A former Amsterdam Conservatory student, Thijs van Leer (keyboards, flute, vocals) with Martin Dresden (bass) and philosophy graduate Hans Cleuver (drums) backed Robin Lent, Cyril Havermans and other Dutch singers before 1969s catalytic enlistment of guitarist Jan Akkerman, veteran of the progressive unit Brainbox. The new quartets first collective essay as recording artists was humble - accompaniment on a Dutch production of Hair - but, heartened by audience response to a set that included amplified arrangements of pieces by Bartok and Rodrigo, Focus released a bona fide album debut with a spin-off single 'House Of The King', that sold well in continental Europe. However, aiming always at the English-speaking forum, the group engaged Mike Vernon to produce Moving Waves which embraced vocal items (in English) and melodic if lengthy instrumentals. The album included the startling 'Hocus Pocus', a UK Top 20 hit. After reshuffles in which only van Leer and Akkerman surfaced from the original personnel, the group stole the show at British outdoor festivals, and a slot on BBC televisionís Old Grey Whistle Test assisted the passage of the glorious 'Sylvia', into the UK Top 5, Focus III and earlier album also reached the upper echelons of the charts. After stoking up modest interest in North America, 1973 began well with each member figuring in respective categories in the more earnest music journalsí popularity polls. An in-concert album from London and Hamburger Concerto both marked time artistically and following 1975ís Mother Focus, Akkerman left to concentrate on the solo career that he had pursued parallel to that of Focus since his Profile in 1973. With several solo efforts, van Leer was also well-placed to do likewise but elected instead to stick with a latter-day Focus in constant flux which engaged in a strange studio amalgamation with P.J.Proby before its final engagement in Terneuzen in 1978. Akkerman and van Leer guided Focus through a 1985 album before the 1972 line-up reformed soley for a Dutch television special five years later.
b. 24 December 1946, Amsterdam, The Netherlands When Akkerman surfaced in 1973 as Best Guitarist in a Melody Maker poll, it was the public zenith of a professional career that started in Amsterdam in 1958 as one of Johnny and the Cellar Rockers. Their drummer, Pierre Van Der Linden, later played with Akkerman in The Hunters - who owed much to The Shadows artistically - during the guitaristís five years of study at the cityís Music Lyceum from which he graduated with a catholic taste that embraced mainstream pop. Latin, medieval and the music of Frank Zappa among leading preferences. With Van Der Linden, Bert Ruiter (bass)and Kaz Lux (vocals) he formed Brainbox, a hard rock outfit whose only album (featuring the single Down Man) was issued on Parlophone in 1969. For his keen participation in the nascent Focus, Brainbox dismissed Akkerman who, after 1971ís In And Out Of Focus, asked Van Der Linden to join him in a new group for which it made sense to retain the name Focus on recruiting that outfitís Thijs Van Leer and Cyril Havermans. Among the major factors in the bandís success over the next few years were Akkermanís powers of improvisation on his trademark Les Paul guitar and his skill as an arranger. Gilding it too was critical acclaim for his solo albums - although the first, Profile, was simply an accumulation of tracks taped in the interval between Brainbox and Focus. Orchestrated by Columbia University professor of music, George Flynn, Tabernakel was a more ambitious affair, containing Jans developing dexterity on the lute, and guest appearances by Tim Bogert and Carmen Appice.
Suddenly unhappy with their overall musical drift and tired of the treadmill
of the road, Akkerman left Focus in March 1976 to begin sessions with Lux
for what would become Eli. Several more jazz fusion collections would follow
including the lushly orchestrated Aranjuez and a 1979 live set. During the
80s, many Akkerman albums reached only Dutch shops until re-released by
Charly for the UK market. Although his periodic reunions with Focus have
attracted most attention, he also recorded the albums The Talisman (1988)
ans To Oz And Back (1989) as part of Forcefield with Ray Fenwick (ex-Spencer
Davis Group) and Cozy Powell before retracing a solo path with The Noise Of
Art for Miles Coplands IRS label.
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