The key to success for any rock or music band lies not only in their individual skills but in their ability to mould those special talents into a formula of sound and substance which will be, by nature of those merits, sought out by the mass audience. Undeniably, the two founder members of FOCUS, Thijs van Leer and Jan Akkeman, along with the varying other members from Hans Cleuver and Martin Dresden through to Bert Ruiter and Colin Allen, have achieved just this goal - with flying colours. But it was the magical mixture of van Leer, Akkerman, Pierre van der Linden and Cyril Havermans (later replaced by the redoubtable Ruiter) which produced both on stage and on record the greatest moments of FOCUS' musical pageants. "SHIP OF MEMORIES" contains much of the magic from this prolific period as well as other items of equal importance from other stages in the carrer of this unique band.
My first encounter with the band, other than a quick glance at their first album "In And Out of Focus", was in Holland. At the suggestion of Seymour Stein I visited a small farming town in the north of Holland - the town had one of those unpronounceable names - during the last months of l97O. The original drummer and bassist - Hans Cleuver and Martin Dresden respectively - had just been replaced by Pierre van der Linden and Cyril Havermans. The performance that night was formidable - although I doubt the greater part of the crowd present were in much of a state to appreciate it. The beer flows heavy and fast in that part of the world ! A few months later all was ready to record. Sound Techniques and engineer Jerry Boys were booked and "Moving Waves" was set to Ampex 8 track. It was in this same studio and with the same engineer and equipment that "In And Out of Focus" had been made during the preceeding year. "SPOKE THE LORD CREATOR" comes from this period. Produced by Hubert Terheggen, the Sound Techniques legend states the recording date as 26th January 1970. The main melody part is stated by Thijs and Jan is left to solo - it serves well to show the direction in which the unit was heading even at this early stage, as did "House Of The King", still une of their best compositions.
The success of "Moving Waves" far surpassed all our wildest dreams. It also spawned a huge single hit in the shape of the bizarre "Hocus Pocus". Sadly, time - a little too much time - elapsed before we could get back into the studio again. It was not until mid-1972 that we embarked on "Focus 3" at Olympic Studios with engineer George Chkiantz. You know, this was only supposed to be a single album, but so much material was recorded in a three week period we decided to make it a double album project. Once again the album was successful and another single, "Sylvia" proved to be a chart entry. Incidentally, the recording of this material marked the arrival of Bert Ruiter and the departure of Cyril Havermans, who went his way to follow a solo career.
A further year was to pass until we were able to get back into the studios again - and as the saying goes, this is where the story really starts! The twelve month period between May'72 and May'73 had been filled to the brim with work for the band. Tours of Europe and the like left little ar no time to put together new material for another record project. An appearance at London's Rainbow Theatre on May 5th 1973 was recorded and subsequently released as the "Live At The Rainbow" set. It was only released as a stop-gag in view of the fact that there was disagreement with regard to the new material we had recorded in the last two weeks of that month of May. Those two weeks - almost immediately following on the tale end of a British tour - were booked at Chipping Norton in the heart of The Cotswold Hills. There had been not time for Preparation but it was essential to try and get something down on tape toward a new album. It was not a very fruitful period - at least that is how it appeared at the time, but on reflection ...
Musical ideas within the band were scarce and fatigue was fast setting in as too were certain discontents, of which I was to learn more as the two week period wore on. The first two days were spent working on the sounds of the various instruments until everyone was happy. Engineer Dave Grinsted had a very hard time with Pierre's drum sound - he had just purchased a Ludwig transparent framed kit and in terms of recorded sound it was disappointing - at least to Dave and I it was. Pierre was over the moon about it. And so the business of making music got under way. Of the items recorded about half are included here. "P'S March" is in true Focus style and was recorded as a single although it has not seen the light of day until now. This was about the only item completely finished to the satisfaction of Thijs and Jan - completed in fact, as I recall, during the very first few days of our sojourn in Chippy. Thijs is featured here on organ, Mellotron, clavinet, flute, alto flute and piccolo. The band took the tapes to New York some months later where they remixed it but I have remixed again for the reason of continuity. "Can't Believe My Eyes" was one of the first items we recorded and according to the tape box was called "Can't Believe My Ears" and subtitled "Dance Macabre". I have no idea how it got changed although I doubt it matters much.
As I recall, "Focus 5" was recorded without Jan being present in the Studio. Indeed, a certain amount of the material used here was initially committed to tape whilst Jan was in his bedroom resting. It was his apparent unwillingness to work on this project at this particular time that caused a great Ideal of soul searching in the hearts of the other members of the band. I suffered those "pin-jabs" too for it was my job, amongst others, to get an album out of these sessions. Proceedings were not going according to plan - it really looked as if we were about to lose everything. I talked to Jan but could get nothing out of him. Thijs talked to him with similar results. Bert just looked on - he was ready to work. Pierre wouldn't speak to anyone and grew the "long face" look which he wore for most of the two week period. Dave Grinsted, laconic as ever, just stood by - what could he do anyway ? It was in this kind of atmosphere that we recorded almost forty minutes worth of music - most of which we subsequently decided was not good enough to keep. Strange how one's outlook can change over the years. Anyway, back to "Focus 5". Jan's quitar part was added days after the track had been laid down - very late one night when all we really wanted to do was to rest.
Despite all these factors, the results are magical. There is a quality about the guitar lines - I find it hart to put it into words. Meanwhile ... Thijs had been working on a sequel to "Eruption", which had appeared on the "Moving Waves" album. He admitted freely to not having had enough time to work the piece through thoroughly but he would attempt to get something of it down on tape. "Vesuvius" was the piece and it sounded good - even in its very raw state. We recorded a fair amount of the work, but not having Jan present for the greater part of it, proved too much of a handicap and it was shelved. However, a section from the improvisation which did feature Jan is included here under the title "Out Of Vesuvius". What happened to "Vesuvius" you may ask. It was re-written and appears on record as "Hamburger Concerto". And so we come to "Ship Of Memories" which features Pierre van der Linden on drums and harmonium. Pierre's uneasiness during this time may have been related to his apparent insecurity within the band. Remember that he was subsequently replaced by ex-Stone the Crows drummer, Colin Allen. The inactivity during the fourteen days in Chipping Norton, gave Pierre the change to write this item, which in its full form is over five minutes long. In a sense it was his way of saying to the others in the band: "I too can offer something in the way of composition". Being in a free position to do this lifted the gloom from his face, at least. The day following the recording of this song the sessions came to an end. Our next sessions were some nine months later - at Olympic again.
The remaining titles which make up this set were made in different parts of the world with the band themselves handling the production. "Glider" for instance was made in Brussels at Morgan Studios with Pierre on drums. This is full of interest. Jan is featured on electric sitar as well as guitar-the only time I can remember him using one on record and there is the phantom "rhythm machine" to the forefront. I wonder how Pierre felt about this. In any event, the tune was shelved - later re-written and re-recorded in Los Angeles with Colin Allen and appears on the "Mother Focus" album under that title. "Red Sky At Night" is another odd item. Recorded again at Morgan in Brussels it features Thijs and Jan. Thijs makes use here of the Moog bass, thus substituting the bass guitar of Bert. David Kemper on drums. And finally, "Crackers", which would appear to have been made between the U.S., Belgium and Holland. Jan features acoustic guitars on this number, an instrument missing from much of the band's material since "House of The King".
Working with and alongside the members of Focus, their manager Yde de Jong, and Production manager Hubert Terheggen, has been a rewarding experience. We have had a great deal of fun and there have also been times not so fun-filled. It must be that way with any relationship. But no one can take away the beauty and power of the music. Nor can they take away the memories of how it all happened. I for my part, am grateful to have had the chance to be involved with such talent. "Ship of Memories" will become a prized possession.
Mike Vernon / october 1976