Focus entry in the book 
"Scented Gardens Of The Mind"
by Dag Erik Asbjornsen

Borderline Books

FOCUS
The most internationally known Dutch
group of the seventies was formed as a
trio by van Leer with Martin Dresden and
Hans Cleuver in early 1969. Much of the
material for their first album was already
written when Jan Akkerman joined in
November 1969. "In And Out Of Focus"
displayed the basic idea of the group on
the tracks "Focus" and "Anonymous" -
combining jazz, heavy rock and classical
rock in an approachable style, which
tempted mainstream listeners into their
camp. The rest of the album didn't follow
suit, though, being quite sub-standard.

"Moving Waves" (recorded in London in
1971 with bluesman Mike Vernon, their
producer for the next few years) could
rightfully be viewed as the first true
Focus album, where Akkerman and Van
Leer fused their talents. "Hocus Pocus"
became a live favourite with Van Leer's
tongue-in-cheek yodelling and organ
complementing Akkerman's heavy guitar-
riffs. In contrast, the 22-minute
"Eruption" suite was more serious and
moody, typifying their brand of romantic,
instrumental classical rock, designed for
adult listeners too old to rock'n'roll (but
too young to die). These two aspects
combined to create a commercial
potential which would spellbind large
audiences all over the world in the years
to follow.

"Focus 3" (1972) was more or less their
creative peak, with the 26-minute
revamped and elongated "Anonymous II"
the ultimate showcase of their
instrumental abilities with solo
improvisations by flute (a crushing battle
with Ian Anderson for the throne), organ,
bass, electric guitar and drums (in this
order). Focus were always better
musicians than composers. For those in a
hurry, "Sylvia" saved the day, summing
up much of what easily approachable
progressive rock is about in three
minutes. This also gave them a much
deserved international hit when issued as
a single. 

Listening to the album, you will
notice the contrast between the long
tracks (filling up 2 1/2 sides) and the short
pieces. This disrupted the sense of
wholeness and it would have been better
to split the project into separate albums
(for instance, replacing the short tracks
with Akkerman's superb 20-minute opus
"Fresh Air", issued on his first solo album
Profile the same year). "At The Rainbow"
(1973) presented good live versions of
their favourites.

"Hamburger Concerto" (1974) turned out to
be the last in a triology of classic albums
(omitting the live one). It benefited from a
larger recording budget, improved sound
quality and a wider instrumental array.
Akkerman's contributions surpassed his
sidekick this time. He wrote the majority
of the title track suite and "Birth" (the
highlights). In some respects, this is
Focus' most satisfying album, due to the
more integrated and rich sound. The slow
and majestic Leslie-treated guitar lines on
the "Concerto" are matchless!

"Mother Focus" (1975) was the first major
disappointment where Van Leer's
yodelling can only be responded to by
yawns from the listeners. The short
tracks could best be described as muzak,
and only traces of their old inspiration
are still present. "Ship Of Memories" was
much better, due to the fact that it was
recorded back in 1973. At that time, they
weren't satisfied with it, but these tapes
(recorded in the famous Chipping Norton
Studios in England) are quite good. Buy
this one and forget about the
embarassing "Focus Con Proby" (with
ageing pop singer PJ Proby) finale.

Focus had enormous significance in the
marketing of progressive rock to
mainstream record buyers in the rest of
Europe and the USA. Seen in retrospect,
their music was shallower than that of
many struggling contemporaries.

Focus had clever brains and crafty hands. The
contrast to many Italian groups is
striking. Focus certainly knew how to
play with both humour and rock power,
but when dealing with more complex
structures (as in classical music) they
became too serious.Still many of their albums
have moments of excellence.

Focus

Thijs van Leer - organ, flute
Jan Akkerman - guitars
Martin Dresden - bass (1)
Hans Cleuver - drums (1)
Cyriel Havermans - bass, voices (2)
Pierre van der Linden - drums (2-4)
Bert Ruiter - bass (3-6)
Colin Allen - drums (5)
David Kemper - drums (6-7)
P. J. Proby - vocals (8)
Eef Albers - guitar (8)
Steve Smith - drums (8)

ALBUMS:

1 IN AND OUT OF FOCUS - 1970 IMPERIAL
2 MOVING WAVES - 1971 EMI
3 FOCUS 3 - 1972 EMI
4 FOCUS AT THE RAINBOW - 1973 EMI
5 HAMBURGER CONCERTO - 1974 EMI
6 MOTHER FOCUS - 1975 EMI
7 SHIP OF MEMORIES - 1976 EMI
8 FOCUS CON PROBY - 1978 EMI

MOST ALBUMS WERE RELEASED INTERNATIONALLY BY POLYDOR (IN EUROPE) AND SIRE (IN THE USA). A FEW UK RELEASES MIGHT BE OF INTEREST FOR LABEL COLLECTORS:

2 FIRST EDITION ON BLUE HORIZON
7 FIRST EDITION ON HARVEST SHSP

THIJS VAN LEER SOLO:

1 INTROSPECTION - 1972 CBS
2 INTROSPECTION 2 - 1975 CBS
3 O MY LOVE - 1975 PHILIPS
4 MUSICA PER LA NOTTE DI NATALE - 1976 CBS
5 INTROSPECTION 3 - 1978 CBS
6 NICE TO HAVE MET YOU - 1978 CBS
7 INTROSPECTION 4 - 1979 CBS

JAN AKKERMAN SOLO:

1 PROFILE - 1972 EMI
2 GUITAR FOR SALE - 1973 EMI
3 TABERNAKEL - 1973 ATLANTIC
4 ELI - 1977 ATLANTIC
5 JAN AKKERMAN 3 - 1977 ATLANTIC
6 ARANJUEZ - 1978 CBS
7 LIVE - 1979 ATLANTIC

PROFILE ALSO RELEASED IN THE UK ON HARVEST SHSP

The text and image in this page was kindly sent by Chuck Cobb.

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