, Cleuver and Akkerman are to be heard together for the first time on the Dutch Hair album. After the performances of the musical the group was christened FOCUS. Their first gigs took place in Amsterdam's clubs with the public quickly realising that Focus was something truly different. Three months after their foundation they recorded "Focus Plays Focus", an experiment with instrumental, but mainly vocal versions and brief solos. "House Of The King" and "Anonymous", (later to be re-recorded on "Moving Waves") are the outstanding cuts. The sleeve however was terrible and technically the product was not of a high quality. Consequently only 8000 albums were sold. Despite this initial setback Focus were getting increasingly popular and it was decided to this first album again, re-named "In And Out Of Focus". It was recorded in London with Mike Vernon, former producer of Fleetwood Mac and John Mayall. However, by the time this re-recorded LP came out it could not be called representative of what the group was playing, but Focus needed a hit. "House Of The King" became that enormous hit, which could be found for many weeks in the Dutch top ten.
Suddenly Martijn Dresden left the group to be replaced by Cyriel Havermans and Pierre van der Linden, like Jan out of Brainbox, replaced Hans Cleuver. Jan and Pierre, who had played together in groups for many years, combined to form a unique rhythm section. Focus then continued to develop the musical style of its very own: a synthesis of pop, rock, jazz and classical music. Summer 1971; the big breakthrough. "Hocus Pocus" became a smash. The second album "FocusII," (outside the Netherlands released as "Moving Waves"), appeared a year later. This album was again produced by Mike Vernon and may be reckoned to be the very best Dutch pop album to date. Having conquered Holland, which included of course many concerts, festival performances, college tours and tv-specials, Focus travelled to the UK. There they proved that it is possible for a continental group to gain success in England. After two weeks, 2 albums and 2 singles were in the charts.
From one of the biggest pop magazines, "Focus' music is full of vitality, of refreshing surprises, of an exquisite harmony and a strong element of humour."
Within half a year they had conquered England, topping the charts with the single "Sylvia". It was at this point that Cyriel Havermans decided to leave the group to follow a solo career and Bert Ruiter, a former member of Fullhouse, took his place (September 1971). Shortly after this change of line-up they released "Focus III", a very big smash. It entered the charts of Veronica's album top 10 at number 4, the week after making the number one spot. For sure listening to "Focus III" is like hearing them live. Focus on stage is like Focus on album. Between Jan and Thijs there is an endless musical rivalry (also outside Focus). Thijs also chose this time to release his first solo-album "Introspection", selling in Holland alone 400,000 to date, (Holland's biggest selling album ever). Jan Akkerman also began his solo career of which we all know the albums "Profile" and "Tabernakel".
The highlights of 1972 for Focus was their victory in the Melody Maker Polls, when they scooped the award for the "Brightest hope for the Year". Focus scored still more awards, riding to the top on all pop charts and polls, being eventually crowned with the title, "The best foreign group". Furthermore Jan Akkerman was described as the "Best guitarist in the world" and Van der Linden as the "Greatest drummer in Europe". To complete this successful year, in autumn 1972 Focus tackled their biggest challenge: The USA.
The group completed a triumphant first American coast-to-coast tour, highlighted by a sold out performance at the Philharmonic Hall in New York and an appearance on ABC-TV's "In Concert" with the consequent overnight fame causing them to stay much longer than was originally planned.
In a very short time after this tour "Moving Waves" and "Focus III" achieved gold status, whilst their single "Hocus Pocus" reached the top 10 and stayed there for weeks.
During preparations for their second tour of the USA, Pierre decides to leave as he does not like the style of the group anymore. He was replaced by the English drummer Colin Allen, who had previously played with "Stone The Crows" and with "John Mayall".
Shortly after Focus releases their live album (still featuring Pierre) recorded at London's Rainbow Theatre. On this album are featured many old, but polished songs. Again Focus proved their world class and scores gold. In March 1974 they go the funky way with their album "Hamburger Concerto". But this album, including the tracks "Harem Scarem" and "Bennie Helder", did not achieve the success their previous albums had. Colin Allen quits the group, because of the many tensions. Their next album "Mother Focus" is recorded in Los Angeles with session drummer David Kemper. An exception is "No Hang Ups", recorded in Brussels, with Colin Allen. With problems to find a replacement drummer, Pierre rejoins the group for a concert tour of Japan, Australia and Scandinavia.
1976 sees the release of their hit compilation album "Masters Of Rock", Pierre quits again, and tensions run so high that Jan Akkerman also leaves the group. David Kemper and the Belgian lead and acoustic guitar player Philip Catherine take over. In October 1976 "Ship Of Memories" was released with songs previously recorded but never released.
A year later Bovema introduces "Focus Con Proby" with contributions from Philip Catherine, Dutch guitar player Eef Albers, drummer Steve Smith and singer P.J.Proby. But the bands days are numbered and Focus' last performance takes place at Terneuzen in Zeeland. The line-up was Thijs van Leer, Eef Albers, Richard James (on drums) and Bert Ruiter.
Sleevenotes kindly sent by Tom Watson