Mike Vernon's comments : FOCUS in the digital age

Focus in the digital age !

FOCUS IN 1973It was a pleasant surprise to receive a phone call from Hubert Terheggen, the publisher of Focus, who politely asked me on behalf of EMI Bovema Holland if I would like to oversee the transfer of all eight Focus Albums for compact. When it comes to the area of "ancient analogue to digital for CD" most companies give the job to a minion to cut costs. Not this time though. They came to the original producer and I should like to be counted as one who was most grateful for the opportunity to "take charge" once again of this exciting and innovative act's recorded output. What you hear here are the results of four painstaking days work at Tape One in London's West End.

Some of the material here will doubtless be familiar-perhaps some of it not so. Indeed,there were two items I had never heard before remembering that I was not in charge of production on all Focus' product. The band's very first album (which had numerous titles from one territory to another but is best known as "In and out of Focus") is one such LP. It spawned "House of the king" which became one of Focus' best known and best loved pieces. How many of you thought it was by Jethro Tull ? Ian Gillespie at Tape One did and I know many who thought the same. Definitely one for the analysts - which came first, The van Leer or The Anderson?

When I first heard this album soon after it's original release I was not impressed. I then saw the band working in Holland and was most impressed. Having listened to this album again so many years later I'm still not impressed but it does mark a starting point I suppose. Except when one listens to "Moving waves" - the second album - you wonder if it's the same band. Actually, in part, it is and it isn't. Drums and bass are now settled - Pierre Van Der Linden and Cyril Havermans respectively take over from Cleuver, Dresden and Company. I was really surprised at how good the sound was on the original tape. lt was cut at Sound Techniques in Chelsea with Jerry Boys at the board. In those days technology had not come too far. Adrenelin flow counted for quite a lot. One's ability with a razor blade too if I'm not mistaken. "Eruption" was recorded in many pieces and then spliced together or overlaid. Revox tape machines running at 15 ips without the use of dolby - Those were the days!

Summer 1972 saw a change of venue. Olympic "B" studios in South-West London. "Focus 3" threw up the band's biggest single success in "Sylvia" (the bizarre "Hocus Pocus" complete with manic yodelling had come from "Moving waves"). This third single established the band throughout most of the major world territories and gained them an enormous amount of exposure on radio, in the press and of course, on the "live" circuit. Back to the album though.

Mike VernomWe changed studios because we were after a "heavier" sound. Remember those days? Everyone was after the sound that someone else had already achieved. Rather a senseless operation when you stop to think about it. But because Focus were musically occupying a different patch from everyone else, if we did succeed in emulating let's say, that "heavier" sound then it appeared to be fresh and full of individuality. The haunting "Love remembered" perhaps proves the point. I enjoyed listening to this album again although I had forgotten that I was singing "Round goes the gossip" along with Thijs. What? No credit?

It was at about this time in the band's career that record company executives and the like started to ask for the obligatory "Live" album. The Pye mobile was sent along to the Rainbow Theatre in London's Finsbury Park and "Live at the Rainbow" was the result. There were no new items on this set but it did capture the true feel of this wonderfully exciting act. The band announcements given by Thijs in the reprise of "Hocus Pocus" also serve to show that there was a touch of humour to be had as well as pure musicianship. Two interesting historical points. I did also mix this album at Air Studios for Quadraphonic release and the Gareth Edwards who assisted on the sessions is not the well-known Welsh rugby star.

1973 saw the departure of drummer Van Der Linden to be replaced by Ex-Stone the Crows man Colin Allen. I had worked with Colin on several projects and knew that he was keen to be involved in something that would stretch him. (no jokes about yoga and such like please). I took Colin to Belgium where the band were rehearsing new material for the next album. "Hamburger Concerto" was the result. As producer, I find this and "Moving waves" to be the most rewarding on second listening. As I recall all members of the band felt happy with the final results and in particular with the final "sound picture" that had been created. But all was not well. There had already been ructions within the camp earlier in the year. Now Pierre had been replaced and Jan was hooked on the lute. In fact, if I'm not mistaken, he recorded a whole album of lute pieces some years later.

Indefatigable as ever, Thijs continuei with Bert and Colin, sometimes with Jan and sometimes not. Two further albums were to be produced in the subsequent years, neither of which I was involved with. "Mother Focus" (who thought that one up?) and "Con proby". The former is a little on the lack-lustre side and shows a decline in all areas. The album did not do too well in the market place and I suppose one could say sounded the death knell. Then we have the final offering - "Focus con proby".

Yes,P. J. Proby who had scored once ten years earlier with a Decca single "Hold me", split his trousers on T.V. and upset everyone (well, nearly everyone). The final item in this eight disk package, "Ship of memories" includes all those pieces recorded during a visit to Chipping Norton Recording Studios back in 1973. We did not fully appreciate it at the time, but these sessions marked the beginning of the "Breakdown" in communications which led to the final dissolving of the Akkerman/Van Leer partnership that had made Focus the winning act it had been. It's amazing what the Cotswold air can do for you, isn't it! There are also a few experimental tracks with drum machine and the high-speed U.S. version of "Hocus Pocus" which was not included on the analogue release. Yes, a bonus track!!

The history of a band. All in four days. Now all on CD. It was fun. It was certainly a privilege. I am proud to have been involved. For this I owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Hubert Terheggen and EMI-Bovema. Would it be too much to hope and dream that one day we could all get together again and make just one for the road? It's an interesting thought! Focus in the digital age .......

Mike Vernon

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